Andy McKay

Jul 31, 2023

West Coast Trail - Second Time


This year I was able to do the West Coast Trail again. Last time I did it solo, this year I was able to go with a friend.

👉 Map of the trail as a PDF.

Going into the trail last year, I was quite anxious about what I was getting into - especially given the number of evacuations that occur and the reputation it has. This year I wasn’t worried at all, I’d done lots of hiking before and knew what was in store.

After completing the trail last year, I’d realised that many people from around the world do the trail with vary levels of physical fitness and preparedness. Living in North Vancouver and hiking here all year round, I basically hike in the same conditions as the trail all year round.

When I meet people on the trail from every part of the world, they just don’t get that chance to practice or prepare for the conditions.

This year I had more time and travelling with a friend had more opportunity to enjoy and share the experience. Last time I completed in 5 days, this time we aimed for 6 days.

Getting there and Direction

All the same as last year and doing south 👉 north again. I don’t think I’d ever want to do north 👉 south.

Day one: Gordon River to Camper Bay

18.47km in 8h 23m

We’ve had one of the driest summers on record and haven’t seen rain for months. So naturally, it rained on us, a lot. It started off with the West Coast fog and drizzle and got worse and worse.

Like last year we got to the Thrasher’s junction and realised that we’d have to put up the tents in the rain and basically sit in them for the rest of the day. Doing the boulder field around Owen Point in the rain the next day didn’t appeal either as it would be really slippy.

So we did what I did last year and went straight on inland to Camper Bay.

That’s when it really started rain. Everything became muddy and slippy and it feels more like jungle parkour with 30lb backpacks on muddy slippy trails than I hike. We didn’t see a single other person until Campers.

This was a tough, wet and hard day. It stopped raining at the end, so fortunately we could set up in Campers in the dry.

We heard there were 4 evacuations from Thrashers and 2 from Walbran - damaged ankles, damaged wrists, and hypothermia.

Note: last year the exact same watch recorded 13.35km for this exact same part of the trail. I’m not sure where the extra 5km or so came from 🤷‍♂

Day two: Camper Bay to Walbran

12.35km in 7h 47m

This day was super hard too, it rained on and off all the time we were hiking. It features lots of logs, broken boardwalks, mud and so many of the worst ladders.

It’s not all bad - it’s also got the marsh which is a lovely part of the trail. It’s flat and you get a nice view across the marsh. These last two days for me are so indicative of the trail, you really get into the rainforest and it’s just wonderful. Many huge old growth trees.

Arriving at Walbran was wonderful, the sun had come through after 2 days of rain and it lit up the forest in bright green. We dropped our backpacks on the beach and just soaked in the heat - before unpacking everything to dry out.

Day three: Walbran to Cribbs

12.43km in 5h

This was planned as an easier day. Most days we were up and moving by around 7:30am, so we’d aimed to be done after lunch and have a bit of a rest day to relax. It started off with a fog bank rolling in, which meant that we didn’t get much of a view, but it was still beautiful.

There’s a small inland bit around Carmanah lighthouse, but most of this part of the trail is beach walking. Last year the lighthouses were closed, so I was glad to be able to go and checkout the lighthouse grounds. Unfortunately the view was just fog 😢

By the time we got to Cribbs the sun had come out. We set up our tents on the beach and then basically enjoyed the sun - and we got a bit sunburnt 😀

A real highlight was a grey whale that decided to spend some time playing in the sea right off the rocky beach. About 20 metres away from the rock we were standing on, a grey whale spent 30 minutes or more hanging out - probably rubbing against the barnacles and rocks.

After the last two tough days hiking in the rain, spirits were restored.

And to the people who kept turning up in camp from the North saying “long day, what a long day…” you’ve got some long ones coming up.

Day four: Cribbs to Tsusiat

18.24km to 5h 24m

The spacing of where to camp on the West Coast Trail remains due to the lack of camping between Cribbs and Tsusiat, so it does mean that this day is a long one, with shorter days either side.

The beaches in this section are gravel and they are hard to walk on. I’ve got no idea how to prepare for them, there’s nothing like this on any other hike. Gravel is soft and slips, because the beach is sloped consistently one way, my left knee started to hurt more on this bit.

Again, it was foggy, limiting the views. The drought was in evidence at the waterfall, which was much, much smaller than last year. The fog didn’t really lift, just coming thicker. But hey, we got to walk through the sea arch.

Multiple whales hung around by the campsite.

Day five: Tsusiat to Michigan

13.90km in 5h 28m

Another scenic section with forest sections and some of the more gravelly beaches.

At this point, I felt that we were full on enjoying the trail, knowing that we’d pretty much completed the trail. We chatted to people who’d been moving at the same pace as us. The sun was strong, there was no fog and we ended up camping in the forest to avoid the heat.

At Michigan there were even more whales hanging out. Just watching the headland further out, we could see so many spouts of water coming up, that weren’t sure how many there were. A bunch of them.

Michigan has nice views back to the headlands along the trail. It looks like such a long way. When we found out that the headland we could see was actually Bonilla Point (before Cribbs), we realised how far we’d come.

Day six: Michigan to Pachena

12.91km in 3h 50m

The last easy bit of the trail. We left early and ended up at Pachena early and had to just sit on the beautiful sandy beach in the sun for a couple of hours waiting for the bus to take us home. Camping at Michigan feels like you’ve done the trail, but ending up on Pachena beach really is the home coming.

The highlight of this part of trail are the lighthouse and sea lion rock. We got a nice chance to chat to the lighthouse keeper. Sadly there were no sea lions on the rock, they’d all migrated somewhere else.

Summary

Everything I said last time still holds. This is a beautiful trail in an amazing part of the world. I ❤️ this part of the world a lot.

I would do it every year if the opportunity came up. If I had to make a choice between this trail and another one in the world, I’d like to explore more of the world. Living nearby and it being relatively easy for me to organise, makes it a tempting thing to just keep doing again and again.

Waking up at home on Sunday morning, I missed not being on the West Coast Trail. Missed waking up in my tent, making my breakfast, sitting watching the whales from the beach and looking forward to a day of hiking. That’s probably a good sign that I enjoyed my trip.