Nootka Trail Day 3, 27 Aug 2006

Aaaah – what a relaxing night’s sleep! The sound of the waterfall was soothing and the gravel remarkably comfortable. I opened my eyes a few minutes before the alarm went off and hauled myself out of my sleeping bag. I rolled and packed my bedding to get moving and warm up a little. Another clear blue sky greeted me as I left the tent for the usual morning ritual.

On collecting the food bags I noticed that ours had been nibbled in the night. Not only that, the critters responsible had left their calling card! Ewww! Mouse poop. I guess the rope from which we’d hung our food was too thick and the mice were able to descend it from the tree and tackle the swinging bounty. Pah. Forget the bears – it’s the little rodents that are the real nuisance! A lesson learned there.

Back at camp, the others were stirring and it was time to get the stove on and sort out breakfast. With coffee in hand, we packed away the tent and reloaded our packs. As we were taking down the tent, we found our bottle of sun screen which we had forgotten to put into our food bags. The zip-lock bag was chewed through and there were teeth marks in the plastic! Hmmm. Better not make that mistake again. Maria said she thought she had heard noises beside her in the night…

By 8:20 am we were again ready to set off. We weren’t looking forward to the latter half of today’s hiking with the infamous pea-gravel looming large in our minds. That was to come. The first challenge was actually getting across Calvin Creek, even at low tide. Near the camp site it was far too deep to wade with boots on so we walked down the beach across the sand to where it spread out into a shallow braided mini-river. But even here the water ran fairly quickly and was just a little too deep to step through without getting some down into your boots. So the other three undid their freshly laced boots and waded through barefoot. I was too lazy to do that and tried to skip my way through the shallowest part I could find. I forgot that I was carrying an extra 50 lbs in weight and my light-footed hops were more like lurching squelches into the wet sand. Still, I managed to get over without getting water in my boots (it splashed all up my legs instead).

From there it was easy hiking on firm damp sand. We made excellent progress, passing the surfers’ tents and reaching the next headland in what felt like no time at all. Gradually we ran out of beach and we found ourselves picking our way over rocks. That started out OK, but then we came to the worst bit: an unbroken expanse of football-sized rocks most of which were (to quote another hiker) as slippery as snot. And they weren’t kidding! Despite looking dry and firm, it was like walking on ice and I almost fell several times. Now would have been a good time to use the hiking poles (and Maria did use hers) but as usual I was just too lazy.

Now we were faced with two choices: either head up the beach on to larger, flatter and less slippery rocks or go out on the wet-and-weedy tidal shelf. Brenda opted for the shelf, donning neoprene socks and her sandals (lacing her boots to her pack). Merewyn went for the rocks. Maria and I weren’t sure so we tried the rocks, almost fell a few times, then headed out to the shelf. Except it was really too wet for boots so we picked our way back over the snotty rocks to the bigger ones at the top of the beach. By now we had fallen quite a way behind the other two and the conditions weren’t conducive to making up lost time. So the hike became just a steady plod, trying to maintain balance (and a sense of humour!) and not lose any more ground over the other two.

After what seemed like an age (what? was it really only an hour?), we reached Bajo Point, about two hours after leaving Calvin Falls. By now we had managed to pick our way down onto the shelf again as it was a little drier than earlier. Within a few minutes we caught up with Brenda and Merewyn and promptly dropped our packs to dig out some sustenance. Bajo Point has a small sea-stack a hundred yards or so off shore but the tide was coming in too fast for us to explore any further. We decided to rest a little longer and watched a couple of seals float in on the tide.

As we were getting ready to go we heard Brenda exclaim “Oh crap!!”. We turned to see what had happened saw her looking in disbelief at her pack. There was only 1 hiking boot laced to it. Oh crap indeed. Here we were, barely half-way through a 37-km hike with the hardest hiking to do and one of our group has only one boot. We spent a few minutes back-tracking along the beach looking for it but quickly realized that it was a hopeless task.

To settle ourselves we explored the site of the First Nations village on Bajo Point. In amongst the trees, the sound of the sea was suddenly very distant. There wasn’t much to see as nature had reclaimed the site, although it was clearly more open than most of the surrounding forest.

After an hour’s rest it was time to move on. The next two hours would last forever for me. Once round Bajo Point we were now walking in full hot sunshine in the middle of the day. And we had our first encounter with pea gravel. Oh My Fairy Godmother. Any momentum I had was instantly dumped into the deep, loose gravel and my pace slowed to a crawl. Thankfully it was only a short distance and we were soon able to head back out onto the tidal shelf. Despite being wet and weedy it was infinitely better than the beach. After an hour or so we stopped for lunch; I grabbed the only bit of shade I could see and welcomed the chance to get out of the baking sun.

