Author Note: This trip was taken in 2021, but updated in 2023 with updated details.
I’m not really sure where I get these crazy ideas, but a friend and I booked the West Coast Trail. It is this multi day thru hike in the west coast of Vancouver Island, which is accessible via ferry. Unfortunately in 2020 the hike was canceled, but a friend and I fortunately got in the lotto and booked one of the most coveted start times, July 2nd. July typically is better to go because you want as little precipitation as possible.
I have done a lot of hiking, and cool trips, but never thru-hiking. What this means is you start from one point and end out and another point. You carry everything on your back including your food, tent, and supplies.
From reading the group, everybody recommended to either buy dehydrated food or make it yourself. The reason being is you don’t want to carry real food for the possibility of spoilage and additional weight.
I bought the book from the backpacking chef, and decided to start experimenting. First thing I bought was a dehydrator.
There is a fan on top of the dehydrator and you set the temperature and time. It runs typically for a long time, and takes about 8-20 hours to dehydrate certain foods. What you do is fully cook whatever you are going to eat, let it cool a bit, then dehydrate it from 120-135 degrees for multiple hours.
After much experimenting I successfully dehydrated:
+ tofu (you have to freeze it first)
+ thai curry paste
I didn’t really like dehydrating meat such as chicken breast because it kind of tasted weird at end of the day.
For the food I would pack one meal in a ziplock bag.
At the end I made 7 meals consisting of
+ japanese curry – tofu, kale, beans, ratatouille mix, textured vegetable protein
+ thai curry – instant rice noodles, thai curry paste, tofu, beans
+ lentils – green lentils, quinoa, salsa macha
For breakfast I packed oatmeal, for lunch tortillas, and PB&J, some parmesan crackers – bars. Total weight – about 9-10 pounds.
Preparation #2: Packing
For the west coast trail, you want to only have a backpack which is about 20-30% of your body weight. The lighter the better. That meant for me about 30-40 pounds.
What a lot of people do for thru-hiking is weigh every item and put it in a website called lighter pack. It basically is a fancy excel spreadsheet online.
During the pandemic, all sports gear in Vancouver was in short supply. I spent uhh, a lot of pennies upgrading all of my gear. I bought an ultralight 1.2 lb tent in the states, bought a new jacket, a new sleeping pad, and a gravity filter. I couldn’t find the tent in Canada, so I bought it from REI in the states, and then asked my parents to ship it up.
Visualizing my gear one last time I put everything in my bag for a final weigh in and test
Final weigh in was about 34 lbs. If I count the number of hours I spent dehydrating and packing and thinking about the trip, I for sure spent at least 40 hours planning.
One app which was incredible useful was Avenza Maps. With this you are able to see where you are relative to the trail that Parks Canada provides as a PDF. However be aware that the map is not 100% updated to the latest routes so use Avenza Maps only as a reference and cross-check the physical map given.
Trail Report Day 1: 75km —> 70km – 3.1 miles
AKA – The day I despise ginormous large ladders
For the thru-hike there were two options, south to north or north to south. We opted to go south to north as it starts off super difficult, then slowly gets easier. Logistically, we spent a night in Victoria, and then got dropped off the trailhead in Port Renfrew. After a quick orientation we took a ferry across and this was the first thing we saw:
If there was anything to wake you up, it is a ladder two stories high. At this point I turned off my brain and went up really slowly.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this trail was actually quite dangerous, because if you fall or slip, consequences could be quite fatal. In hiking, there are some interesting terms such as calling a trail ‘technical’.
When hikers call something technical it refers to the terrain being more difficult where you don’t simply walk on a dirt path. When you walk, on more technical terrain it may refer to scrambling on rocks, uneven trail, roots, etc.
For this portion of the trail it wasn’t too technical, but rather high in elevation. The hiking in this section took about 4.5 hours to get to the campsite.
In this hike, every campsite is by a beach because there are glacial melt from rivers which feed into oceans. This is important because you need to filter water at each site when you are done. Carrying gallons of water for 7 days would be impossible!
At the campsite there were a mix of people finishing the trail and starting the trail. It is pretty typical in any really big hike to inquire about trail conditions. We heard that many people bailed out at the hike half way because of the heat conditions. I’m sure you heard about the ‘heat dome’ in the Pacific Northwest, and temperatures were in Portland/Seattle/Vancouver from 100f and higher! Hiking in 100 degree weather would be brutal.
After we ate dinner, one of the ladies we were talking to came back to me and asked if I was a doctor. She asked if I had hydrogen peroxide and said I looked familiar and asked if I worked at the BC Women’s Hospital.
For some odd reason, people pretty often have asked me pretty weird questions about my occupation. One time I was in Dallas Lovefield Airport flying on Southwest airlines waiting for my gate. Somebody asked me if I was a pilot.
I was kind of just puzzled like, what makes me look like a pilot? Just kind of weird what people assume of you.
Another time I was yet again at the airport (this was pre-covid life where I used to travel twice a month), where someone asked if I was an athlete competing in the Olympics. As flattered as I was, that was again a pretty weird assumption to make. I distinctly recall wearing sweat pants and having a Bose headset on me.
