by Stephanie Staples | photos by Carolyn Cousins –
“We don’t need a guide!”
“Ummm, maybe you don’t need a guide, but I need a guide!” And so the conversation went with my friend Carolyn, the president of the Peninsula Newcomers Club; she wanted to do the West Coast Trail and so did I; she had an adventurous daughter and so did I … let’s do a Mother/Daughter Adventure Trip!
The next thing you know, I’m scavenging for backcountry camping equipment and lugging a 30-pound pack up every hill in the area, training in earnest for our epic summer adventure.
All the trail videos say this multi-day trek is for experienced backcountry hikers only and newbies need not apply. It’s a dangerous expedition and 2022 was one of the worst years for trail injuries and evacuations.
The total sum of our collective experience lies with Carolyn’s daughter, Laura – the rest of us are inexperienced, albeit enthusiastic, participants.
Now if you are going to do something like this without a guide, I hope you have a friend like Carolyn. She is smart, organized, safety conscious, captains her own boat and is a detail-oriented planner of unexplainable proportions. She leaves no stone unturned – she has watched videos, read blogs, has tide tables and charts and her confidence that we can do this is greater than my doubt that we can’t.
We started from Nitinat (the halfway point) with plans to go north 32 kilometres to Bamfield. This may seem reasonably smarter than doing the whole trail when you are new, but truth be told we only did that because you have to reserve and we couldn’t get access to the whole trail (cue secret sigh of relief).
Four of us loaded up our 35- to 40-pound packs into the four-wheel drive and three of us loaded up with Gravol to get us through the 2.5 hours of logging roads, which Laura manoeuvred expertly, I might add.
After a brief trail orientation, a water taxi dropped us off at the trailhead and we were off – ankle deep in mud from the get-go.
I shall be starting a petition to have the name of the trail changed to the West Coast Obstacle Course, because that is exactly what it was. Some of the obstacles included: ladders to scale up and ladders to navigate down, slippery mud that was capable of capturing (and removing) your boots, broken bridges, flowing creeks, cable cars, rocks to boulder, giant step-ups on roots (the short-legged hiker is definitely at a disadvantage here), and of course elevation and descents (sorry knees).
But … we had a filthy, wet, encouraging, supporting, learning, laughing through so many challenges, blast. We only got a little “lost” once and it ended up being one of the most fun parts of the trip. No one got hurt, bonds were made, skills were honed and everyone pulled their weight (literally).
The scenery was breathtaking and ever changing – I loved how the trail dipped down to oceanfront hiking (check those tide tables!), we stopped often – not just to dip our hands into the trail mix, our feet into a cool stream, to pee in the woods or to take a rest – but to take our surroundings in, I mean really take them in. We would stop and just be quiet – to really smell, to really look, to really listen. We were all so full of gratitude and appreciation – for our able bodies and grit, for each other and the contributions each person brought and for the guardians of the trail, for Mother Nature.
The camping itself was so incredible, we decided to slow our pace and take an extra day on the trail. We had one beach all to ourselves (save for one other family), we had one night when half a dozen people from around the world joined us at our campfire. We drank from waterfalls (thank you Steri-pen), slept under the stars, enjoyed the waves crashing, the sea lions barking, the porpoises dancing by and the eagles soaring above; we had bear education, bear bells and bear spray but nary a bear in sight.
If I never have instant oatmeal or dehydrated mac & cheese again, it will be OK – it definitely wasn’t a foodie tour! With Carolyn navigating and Laura leading all things camp related, Kara and I could mostly contribute with tasks like fetching water, doing dinner and dishes and being good teammates – we all agreed this trip was a winner and as soon as we got back to the vehicle everyone declared the full trail was in our future. We were, after all, experienced backcountry hikers now!
Making memories, connecting with my daughter Kara, learning new skills, exploring our beautiful Island and challenging myself – these were just a few reasons I said yes to an experience such as this. My advice if you want to do the trail: pack your waterproof boots, gators, poles, and maybe check to see if Carolyn and Laura are available!
The best time to start your research on the West Coast Trail is right now as they accept a limited number of reservations per season and it fills up quickly (we booked in January). For the most current information on booking, visit https://tinyurl.com/verctx3u.