On multi-day backpacking trips, it’s nice to factor in a rest day or two. Despite packing up at Guise Bay and heading through to Nels Bight, this still felt like a bit of a rest day, much like our leisurely wander over from Nissen Bight on our third day. The morning dawned bright and sunny with some lingering mist that came and went, gradually retreating out to sea and dissipating. We enjoyed another relaxed breakfast on our now favourite log, watching and listening to the waves, the local ospreys daring to run the gauntlet of the eagles.
Exploring the eastern end of the beach was irresistible in the morning sun, and we set off to see for ourselves the trickle of a creek that served as the water source for this beach. By now I had finally learned my lesson when it came to walking on the beach in sandals, having squished way too many jumping sand fleas between foot and shoe. I had a similar experience on Nootka too, and I couldn’t face the prospect of eating prawns again for months after that. At least it didn’t happen with the larger ones… I was sufficiently intrigued to watch a couple of larger sand fleas do battle over a burrow in the sand, with one hauling out the other and taking up residence in its place.
We duly found the water source, and it truly was a miserable excuse for a creek, barely a trickle over some bare rocks well-hidden in the bushes. There was one small pool, big enough to scoop a cup from, and that was it. So be warned – unless it’s been raining recently, this ain’t the place to get your water! Fill up at the lighthouse as we did.
Back on the beach we admired the sweeping curve of sand across the bay, the other side a full kilometre distant. I loved how the waves curved in to match the shape of the bay. Naturally, we didn’t really want to leave, it was such an idyllic spot. Looking across the beach, it looked empty of people. It took some determined searching for us to even see our tent, it blended in so well with the sand and logs. At that moment I decided exactly what colour our tent was: sand.
As we set about packing away our gear, we had to decide what to do with our sand dollar collection. I first had the idea of lining them up from smallest to largest and taking a photo, but once I realized that made for a boring photo, I turned the line into a spiral. Maria then wrote in the sand “Cape Scott 2016” and drew a little heart right at the centre. A pretty good summary of how we felt at that moment. We were on holiday!
It was noon before we hauled on our backpacks and said farewell to Guise Bay. Next stop was going to be the people’s favourite, Nels Bight. We picked up the trail off the beach, past all the flotsam and jetsam that lined the dunes, and re-entered the forest. It was a scant 15 minutes later that we emerged onto the stony part of Experiment Bight, and what we saw stopped us in our tracks.
Bear! Right ahead of us on the beach, not 20 metres away! Our first reaction was “cool!” but then we realized that the bear was exactly where we needed to go, and there wasn’t a lot of room on the beach to walk around it. We had no choice: we had to do something to get the bear to move along. Yes, of course I had the camera ready and began taking photos, but our top priority was to make our presence known to the bear.
“Hello bear!” “Hey bear!” “Sorry bear!” “We just need to come on through, and we’ll be out of your way in no time!” We did our best to sound firm yet calm, trying to make our voices carry over the sound of the crashing waves. At first the bear didn’t respond, and continued digging among the rocks for breakfast or lunch morsels. Eventually we attracted its attention as we stood at the edge of the forest, and it looked up to find out what all the noise was about. I have to admit I fully expected it to scamper off, or at least walk down the shoreline away from us. But no. It began walking towards us. Oh, shit. What now? We had no choice but to sound even more authoritative, and we stood side-by-side with our big backpacks trying to look bigger that it.
And still it walked towards us. We took a step back into the forest to look a little less intimidating in the hope that it would just move on. Thankfully, at the point at which the beach began shelving upwards, the bear turned to walk west parallel to the shore, staying the other side of the driftwood from us. We breathed a sigh of relief as it walked by, even as it gave us a series of the most reproachful looks I’ve ever seen from an animal. It was clearly not happy at being disturbed. I tried not to make eye contact but it was hard not to. I felt a pang of guilt at interrupting its feeding.
And then we found out why the bear was so reluctant to move away from us: a trio of hikers was walking eastwards along the beach. By this time it was safe for us to walk out onto the beach and away from the bear, and we did our best to alert the other hikers to its presence. They stayed right down by the waterline, and had bear spray in hand as they reached us. We had ours on hand if we needed it, but we didn’t get to the point where we felt it was necessary. A few more steps in our direction might have changed our minds though.
