We awoke at dawn. At least, that’s what the alarm clock said. Inside the cave it was still quite dark. A really good night’s sleep too! Even though the sea was quite loud in the cave, it provided a soothing white-noise background which made it easy to sleep, and not worry about little scurrying sounds from the local wildlife! Even Merewyn telling us about the scary experience of some friends from the previous year couldn’t keep me awake. (Apparently they heard some weird noises around 4 am and couldn’t get back to sleep… Creepy!)
After the usual intertidal flush visit and retrieving the food bags, it was time to have our last breakfast on the Nootka Trail. The rain had stopped and we had another clear blue sky to greet us. We ate breakfast around the remains of last night’s camp fire, dispersed the embers, and then set about packing up for the last time.
We were in no great hurry this morning (though we did have to be at the tidal lagoon at low tide) yet we were ready to leave by 8.30 am. One last look around, and it was farewell to the caves. I think we had mixed feelings about that camp spot. It did have a different feel from the others, probably due to its enclosed nature and it was our last night. So although we were sorry to leave it all behind, it felt good to be moving.
We only had 4 km to hike to make the ferry by 2 pm. Easy, especially with noticeably lighter packs (finally!). For the next hour we encountered more beaches than we could count: scrambling up, down and over. Before long we caught our first glimpse of Yuquot (Friendly Cove), but that didn’t mean we had it easy. Oh no. I think we climbed up from and down onto more little beaches in that couple of km to the tidal lagoon than on any other portion of the trail.
And then we were there – Tsa’tsil, the place where the tide comes in and out. And the tide was out, leaving us only a shallow stream to cross. Like the stream at Calvin Falls, it was deceptively fast running and it took a little while to find the right place to cross. Maria took off her boots and donned her sandals (of course, Brenda didn’t need to worry about it) but as usual I was too lazy to do that and repeated my lurching jump across the water.
On the other side, we paused for a minute or two and then my memory fails me but I know we all turned our back on Merewyn to offer her privacy for some reason. Of course, over the last few days that was all that was necessary with no one else around. She buttoned up just in time as suddenly two more hikers appeared over the edge of the sand dune! We chatted with them for a bit and it turned out that they were the pair that had set out two days before us. They had spent last night by the lagoon.
We said our good-byes and set off along the beach. It may have been only a mile or so but it felt like forever. It was hard going too. Not as bad as the pea gravel but it was still a soft surface that soaked up a lot of energy. We passed Mawinnis Rock, a sea stack which marks the boundary of Yuquot, and decided to head into the forest to follow the Yatz-mah trails. We followed some flagging into the trees but quickly lost all evidence of a trail and found ourselves in the middle of a forest with no clear path and an awful lot of salal (and cobwebs!) to plough through. We backtracked and tried again but ended up at exactly the same spot. We were hoping to make it through to the edge of Jewitt Lake for a pleasant resting point, but quickly gave up on that idea.
So we ended up following the wide path which led to the cabins. And then we came across this strange building. A small, narrow building with steps leading up to a single door of the same width. Upon opening the door we encountered a raised plastic pedestal with a hole in the top. Our first toilet in almost a week! Well, we couldn’t say no and with some amusement made full use of the available facilities.
We did get to see Jewitt Lake by taking a trail down past one of the cabins, but it wasn’t the most scenic of spots, being next to a water pump and filter assembly and an old rusty tank. We managed a nice picture of it, though, as it was like a mirror. Jewitt Lake is named for John Jewitt, the Englishman who was held captive for two years on Nootka. Its native name is Aa-aak-kwaksius Lake.
We continued along path into Yuquot, passing an old overgrown cemetary, a relic of the conversion to Christianity. We soon found ourselves in the middle of the village. We passed a sign advertising camping, and came to a large open field with a couple of tents in it. But these weren’t just campers. In summer the Mowachaht-Muchalaht people return to Yuquot to spend time there, returning to their current homes for the winter. Yuquot only has a couple of year-round residents, along with the lighthouse keeper. We approached the church and met a fellow named Paul. He greeted us and after a few pleasantries asked about our receipt. Merewyn dug it out of her pack and he was satisfied. We asked about the church and he said that we were free to look around wherever we wanted, take photos and ask questions. He also told us that Sanford Williams, a master carver, was in today and we’d be able to visit his workshop and see what he was working on.
We thanked him and went into the church, dropping our packs at the entrance. The church is now a museum and we spent quite a while quietly reading about the history of Yuquot, of Captain Cook’s first contact and other events. Two of the most striking features of the church/museum are the commemorative stained glass windows which celebrate the bicentennial of the signing of the Nootka convention which brought peace between Britain and Spain over that part of the west coast of North America. We signed the guest book. In the main part of the church we were greeted by some amazing totem poles and other carved art work, all decorated in bright cheery colours.
