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Day One Pachena Bay to Michigan Creek 12 kilometres.

After signing in at Pachena Bay at the northern end near the community of Bamfield you'll find the going very easy at first. A number of impassible headlands make beach walking out of the question until Michigan Creek. The first 10 km of the trail follow what was once a supply road for the Pachena Point Lighthouse. As a consequence the trail is generally flat and so wide that walking two abreast is possible. Just a kilometre before the lighthouse on this pretty but otherwise uneventful section of trail a viewpoint affords a view of Flat Rocks where sea lions often enjoy basking in the sun on a warm spring or autumn day.

At the lighthouse you'll be greeted in your native language no matter where in the world you come from. Hikers are welcome to look around the Lighthouse grounds during posted visiting hours but keep in mind that this is home to the lighthouse keepers. Disturb nothing including the keepers as they go about their daily chores. Only recently the original tower was decommissioned, replaced with an automated light-on-a-stick. The original beacon at Pachena Point, now a Recognized Heritage Building, is the last remaining wooden lighthouse in British Columbia. The massive Fresnel lens and oil wick lamp have operated faultlessly since 1907.

Two kilometres on consider calling it a day at the popular Michigan Creek campsite[km 12.] After setting up camp check out the boiler and other rusty bits of iron from the steamship Michigan that ran aground here in January 1893 costing a number of lives.

Much of the next day will be spent hiking along the beach. Loose rocks, slippery seaweed-covered surfaces, soft sinking sand and surge channels all require special attention especially when encumbered with a heavy backpack. The majority of ankle, wrist and arm injuries occur on the intertidal shelf. A sturdy driftwood walking stick or ski pole can go a long way towards providing the additional stability needed along the shore route. Once you reach the ladders at the bottom end of the trail you'll doubtless agree that a collapsible walking stick is well worth the investment.

The West Coast Trail-Day Two Michigan Creek to Tsusiat 12½ km

From Michigan Creek the first two kilometres to Darling River are beach accessible during all but the highest tides [below 3.7 metres.] The cable car across the Darling River [km 14] is the first of many you will encounter on the West Coast Trail. They are fun to ride on and will keep your feet dry but often the cable cars are out of order. When creeks are running low marching across them instead will save considerable time and energy. Whenever fording streams undo your waist belt and loosen your pack straps in the event that you stumble and have to quickly jettison your pack.

If the tides are in your favour, continue along the beach for a further 3 km until Tsocowis Creek. Though a forest route is available, most prefer the open coastal scenery and the ease of walking the beach route affords. Keep an eye seaward as the foreshore is popular with foraging Gray whales.

The next three kilometres to Trestle Creek follow a relatively easy forest footpath packed with historical relics. To find the trail from the beach, look for fishing floats hanging in the trees. Access points are marked this way all along the West Coast Trail. Be sure to top up your water at Billy Goat Creek as the elixir of life can be hard to find the rest of the way to the Klanawa River. About a kilometre beyond Billy Goat Creek pause for a moment at the Valencia viewpoint to consider the victims of the shipwreck in January 1906 which ultimately led to the construction of the Pachena Point Light Station and the West Coast Lifesaving Trail. In time the sea has claimed every last remnant of wreckage leaving only the dimmest memory of the 126 people who died on the rocks off distant Shelter Bight. Those not mercifully claimed by drowning were trapped with cliffs at their backs and impassible headlands on either side. Many faced the raging sea bravely only to be exhausted and broken by hypothermia. Amazingly, 38 survivors managed to scramble to safety.

Just beyond the viewpoint you'll come across first a grader then a steam "donkey" [km 19] left behind after completion of the Lifesaving trail in 1909. The road-wide portion of the trail extended from Bamfield to the site of the Valencia wreck at Shelter Bight, continuing on to Carmanah Point as a well-defined trail. Beyond Carmanah the Lifesaving trail was a rough footpath hacked through the forest to Port Renfrew. Though all sections have been vastly improved, today this relativity persists.

