Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hiking the WCT: Day 7, 13 June 2009

[Welcome to Day 7 of Hiking the West Coast Trail.  Please see my previous posts (Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6) for the start of this little adventure. Remember, all photos can be clicked on to see a full-size version in all its glory, as well as see any fine details I may refer to.]

Day 7 would be our longest day of the hike with 13.5 km to travel from Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Creek, our final campsite that night.  Knowing we had a lot of ground to cover, we all instinctively packed up quickly.  But before we'd even had a chance to start taking down our tents, we had a surprise visitor:  a river otter dashing straight through camp, not 8 m from Mother and me.  It came up from the water and bounded over the logs toward the woods.  Miraculously, I managed a couple of photos but with my less-than-high-speed film and the misty dawn, the otter was always just a furry blur.  So much for my miracle.

After breakfast (the usual oatmeal & dried apricot and mangos except for Kelly who was still enjoying her mashed potatoes) and final mugs of coffee and tea, we made our farewells to the cave and it's constant companion:  Rock Face Bear.

We left Tsusiat Falls before 8:30am - ahead of schedule! - heading straight up the ladders we'd practically slept under.  ( I neglected to realize this until after our previous afternoon's bathing and changing, which had been lazily done on the far side of the tent, rather than within, out of sight of any nearby campers.  Until, that is,  I looked up over the top of the tent, spotting the ladders we'd be climbing the next morning, complete with hikers descending.  Luckily, they were far too busy watching their feet to have any chance of spotting a brief flash of my bare backside far below.  Modesty?  What modesty?  After a week in the bush, there is no such thing as modesty.)

Tsusiat Falls Camp Exit

Tsusiat Falls Camp down below; Melly up top!

Once up the ladders, we were back on the Trail proper, flanking the long beach below.  We soon found ourselves crossing above Tsusiat Falls, where you could see the white horizon line of the deceptively still water before it plunges over the edge.  [Insert visual of Romancing the Stone waterfall plummet here, minus the dingy Renault R4.]

Before long we were hiking back up at the edge of the world, soaking up the ocean-to-sky vista.   My hyperactive imagination was revving once again, looking down at this shallow cave in the cliff face, sure to be water-filled by high tide, sealing whatever forgotten pirate treasure had been secreted away within.  If we could have gotten to it, I'd have loved to explore it first hand. [The cave, not the imaginary booty.]

Can you see any battered skulls amongst the rocks?

Looking back - Hole in the Wall
Possibly my favorite view of the day was looking back from one of the farther-reaching cliff points to see Hole in the Wall in the distance.  Earlier in the morning it had been obscured, either by the terrain or the heavy fog, but it gradually cleared enough to take this atmospheric photograph which I think best illustrates its relative location to the island itself and just how far it seems to reach out into the ocean.  If I were using this particular spot as a film location, I would certainly utilize this time of day's moody, sodden greyness to maximize the sense of isolation and potential for disaster.  [Just add a few creeping cannibals disengaging themselves from the shadowy rocks and drawing ever closer to the unsuspecting hikers passing underneath and voila...  the next great indie horror picture is born!]

Is that a cable car I see before me?

Descending in elevation again,  it was time for another river crossing.  Remember Day 3? [I know.  It was a long time ago.  Try to remember.] Well, we were finally encountering another cable car at Klanawa River.  Time for me to show my quality. (A la Faramir from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.)  Once again, Mother and I crammed ourselves as well as our BAPs into the cable car, but this time... This Time I pulled us completely across.  Just me.  [Dramatic music swells; time for an emotional montage showing past obstacles and failures including our pathetic first crossing when we sat idly doing nothing... and then the musical crescendo peaks as we triumphantly reach the distant bank and a huge grin transforms my currently drab, unpainted face as I victoriously pump my fists in the air.]   Naturally,  I don't have a photo of us.  Someone else in the group took one but so far everyone has failed me (yes, gang, I'm talking to you!) so you'll have to settle for a poor substitute (below).  [Or maybe you would prefer the alternate version with a more ominous score where John and Carter sabotage our cable car, we plummet to our untimely deaths, and they raid our packs for extra soap and oatmeal, but search in vain for the extra West Coast Trail Granola they think we were hoarding.]

