Hemingway assisting in raising the tent at Keeha Bay
Victoria Day, May long weekend, or May-long, no matter which you call it it's one of the best weekends for camping! It hardly matters if it rains or shines, its a symbol of transition out of the long wet winter and spring to the long awaited summer. The past few years I have marked this transition by hitting the beaches of Vancouver Island, hiking the plethora of coastal hikes available to us.
This year, I led a a group of Island Mountain Ramblers and my family, nine people in total to the aggregate sand beach of Keeha Bay. Located in the Pacific Rim National Park. Keeha Bay is near to the northern trailhead for the West Coast Trail, close to Pacheena Bay. Unlike the West Coast Trail, the Keeha Bay Trail receives very little official maintenance, has very little elevation gain and is one of the shortest trail hikes to the gorgeous beach, which is not often visited. Sounds pretty amazing right!? Wrong! In actual fact the trail is the muddiest I've ever hiked and has a large number of technical challenges that make the short distance a lengthy to hike.
John, hopping one of the water pools on the Keeha Bay Trail
When folks as me about the best coastal hikes on Vancouver Island, Keeha Bay only gets mentioned as a caveat. It isn't what folks usually think of when they ask for a hike and because it's so short it barely registers as a complex challenge. When thinking about back country experiences most of us tend to think of remote, long arduous multi day backpacking trips to remote places, The West Coast Trail, North Coast Trail & Cape Scott, Nootka Island, Hesquiate Peninsula are a few that come to mind. Keeha is spitting distance from Bamfield, the trailhead is less than 5 km from town. Don't be fooled, this trail is probably the most challenging and technical hike on Vancouver Island.
Total Distance: 9 km there and back
Elevation Gain: 200 m
The trail travels from South Bamfield Road across a the short peninsula heading west. The terrain is flat and follows the edge of an inlet and eventually a lake. At times it is slightly below the water level of Kitchna Lake and to add insult to injury on the other side of the lake, there is a bog. The total lack of elevation gain on the trail means that water pools forming dense loamy mud. Normally, backpackers can muster an average speed of 4 hm/h, this hike should take under an hour... think again. If you plan on doing this hike, give yourself at least three hours to do it.
Keeha Bay Trail, no shortage of mud!
I once told my friends about this beach and they planned a trip to it without asking me details about the hike. To make a long story short, they started out with about an 2 hours of light left in the day and found themselves benighted. They didn't make it to the beach until 1 or 2 o'cock in the morning! Don't make this mistake. The trail travels through the tightly woven thicket of west coast flora. The closer to the beach you come the muddier the trail gets!
The Keyhole on the Keeha Bay Trail
A few of my personal favourite features are the large fallen tree that has across the path. Years ago a kind soul cut a hole through the very large log to make passage easy. However, another large tree has landed exactly on top of the first making a keyhole that you have have to travel through, most people will be on hands and knees, unless you have flexibility. If you take a ridiculously large backpack you expect to take it off to pass it through. The immediate next feature is a large mud pit with a large fallen tree suspended over it. You have to walk through the mud and simultaneously get really low to get under the tree. Over the years folks have added pieces of wood and tricycle tires to make it easier to pass through. It's getting easier but the variable conditions of the trail mean you may be up to you calf in mud, if you step wrong.
Kimberley about to pass under the tree and through a mud pit
The beach offers many beach camping opportunities and only a few spots set up in the trees. Although there is a new bear cache, it's located at the trailhead at the beach but the water source is at least 750 metres down the beach, left of the trail head. Dear reader please note that at times in the summer this water source dries up and it may be necessary to walk back on the trail to the lake in order to fill up your water. For this reason bring an empty water container that will hold adequate water ad be easy to carry. This weekend the water was running slow but steady.
So what is the point of this post... my Heros. There's a lot of chatter these days about what a hero is and who they are, what deeds must be done to be a hero, etc. For me my hero is my wife. She caters to my personal call of the wild, coming with on my adventures. This on it's own is enough to earn my love and admiration but to up the ante she brings our little guy on her back. Hemingway is 22 months old now and just by the function nature, every time we take him out he is heavier than the last. My wife loads him into the carrier and takes him on our adventure with very little grumbling. She's a machine.
I wrote about the trail conditions, it's highly technical, requiring root hopping, cantilevering over mud pits, walking on wet fallen trees and an ability to navigate through the plethora of low hanging vegetation waiting to snag or trip you up at any moments notice. She meets these challenges with a positive attitude. I can't boast about her enough.
As a secondary point, Hemingway is a champ! I know every little kid is very adaptable and the every parent boasts about how great their kid is. I'm no exception. He loves to watch others and explore. Here he is trying to be a puma.
We left Nanaimo at 7 am, heading to Bamfield for a quick lunch at the Tides and Trails Cafe. We arrived in good time, the road to Bamfield was exceptional well maintained on this weekend. When travelling the road I recommend taking a full spare tire, don't rely on your donut spare; it won't cut it. We arrived with in time to put in an order for breakfast. They do a great job of their food. Its a step above greasy spoon fair, with some unique offerings. I categorize the food as the best Bamfield has to offer. Do yourself a favour and head there for a Bammer-Bowl.
After our leisurely lunch we were loaded and walking the trail just after noon. We navigated the terrain effectively and arrived at the beach before 3 PM. In my estimation we made good time. Arriving at the beach I was surprised to see at least a dozen camps set up. Normally the beach is vacant... but this is May long weekend and it is expected that it should be busy.
Exploring route options on the west end of Keeha Bay
We set up camp and took time to enjoy our view for the rest of the da. The days light lingered long, it was well past 9pm, We all sat by the fire and enjoyed each other company. As I expected, Hemingway had a hard time going to bed, it wasn't until after dark that the little bugger finally put his head down and went to sleep.
Day two we explored the east and west ends of the beach. The tides were not in our favour, low tides were before 7 am and after 8 pm, this limited extent of beach exploring that could easily be done but we did have fun searching out the sea caves and exploring the keyhole, a few of the natural features on the beach. As a special treat I organized a water show. Two gray whales came to play in the bay, not far off shore. It appeared to be a calf and a cow, only determined by the difference in size. Regardless they rolled and played their flukes raising in to the air, their tails never coming out in a dramatic fashion but once we the small one spy hopped for us. A great experience to see, especially for a backpacking trip.
Day three we packed our gear in the morning and tumbled along our way. we made our cars in two hours of walking which gave us extra time to stop for a burger at the Tides and Trails Café.