The winch on the rocks at Shelter Bight and the anchor at Trestle Creek are thought to come from the 1923 wreck of the steamer Robert E. Lewers. At low tide wreckage from the Janet Cowan which sank in 1895 can also be seen at Shelter Bight [km 20.]

Either trail or beach will take you the 2½ km from Trestle Creek to the cable car crossing at Klanawa River. Since you will have already covered 11 km since Michigan Creek some will want to stop here for the night and Klanawa River [km 23] is certainly a suitable spot to pitch a tent. Many, however, will want to push on for another 1½ km through the forest to the most popular place on the West Coast Trail, Tsusiat Falls. The sandy beach, picturesque waterfall, dipping pool and sea caves are attractive enough for some hikers to camp over for several days at a time. The crowds can be insufferable however so many others would rather opt for a more wilderness setting to set up camp. The choice is yours. Assuming you fall into the latter category and decide to stop for the night at Klanawa keep in mind that the river is tidal so you may have to go upstream some distance in order to get untainted water when the tide is in. Always taste the water first before filling up to avoid contaminating your container.

The West Coast Trail-Day Three Tsusiat Falls to Dare Point 13½ km

Even if you didn't camp at Tsusiat Falls [km 25.5] you will want to stop to enjoy the scenery and snap a few pictures. From the falls the beach again affords the best hiking. Tsusiat Point a kilometre away is impassible at tides above 2.7 metres. The Hole-in-the-Wall at the point is another popular photo op. Another kilometre reveals an anchor mired in the beach near a forest access trail. The beach route continues another kilometre before Tsuquadra Point [km 29] forces hikers back into the forest for the last three kilometres before Nitinat Narrows.

Tsuquadra Indian Reserve is now out of bounds since hikers in the past have desecrated important cultural sites hereabouts. The beaches along this section of trail however are very attractive with numerous sea caves revealed at low tide. Trails just before and after the reserve provide access to public portions of the beach. Ring the dinner bell, a giant iron triangle, when you reach Nitinat Narrows [km 32] to call for the ferry across this treacherous waterway. The ferry, operated by members of the Ditidaht Indian Band from early May to early October, costs $12.50 and is the only way to cross this deep tidal river. Keep your Trail Use Permit handy to show the operator when you board. Both ferries along the West Coast Trail must be paid for in advance upon registration. On a hot day it may be possible to purchase an ice cold brew or two from the skipper. Remember, however, if you intend to enjoy your beer at the next campsite you are expected to carry your empties, as with all your garbage, to be properly disposed of at the end of the trail. Water is going to be a problem for the next 10 km so be sure to top up with water once you reach the opposite shore. There is excellent water to the left of the main trail just a few steps from the dock. Due to the ignorance and immaturity of hikers in the past, the Indian villages of Whyac and Clo-oose [km 35] are now off limits. Hikers must remain on the forest the trail for the next 4 km until reaching the Cheewhat River. A number of unique petroglyphs in the vicinity of Clo-oose record the passage of the paddlewheel steamer Beaver and other sailing ships in 1836. These treasures too are now off-limits to hikers. From one of the cliff-top viewpoints between the two villages note the anchor below, all that remains of the Skagit which was shipwrecked in 1906.

Meaning "river of urine," water from the Cheewhat is undrinkable. A small spring to the left of the trail just before the Cheewhat River Bridge is, in spite of the sulphuric tinge, the best water in the area. What may be caustic to humans seems oddly attractive to crabs, however. Sizable dungeness crabs often litter the bottom of the shallow Cheewhat River as it meanders out to sea below the bridge. If equipped with a fishing license you may discover the real reason for carrying that hiking stick day after day. Using the oldest trick in the book, scare the crabs with the stick towards a companion waiting in the shallows. Always grip the crabs from behind, grasping the main shell firmly between thumb and forefingers. Use any other technique and you will no doubt find out how eager indeed the crabs are to end up in a pot of boiling water.