Cable Car stand-ins:  John & Carter

Lauren pulling everyone else along

With the river at our backs, we were once again hiking the sandstone shelf of the coast, near km 22.  Almost immediately we spotted an adorable, reddish brown mink, darting across our path.  Much like the initial rush of pleasure created by a bite of really good chocolate, wildlife sightings always give me a sudden jolt of excitement, an unexpected treat that just makes me inexplicably and undeniably happy. [I should probably be concerned that the previous analogy reveals an obsessive-sounding relationship with chocolate but who am I kidding?  That's hardly a well-guarded secret.  Besides, you know exactly the sensation I mean.]  In addition we saw quite a few small crabs skittering amongst the uneven holes of the shelf, as well as numerous fossils including this one of a small starfish.

We hiked the beach for another 2 clicks until we reached Trestle Creek where M&K had planned a packs-off break, expecting to show off the big anchor that has been beached on the rocks there for at least 2 decades -- so long that it's even marked on the official West Cost Trail Map distributed by Parks Canada and photos of it are found in most WCT books.  And was no where to be found.  Searching in vain, we finally found part of the heavy chain to which it was attached hidden amongst the rocks, so it would seem it was buried in a rock slide during the winter months as M & K confirmed that it was still in it's usual place last September when they made their final hike of the season.  I don't mind saying I was a little disappointed.  I know it was just an anchor, but still, it was supposed to be there.  But not to worry, I'm a glass-is-half-full kind of girl so at least when they reprint the trail maps, ours will be vintage!

Shipwreck relic

Today's section of the trail was rich with shipwrecked history even by the Graveyard of the Pacific standards.  We skirted the impassable headlands knows as Valencia Bluffs, named for the iron steamer that went down there.  Once past and back on the beach again, we rested while Mark read us a harrowing account of the Valencia's plight, in which all but 9 of it's 160 or so crew and passengers died, including every last women and child, after the ship hit a reef and emergency evacuation measures failed.  Between Mark's powerful words, the grey skies, and turgid-seeming sea, it was a very moving story to hear sitting on that beach, looking out at the very waters where such a tragic accident occurred.  Since I tend toward a more light-hearted tone, I won't go into further detail but if you are so inclined, I encourage you to check out the wikipedia link above which is quite thorough. 

After Valencia Bluffs, we hiked inland for another km or so, mostly on forest-crowded boardwalk, before the Trail led us to Tsocowis Creek, where we crossed bridge #27.  (Later, Simon told us he took a picture of the first bridge of the trail from the south end where we all started: #128.  That's a lot of bridges [but still substantially fewer than the ladders!])  We'd already hiked 9km today, mostly forest and sandstone shelf and it was only one o'clock.  Time for lunch.

  Believe it or not, the official sign is misspelled as it's "Tsocowis Creek" (no a)

Melly up top

Looking down from Tsocowis Creek Bridge

After crossing the Tsocowis  bridge where there's an unobstructed view of the creek cascading down, we feasted on the beach far below.  Our lunch today was tasty 6-bean salad with dried apricots as well as flavored havarti & pepper jack cheeses, cucumbers, red peppers and rice crispy treats for dessert.  The view up to the bridge was lovely and deserved longer lingering but with 5 km still ahead of us before we reached camp, nearly all of it coastal, we needed to get moving. 

Lunch spot below Tsocowis Creek Bridge

The afternoon was long and tiring and I think reality was starting to creep into my thoughts adding to my melancholia.  Despite having a full day of hiking tomorrow, tonight felt like the end, with our last night of camping on the Trail together and I wasn't ready for it to be over.  We spotted another otter in the shallow surf shortly before reaching camp at 4 pm.  We'd made it to Michigan Creek!  And there was much rejoicing!

We all tended to our tents and gear as usual while Mark & Kelly got the fire going and the water boiling.  For some reason, Mother and I struggled with our tent placement, which looking back I want to attribute to our slight feeling of emotional disequilibrium but was probably simply due to the fact that though flat and broad, tonight's expanse of beach was a tad more sloped than on previous nights.  We kept setting it up, lying down to test the angle, shifting the tent and repeating.  Once we were satisfied with our sleeping arrangements, we headed for the kitchen, toting our usual complement of mug, bowl, and spoon in addition to my mystery "crust" in the D7 ziploc that I'd acquired in our food bag restocking at Chez Monique.  It was a bit colder that night and as we settled in by the fire, I noticed we were all wearing our water proof jackets and in a rainbow of colors.  (We talked about getting a photo with our hues arrayed in the traditional ROY-G-BIV line-up but never managed to make it happen.  That was probably my idea.  That doesn't make me OCD, does it?)

