Nootka Trail, 25-30 Aug 2006

This multi-day backpacking trip was outstanding. So much so that it kick-started my blogging habit! That first blog was called “The Intertidal Flush” with a sub-heading of Pity the fish, inspired by our first experience of hiking somewhere where there were no toilet facilities.

According to the guide book (Hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island by Tim Leadem) and checking the map we estimated these distances for each day (links go to the description of each day):
Day 1 – Louie Lagoon to Third Beach: 1 km
Day 2 – Third Beach to Calvin Falls: 11.5 km
Day 3 – Calvin Falls to Beano Creek: 10.5 km
Day 4 – rest day at Beano Creek: 0 km
Day 5 – Beano Creek to sea caves: 10.5 km
Day 6 – Sea caves to Yuquot: 4 km
Total: 37.5 km not including beach exploration

It’s not a long trail at only 37 km or so; after all, we’ve hiked further, with more elevation gain in less time both before and since that trip. However, as always, the stats don’t tell the whole story. Spreading it out over 6 days meant that we spent a sizeable fraction of each travel day relaxing, which was great. After all, why wouldn’t you want to take in the scenery on the wild Pacific coast of Canada?

But there were also stretches where it was very slow going:

  • hauling ourselves over/under trees and/or up/down steep slopes;
  • hiking over super-slippery rocks;
  • energy-sapping pea gravel;
  • hiking in the hot sun.

The net elevation gain was zero, of course – it’s a coastal hike – but there were stretches where we expended a lot of energy getting ourselves and our big overnight packs across many obstacles. As a result, there were times where we  couldn’t get into a rhythm and I found I tired much more quickly than I did hiking something with a well-defined trail, like the Heather Trail, which we’d hiked a few weeks earlier.

I would say for anyone doing this hike to do what it takes to keep cool when hiking out on the beach. Hiking from north to south left us facing the sun at all times and the thick undergrowth made it impossible to nip into the trees for a bit of shade. Of course, that assumes you see the sun – it is entirely possible that the sun might not make its presence felt!

We were very, very lucky with the weather. We planned the dates to get the right tides. But we could not have predicted the dry summer which made all our creek crossings easy or even non-existent, in particular Beano Creek was completely enclosed by gravel. We also had good weather for the duration of our trip. I’m sure that rain would have made things feel very different.

Even with our good fortune there were times I could have sat down and not gone any further; after all it was only my third ever backpacking trip and I hadn’t built up the strength and stamina that’s needed for multi-day hikes. But when you’re out in the middle of nowhere with three others and no way to get to your destination other than your own two feet, you don’t really have much choice! You have to keep going, so plenty of stamina and a healthy dose of grit and determination works wonders.

So why is it that this hike, above all the other back-packing trips of summer 2006, keeps drifting back into my mind? I think it was the remoteness, the peace and quiet, and being part of a group that got along really well. We all had the same outlook on the hike so there were no egos pulling in different directions.

The key test of a hike is, would I do it again? The answer is unreservedly Yes.

The Intertidal Flush
So what’s with the intertidal flush (ITF) anyway? The principle is simple. The practice is also very simple. Unless you’re on a crowded beach. Or if some jet-skiers happen to pass by (and stop to see what you’re doing). Or if a float plane flies 500 ft above your head (at least they can’t stop, although they can circle like a vulture…). The latter two possibilities are based on Real Events™. Anyway, there’s no need to be shy. Just find a spot in the intertidal zone and do what comes naturally. Mother Nature flushes for you twice every 24 hours. The alternative is to dig a cathole in the forest.

Editing these notes in 2020, I’ve heard that this trail has, like so many others, become popular, so it may be that the ITF is no longer appropriate. After all, the last thing anyone needs is a crappy beach.

Before the hike: getting there (24 Aug 2006):
Woohoo! We’re off! Myself, Maria, Merewyn, and Brenda piled into Brenda’s car and headed for the ferry. The traffic was worse than we expected but we got to Horseshoe Bay for about 4.15 pm, in plenty of time for the 5.10 pm ferry. Except… that it was full already, so we ended up waiting for the 6.40 pm sailing. Well, that wasn’t so bad really: it was a gorgeous sunny afternoon and we had a leisurely dinner of fish and chips in the park in Horseshoe Bay. Even better, the weather forecast for the next few days was no worse than cloudy with sunny spells. We couldn’t have asked for more.

