Reviewer: Fuzzy Monkey
Quick Overview of the WCT
The West Coast Trail is located on Vancouver Island. It is part of the Pacific Rim National Park which spans more than 197 sq mi. The other three regions consist of Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands and the West Coast Trail. The following review covers the West Coast Trail region of the park. Readers should also be aware this review takes place starting from the north and heads south.
The West Coast Trail or (WCT) is roughly 75KM or approximately 47 miles. It traverses the southern coast of Vancouver Island from Pachena Bay in the north to Port Renfrew in the south. It was originally built to aid in the rescue of shipwrecked sailors and passengers. Since the 1970’s the trail has been established as a recreational trail and brings hikers through rainforest, sandy beaches and rocky shores. The numerous ladders, cable car river crossings and boardwalk adds to the difficulty, challenge and allure of the trail.
Visitors are required to obtain a permit at the Parks Canada office at either end of the trail. The cost at the time I hiked was about $169 USD. This includes two river crossings by boat ferry. Additional cost you may incur is $8 for a waterproof map of the trail. When you purchase your permit the park also provides a video and briefing prior to your hike. When we visited the Bamfield office a sign in the office stated there had been 94 evacuations this season. If you have limited hiking experience the video is a great source of information about hiking in general and in some cases geared towards the WCT.
It’s also important to get a tide schedule prior to hiking the trail. This can be obtained from the WCT information office. Since the trail does traverse along the shore you need to know when the trail is passable. When tides are high, some sections of the trail are NOT passable.
Another treat while hiking the WCT is the fresh crab at the Nitnat Narrows. The ferry operator sells crab for $20 each. If cheese burgers are your thing then it might be possible to purchase one from Chez’s just after the Carmanah Lighthouse.
Fuzzy Monkey’s advise on hiking Vancouver’s West Coast Trail. (WCT)
My visit to Vancouver’s West Coast Trail was during the end of summer beginning of fall (September 18-28, 2011). My actual time on the trail was September 20-26th. We started hiking on the Tuesday the 20th and I arrived in Port Renfrew on Monday the 26th. This is considered the shoulder season and advanced permits were not required. According to the park officials the traffic and visitation drops considerably after September 15th. Our visit included a lot of rain which I was somewhat prepared for.
My friend and I decided to start at the north end near Bamfield and head south to Port Renfrew. We arrived at the campground in Bamfiled later in the day on a Monday the 19th. Woke up on Tuesday, sat through the park presentation and started our trek Tuesday late morning. When we started the weather was nice and the following morning was pleasant as well. Then the rain started and it pretty much rained every day for most of the day until I finished on Monday the 26th.
I definately recommend purchasing the waterproof map from the information center. This serves as great way to identify where you are on the trail. It also gives KM markings in addition to other information about the trail. I referred to this map several times throughout the day, in addition it also provided something to read and study before falling asleep.
Prepare to get wet if hiking during the late shoulder season as we did. If you are prepare,d than hiking the trail is not that bad. If you are not mentally prepared for dark days and wet weather then you may want to hike during the drier days in July and August. But from what I hear you will also need to be aware that this is also the busiest time and more people will be on the trail. Reservations will also be required during the busy nicer weather months. According to the Parks Ranger Station, they only allows 60 hikers on at a time during the busy season.
My feet got wet, plain and simple. I don’t really see anyway around this. If you are hiking during the wetter months and days your feet will get wet. The nature of the trail is such that when it rains the trail gets really muddy and no matter how hard you try, you end up stepping into puddles of water and mud. I spoke to one hiker who had full waterproof boots and he still got water inside of his boots. So my recommendation is to wear a lighter material shoe with mesh so the water can at least be squeezed out when you’re not in the water. I wore Merrill Radius mid hiking boots and found them to be adequate. I would also recommend a pair of crocs or sandals around camp. When you’re done hiking for the day it’s really nice to get out of wet socks and wet shoes. My feet and toes looked like prunes every night when I finished for the day. Having crocs to walk around camp is really nice. Your feet have a chance to dry out and if you want to walk along the beach you can just throw on the crocs and keep your boots/shoes from getting sandy.
You may notice from the pictures and video, I don’t really wear rain gear all that much when I’m hiking. I find rain gear restricting and hot for my sweaty body and my clothes end up getting web from sweat anyway. I prefer to just wear a normal quick drying shirt when I hike. Yes, I do get a little colder this way but then If I need warmth I just put on my warmer layer such as a fleece or down sweater type jacket. If your hiking style is more relaxed such that you don’t sweat under your rain gear, and not as exhaustive, rain gear my be a good option. About the only time I wear it is if I’m cold or it’s really windy which was not the case for this hike.