Tonight Kelly was lead chef and our dinner was especially yummy-sounding:  Garlic Rafielly, which she described as similar to alfredo.  It was filled with sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, onions and ground beef and was delicious.  After we finished off the last of the pasta, she started on dessert and my mystery ingredient made its debut as the graham cracker crust of easy blueberry "cheesecake", layered with a cream-cheesy layer and blueberry drizzle on top.  This was made in a large shallow plastic container that had been used daily as an all-purpose serving/mixing/washing bowl and was wide enough to easily subdivide into 12 narrow wedges.  Which left 1 spare slice since our group totaled only eleven.  The solution?  The nightly Pub Quiz, of course!  The winner would earn the extra piece!

Notice the foreground where everyone's bowls are impatiently 
arrayed on Sue's lap eagerly awaiting the cheesecake!

Our Glasgow-Manchester friend, Simon, made a well-timed entrance at that point, garnering a spot in a 3-way tie between he, Kelly, and Mark although Kelly ended up winning by solving an extra Mensa puzzle in one of Sue's papers as even the nightly "snorter" didn't break the tie.  Kelly won fair & square but instead opted to share the winning piece, so it was passed around and we all had an extra bite!  The culinary surprises didn't stop with dessert, however, as later that night Kelly started boiling a fresh pot of water for Chai Lattes!  (And I swear, I didn't write anywhere on my initial paperwork how much I love chai!)  She brewed chai tea bags in the hot water and then added powdered milk.  It lumped almost like curdled milk but still tasted fine so we just fished out the milky clumps. (Remember, this is day 7, actually day 8 when you count our first day 0, so our standards have, how shall I put it, been... realigned.) I was delighted and as it turns out, it's Mark's favorite hot beverage too so although everyone had a mug, Mark and I savored 2 or 3 each!

Rare photographic evidence of me with my journal

Our last night by the fire, we all seemed to unconciously stay close together, chatting and teasing, watching the water out past the surf where we kept spotting grey whales surfacing.  I remember how contentedly we all sat, hip to hip, nursing our mugs.  Mark or Kelly passed around a notepad for all of us to put our email/phone/address to send everyone later in order to keep in touch.

It wasn't until Mother begged off at 10 pm that I consciously felt time ebbing away again so for the first time, I stayed up past her to savor my last night on the West Coast Trail a little longer.  Later, once in our tent, snuggled down in my sleeping bag, I laid awake listening to the rhythmic waves as long as I could, not wanting to fall asleep. Not wanting our adventure to end.

Peas in a pod. (L to R: Carter, Kelly, Sue, Melly, Jen)

[To keep reading, here's Day 8]


  1. Jen, you make me melancholy for your trip's ending! It will be sad to see the blogs of this trip come to an end, but you will post about other things, right? As usual, your photos are spectacular and your writing a delight! I am very impressed by what you easily endured to have this experience! Very different than your everyday life! Love, Catherine

  2. Jen, this was my favorite campsite and when the day began with spotting the otter gracefully traversing our camp over many logs and other barricades, it was magic for me. He was much bigger than I expected and went through so silently and quickly, that had we not happened to look his way at that moment, we would never have seen him. Then later in the day we saw the cedar-red mink, which looked surprising like a smaller version of the great brown otter. Also that day, if you remember, as you were taking a photo of me on the bridge over Tsocowis Creek, a Bald Eagle swooped to within 30 or 40 feet of us. We thought there might be a nest near and that he was telling us to move along swiftly. It was yet another "Wow" moment seeing wildlife that day.
    I too was thinking about the trip's end and noted in my journal how in the past week our group had fallen into an easy routine of setting up camp at night and taking it down in the morning--silently, like an old married couple knowing one another so well that words are unnecessary. We began as eleven very different individuals and had become a cohesive group with memories we would forever share only with one another.
    At camp this night we were talking about the amazing weather we had enjoyed on our trip--no rain and sun everyday except that day, when we encountered grey skies. In addition, we had perfect cool temperatures for hiking but it was never really cold. Kelly told us that in all the years they have taken hikers on the WCT, they had only had two dry trips like ours. With all the rest they had rain which also meant lots of mud to hike through. We were so fortunate or like your Dad always says, "It's better to be lucky than good."
    As always, you make me yearn for the trip and so I look forward to our August hike in the Chilcotins.

  3. Hi! I commented on your day 6 post a little over a year ago. I just thought I'd see if you'd written the last part and you did!!!!! I haven't read it yet, but I am SO EXCITED TO!!! THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH for writting all of this! And, good luck with future adventures!

    Someone who doesn't forget ;-)

  4. Hi Matthew-- I'm impressed with your memory and delighted with your enthusiasm. I'm excited to have *finally* made progress as well. One caveat: There is still one day left after Day 7. But I'm working on it so keep checking back! :-) Thank you for the lovely post; IMMD!