—— End Aside
Knowing I didn’t want to cramp up doing yoga stretches on the beach was near impossible, so I did it on the platform of the restroom.
I’m sure people were wondering who that crazy person was doing yoga at night.
Unfortunately/fortunately I was getting strong 5G reception from T-mobile from Washington. Most people had the true chance to disconnect, but uhh.. I was checking my e-mails before sleeping.
Trail Report Day 2: 70 —> 58km – 7.4 miles
AKA – The day I despise rocks
You would think sleeping by the beach is relaxing, but really that is far from the case. I didn’t sleep that well as the ocean was thundering in the middle of the night. I finally dug out my ear plugs and somewhat slept okay
One of the things which was really beautiful and I couldn’t capture in photos was that mornings unique sunrise. On the left where you see that bright light is the sun. As time progressed because of the cloud formation all I would see is an expanding line over the horizon.
Brushing your teeth also has some special considerations. That means brushing and flossing near the ocean and away from your campsite because you don’t want any food bits to be near your tent to attract animals.
Again, these were one of those times where I just shut off my brain, and prayed for safety the entire trek. This would be rated uber technical.
Later on in the Facebook group I read about someone who slipped off a rock and fell and had to be medivac’ed out. Looking back it was a pretty dicey section.
We finally reached a section called Owen Point, where you could not cross unless tides were low enough.
While my friend was taking a picture I witnessed someone attempt to cross when the tide was not low enough and slipped off a rock. She fortunately was okay. After watching several people get hurt, we decided to really wait for the tides to be safe and crossed.
After the boulder section there was a super interesting coastal walk for quite a long time. The waves really shaped the geography of the land in a unique way.
However walking on coast shelves had their own problems. You would need to be aware of what was slippery and not.
Certain spots looked like dead body markings, but they were just salt which had dried up, perhaps from previous rocks moved?
Similar to Galiano Island, again so many interesting formations in the rocks
After the coastal part, we reached KM 66 and went inland. The scenery changed back to forest
At one point, the trail turned to be pretty muddy and as I was stepping off a slippery platform. I slipped right off and fell 4 feet off the log and right on my back. Fortunately I landed right on my backpack. I was pretty shaken up, extremely scared, but Praise God had no injuries from that fall. Later on, I checked and nothing broke in my backpack.
We stayed at a pretty small campsite for the night.
Trail Report Day 3: 58km —> 41km / 10 miles cullite to cribs
AKA – The day I despise uneven coastal hiking and realized I forget stuff easily
Paranoia set in after falling off a log earlier. I basically was watching nearly every step I was taking.
We had a super long 10km walk along the beach. You would think walks along the beach are fun, but nope. First off when you step, you sink into the sand. Second off, you are kind of walking at a weird 45 degree slope where your left and right legs are uneven.
—— Aside: the grand debate about shoes
When of the topics debated quite heavily in the hiking community is to wear trail shoes or boots. For most of my hikes I have always worn trail shoes. The pros I would say are:
+ Dry quickly
+ You don’t develop blisters around your toes
I had always done hiking in very hot areas so I never had an issue with trail shoes. EXCEPT on this trail I got my shoes and socks wet. What happened is that my shoes never dried because of the mistiness and humidity of the trail causing 2 blisters on the bottom of my feet.
A lot of people say that boots protect your ankles, but I am of the view that having strong ankles protects your ankles. That means doing various lunges, steps, and light weights to help your feet.
I learned later from the Facebook group that trail shoe wearers should be bringing a mineral based cream to put on their feet when wet to avoid blisters.
Let’s say at the end of the day I am still a trail shoe fan, but now open to perhaps waterproof style shoes. Still not convinced about boots~
— End Aside
After endless walking, we went through tide pools again, and there were quite a few dead crabs, washed up kelp, and sea urchins. We even saw some green sand which I’ve only seen in Hawaii.
After a long slog we finally arrived at a pretty nice beach campsite.
When you cook in the back country, it is quite different than regular cooking. What you do is put your dehydrated food in a camping stove, add water, and bring it to a boil. Think of it as a healthier cup of noodles.
After dinner we chatted with a mom who was with 5 kids (!). She mentioned that her husband had a brain concussion 10 years ago and couldn’t do any of these hikes. She really liked talking with us because she wanted some adult time as all of her conversations were mainly jokes with kids.
I then proceeded to do my night routine and realized I couldn’t find my toothbrush. I started to panic and realized I couldn’t find my toiletry bag. I had left it at the previous campsite at the beach *face palm*.
Further more, the repercussions would be bigger because I wouldn’t be able to brush or floss for 4 days!
I approached Cindy (the mom) as she was sitting down with other people. I publicly explained my debacle and Cindy gave me some toothpaste in a ziplock bag. I needed to floss with braces, and another lady had dental floss picks which were BRACES FRIENDLY. The odds of getting this were so small. I offered chocolate to them, but they just said to pay it forward.
The bigger problem is I now had no toothbrush, but from talking to some people, they said that at the next stop, I probably would be able to pick up a toothbrush.
At late night, I fell asleep to the chorus of frogs chirping. Actually was quite soothing after a stressful day.