The point of land overlooking the mouth of the Cheewhat River is also Indian Reserve and therefore out of bounds but the sandy beach beyond that and extending for nearly 1½ km to Dare Point would be ideal for camping except for the lack of water. Only one site about 1 km away has an adequate supply. Since you will have already covered 13½ km since Klanawa River setting up camp here might be well-advised.

The West Coast Trail-Day Four Dare Pt to Walbran Cr 16 km

You'll start the day on the forest footpath again but only for a kilometre or so. Once past Dare Point [km 37] the beach is again accessible except when tides are running below 2.1 metres. Wreckage including the anchor from the steamer Santa Rita which ran aground in 1923 can be found in a surge channel about halfway between Dare Point and Dare Beach. The headland before Dare Beach is passable at low tide but the forest route, being both faster and safer, is recommended. From Dare Beach the trail moves inland and includes some sections of boardwalk leading to Carmanah Point Lighthouse. Before leaving the beach note the unique natural breakwater off shore called the Cribs [km 40.]

The Carmanah Point Light Station [km 44] was first manned in 1891 as a complement to the Cape Beale Light Station which was established in 1874 as a reference point to assist mariners searching for the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait.

Beyond the lighthouse you'll regain the beach once again. The trail follows a beach-only route for the next 7 km to Vancouver Point. If time is on your side, take a break at Carmanah Creek [km 46] and wade upstream 1.3 km unencumbered with packs for a look at the Carmanah Giant, the world's largest sitka spruce tree. The Carmanah Giant is 95 metres tall and 3 metres thick at the base. Carmanah Creek is also an excellent place to camp though I have seen the river and the beaches in the vicinity absolutely polluted from tens of thousands of krill-feasting herring gulls. The overwhelming stench made camping impossible.

Continuing on from Carmanah Creek looks easy. Do not be misled. The powdery sand places unique demands on your calf muscles, knees and lower back. While you will move forward at a rapid pace you'll find it exhausting work. Even at the water's edge, where the wet, packed sand is firmer, walking is never easy. Mercifully, the rocky sandstone shelves provide some relief when the tide is low. If the tide is below 3.7 metres it is possible to walk around Vancouver Point [km 51] and on to the mouth of the Walbran River [km 53.] Wading the river will be necessary, however, so this route is not recommended during spring runoff or following heavy rains. After 16 km of steady trudging you'll be more than eager to pitch the tent at this picturesque site.

The West Coast Trail-Day Five Walbran Cr to Camper Cr 9 km

Awaken well-rested after the long haul on the previous day to realize you have to undertake a mere 9 km amble today. Look a little closer at your map and notice that the terrain, relatively flat thus far, is about to undergo a dramatic transformation. The beach has suddenly become problematic forcing hikers away from the coast and into the forest. A succession of creeks big and small has cut deep ravines across your route. As you will soon discover, this day will stand out as a seemingly endless sequence of ladders, some of them broken, all of them slippery. From this day forward, when you think of the phrase "temperate rain forest" you will recall the magnificent gloom you are about to enter. Depending on the weather, you may also think of mud.

The 3 km from Walbran Creek to Logan Creek could be accomplished on the beach, at least when tides are below 2.1 metres, were it not for the dangerous surge channel at Adrenaline Creek [km 55.] Adrenaline Surge is a wide fissure that cuts through the intertidal shelf to the cliff face where a waterfall tumbles into the channel. During periods of low precipitation, and when tides are below 1.7 metres, an exposed rock in the middle of the surge channel provides a perilous stepping stone to the other side. Be forewarned: hikers have died here.

By comparison, the forest route is largely uneventful. From Walbran Creek you'll climb 150 metres or so to a boggy area, excellent mosquito habitat early in the season, before climbing ladders down into the ravine carved by Adrenaline Creek. After climbing out the other side, it will be another kilometre before you begin descending into Logan Creek canyon [km 56.] Ladders will drop you on to a suspension bridge which should not be crossed by more than six people at once. If you wish to access the beach and camping area follow the trail to the right once you have reached the opposite side of the span. Otherwise mount the ladders again to climb out of the ravine. There is no beach route between Logan Creek and Cullite Creek [km 58.]

