1974, four of us arrived in Port Renfrew with vague information from a
friend of a friend that, "A Norwegian fisherman will ferry you across."
This knowlegeable source went on to assure us that, "If all else fails,
try getting a boat at the Indian Reserve. You can throw a stone across
The local pub was the same rustic but sociable meeting place it is
today. As we enjoyed a beer and cheeseburger, word of our need quickly
spread. We were soon aboard a battered aluminum skiff, plowing our way
across to the trailhead. Later in the 80's and early 90's, with 8000
hikers to transport, this ferry route became a lucrative business.
Today, the price of your hiking ticket, includes a ride in a solid
looking landing craft that skips across the river several times a day.
"The first part's a killer!" This lament is common among hikers
starting at Port Renfrew. The southern half has always had a reputation
for beating up the unsuspecting. It's up and down constantly as you
wheeze your way over countless stream beds and around huge rock faces.
Beautiful open forest sparkling with broken rays of sun suddenly give
way to tangles of greenery so thick and impenetrable it's impossible to
step off the trail.
I nimbly cross a new bridge built from indestructible, pressure-treated
planks, I glimpse the tangle of brush and debris below and wonder,
"Egad! Did I walk through that 10 years ago." At another spot I'm faced
with balancing on a log to cross a bushy ravine. The top of the log has
been flattened with an axe and the thousands of cracks and grooves are
filled with slippery looking mud. A small step has been carved to help
me step up. Should I take the log or follow the muddy track down below?
I choose the faster but more dangerous aerial route. Many of these
daunting log crossings remain on the south end. Good balance along here
is definitely an asset. Reflecting back to an earlier era, I decided we
must have spent half our time balancing on one log or another.
chuckled as we looked over a former mud-lake bordering some new
boardwalk. In among the lush, reviving skunk cabbages and moist mosses,
a few tell-tale footprints reminded us of the energy we burned skirting
this hole the previous year. No more sinking in above the boot here.
This spot was beginning to radiate some of its former tranquility.
Boardwalk was often the solution for the early trail blazers too. Split
cedar planks, four feet long, spanned much of the original lifesaving
trail. Another early system for bridging mud, used three slender poles
lying parallel and nailed to a cross piece at each end. A few of these
springy challenges can still be found between Walbran and Adrenaline.
Today's state-of-the-art track is a well-supported, twenty-four inch
span, which provides ample room for the single hiker.
In spite of all the boardwalk, mud continues to be a favourite topic of
conversation. Muddied hikers arriving at Walbran from the South, love
to tell tales of horror to the clean-skinned beach walkers from the
North. Perhaps it is Murphy's Law that a place to walk is also a place
to fall. I'm confident that as long as we have rain we will have mud on
the West Coast Trail.
most popular campsites at Michigan, Tsusiat, Camper and Thrasher, have
been fitted with delightful, comfortable and odour-free composter
toilets. I hope these will be the final solution to an ugly problem
that has plagued the trail since it began catering to 8000 or more
visitors each year. At these stops, our old habits of using the ocean
or "surfing" as we call it may be gone forever.
I remember the
first outhouse that was placed at Thrasher Cove. It faced out over the
ocean. On my first visit, I noticed slightly muddied knees protruding
from the partially open door. I backed off out of sight, thinking this
hiker in repose deserved to enjoy his few moments convening with
nature. Moments later, as he came by me he remarked, "That thing must
have been designed by a midget. I soon knew what he meant. There
wasn't enough room to shut the door across my knees.
At Tsusiat a
few years back, two open-air, moulded fiberglass privies without roofs
sat high on the sand at either end of the beach. Patrons sat facing
inland, their lower body hidden from the beach by a raised back. Hikers
waiting below could track progress by watching the upper torso dance.
The winter storm that claimed these bastions of exposure did us all a
In August of
1974 the trail spilled us out of the thick salmon berry onto the rocky,
muddy shore of the Nitinat. There was no dock, just a couple of
bleached planks and some broken buckets. We looked out over the river
in anticipation, but there was no boat to take us across or other sign
that humans lived nearby. The length of shore, some 100 yards away, had
no landing beach but to our left a rocky point blocked much of the
view. The water flowed past us towards the sea, stretching the shore
weeds like streamers in a breeze. All was silent except our voices. Our
packs become back rests. We settled along the planks and in the grassy
bank to wait.