All good things must come to an end I suppose and we were back to our early starts. Another beautiful calm and clear morning greeted us as we sat around the remains of last night’s camp fire eating breakfast. We hit the pebbles around 8 am again, walking past the cabins, the wilderness retreat and a fish head impaled on a stick, courtesy of the jet-skiers. Within 20 minutes we had a novel experience: we were walking on solid ground! The tide was low so we walked under the cliffs, admiring the patterns in the wave-worn rocks.
The only downside to taking this route was the climb we had ahead of us. The beach dead-ended in a gulley and the only way out was up the 30-foot cliff. Fortunately a knotted rope was there to help us and again we were thankful for the dry weather since the cliff was pretty mossy. We looked at each other and Merewyn decided to go first. She psyched herself up and away she went. A minute later she was at the top and looking back down at us, yelling that it was easy! Brenda next, in her sandals and aqua socks. Again no problem. Maria decided climbing it with her pack on was asking for trouble and she went up pack-less and made it easily (she had a huge grin of relief when she made it to the top). Then I tied her pack to the rope and it was hauled up. Now my turn. I contemplated free climbing since it was dry but decided that it wasn’t worth risking the tumble back down. So I also used the rope, stopping half way up to take a photo of the faces peering down at me :-) It was not as bad as I expected but I must admit, tackling it in the wet would be a different story.
We emerged onto the top of the cliffs in obvious second-growth forest: lots of small skinny trees close together with little ground cover between them. Very unlike the dense forest that much of the trail was cut through. We were treated to occasional cliff-top views of calm, blue ocean (no whales though). After a short distance we descended into the real forest again, clambering over and ducking under fallen trees, passing by giant cedars. Before long we emerged on another beach, walking along until we reached Callicum Creek. Here we re-filled our water bottles since it would be the last water for a while (potentially for the rest of the trip).
Then we were back into the forest, then out onto a pocket beach, then back into the forest, and so on. One of these gorgeous pocket beaches became a snack spot. Every morning after about an hour’s walking, we all needed to stock up on the calories. This was a particularly nice beach, complete with a small shelter made by previous hikers. Now we had a good stretch of beach walking but it was easy going. Firm pebbles and gravel, occasional sand, some logs here and there. (Oh and some stinky seaweed!) All the while hiking in the cool shade of the trees, admiring the westerly ocean view. Beautiful hiking conditions.
Getting up off (or down onto) the pocket beaches usually required scrambling up a small incline with the help of rope, rocks, tree roots etc. Yes, the Nootka Trail is a flat hike overall but there are plenty of short climbs to ensure a full body workout! The trail markers were invariably fishing floats tied to the trees, occasionally adorned with such things as dead seastars.
Eventually we ran out of exciting climbs and we were up on the cliffs. It was cooler and breezier up here, clearly shown by the numerous twisted trees surrounding us. We passed many pocket beaches but with no way down. At several points the trail was right on the cliff edge, and within a few years I expect the trail will need to be re-routed through the trees again. As we got closer to Maquinna Point the rocks became very interesting, a very lava-like appearance with very sharp edges. (Not a place to fall over.) In many places the surface of the rock was eroded away, leaving undercut miniature plateaux.
We passed through a gap between the cliffs and a headland which needed a combination of a rope and a chain to edge through so we wouldn’t fall into the murky-looking pool below. Very Lord of the Rings! Then we came to another beach, and another scramble at the end to return to the forest. By now it was nearly lunchtime and we reached the turnoff to a small lake which could be used for fresh water. We ummed and ahhed for a bit, but decided to keep going, feeling that we had enough to last us. We pushed on to Maquinna Point with the aim of having lunch overlooking the sea.
Except when we got there it was so cold and windy that we only stopped long enough to munch a quick snack and take a photo or two before heading back into the shelter of the trees. I was surprised by Maquinna Point: the cliffs were not as high as I expected. I guess I was thinking of the massive sea cliffs on the Orkney Islands when I read the descriptions but these were barely cliffs at all by comparison, probably 10-15 m high. Just offshore were a number of fishing boats, undoubtedly hoping to catch some salmon.