We boarded the ferry and bagged a group of four seats. Now it was time to read all about what we were setting out to do :-) Well it was for me anyway. We had a melodramatic article on the Nootka Trail from a copy of British Columbia magazine, the descriptions from Tim Leadem’s book “Hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island”, and Shannon & Lissa Cowan’s book “Hiking Vancouver Island” along with a recent photo-journal article from the Club Tread website. The day before we had been intimidated by the description on another website which insisted that we were endangering our very lives by even thinking about doing the trail. OK so it wasn’t that bad, but it did a good job of sowing plenty of doubt. Anyway, in the end we figured that between the four of us we actually did have enough experience to tackle this trail comfortably. (Despite it being only our third ever backpacking trip…)

Now we were getting excited about the trip. The float plane flight, clear skies, the peace and quiet, wildlife (eagles, bears, wolves, sea otters, and whales), beautiful beaches, amazing rain forest, and last but not least, trying out Mother Nature’s washroom facilities: the Intertidal Flush… I was really hoping to see (or at least hear) wolves, sea otters, and whales. A bear sighting or two wouldn’t go amiss either.

We drove off the boat in Nanaimo just after 8.30 pm, and we sped off up the Island while watching a perfect sunset turn into a crystal-clear night. We reached the Buttle Lake campground at 10.45 pm (15 mins before the gate was closed) and claimed a vacant site. We pitched our tents in the dark. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the night sky. It was the clearest night I’ve seen in a long time and spotting little nebulous patches like the Andromeda galaxy and the double cluster in Perseus was easy. The Milky Way filled the sky between the trees above our tents. If only it was the time for the Perseids…

Midnight saw us settling down to sleep, ready to be up bright and early the next day.

Nootka Trail, 26 Aug 2006
Spoiler alert: photos from the entire trip!

8 thoughts on “Nootka Trail, 25-30 Aug 2006

  1. Oooh nice! So this is what started it all? It sounds like a fun trail.

    It is funny to think how tiring it can be when you first start overnight backpacking trips! We have only done a couple, so I need to be careful not to expect too much when I plan ours for the summer!!

    1. Yes indeed – I think I got back from the trip and about a week later I just started writing about it, although it took me months to finish it. (Nothing has changed there…)

      Yeah, it takes a while to build up the extra strength for backpacking but once you do, it’s awesome. I couldn’t go back to just day hikes now. What’s on your radar this year?

      1. We managed to book some campsites for Berg Lake…and I am hoping to do some other backcountry camping in Jasper…I just have to wait for the camping websites to open to see what I can get! :D

        We’re still learning, so we’ll probably do a mix of day hikes and longer adventures this year.

      2. Yay – Berg Lake is awesome! We’ve only done Skyline in Jasper, which was great (even though the first day sucked for me) – Tonquin Valley has been on our list for years. Hoping to get back to the Rockies again this year!

        We found it really helpful to mix it up too (and still do). Let us know if you want company on any overnight trips – we’re always looking to get out!

      3. I was thinking about Tonquin, but it sounds like the mozzies are a nightmare in August, so I might save that for a trip when we go later (like in September)

        Yeees! It would be fab to hike with you guys!

      4. Yeah I’ve heard Tonquin can be a little buggy. September would definitely be a better time to visit, with the added bonus of surprise snow :-)

        Yay – we should put our heads together and see what we can come up with!

  2. Oh, I should have started with this post. Thanks for the detailed daily reports.
    I’ve been planning madly for summer adventures. Like Josy, I managed to nab a booking at Berg Lake and we’re going back to explore Wells Grey in more detail. I hope I’ll be able to secure reservations at Rock Wall when this opens in a few weeks. And, your multi-day at Tenquille has me very tempted.

    1. Thanks Caroline – hope you enjoy them! I probably write way too much but it definitely helps me relive the experience when I re-read it after all this time.

      We’re going to try for Lake O’Hara again this year with some friends who’ve never been so fingers crossed on that! Berg Lake was the other option but that’ll have to be next year. Ooh, Wells Gray – I’ve been wanting to visit Trophy Meadows for the glacier lily bloom. Maybe this year? Depends on travel restrictions though…

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