Our last day dawned as mistily as yesterday had ended. The forest was no longer sinister and claustrophobic, but tranquil. We explored the area around the creek itself, which ran in a fabulous little gorge, adorned with typical west-coast rain forest greenery. A fallen tree and a couple of small cascades added to its beauty. With the end of the trail in sight, though, we didn’t hang around too long and got ourselves packed up and ready to go.
We set off through the clearing forest on an easy trail. We wended our way through alternately open and dense woodland, encountering several more spots where bears had dug up the roots of skunk cabbage for food. Still no actual bear sightings though… We paused briefly at Providence Cove where we could get out onto some rocks and see the sea again before climbing back into the forest. The mist cleared as we hiked, our views getting clearer and clearer. We passed numerous large trees, mostly Sitka spruce as we were next to the sea. We reached a section of boardwalk and knew we were getting really close. Our pace quickened though we were all tired.
The trail came within a few metres of the beach and we found a way out of the trees onto the open beach. We’d timed our visit to catch low tide at Botanical Beach and now, with barely 2 km to go to the end, we could relax and enjoy a leisurely stroll along the rocky flats. We looked in every tidal pool along the way, many filled with sea urchins, green sea anemones, limpets, giant chitons, and small fish. To my surprise, there were very few starfish – I only saw a small number in one pool, mostly ochre seastars. To our left, the waves crashed onto the rocks of the outer shelf.
The mist closed in again as we rounded the final headland and ran out of beach to explore. We made our way up onto the beach and found a log or two where we ate an early lunch. We got chatting to an older couple who asked us to take a picture of them on the beach, and returned the favour in our direction. We talked about the trail and the wildlife (or the lack of it) and life in general. They were friendly folk. Though we had plenty of time before we had to catch the bus back to Victoria, we decided to head back into Port Renfrew in time to celebrate with a drink and maybe an early dinner ;-)
We made our way up the last km of trail to the Botanical Beach trailhead, halted briefly by running into a guy who started off chatting about the trail and wildlife and then tried to sell us a CD or two of his songs…. We later found out that this was the famous Rivermouth Mike who used to live on Sombrio Beach. A few minutes more and we spilled out into the parking lot. Woohoo! We’d done it. Almost. A couple of locals were chatting and told us that there’d been a bear in the parking lot not 20 minutes earlier! Aarrrgghhh! If we’d just come straight up off the beach we would have got the bear sighting we (well, I) desired. After 47 km of trail with evidence of bear activity pretty much every couple of km, we couldn’t believe that we had just missed seeing one. We couldn’t help but laugh.
Then the awful realization that we were not done! We still had a good 3 km to hike along the road, which was okay for the first 5 or 10 minutes but rapidly descended into torture. About 20 or so agonizing minutes down the road we were helped out by the same couple we’d chatted to on the beach. Despite having only a Toyota Echo, they took two trips to ferry us and our gear down to the pub in Port Renfrew. We couldn’t thank them enough and it was a great way to end the trip. We grabbed a table out on the patio and ordered our well-earned food and, most importantly, beer!
Duly fed and watered, we hung around the pier waiting for the Trail Bus to pick us up. We watched a trio of seals bob up and down and watch us with curious eyes. Despite being tired from the trip, I couldn’t help but look across the bay to where the West Coast Trail started and think “Hmmm….” :-) Not this time, but someday for sure. Back at the pub, the bus had arrived and we piled us and our gear in and settled down for the drive back to Victoria. I think we all nodded off at various points on the drive, and it was during one such spell when Andrew claimed to have glimpsed a bear, up on a slope above the highway. A likely story ;-)
All too soon we were back in `civilization’, where we picked up the cars and headed for the ferry. We caught the last one and watched the sun set over the Gulf Islands…. The end of five great days of hiking. Would I do the trail again? Probably, but not before I’ve tackled the WCT, which everyone tells me is much better!