We returned to the forest and decided to push on to the sea caves for lunch which were only another kilometre or so ahead of us. At one point we passed through a small swamp which at first seemed unremarkable but then we came to a patch festooned with gorgeous blue king gentian flowers which stopped me in my tracks. Out came the camera. I think the others were a little hungrier than me as they had gone by the time I looked up! I spotted some sundew in amongst the swampy grass but couldn’t get a good angle to take a photo.
Where were these sea caves? We were getting hungry and had inadvertently taken a few wrong turns. If there’s something I can pass on to future hikers it’s pay attention to the trail markers! If they run out, you’ve taken the wrong trail! Just back up to the last marker and look for the next one. It works. It really works.
Before too long we descended again and stepped our way over fallen logs out onto a pebbly pocket beach. We had reached the sea caves! The setting was picturesque: small sea stacks and 10-15 metre cliffs enclosed a couple of pocket beaches. We found the entrance to the first cave and dropped our packs, pulling out the tent fly sheets to dry in the afternoon air. Time for lunch – after all, it was now 2:30 pm!
After lunch we explored the beach and found there were three caves. The main one we had first seen, a second smaller one at the top of the beach, and a larger completely open cave. We considered that one since it was open at both ends but it was kinda draughty. The little one was too small so we decided on the centre cave. Inside it sloped upwards to the back of the cave. The floor was cool damp sand, and had many mouse and at least one set of wolf prints.
The only problem with that cave was the fact that the floor was on quite a slope. We made good use of some of the driftwood to level off the floor, banking it up at the front and excavating at the back to create a nice flat platform to pitch the tents. Brenda and Merewyn didn’t quite spend as long on it as we did, and they still had a little slope. Surely that wouldn’t be a problem though? Well, in any case they drew straws to see who would be the “squisher” and who the “squishee” that night :-)
Then we had another fine afternoon to explore the beach, read some more and generally chill out. I think we were all aware that it was the last full day of the hike and everyone was a little self-absorbed. I was happy to be there, but I could feel the first pangs of sadness that it would soon be over. But it was no time to think about the end of the trip: we were in a beautiful spot and there was nothing else to do but soak up the atmosphere, the feeling of serenity, being by the sea. I grew up next to the sea and I doubt I could ever live far from it.
Now for another rope-hanging experience! We cased out a good looking tree, tied a nice weighty piece of wood to the rope and once again yours truly took on the mantle of chief rope hurler :-) Strike one! I only just stepped out of the way as it came back down and thudded into the ground next to me. Strike two! I hit the underside of the branch I was aiming for and again had to dodge the returning lump of wood. Strike three! Bingo! Over the branch it sailed, like a thing of beauty before returning to earth with an ungraceful thump. Woohoo! What a feeling of accomplishment – or was it just relief at not humiliating myself in front of three women? I felt like I was starting to get the hang of this :-)
The day drew on as we alternately lounged and explored, and suddenly it was dinner time again. Finally the food bags were beginning to feel light! Another great meal (!) followed by hot chocolate, and all too soon the light was beginning to fade. We had one tea-light left and decided that tonight we would have another fire. This time we built a little fire ring from large pebbles, arranged a few pieces of wood for benches and set about collecting firewood. And before long we had a lovely little fire.
The sun set, and darkness fell. We didn’t need to get up quite as early in the morning so we stayed up enjoying the warmth from the fire. And dodging the smoke of course as the wind shifted every few seconds. But life felt good. In fact, life had been feeling good for the last few days. Even when I felt I couldn’t take another step, it felt good to be there.
Now, after dark we discovered one of the “features” of camping on this beach. The sea was really loud reflecting off the cliffs. And so were your footsteps. Loud footsteps coupled with a small echo delay and suddenly it felt like you were being followed across the beach…. Very eery! Everyone used the intertidal flush in record time. No one felt like lingering down near the water line.
We were just starting to wonder out loud about going to bed when the unthinkable happened. It started to rain! For the first time this week we felt water from the sky. It helped us make up our minds a little quicker and we retreated into the cave and our tents for our last night’s sleep.