Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The North Coast Trail

To celebrate Canada and all of its rugged beauty, I went on a 6 day hiking adventure along the North Coast and Cape Scott Trails. These trails are located at the very north west end of Vancouver Island between San Josef and Port Hardy.

My companions on this adventure were Andrew (my beloved, gorgeous fellow on the far right), Chris (aka Hop-Along-Kid, far left) and Bruce (aka The Mighty Bruce, very useful for tossing people over impassable chasms, second from right).

The North Coast Trail is pretty rugged. It officially opened May 2008 and while much has been done to mark the trail and set up the campsites, it is still quite a wilderness adventure. In my opinion, it makes the West Coast Trail look like a cake walk.

We started the trip with a boat ride to the trail head at Shushartie Bay. Eventually there will be a dock there but for now our captain drove his boat up on the rocks and ran the motor to hold it there while we jumped off the bow, packs and all.

In a few spots, particularly the stretch between Skinner's Creek and Cape Sutil, we had to climb up or down some steep banks with the aid of some hefty ropes. This was a made a little more exciting by the fact that we were carrying heavy packs (mine weighed about 50 lbs).

We are seriously thinking about what we can do to lighten our packs for the next trip. Along the trail we heard rumours about two guys from Austria who were only carrying 25 lb packs - they were sleeping in hammocks and eating fish or shell fish that they gathered along the way. We also met a father and son from Vancouver who were dining on pizza, bacon and eggs and pancakes and their packs only weighed 35 lbs. We ate oatmeal for breakfast, Cliff Bars for lunch and Mr. Noodles with Beef Jerky for dinner. Every day. With sand for seasoning.

The North Coast Trail has two cable cars for crossing the larger rivers and for the rest you just have to improvise. The first stretch between Shushartie Bay and Skinner creek is a series of muddy bogs. There are a few boardwalks but it had been raining the week before our trip so the mud was deep and thick. At one point Bruce sank in so deep that the mud came above his knee. He advised the rest of us to try a different route. There are also many trees fallen across the path to climb over or try to duck under. This made for slow going at times. For the first two days I think we were only travelling at 1.5 km/hour.

The Cape Scott Trail has some very nice log bridges with hand rails that are just the right height for resting your pack. It has been open since 1973 and is much more established than the North Coast Trail. It has many boardwalks over boggy areas, kilometer markings and general signs of civilization.

The beaches here are quite sandy and there are many nice day hikes you can take to the lighthouse or to the old farmsteads. After trekking through the wilderness for 5 days we came upon two young girls skipping along in crocks. I was expecting to see a parking lot full of caravans just around the corner. I wonder what they thought of our large packs and mud caked gators.

At the end of our journey we caught a ride from San Josef back to Port Hardy. It was from this van that we saw the only bear of our entire trip. We had seen lots of bear skat along the way, some even still steaming, but no bears. I am quite OK with that. We also stopped to pay homage to the trail by the "Tree of Lost Soles" where many travelers have abandoned their muddy boots. We finally arrived at the C&N Backpackers hostel where we enjoyed a long, hot shower then went out for a beer. Another adventure safely concluded.

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