We left the bear to its digging, but it still looked our way a couple of times before we hopped over the tiny peninsula and onto the flat sandy portion of Experiment Bight. Wow! What an incredible bear encounter. It took almost 3 minutes of us talking to the bear to get it to move on, and it was a full 5 minutes before we left its sight. Possibly among the longest 5 minutes of my life!
Still in awe at seeing a bear while hiking (and the adrenaline was still flowing) we slowed down on the sand and took in where we were. The mist had closed in once more, and an eery, almost unreal calm descended broken only by the breaking waves. We kept remarking to one another how amazing that encounter was, and yet here we were suddenly on a completely different beach (in thick fog too), with the feeling that we’d been transplanted to a different hike and wondering if we’d just dreamed the whole thing.
We sauntered along the sandy shore, eventually emerging into bright sunshine again as we reached an islet with a slanted tree in which an eagle was perched, guarding its nest. We enjoyed a quiet leisurely lunch here, under the watchful eye on one eagle as another flew back and forth, before following a few more bear prints across the sand into the forest. The next few kilometres back to Nels Bight were peaceful and cool, and we found ourselves soaking up the atmosphere, the waves muffled by the dense forest.
It wasn’t long before we reached the beach again, and picked our way through the horrifically stinky seaweed back over the creek onto the vast sandy expanse of Nels Bight under beautiful summer blue skies. We weren’t sure where on the beach we wanted to camp, but we kept on walking until we reached the point where the trail continued back into the trees. Here, there was a recently-vacated camp that was perfect for us. Some old fishing rope hung from upright logs marked out an good-sized area to pitch the tent, while a makeshift table (complete with empty wine bottle and a fresh fireweed table centre) and log benches nearby made for the perfect beach dining room. There was even a big polystyrene block that had been carved into a chair, complete with cup holder – it was remarkably comfortable too!
Normally I never break my golden rule of backpacking: that is, never eat where you sleep. But this spot was so well laid out that we couldn’t resist making use of it, despite the proximity to our tent. We set up the tent, stashed our food and walked further up the beach to the ranger cabin. We knocked and had a chat with the rangers (who checked our permit), who gave us a tour of the nicely appointed cabin. The cabin can be used by hikers in the off-season, which is handy for future reference. Not wanting to take up too much of their time, we wandered back onto the beach.
We collected our water containers and retraced our steps to the stinky seaweed and the source of drinking water. The creek we had crossed was far too brackish to drink from, and so the parks service had installed a hose that siphoned water from further up the creek, depositing it in a small fountain into an old bucket. That made filling up so easy compared with some of the other water sources! The colour was paler than the other sources too, which it made it look much more appealing
With full water containers, we walked back to the tent, took off our boots and padded across the sand to dip our toes in the water. We walked straight in only to retreat once almost immediately from the freezing cold ocean. Brrr! It was worth cooling off our feet, but I have to admit I couldn’t stay in for long. Maybe it was time for an afternoon coffee, and to start dinner.
We enjoyed the use of our temporary dining table and sat once more staring out to sea as we ate and relaxed. After cleaning up from dinner, we stowed our food in the cache and struck out along the beach for an evening stroll. We ultimately walked to the far end of the beach, over 2 kilometres away, because it was such easy and enjoyable walking – no weight on our backs, the broad sandy beach, and the constant sound of the waves filling our ears. It was blissful. We stopped to admire the contents of tide pools, invariably green and pink anemones, the occasional fish, shrimp, and crab. The far end of the beach was strewn with seaweed which shone in the evening sunshine.
Slowly, we turned around and began following the incoming tide back along the beach, passing one group of walkers but no one else. How glorious to have so much space to enjoy! The mist began to settle once more, which made for an atmospheric sunset, possibly the prettiest of our trip so far which we felt was fitting for our last night on the trail. We watched the light slowly fade and the damp mist roll onto the beach again. Time to return to the tent and get ready for sleep.
We crawled into the tent and settled in on our comfortably sandy beds. Suddenly a flash lit up the tent. We sat up and peered outside. Soon we saw another, and another – far off shore, but easily identifiable as lightning. We even saw a few forks going from cloud to cloud, and down to the sea. Undoubtedly those storm clouds were bringing rain, and I was hoping that it would not turn out hike out into a dreary, wet trudge.
More flashes as we settled down again, this time from the headlamps of other campers who weren’t being too careful about where they were looking. Annoying, but they soon went to sleep. As did we.
What a lovely day, a day of huge blue skies and crashing waves. We were so glad we’d decided to make this a leisurely day as planned and hike out the following morning. A real treasure of a day!