We were up at 5 and out pounding the streets of Victoria to catch the Trail Bus for our 6 am departure. By a little after 7.30 we were dropped off at the China Beach trailhead. The bus pulled away and the quiet descended on us, the reality of the hike setting in, though it couldn’t match the feeling we had when the float plane left us on Nootka. We took our first group shot around 8am and set off, beginning by paying our fees ($5 per person per night) and chatting with a parks ranger (Oh yeah, lots of bears about).
Now on the trail proper, it was all downhill. The trail meandered through largely uninspiring second-growth forest, its only real saving grace was that it wasn’t as muddy as we expected. On the positive side, it was easy hiking. After 1 km we crossed our first suspension bridge over Pete Wolfe Creek, and continued our steady downhill trend. Soon the trees opened out and we could see the sea. Our final approach to Mystic Beach involved dodging a bit of mud and following a long descending log bridge. Suddenly we were out on the beach and we all dropped our packs as soon as we could!
We spent much of the next hour exploring the beach. The weather was overcast so it wasn’t great for photography but we still found plenty to take pictures of. A ribbon waterfall cascaded down the cliff onto the beach, making a plunge pool in the sand. The underside of the cliffs was undercut by the sea enough to crawl inside. We explored, we lounged and with only the greatest reluctance did we hoist our packs again and continue on our way.
The trail led off the beach back into the forest and soon entered our first patch of old-growth, with us all pausing to have our photos taken with one huge cedar in particular. The trail wandered on, occasionally taking in clifftop views (where, at one point, we disturbed a group of cute pigeon guillemots on the rocks below). We had some concerns about crossing Ivanhoe Creek since the bridge was damaged but it was fine. The creeks were helpfully labelled and most had been re-named with some wit. Ivanhoe Creek became Im-a-ho Creek; Fatt Creek became Smoke a big Fatty Creek (Biatch). And so on. It kept us amused if nothing else. We encountered more mud, of course, but not a lot and about 3 hours after leaving Mystic Beach, we came to our destination for the day: Bear Beach.
We stumbled out on the cobbles of Bear Beach, around the bell-shaped headland (impassable at high tide) and began our search for camp spots. We passed a small area and dismissed it thinking it was too small and wandered on, eventually reaching the end of the beach and some of the stinkiest seaweed in the world. Puzzled, we turned around and went back and claimed the spot we’d seen a few minutes earlier.
We set up our tents, just off the beach in a small clearing (John found a couple of trees for his hammock). Then it was time for lunch and a lazy afternoon by the sea. We followed the tide out and explored the beach, turning over rocks and sending small fish and crabs scuttling. John kept trying to give Merewyn crabs. I mean he kept picking up crabs from under rocks and trying to give them to Merewyn. Honestly, what did you think I meant?
John set about building the first of several excellent camp fires and we made a cup of tea. The sun even came out and warmed us up. The ever-vigilant crows found their way into our packet of ginger biscuits as we were lazing on the beach (lesson: don’t leave ANY food uncovered). We made dinner and cleaned up while it was still light and settled down to enjoy the camp fire.
As it got dark we caught a flash across the water and over the course of the next hour or so we were treated to several fireworks displays (well, it was the Fourth of July…). By 11pm they’d all finished and we settled down to sleep.