We knew Day 5 would be rough because we’d finally have to eat actual backpacking food for lunch. Just kidding. Day 5 was a bit of a muddy slog through the woods. Again, the books and posts made this section sound very daunting – “knee deep mud” – “you’ll cry every time you see a ladder” – but we didn’t find it to be so terrible.
The biggest challenge with the muddy sections is that you’re on high alert for the best routes with the least amount of mud. You’re constantly prodding at the mud with your hiking pole, trying to find a rock or a piece of wood to land your next step. It’s mentally exhausting, and it sucks that you can be successful in your mud navigation 99.9% of the time, but one slip is all it takes to drench your boots (if you have crummy, non-waterproof boots like I did).
(Cedric didn’t take as many photos on this day, for the aforementioned reasons.)
The biggest challenge with the ladders is the school groups. School groups are permitted to tackle the trail late in the season, and you do not want to be caught behind one while navigating the ladders, since only one person is allowed on each ladder at a time.
But if you’re me, the mud and the ladders aren’t the most challenging elements. That honour would go to log bridges – you know, those massive fallen logs that you have to tight-rope over in order to traverse otherwise un-navigable sections of the trail. For some reason, I LOATHE these. The three boys seemed to cross them with relative ease, but my vision always seemed to go blurry as I inched my way along the slippery buggers. Thankfully, none of us ever bailed.
Eventually, we found ourselves at Camper Bay. There weren’t as many epic spots to pitch a tent at this site, but we found a great space just across the river. A solo northbound hiker from France joined us for the evening and gave us some intel into what lay before us on the so-called hardest sections of the West Coast Trail.
I think we discovered the key for making the final 13 km of the WCT manageable: split it up into two days. Instead of one long, grueling day, you end up with two perfectly delightful half days of hiking.
The West Coast Trail in its entirety is all pretty epic, but there was one section we knew we couldn’t miss: Owen’s Point. This is the most finicky section to coordinate, tide-wise, but we were willing to do whatever it took to make it work.
After a leisurely morning, we took to the trails and navigated through some more mud in the woods before we popped out at Beach Access A. We’d planned to meet the fellows from Calgary here, as we heard the boulder zone past Owen’s Point was a hot spot for bears and we figured power in numbers was a good idea.
While we waited for the tides to catch up, we sprawled out on some rocks in the sun and gobbled up the last of our PB&J bagels. Then, I borrowed Phil’s binoculars and started scanning the ocean. Seeing whales was at the top of my WCT goal list, and I finally had time to do some proper scouting. After a few false alarms, I finally saw them: a pod of three (at least) whales off in the distance. You could see them even without the binoculars – the mist from their blowholes, the fins on their backs, their tails as they dipped down. It was a fantastic show.
Finally, the tides were low enough for us to set off. The walk to Owen’s Point was delightful. The sandstone looked slippery, but it generally wasn’t. There were a few surge channels, which were either easy enough to hop over or avoidable via detour.
The water was still just a bit high when we got to Owen’s Point, but Cedric and Phil found a way to get around it from above. Finally – it was time to explore. The wait was worth it, and we spent a good half hour checking out the incredible formations.
And then it was boulder time.
I didn’t love the boulders. I’d read there were boulders the size of houses. Somehow, I’d interpreted that as low, flat boulders the size of a house’s footprint. Nope – these boulders were actually the size of houses, as in you had to walk up and over and back down a bunch of mansion-sized rocks. We sometimes had to get creative in planning our routes through the massive rocks, and the incoming tide had me feeling a little panicky on occasion (though really, there was nothing to worry about).
The boulder section seemed to go on forever, but we finally arrived at Thrasher’s Cove – our final campsite. We set up shop next to the Calgarians and enjoyed a wonderful dinner celebrating Phil’s birthday (we even made cake!)
Ahh, Day 7. For the last time, I pulled on my eternally damp, mildew smelling, woefully stained white shirt. I would certainly miss some things about the WCT – this was not one of them.
I previously mentioned that we had been warned about high bear activity at the Thrasher’s Cove campsite during our orientation session. I was pleased to have made it through the night without coming eye to eye with a bear … but we weren’t in the clear yet.
A school group had been camped out near us the night before, but they’d taken off earlier that morning. Aside from us and the Calgary guys, only one other couple remained, camped further down on the beach. I was happily enjoying my 7th bowl of oatmeal in as many days when I realized that this couple was trying to get our attention.
I looked to the right towards the boulders to see a decent sized black bear moseying his way over to us.
Everyone reacted a little differently. One guy dropped his breakfast; another pulled out his phone to snap photos. We all tried making some noise – I banged two pots together in an attempt to spook the bear. It didn’t work; he didn’t look particularly aggressive, but he also wasn’t showing any hesitation despite the cacophony.
Cedric’s approach seemed to work the best: throwing rocks close enough to the bear that he realized we meant business. When a rock landed nearby, the bear scampered off into the trees.
After this, we became slightly more efficient, finishing up breakfast and quickly taking down camp. Then we were off for our last day of hiking.
The ladders out of Thrasher’s Cove up to the trail got our hearts pumping, but they weren’t as terrible as they’d been made out to be by others. This was by far the most undulating section of the trail we encountered, with some pretty steep ups and downs. We actually loved it – maybe because we’re all used to hiking up and down mountains at home. By now, our packs were light and we knew we only had a few hours of hiking left. Best of all, this section had the least amount of mud we’d encountered the entire trail!
Kilometer markers are placed throughout the inland portion of the trail, but we’d heard a few were missing towards this end. That made it hard to assess where, exactly, we were in relation to the end. We knew we’d finally made it when we got to a steep ladder that lead us down to the beach – our last stop on the WCT.
As we waited for the ferry to take us across the Gordon River, we threw off our shoes, scrubbed our smelly feet, and grabbed our token “After” shot. We may be a little dirtier and smellier, but our smiles are just as big as they were in the “Before”.
And that’s the story of how we trekked the West Coast Trail!
Next week, I’ll be recapping some of the planning and logistics aspect of the trip. Stay tuned.