Surviving the West Coast Trail - Alys Shantz Photography

Surviving the West Coast Trail

West Coast Trail, Canada 2019

I truly believe the West Coast Trail with its rugged beauty, sensory overload, and demand for endurance is one of the most amazing experiences in the world. After a 20 year absence, I was delighted to be back on the West Coast Trail this summer. It was as intensely beautiful as I remember, but even more special because I hiked it with my amazing daughter, Lauren. Best hiking partner anyone could have asked for.

Day 1: Gordon River to Thrasher Cove

I love to do the West Coast Trail from South to North so that every step seems a little bit easier, but it means the first 6km take about as long as the last 12km.

Day 2: Thrasher Cove to Camper Bay

Boulder fields, surge channels, Kellet Rock and Owen Point. This section is so tide dependent that many will miss some of the most spectacular features on the West Coast Trail. Take your time and plan around the ocean. It’s worth it!

Day 3: Camper Bay to Walbran Creek

Boot camp day on the West Coast Trail. Roots, mud, and ladders with over 200 rungs that climb the equivalent of a 30 storey building! And yet somehow we got in to camp earlier than expected on one serious endorphin high.

Day 4: Walbran Creek to Carmanah Creek

After many days of slogging on the forest trail, it’s great to hike the beach and enjoy the iconic sea stacks of the West Coast Trail’s Bonilla Point. Even more amazing when the day ends with a free afternoon in the sunshine and a magnificent sunset at the spectacular Carmanah Lighthouse.

Day 5: Carmanah Creek to Cribbs Creek

If you’re going to trek in some of the most beautiful temperate rainforest and rugged coastline in the world, wouldn’t you want to take a day off to enjoy it? We took a luxury day on the West Coast Trail where we hiked a mere 4 km from Carmanah Creek to Cribbs Creek and thoroughly enjoyed our day in the sunshine. So worth it!

Day 6: Cribbs Creek to Tsusiat Falls

And then the rains came. We woke up to torrential rain, a flooded creek and a full moon-induced high tide that left seaweed at the door of our tent. Everything was soaked and getting wetter by the moment as we furiously broke camp and packed. Rain adds substantial weight to one’s gear and we felt every single ounce of it. What would normally have been an enjoyable day on the West Coast Trail turned in to 9 hours of hell slogging through a river of flash-flooded trail with my camera stowed deep in my pack.

And then the heavens broke and the beauty returned. And soon, the memory of the violent rainfall we awoke to was replaced by the glory of Tsusiat Falls, which had turned from a trickle in previous days to a majestic roaring wonder.

Day 7: Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Creek

Let’s not forget that the West Coast Trail was created for a reason. The area is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” for the nearly 70 ships that have wrecked upon its shores.

The worst of these maritime disasters was the sinking of the Valencia in 1906. On January 22, the passenger ship Valencia lost her way in heavy fog and rain and struck a reef near Pachena Point. Over a period of 36 hours, the ship was slowly broken apart by huge waves. Few made it the short distance to shore and fewer still were able to reach safety once on land. In all, 133 persons perished in unspeakable conditions, including all women and children aboard.

In response to this disaster, the Canadian government improved an overgrown telegraph route along the coast and turned it into a lifesaving trail for shipwrecked mariners. Over time, technology improved, the frequency of shipwrecks declined, and in 1973, the West Coast Trail became part of the Pacific Rim National Park.

Though another spectacular day for us on the trail, it was important to consider its dark history when pausing at Valencia Bluffs, overlooking the site of the disaster, which is now marked by two beautiful red Adirondack chairs.

Day 8: Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay

After a lovely 12 km hike on well-maintained trail, we reached the Pachena Bay trailhead and another expedition on the West Coast Trail was complete. Hiking the West Coast Trail is a little like giving birth. It’s painful and beautiful all at the same time. When it’s done, you swear you’ll never do it again and then the edges of your memory quickly fade and you can’t wait to go back. Such a powerful and memorable adventure.

Check out my West Coast Trail gallery to see more of my photos and order prints.

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