The high ground is marshy once again but thankfully the trail is topped with a cedar boardwalk. Pay close attention to your footing as some boards may be cracked or broken. Always try to step across two boards at once in case one happens to give way. Repeat the up-down performance at Cullite Creek, crossing the river via cable car. Even if not camping at Cullite Cove this exquisite site is certainly worth a side trip. From the beach here I have seen a pod of killer whales swim by and on a different occasion, enjoyed watching a family of otters beachcombing in the early morning.

Just ½ km further on you'll encounter the bridge across Sandstone Creek. Descend the ladders to the beach to find another exceedingly attractive campsite complete with tumbling waterfall. Those who have had enough of yo-yo hiking will be pleased to know that the beach now becomes a viable alternative again. The catch is that getting onto the intertidal shelf at Sandstone Creek may require a bit of wading and is not accessible at all when the tide is above 1.2 metres. Having gained the shelf, the beach is passable to Camper Creek when tides are below 1.7 metres. When unsure, err on the side of caution and stay with the boggy forest route. The 3½ km to Camper Creek require no tricky manoeuvring, just steady plodding. As the best, last campsite before the end of the trail, Camper Creek [km 62] can get crowded. The

West Coast Trail- Day Six Camper Cr to Gordon R 13 km

After crossing the creek on the cable car and climbing out of the ravine, the end of the trail is a steady slog through the forest mud. Alternatives that involve the beach add welcomed variation as well as significant distance to your day. At two and three kilometres from Camper Creek the beach becomes accessible once again. Take the second access route to avoid a difficult surge channel. The rocky shelf here is passable when tides are below 2.4 metres for 1 km. Most hikers then return to the forest for the duration of the trip.

The geology along the next two kilometres of shelf to Owen Point, however, should not be missed. Known locally as Moonscape, the sandstone surfaces along the way have been uniquely sculpted by aeons of weather and water.

Owen Point itself is passable when the tide is below 1.8 metres. The beach route beyond that to Thrasher Cove is narrow with many loose rocks and can be clogged with driftwood making this an often demanding route. Cleft Falls and a series of delightful sea caves might just make following this route worthwhile however. As the going will be slow be sure to allow enough time to cover the 2½ km from the point to Thrasher Cove while the tide is out. Thrasher Cove is an attractive place to camp but those determined to reach the end of the trail before nightfall will have to climb 1 km steeply up to the main trail [km 70.] On the final 5 km leg of the journey you'll reach the highest point on the West Coast Trail, a viewpoint overlooking Port San Juan.

Shortly thereafter [km 72] you'll encounter another abandoned steam "donkey." This one was used to log the area in days gone by. This is the only section of the West Coast Trail which suffered the bite of the cross cut saw. Compare the thick understory vegetation that has resulted with the relatively open spaces beneath the canopy of virgin forest you passed through the day before. When you finally reach the trailhead at Gordon River [km 75] wait for the herring skiff that will ferry you across to the other side. Like the ferry that took you across Nitinat Narrows, boat transportation here costs $12.50 and should have been paid when you registered. The ferry operates just four times daily at 9:15 and 11:15 every morning and at 3:15 and 6:15 in the afternoon. Your Trail Use Permit is your ticket to ride. Return your permit to the Parks Canada office at the mouth of Gordon River. For those who have to weather one more night in the area while waiting for transportation there is commercial camping nearby at the Pacheenaht Indian reserve for $8 per tent per night.

The End


Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Though not in themselves palatable, skunk cabbage leaves had a zillion uses around the aboriginal kitchen. The unusually large leaves were ideal for lining and covering containers, lining steam pits, making fruit leather and sun drying seafood. Bears are known to bung themselves up by ingesting copious quantities of mud just prior to settling in for that long winter nap. Come springtime they seek out the laxative properties of skunk cabbage to -- stand back -- flush the system.

Illustration by Manami Kimura