West Coast Trail (Carmanah Creek to Pachena Bay)

Day 5 - Carmanah Creek to The Secret Campsite (13.5km - 120m ascent – 120m descent)

Last evening we had enjoyed a feast at Monique's, even a couple of bottles of red and white wine to drink while watching the light slowly change over the bay as evening set in. Our feast was completed with a chocolate cake to celebrate April's birthday. Over dinner, we listened to Monique tell of her running dispute with Parks Canada over Indian Reserve vs park management issues – she is quite a character.

The meal was so good that we came back for breakfast this morning – eggs, bacon, ham and freshly brewed coffee – plus an omelette with candles to celebrate Matthias' birthday. Happy birthday, April and Matthias! The only bad thing about Chez Monique was that it was where we picked up our food supplies for the rest of the trip. Our packs had slowly lightened over the past four days and it was a shock to head on again with an extra couple of kilos on my back.

Chez Monique

Carmanah Point

The forest on Carmanah Point

I put an extra layer of sunscreen on on this blue sky day (where are the fabled storms, rain and fog of this trail?) and off we trudged, quickly leaving the beach and the rambling quirky cluster of buildings that is Chez Monique behind. A couple of ladders and a short walk in the forest brought us to the Carmanah Lighthouse, where we stopped for a quick visit. The keeper came out to tell us a bit about life in a lighthouse and give us a telescope-view of some sea-lions basking on off-shore rocks.

Carmanah Lighthouse

Then it was back to the far-side beach via a set of wooden steps for a slow wander across rock platforms, stopping to check out the tidal pools for marine life as we went – ochre and purple seastars, crabs, anemones etc. Offshore, a symphony of grunting sea-lions provided the background music.

The off-shore choir of sea-lions

Reflections in a rock pool

The views opened up to the west and, for the first time, we could see the distant mountains of the Vancouver Island hinterland rising above the sea and forests.

A curious rock formation

Indian file across the rock platform

View across to the Vancounver Island hinterland

A long stretch of fine grey sand brought us to the curious “cribs” - a sloping rock barricade between beach and ocean with deep mussel-filled crevices (it was a pity that we couldn't eat any, but summer brings red tides to these waters and, with that, the risk of paralytic shellfish poisoning). Still, the octopus that inhabited one long pool didn't seem too concerned with that.

Beach-walking west of Carmanah Point

Sandpipers piping

The wildest waves of the trip

Heading across The Cribs

Crossing a big rock jumble near Dare Point

Leaving the cribs, we continued across Dare Beach and then on an increasingly rough section of rock platform, which was eventually cut by a deep surge channel at Dare Point. A short ladder climb, walk along the cliff-top and ladder descent got us around the channel and back on course. Not long after, Beth gave a loud coo-ee  (which she often did at highlight moments) – we had reached the halfway point of the West Coast Trail (in distance that is, we were two-thirds along the track in time). We walked a little further in the hot sun to reach a sandy beach, drop our packs and enjoy lunch.

As we ate, I took in the magnificent land- and sea-scapes about me – decisions, decisions, do I watch the grey whale blowing out to sea or the bald eagle flying into shore with a fish in its talons? Such are the difficult choices faced on the West Coast Trail.

Grey whale off shore
Lunch over, we continue on down the grey sand of a stretch of beach that Matthias told us was in 1916 planned to be the next super resort. Thankfully, it didn't eventuate (apparently the seas were so rough, that they couldn't land a shipload of potential investors). Midway down the beach, we ducked inland to regain the main trail at a point where the only dunes in this region can be found.

Forest near the Cheewaht River

The sand dunes of Clo-oose

Bridge over the Cheewaht River

The trail led us through pleasant forest out of the Pacific Rim National Park and into Ditidaht tribal lands. We crossed the Cheewaht River (“urine” in Ditidaht, which says a lot about its potability) on a wide suspension bridge and reach the site of Clo-oose, a village abandoned by white settlers in 1966 and now part of the Ditidaht lands.

Mouth of the Cheewaht river

From here the path led us up a few short sharp climbs up so-called "Cardiac Hill" through superb old growth forest, then descended to follow the cliff-line high above the rock shelf.