Over lunch we had our first whale encounter: Brenda and I saw a couple of spouts on the horizon. Getting excited we stopped and scanned for more but that was it. Unfortunately, it was also our last whale encounter of the trip :-(

After lunch we headed back out onto the tidal shelf to pick our way through the weed and shallow pools. Even though it wasn’t easy walking, it was at least firm and not as slippery as expected. (It’s odd how seaweed could be less slippery than rock…) We were still hiking in the heat of the day, and the sun reflected strongly off the water. At one point we came across a three-sided rock that was the perfect height for three of us to balance our packs on and rest our shoulders. Guess which three :-)

But all good things must come to an end and the rising tide eventually forced us onto the dreaded pea gravel. What can I say? I guess we had to be thankful that the tide had been out for much of the day and we “only” had about 45 minutes to an hour of slogging on the gravel. It felt like a very long hour. Other hikers had tipped us off about using gaiters on this stretch – they really did help prevent the gravel getting into your boots. Highly recommended.

Finally we turned a corner and suddenly realized we were at Beano Creek. But where was the creek? As we made our way up the steep gravel banks we saw that we had already crossed the creek – on the beach. Wow, what a stroke of luck! The gravel was banked up over the mouth of the creek and we didn’t have to wade or wait to cross it. In years past, other hikers have had to swim across or wait for the level to drop.

We decided to pitch our tents on the flat area above the winter storm line, behind a couple of massive logs, nay, full-grown trees. We dropped our packs and pulled out the tent flysheets to dry off in the afternoon sun and breeze. Then I made a comfy patch in the gravel (in the shade of course), pulled my baseball cap over my eyes, and slept for half an hour. I was utterly exhausted – I don’t remember the last time I was so physically tired. We’d been on the move for five hours over some of the trickiest hiking yet. At some point Maria joined me and Merewyn got a cheeky photo of the two of us laid out on the beach. Thanks Mere :-)

Eventually we came round, and decided it was time for afternoon tea. While boiling the water, we watched the tide come in round a flat rocky outcrop off the point. Then I spotted some movement and saw in the binoculars that we had a real, live sea otter dining in sight of our camp! Wow!! It was fabulous to watch the otter dive under, return to the surface, and, lying on its back, use a stone to break open whatever shellfish it had plucked from the bottom. Occasionally large waves would break over it but it wasn’t fazed. What a treat! It spent an hour or more feeding at this spot before swimming off.

With Beano Creek dammed and the tide coming in, I was worried that the creek water would be brackish and not drinkable. So to get fresh water we waded upstream a bit. We needn’t have worried though as the water was totally fresh, not even a hint of salt. Returning to camp it was getting on for dinner time. We made up a nice kitchen area with driftwood benches and settled down to hot food. Merewyn made her way down to the water to use the intertidal flush, only to be faced with the sudden appearance of two jet-skiers. Which would have been fine had they kept going into the bay to return to one of the cabins, but no – they stopped just off shore while Merewyn stood facing out to sea clutching a roll of TP. All that empty beach and they stop right in front of her! The stand-off lasted a few minutes after which the pair went on their way satisfied there was nothing to see, and Merewyn could attend to the call of nature in peace.

We watched the clouds turn pink as the sun set, and it was time to hang our food. No convenient ropes tonight though – it was up to us to use our own (well, Brenda’s) rope. Fortunately along the top of the beach there was a suitable (dead) tree with branches just high enough off the ground and just spindly enough to not take the weight of a large mammal. Now to sling the rope over. I stood on a small embankment at the base of the tree and hurled the rope (with a small piece of wood attached for weight) skywards in the vain hope of getting it over the right branch. My first attempt resulted in me almost cracking my own bones as I fell backwards off the embankment and into the tree, bruising my back on the little pointy broken-off branches. My second attempt almost took out one of the others (everyone took an extra step back after that). Third time lucky, right? Not this time. I almost got it in the right place but it got caught in a bough and we couldn’t haul up the food bags. OK perhaps fourth time? Yes! Exactly the right place! And at that, our food was stored. We remembered to include the sunscreen this time….

With the last light fading we all headed for our sleeping bags and a well-deserved night’s sleep.

Nootka Trail, 28 Aug 2006
Photos from days 3 and 4 on the Nootka Trail

On to Day 4…

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