When does the summer start? For many Families living on Vancouver Island they might say, May long weekend as this is when many make their first camping trip of the year. For my family, Easter weekend holds a tradition in my family, not just a lowly ham and/or turkey but a tradition of camping.
This Easter I picked the Wild Side Trail as the destination for Hemingway's first backpacking trip. The 11 km of walking combines easy beach walking and a small mount of forest walking, over headlands. It's satisfactorily long, worth the effort. It features beautiful west coast rainforest and offers opportunities for wild life encounters. Further, the wilderness is old-growth forest; one of the few areas left on the west coast. The route brings hikers past dozens of forest-giants, moss so thick you'll want to lie down and sleep forever, and at least a few Culturally Modified Trees. Adding tot he fun, I brought the Island Mountain Ramblers with us. In total 15 people hiked and camped, including three children.
Total Distance: 34.6 km
Time: about 9 hours of hiking over 3 days
Anyone who with children recognizes that when you tie a little one down you only have so many hours to stick them in a chair before they start to flip their shit. Just like you or I, they need to wiggle and move. To make the journey easy we extended our three day weekend and hit the road on Good Friday, heading for Ucluelet. I booked a night at a guest house, close to the ocean and Hank's (probably the best restaurant on the island).
To Ahousaht and Cow Bay
In preparation for the hike I asked everyone to meet at the First Street Doc in Tofino. Everyone was on time and after a few quick formalities we were made our way to the dock where we met our skipper for the 40 minute boat ride to Ahousaht. Somewhere en route to the island, the forecasted rain started to fall. By the time we were debarking the boat there was a full-on drizzle coming down on us.
A happy group of 14 hikers and one freeloader, in the rain
Travis, the friendly staff member of the Wild Side Trail Foundation, met us on the dock and lead us through the reservation to the trail office, about 5 minutes from the dock. Inside the building, as each of us paid our fees, we geared up for the wet hike. Panchos, gators, rain jackets, rain pants, you name it all manner of wet-weather accouterments emerged form the bowels of the backpacks. By 11:30 we were paid-up and Travis escorted us to the the start of the Trail.
The trail proper cuts through three different types of terrain, housing district, beach and first growth forest. The first section of the trail passed quickly, through the cranberry bog and new section of the reservation housing. Once at the beach, we delayered, the rains had diminished and little bits of blue sky were poking through the cloud. For the remainder of the day we would have no more than a small sprinkle of rain.
Cranberries to the right, cranberries to the left!
This little flower is a woodsperson in the making
In the trip itinerary I listed the hike as about 4 hours on a good day, if the tides were with us. Unfortunately the tides were not with us, we had to use the high tide by-passes for each of the headlands. Worse, the main river crossing was flooded and therefore we had to walk way up the river to the bridge. This added at least an hour and a half to the hike.
A little flower in front of a CMT
Once across the bridge, we used the final portion of the trail of tears to save time. It travels from the bridge, through the forest to the beach. The trail doesn't gain much elevation, but the terrain is varied and requires travelling both over and under logs and through other slippery challenging terrain. Regardless, it does save time. The alternative is to follow the north side of the river back toward the beach. I have done this before too and it is not as easy as the south side.
A single forest giant
The remainder of the hike is easy. There are a few new windfalls this year, one of the fun parts of wilderness hiking and camping is the ever evolving forest that changes the hiking route. Mostly I walked in the middle of the pack, keeping folks together-ish and on track. It was fun watching Kim carry Hemingway through the terrain. She would lean way over to climb under an obstacle and Hemi would lean over too, near dangling in his harness that attaches him to the backpack.
The freeloader is finally unleashed, toddling to the campsite
We arrived at Cow Bay around 5 o'clock, putting our hike time between five and a half and six hours. The group split between three camps. One nearer the trail-head (The Cool Guys), one near the tent pads on the beach (The Families), and one in the trees at the tent pads (The Recluses). I set up my tarp and before long every group had their tents set up and folks were getting water and meals organized. The kids were playing on the beach, even Hemingway, who mostly watched Flora and Emit as they played with each other.
The long day of hiking took its toll on some of the kids, especially Hemingway. When it came time for bed he was so exhausted that he had a difficult time going to sleep. Overstimulated, antsy and maybe a bit chilly are a fun combination for 21 month old Hemingway. It took Kim a long time to get him to bed.
The families, relaxing and eating dinner
The Families made a half heated attempt to get a fire going but didn't have the conviction to keep at it. We were tired and ready for bed by the time the sun was totally gone; in bed by 9 pm. On the other hand, The Cool Guys are more attentive to the needs of the fire-gods. They had a splendid little fire going and I suspect they warmed themselves, head heart and soul by the licking flames and glowing embers. Soon too, however, they found sleep in their tents.