Entering the forest near Clo-oose

Climbing Cardiac Hll

We dropped down and, a little later, took an almost invisible track through the forest to the beach. We had arrived at the “Secret Campsite” in a sheltered sandstone cove (which this company has permission to stay at – others risk being chased off by park rangers or Ditidaht residents). Nearby, the rusting wreck of the “Defiance” lay slammed up against the trees – a reminder that defiance is not in itself enough when faced with the fury of the Shipwreck Coast.

The secret campsite

The rusting hulk of MV "Defiance"

A bit of driftwood art

That evening, dinner around the fire ended with a chocolate and strawberry mousse plus candles – the birthday celebrations continued on. The sun set on a clear sky, leaving the setting half-moon to softly illuminate the calm water of the Pacific Ocean.

Day 6 - The Secret Campsite to Tsusiat Falls (10km - 120m ascent – 120m descent)

There was no rush to get up early this morning as it was only a short walk to the Nitinaht Narrows and the ferry that would take us across didn't open until 9.30am. So we took our time, enjoying the clear blue sky, so untypical of the West Coast Trail, before packing up and heading back through the bush to rejoin the track. It took us along a long section of boardwalk, often rickety, twisted, missing a step or three, or just generally past its use-by date. It was debatable whether it was a help or a hazard.


Old settler's house gradually slowly being
torn apart by the vegetation

Another section of crumbling boardwalk

A still forest pondage



The boardwalk wound its way through this swampy area, passing a placid tree-filled pondage to quickly bring us to Nitinaht and the quirky little ferry stop cum restaurant. Here the Ditidaht ferry-folk will cook freshly caught crab and salmon for passing hikers. The crabs were still crawling about the crab pot hanging from the wharf in the cold inlet waters. They were so big that I shared one with Ron – it was the freshest, sweetest crab meat that I have ever eaten. The owners had just returned in their boat with a haul of ling cod and red snapper – my fisherman mate, Trevor, would be in heaven here.

Finally, after feasting on crab in the morning sunshine, we climbed on board the boat for a short trip across the Narrows, where tide and river currents combine to create dangerous eddies and waves, the sea and the river competing to pass through this narrow entry into Nitinaht Lake. One of the fishermen told us how they had recently rescued the crews of two boats that flipped in the treacherous conditions.

Crab feast in the morning sunshine

All aboard to cross the Nitinaht Narrows

The Nitinaht Narrows

The forest west of Nitinaht

View from the Tsuquanah cliffs

We disembarked and quickly climbed into the dark forest to reach the cliff edge north of Tsuquanah Point and overlook the deep blue sea. Here the path followed the cliffs for a while, passing through pockets of dwarfed cypress and wandering by a series of picturesque pocket beaches, framed by rocky tree-capped headlands.

A grey sand pocket beach

Cypress-covered opening on the cliff-top

We dropped down to the beach for a brief period of sand-walking, before re-entering the forest to make our way to the site of the old Ditidaht warrior village. Centuries ago there would have been several log long-houses here, but a few base logs and overgrown uprights were all that remained of a once thriving community. Now there is a guardian's hut plus some “hikers comfort cabins” run by the Ditidaht. The old days are long gone.

Crossing the beach before Tsuquadra Point

A partially carved Ditidaht canoe

After a quick stop for a beachside lunch in the hot sun, we took to the shaded track that passed beneath the vegetation-covered fringe between cliff and beach, passing a couple of nice overhangs in the process. It was here that Lindsey gave us a demonstration of what the track could have been like, as she stepped in a mud-hole and only her foot came out, both boot and gaiter remaining firmly stuck. A recent pile of bear poo suggested that other creatures also use this track.

Passing beneath an impressive overhang

A berry-filled bear poo (as close as we got to the real thing)

The Hole-in-the-Wall

Dropping back on to the beach across a mountainous pile of driftwood, logs and whole trees piled up like pick-up sticks, we started a long trudge through the soft gravelly sand, heading towards the bright light at the end of the tunnel. It was, in fact, The Hole-in-the-Wall, a natural arch at the end of Tsusiat Point. From within, its dark edges framed impressive views both behind and ahead.