It was here that we ran out of space on our last memory card. Oh dear. We’d had to buy a new memory card for the camera mid-way through a camping trip in 2005 but we were car camping so it was easy to call in somewhere and get another one. Not here. So it was time to sift through the photos and delete the obviously bad ones!
Having cleared a little space, we wandered down towards the water and were stopped in our tracks by the extensive blackberry bushes. No, they weren’t blocking our way – they were festooned with big ripe blackberries! For the next 15 minutes we did nothing but gorge on fresh fruit. A real luxury after nearly a week of dried food! As we walked along the pathways through the bushes garter snakes darted here and there. At one point we came across the obligatory pile of bear poo, clearly indicating it too had eaten a lot of blackberries.
Once we were verging on nausea from overindulging on ripe fruit, we went over to the carver’s workshop. He was working on a mask, and was happy to talk about his work. We had a look around at the several pieces on display, some almost finished, some barely started. The one that caught my eye was a bentwood box – I think these are amazing. We asked about the totem pole in preparation down by the water and he told us it was for a hotel in Tofino. A new yellow cedar pole, probably 20 feet long (and not cheap at $5000 per foot!), complete with pencil outlines. I’d like to see it when it finished (apparently by the end of 2007).
We thanked him and wandered off to find the fallen totem pole that we had read about. It was almost overgrown with blackberry bushes. Apparently the tradition is that it has to lie there until it rots, so it will not be set upright anywhere, nor sold to a museum. We spent a little while looking over it and taking some photos. It was an impressive pole with lots of interesting carvings on it.
From there we walked over to the lighthouse to take a look around. There was another guest book here, and a small mirror so it was possible to view myself for the first time in days. Everyone took turns to look at their own reflection and we all went “Ewww! Do I really look like that?” :-) I hadn’t shaved in almost a week, something I had not done for 20 years…!
We chatted with the lighthouse keepers for a while and they told us about life as a lighthouse keeper at Yuquot. When the weather’s fine, it sounded like a pleasant, mostly peaceful existence. But in the winter, they’re basically on their own to face the winter storms. That might be fun for a short time, but I think the novelty would wear off pretty quickly! Unfortunately we couldn’t go up in the lighthouse itself because of the asbestos in there. It’s not a big lighthouse, but it is one of the few that has keepers stationed all year round.
While at the lighthouse, our ferry appeared (on time at 12:30): the MV Uchuck III, a converted minesweeper. What looked like a small army of day-trippers disembarked and streamed into the village. Then the Uchuck disappeared. Literally. One minute it was at the dock, the next it had gone! I think my perception of time must have changed during the course of the trip. We drifted about for the next hour or so and made our way out onto the dock. Two o’clock came and went and there was no sign of the Uchuck! And then just as mysteriously, it reappeared chugging its way to the dock.
We made our way on board with the rest of the crowd (and it really felt like a crowd), dropped our packs in a safe place out of the way and headed down into the galley for lunch! One of the features of the Nootka Trail is that lunch is provided on the last day courtesy of the Uchuck, and the chilli is legendary. Now I was expecting that earning the “legendary” title had more to do with starving hikers willing to eat anything but I was wrong. It was actually pretty good chilli and between us we disposed of four bowls of the stuff. And a muffin each.
And so we bid farewell to Yuquot, Nootka Island, and the Nootka Trail. We spent the journey back to Gold River watching the scenery go by (alas with some very un-scenic logging cut-blocks), taking a few final photos, and just soaking up the sunshine. It looked like a great area to do some kayaking, and it is popular with kayakers so maybe sometime in the future (once I’ve sorted out my frozen shoulder)…
We eventually steamed into Gold River, and made our way off the ferry. We dropped off our packs at Brenda’s car, collected our change of clothes and went over to the Air Nootka office to say “Hello” (and borrow their bathroom to change in). Suddenly, back in civilization we need the protection of a locked door to change clothes! It was nice to drop in and fill them in on our week – nice folks running that place. I wonder how they got on with their first full winter there.
And before we knew it, we were back in the car and heading back to Nanaimo for the ferry. With Super Dog leading the way, and a mix of Neil Diamond and John Denver (not my choice, honest) to soothe our ears we sped off down the Island. We missed our ferry by a few minutes, which meant only one thing: time for a burger and a beer at the pub!
We made it onto the 9.15 pm ferry, feeling tired and wondering why we weren’t heading for bed. :-) It seemed so busy, so crowded; it was a real shock to the system. We found a quiet corner where the four of us could sit and we wiled away the hour and a half crossing. Time for one or two last group photos though! Four cheery hikers. Six spectacular days.
We were home by midnight and just dropped our packs out on the balcony. A luxurious hot shower, and a soft clean bed awaited. It was over. We were home. What a fantastic trip!