Mt Flores and The Beach
Kim and I were rousted by our Hemi-alarm, it went off around 7 am; no snooze button. Upon emerging from our tent I could see that Mt. Flores dotted with fresh snow, the top 100 metres or so had snow glazed trees on the summit. Down low on the beach, we could still feel the chill of the night's rain hanging in the early morning air. Fortune did grace us, blue skies poked through and eventually we would have sun for the day on the beach and the hike.
Some spent the day on the beach
We set about our morning routine, as we would at home, hot coffee and warm breakfasts; oatmeal for all of us. The little man had the treat of brown sugar in his Quaker oat meal, for insurance that he would gobble it up and fill his little belly full of hot food. The plan worked, he devoured nearly two packages of the sweet oats.
After preparing for the day, I abandoned camp, leaving Kim to mind Hemingway for the day. I joined to of The Cool Guys and rustle up just two other hikers for the adventure to the summit. By 10 am the three of us wandered down the loooong Cow Bay Beach. The tide was out and we easily found our way past the headlands. On the way I was lucky enough to spot a glass fishing float; something I have looked for ever since I was a child. What a find. It is a new one with a seam through the middle, regardless we tucked it away off the beach so another hiker would not grab it.
We made it to the start of the route to Mt Flores (at least we think its the start) by 11 AM. The route we followed is one that was given to me by fellow hiker Mike Knippel (thanks by the way). Following the route is challenging. Obviously it was an established trail at one time. Now though, only vestiges of ribbon and square orange markers mark the path. At times there is obvious trail but as we penetrated deeper the route become impenetrable and you need great rout finding skills. We were thrown off route at least a dozen times by red-herring trails, alternative flagging and windfall.
We hiked for at least an hour and half, crossing high over streams on log crossings, over, under and even though dense vegetation in our search for toward the summit. In our research I found routes posted to the summit where other hikers commented that the route to the summit was easy, I'm not sure if they took a different route but I would not call what we were hiking easy. It was technically challenging, at time straight up bush whacking. After an hour and half we had gained 0 metres of elevation. Further, as the bird flies we were just 750 metres from the beach. We gave up, there was still several kilometers of hiking to do and 900 metres of climbing. We would not make it before dark.
Yes, that's a trailmarker in the middle of this log bridge
The return to the beach was much quicker but we did refer to the GPS a number of times as the route we followed had been swallowed by the forest. I would not recommend hiking this section of the trail unless you have a full long day, a GPS to follow back and a lot of experience navigating in dense forest over difficult terrain. Perhaps the route become easier farther up the trail but what we hiked was not easy, it was psychologically draining, constantly stopping, looking forward and backward for the direction the route was heading. Our route back to camp was slightly different, the tide had come in and therefore we needed to climb over a headland or two. Overall we made it back to camp easily, with only one meandering route; thanks to an error in navigation on my part.
Upon arriving back at camp I took over care of Hemingway. Kim visited with the other hikers and campers. The three kids played very well together. To the merit of the older children they were very careful and patient with the wee man. Toward the end the day Hemingway and I played at the waters edge. He took joy in running with the small waves. He would stand on the shore as the waves gently swept in at his feet, when he would squeal and run backwards avoiding it. As the waves ebbed back to the sea he would toddle forward with it, only to squeal again as the cold water of the Pacific ocean swept at his feet. We played at this for a good half hour before heading back to camp for dinner.
As the sun was setting, Hemingway started to get a sever case of the zombies. We rushed to get a bottle prepped and him changed into his nighttime diaper, sleeper and fleece. The little guy must have played hard in the day, within 10 minutes he was down for the night. I was able to visit with the other family groups and a few of the others.
In discussion with the campers we made plans for a very early departure, 7 am. Not a preferred departure time but it would allow us to make it to the river and wade through the ankle deep water, saving a lot of walking and time; no need to walk up the high tide routes.
Day 3 Ahousaht and Home
I wish I could say that I was the first packed and ready to rumble. I cannot, I am famous for being slow to pack. Although I was one of the earliest to rise, I was late getting to the main group -- I am going to hide behind the family defense, I was helping them pack! The 15 hikers were not on the trail until 7:30. I hate being that guy, the one that demands people ready to hike by 7 and then not being ready myself.
Still before 8 AM but gorgeous
The trip back was fast. the early departure was worth it; we made the river crossing. At low tide we were able to find an area where the water was only about 5 inches deep, I was able to scoot across with boots and gators without soaking my feet. I offered to piggy back others but only Kimberley took up my offer.
Hemingway in my lap on the way to Tofino
The day was sunny and it helped us on our journey home. Several of the hikers commented that we made the smart decision leaving early; we shaved a lot of walking time off and it gave us plenty of time to enjoy the beaches. We took our time exploring beaches, the emergency cabin and enjoying each others company. Also, we made it back to town and found passage by noon, we would be home before dark.