View westwards from The Hole-in-the-Wall

View back eastwards from The Hole-in-the-Wall

Sheltered campsite - no dew on the fly tonight

From the arch, we continued on our soft sand pathway between sandstone cliffs and waves crashing onto the beach. Again, it was a place to let the spirit roam free to the sound of sea and surf as we wandered slowly up towards the silvery veil of the Tsusiat Falls.

Tsusiat Falls and plunge pool

Swimmer's-eye view of Tsusiat Falls

The beach next to Tsusiat Falls was our campsite for the night and a very pleasant one indeed. The falls themselves tumble down from the sandstone cliff into a shallow plunge pool on the beach and made for a wonderfully refreshing natural shower. This was followed up by a nap in the shade of the tarpaulin that Evan had rigged up. It was the end of another “hard” day on the West Coast Trail.

Last rays of the sun light up the cliffs of Tsusiat

A superb Tsusiat sunset

I pitched my tent in the entry of a small sea cave and headed to the fire for dinner as, first, the setting sun put a rosy glow on the sandstone cliffs and then the soft light of a setting moon rippled across ocean. Tonight around the campfire, Beth read us the story of the Huu-ay-aht Indians from this area and how they lost their lands – a sobering tale of the clash of two cultures.

Day 7 - Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Beach (13km - 150m ascent – 150m descent)

The clear morning skies were becoming a bit monotonous, as dawn arrived with a pink glow on the eastern horizon. We took our time packing as the days walking again depended on the tides and a too early start would see us arrive at a rock platform still under water.

When we finally got underway, we headed quickly into a green vegetation-filled break in the cliff-line to climb a series of ladders and meet the trail. Turning west, we followed it across the Tsusiat Creek just above the falls. From there, the track followed the cliffs around before dropping down to the beautiful clear green waters of the Klanawa River on some rickety boardwalk.

Tsusiat Creek just above the falls

Crossing the Klanawa River by cable car

Rusting steam engine near Valencia Point

West Coast seascape

The only way to cross the Klanawa is by cable car and this we did – two by two – to cut through the forest on the other side and regain the beach. Then followed a two hour trudge along soft grey sand and gravel with the occasional diversion onto the rock shelf for easier walking.

Reflections in the Klanawa River

The time passed quickly, the sun shone hotly and we were pleased to take a break in the shade near the stoney mouth of Trestle Creek while Matthias read the sad story of the wreck of the “SS Valencia” in 1906 on the rocks just ahead. It holed on a reef in deep fog through a series of navigational errors and, battered by huge seas and winds, broke apart over two days only 50m from the nearby cliffs. Only 37 survived and 136 were lost, including all the women and children, as rescue efforts failed or were bungled. Somewhat sombre, we climbed back up to the cliff-tops and headed to Valencia Point, below which the ship met its fate. The seas were blue and almost flat, belying the fury of the storm that wrecked this 1600 tonne iron-hulled steamship.

Where the SS "Valencia" was wrecked in a storm in 1906 - hard to believe

Just another WCT ladder

Big stones at Trestle Creek

Wooden bridge over Billy Goat Creek

The track continued near the cliff edge, crossing several smaller creeks on wooden bridges, including a couple of nice suspension bridges over Billy Goat Creek and Tsocomis Creek. Just after crossing the latter and being scolded by a chipmunk, we descended a double set of old ladders to reach the beach again. Here, next to a lovely little waterfall, beneath the shade of a spruce we had our last camping lunch of the trip. It was the beginning of a series of “lasts” that occur as a long hike winds down.

Upper waterfall on Tsocomis Creek

The coastal colours - green, grey and blue

Bridge and lower waterfall - Tsocomis Creek

Another jumble of sea-smoothed tree-trunks

The afternoon sun was quite fierce, but the cool breeze ameliorated it as we trudged up the beach; first, soft grey sand and gravel, then a long flat rock shelf, where diagonal sandstone ridges separated  sea-weed covered flats. We sloshed steadily onwards over these water-logged mats of sand and weed. The smell was a bit rank, but then so were we after six days on the trail.

