The West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail is incredible. Everything about it is amazing. From its wildly, incomprehensibly enormous trees to it's endless jaw dropping views. And it's tough. Very tough. It is a trail that shouldn't exist. Trails always form out of the easiest route worn down over the years.
This trail was formed out of necessity. And the route is the only route. Hemmed in by steep cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, the route evolved where it shouldn't have, but had to.
Always wet, always up and down, thousands of creeks and canyons. Even with all the construction of suspension bridges and ladders it's brutal. And yearly, winter storms blast down impossibly enormous trees.
It's difficulty can be measured by its relatively short distance of 75km yet it takes 4-7 days to complete. This is for two wonderful, spectacular and telling reasons. First it is a jigsaw of a trail, up and down over endless chasms tangled with rainforest. It just takes a long time to snake through.
The second reason is just too good to be true. It's so beautiful. Wildly beautiful. And this is a phenomenon that the West Coast Trail is alive with. It's unbelievably beautiful at every glance.
Everywhere you look. This alone would secure this hike as one of the worlds best. But there is another thing that combined with its beauty, makes it what it is. The West Coast Trail. This is a phenomenon that is seldom understood or explainable. It's tough.
The trail is brutal. It's invariably raining. So you are always wet. This makes you soggy and crabby. Tired and exhausted. The treacherous trail in this wet is muddy, slippery and requires your full attention at every step. This mesmerizes you as you hike. You focus completely on your next step and your mind relaxes into a meditative state.
This is when it happens. You look up, catch a glance of what's around you. And it's marvelous. This is it. The West Coast Trail is a perfect combination of brutal difficulty and spectacular wildness and beauty.
The West Coast Trail, originally called the Dominion Life Saving Trail was built out of necessity because of the Graveyard of the Pacific., The
With at least 484 shipwrecks, this trail formed to facilitate survivors walking to Victoria and rescuers hiking to help them.
It inevitably became a recreational hike in the last few decades. It's difficulty, once it's worst trait, now it's defining feature. It lies within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve which represents and protects three beautiful, coastal lowland forests. Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail.
When shipping in and out of the Juan de Fuca strait rapidly increased in the 1800's a startling number of ships were lost. There are a few reasons. First, the west coast of Vancouver Island is a lee shore, which means that with engine failure, ships will quickly drift toward the rocky and ship shredding shore.
The second reason is far more obvious, especially to anyone that has encountered the brutally stormy winters along the west coast. The storms are so bad that even today the West Coast Trail is closed from September to May. This isn't for any bureaucratic paranoia over safety. It's just too stormy. Too windy, too rainy, the horrible mud that bogs you down in the summer becomes close to impassible in the winter. It is so bad that the Tofino to Ucluelet region advertises storm watching.
The third reason is much less obvious and really quite sinister and malicious. The current. It moves north. And in stormy weather ships move north fast, very fast. So fast as to throw off navigation considerably.
Imagine you are the captain of a ship in a storm, approaching the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1906, with your 1906 maps and navigational aids, unfamiliar with this coastline and far off course. Expecting at any moment to see the calm, sheltering waters of the Juan de Fuca strait, only to see the jagged teeth of the Vancouver Island, an instant before they rip into your ship.
Your ship is 60 miles north of where you though you were. In the next few hours your ship will be pounded to death by the relentless waves. Now, over a century later, you stumble along the beach halfway along the West Coast Trail and nearly trip over one of the anchors the Skagit left after it disintegrated in 1906.
This is why the West Coast Trail is so spectacular. Sure it is brutally challenging, wild and breathtaking at every turn. But the fact that you can stumble upon an incredible artifact of history just laying on the beach for is something fantastic. Then to sit next to it, marvel at the huge, rusting mass and think of the rest of the ship, just a few metres away, hidden under the massive, crashing waves, on another breathtaking beach.
The West Coast Trail - Climate, Terrain & Hiking Conditions
The West Coast Trail is a 5-7 trek in very difficult terrain. The trail is almost constantly winding through dense British Columbia coastal rainforest. Boardwalks are in various stages of disintegration due the wet climate and remoteness of the trail. Extensive muddy sections of knee deep mud are commonplace and preparing for this fact will largely impact your enjoyment of the trail.
The southern end of the West Coast Trail, the last(or first) 22 kilometres of trail are very challenging. Scrambling over slippery tree roots, through deep mud while the trail zig-zags left, right, up and down. When you are not slogging through these brutal sections, you are climbing or descending precarious wooden ladders through enormous ravines and up steep cliffs.
Trail maintenance is a constant and losing battle for this wonderfully battered jungle trail. Hiking this section is mostly done at a shockingly slow pace of 1 or 2 kilometres an hour(compare that to a normal hiking pace of 5 kilometres an hour on flat ground).
Adding to this, you quickly discover, is that the kilometre marking don’t take into account the innumerable contours of the trail. Using modern gps, you often find the trail markings do not reflect accurately on the actual distances.
For example, a section of trail may show 2.1 kilometres on the map, but 5.8 kilometres by gps. Evidently a section of ladders that takes full minutes to climb may only register on the map as a fraction of a fraction of a kilometre.
The West Coast Trail gets a staggering 330 centimetres(130 inches) of rain per year. Periods of heavy rain are common even in the summer months. During heavy rain, rivers that could previously be walked through, have to be waded through with great difficulty and danger. It is not unusual for hikers to be stranded on one side of a river waiting hours or even days to cross due to fast moving, waist deep water blocking their way.
The average temperature along the West Coast Trail in July and August is 14c(57f). Cool temperatures along with frequent rainfall raise the risk and incidents of hypothermia and accidents resulting in injury. Proper waterproof gear and especially footwear is essential for comfort and safety on the trail. Those with back backs and knees will find them aggravated on the long and tortuous trail.
The West Coast Trail is a very difficult and remote hike. It is recommended that only experienced and fit hikers attempt it. Hikers with bad backs, knees or ankles will have difficulty on the rough and erratic terrain.
The trail is often a muddy obstacle course through steep, slippery and treacherous sections of forest. Hikers should also be prepared to survived in the wilderness due to unexpected delays. Rescue may take several hours or even days to reach you. Parks Canada recommends a minimum of 12 years of age to hike the trail, however will issue permits to ages 6 and older.