Trekking poles saved my life on this trail. Whenever I hike for any sort of distance I bring them. I am really glad that I had them for this hike. They came in handy for navigating the muddy trail and to poke around the pools of water to find out how deep they were. I’d much rather find out how deep the water/mud is before stepping forward and filling my boots with mud. Another advantage to having trekking poles is keeping your balance. Since the trail is very challenging in most sections you will find yourself off-balance for much of the hiking. Having trekking poles provides the extra balance needed to navigate the uneven terrain. The only drawback I found to having the trekking poles for this particular hike is that you don’t need them when you’re climbing the numerous ladders along the trail. It became a bit of a pain to have to collapse them each time I came to a set of ladders. I quickly found out that just holding both poles in one hand was adequate for navigating and climbing the ladders, so I avoided having to collapse them each time I came to a set of ladders. Another nuisance was what to do with them when crossing the rivers on the cable cars. There was at least one instance where I just put then in the car and they almost slid out of the bottom of the cable car. So just remember if you are on one of the cable cars you may want to secure your trekking poles to your pack or the cable car itself before zipping across the river.
Navigating the trail is relatively easy. The kilometer markers indicate where you are on the trail. There were a few blow-downs and re-routes through some of the rainforest that added to the navigating but nothing serious. A map of the trail can be purchased from the WCT ranger office at either end of the trail. I highly recommend this, both for the information and for the nice souvenir representing the location of your hike.
River crossing are easy but I hear can be more challenging with excessive rain. When hikers get to the Nitnat Narrows and to the Gordon River you are required to use the parks ferry’s. The rides are covered under the permit you purchased at the start of your hike. The ferry operator at the Nitnat Narrows sells crab to the visitors when he has them available. I’m not that crazy about crab so I passed on this. When we were there he charged $20 for one crab which I though was expensive. The two ladies that crossed the river with me apparently really enjoyed them.
I also heard about a place on the trail that sells cheeseburgers. Apparently this is only about 1KM after the Carmanah Lighthouse. Since I stayed at the Carmanah Lighthouse I passed Chez’s place first thing in the morning. It was eerily quiet and there was nobody around. I was nervous about hiking around Bonillia point, because of the tide, so I just hiked past it. Judging by the poster board and menu outside, it appeared this was expensive. I guess you’re paying for the convenience and atmosphere of being right on the beach.
I had mountain house freeze-dried dinners that I was trying to use up so this was my dinner several nights. I brought instant coffee for the morning. I’m really glad I brought the coffee and wish I would have brought more. Since our mornings were wet and often cold it would have been nice to have more than one cup. Tea would also be a good option for a warm beverage. My lunches were tortillas’ power bars, trail mix. Breakfast was oatmeal, chocolate and trail mix. I also had some beef jerky to supplement my meals.
To document this trip I started with my Sony DV digital camera. The first two days were great and I was able to get some good film. However, once it started to rain, moisture started to build up and it stopped working. I also brought along my Cannon PowerShot D10 waterproof digital camera. I have grown to love this little camera. It is waterproof, freeze proof and shock proof. It’s one of the best pieces of equipment I have. Since my Sony DV stopped working I was able to just continue filming with my D10. Although the quality of the D10 MPG is not as good as the Sony, I was still able to get footage of hiking the trail. It was way more important for me to get the filming so I’m glad I has this as an alternative to my Sony DV camera.
Overall I had a great experience on the West Coast Trail. It was wet but with a few modifications to my gear selections I would have been really happy and comfortable. Total hiking days was 6 which I’m told is about average. If you can manage to take more food with you and to slow down, I would recommend it. Several of the campsites were great and with better weather I could have been totally tempted to just lay around and enjoy the campsite and ocean views. If hiking during the shoulder season make shuttle arrangements prior to leaving. When I arrived in Port Renfrew there was very limited services. Buss services is limited to every other day. Motel’s and hotels close up for the season. I even ran into a sign at the Chamber of Commerce that read “Closed until May 2012” Cell phone service is extremely limited or non-existent. I have included some links for more information regarding the trail and hiking.
Special Thanks to my friend Joe M. for planning this trip. Thanks for driving and crashing at your place and everything in between.
Gear List – Fuzzy Monkey’s 2011 West Coast Trail Gear List