Crossing the Darling River

A fragment of the SS "Uzbekistan" - wrecked in 1943

Just before the Darling River crossing, we met a couple of hikers who had been on the inland track (just a few metres from the beach) and had been chased off it and on to the sand by a black bear with two cubs. It was our closest almost-met-a-bear encounter of the walk. Just after the Darling River we passed some rusting relics of the SS "Uzbekistan", wrecked here in 1943 and a reminder that today's fine weather is not necessarily the norm.

A final push on this flat and uninspiring rock shelf (the West Coast Trail has turned me into a connisseur of rock shelves and this one doesn't hold up to the spectacular shelves of a few days ago) to cross the boulder-strewn mouth of Michigan Creek and reach our last campsite. It was a pleasant spot looking down the coast we had just walked up, with the pale blue of the Vancouver Island hinterland framing the view.

Boulder-strewn mouth of Michigan Creek

The end of Michigan Beach

Campsite on Michigan Beach

Our last campfire

Then for one last afternoon on the beach, we watched the tide roll in over the rock shelf to create a crashing surf where there had been but quiet ripples. This really is a special part of the world. For the last convivial time spent around the campfire with my track companions, we celebrated with a kiwi fruit and lemon cheese cake and cafe latte with rum – courtesy of our talented guides.

Oh! the birthday celebrations continued, though this one was private and a long way away – Happy birthday, Aisha. Three is a wonderful age!

Day 8 - Michigan Beach to Pachena Bay (12.5km - 210m ascent – 210m descent)

Thirteen years ago my daughter was studying at UBC in in Vancouver and had planned to walk the West Coast Trail with her friends. Unfortunately she didn't make it as a result of badly twisting her knee while swing dancing (beware of dangerous sports). This walk is for you, Robbo - happy birthday!

For the first time since setting out we were greeted by a West Coast fog when we emerged from our tents at 5.30am. I was happy to see it as it would have been a pity to have completed the walk without such an experience. The sea mist moved in, swirling amongst the tree tops and obscuring the far beaches, sometimes thick but mostly just creating an ethereal atmosphere to the morning.

At last the fog rolls in

Morning sea-mist at Michigan Beach

It was our last day and we needed to be at Pachena Bay for our pick-up by 12 for our return to civilisation. We were on the track by 7.30am, climbing quickly away from the beach up a steep path that took us to the densely forested plateau behind the beach (where is a ladder when you need one?). The sea mist had risen and hung eerily about the tree tops as we wandered along the muddy track to reach the turn-off for the Pachena lighthouse. Here we made a quick detour to check out this hexagonal timber and shingle edifice, one part of the network along the Graveyard of Ships.

Leaving Michigan Beach on the way home

One last section of "boardwalk"

The beauty of forest in the mist

Pachena Lighthouse

From the lighthouse, the track became very smooth and wide and I could even look about the canopy without the fear of a face-plant or graze on sweet ripe salal berries as I wandered along. The mists lifted to form a uniform grey canopy above us and we were powering along at the fastest rate of the entire walk, stopping briefly to check out the sea-lion colony at the next point along. A solitary sea-lion had hauled itself on the rocks above a leaden sea and, with a flap of its flipper dismissed us for the last time from the wild Pacific coastline.

A solitary sea-lion

Farewell to the Pacific Ocean

On the last section, the path is wide ......

.... and the trees are tall

A last impression of the West Coast forest

Pachena Bay

The easy-walking track now drifted away from the coast as it cut the corner and headed in toward Pachena Bay. The kilometres rolled by quickly and thoughts turned towards the finish. Crossing one last wooden bridge over a timber-filled creek bed, we cut through the forest to emerge at Pachena Bay.

Arriving at Pachena Beach and the end of the trail

The obligatory end of trek group photo

A quick scramble over some rocks was followed by a stroll across the firm sand of this tranquil inlet and we arrived at the trail head, some 75 km and 7½ days after setting out from Port Renfrew. Our adventure on the West Coast Trail was over. Thanks Beth, Matthias and Evan for sharing your experience and knowledge of the West Coast Trail and its history, and thanks Lindsey, April, Ron, Mike, Logan and Simon for your pleasant company on the walk - we had a great time, didn't we!

The way home - crossing the strait from Nanaimo back to Vancouver (just because I like it)