Trail Report Day 4: 42km —> 33km cribs to nitinat narrows
— Warning: below talks about poop talk
One of the things hikers and campers talk a lot about is poop. You need to consider how you will poop and where. For this trail, there are outhouses, so all you have to do is bring toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and soap.
It is important to time your poop schedule because you want to go to the bathroom in the morning then in the evening. Because if you need to go #2 in the middle of the day, it is extremely inconvenient as you have to dig a hole.
My routine pretty much is wake up to poop, eat breakfast, then poop one more time before heading out. Fortunately throughout the hike I have pretty much adhered to this routine.
Another huge issue is peeing in the middle of the night. When you are warm in the tent, you have to change, walk to the bathroom, then walk back. Imagine being at home, and instead of walking to your bathroom, you have to walk to the building next to you.
Many people try to alleviate this issue by doing a double pee. So peeing at night, hanging around the restroom for 20 minutes, and peeing again.
— End Poop Talk
This morning it didn’t rain, but the beach was EXTREMELY misty and everything got wet. That means packing up was miserable. I was so out of it I thwacked myself in the eye with my tent pole, but fortunately everything was fine.
We trekked inland and the trail was extremely overgrown and extremely muddy. After 5 hours of hiking we passed by this really beautiful lily field.
I knew the first half of the trip would be brutal, so I booked a cabin halfway. In the middle of the hike you have the opportunity to do something called ‘comfort camping’. There is a place where you can eat and order real food. Although it is at exorbitant prices, every morsel was worth it.
We finally arrived at Nitanit Narrows which is an area run by first nations, the Nitinat tribe. The area consists of cabins for rent and a super popular food shack pretty much everyone eats at.
It was odd that I had only been eating dehydrated food for 2 days, but I already was craving real food. I got the halibut and baked potato and it was GLORIOUS.
Afterwards we met Doug, one of the caretakers of the property. He showed us to our room and I was pretty pleasantly surprised. I had seen pictures, but this way actually better in person.
After drying all of our stuff outside, we sat in the patio area where there was a group of 5. They were heading north to south, and they asked about a bunch of tips on the difficult section.
Doug came by to talk about the land and his experiences here. He talked about how his family escaped residential schooling because his mom was white, but many were taken away.
Residential schooling has occurred in the United States, but it is a a pretty hot button issue in Canada. In short, there has been a long history of first nations (in the US called Indians or Native Americans), being taken away from their families to be educated in government run schools. Of course you can imagine the trauma, and destruction of families about this.
We were with 5 other guys in the afternoon talking, and when we all were talking Doug asked if we all wanted to go pick up crabs from their crab traps in a boat!
We all headed into the boat with the DOG, who amazingly enjoyed the experience and probably quite used to it. Crab traps were set-up with fish heads spread out in the lake and then later on they are picked up.
There are regulations where crabs have to be a certain size, or else they are thrown back. This does make sense in a sustainability perspective.
Trail Report Day 5: Nitanit Narrows 32 km to 23 km klanawa river.
AKA: Approaching easy town
—Aside Hiking Debate #2 – poles or no poles
You would be surprised but there are so many debates in the hiking community. This debate is to bring hiking poles or not.
Hiking poles to me are insurance that if you have a slip you have the opportunity to catch yourself with your poles.
For gear, my opinion is to buy higher quality but more expensive gear because if it breaks on the trail, you are out for the rest. I remember buying cascade hiking poles from Costco, and it breaking in the middle of hiking of Peru. That really was not a cool experience.
My vote is if the trail is remotely technical – yes poles!
After a refreshing nights sleep, we headed out once again. There was some mud, some slippery boardwalks, and a lot of walking through twisted roots in a forest.
We did a brief stop at Tsusiat Falls where we both jumped into the lake. About 2 km later, we arrived at a campsite where it was the only the two of us.
After setting up camp, I explored the beach area
Around near the campsite I saw mussel shells and a ton of logs everywhere. I remember reading that during the winter, torrential storms come in and reshape the beach landscape. Here are tons of logs that washed up in the beach.
Trail Report 6: 23km to 0km pachena bay
AKA: Let’s get out of here!
The trail started again coastal with an endless slog of beach and tons of rocks and boulders. At this point I had developed two blisters from wet socks so I was cautious. We arrived at the last campsite before the exit at 1pm, and decided just to exit out of the park immediately. It was another 4 long hours, but then we exited!
The ending was super uneventful. Like we could really find the parking lot and there were no acclaims of cheer or anyone to even meet.
At the end of the day, a lot of people have been asking me, was the hike enjoyable or worth it?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I think my style of hiking is to hike to a super gorgeous viewpoint and take photos. The West Coast Trail to me is more of a hike of endurance as I’ve never done a thru-hike before.
As I told some before I usually don’t have any life revelations during really challenging hikes. I guess that’s a good sign?
As in most things of life going outdoors is part preparation, part training, part luck, and all prayer.
Addendum: Here the recipes I used for my trip
- Black beans – 125F, 5 hours –
- Mayocoba beans – 125F, 5 hours
- Ratatouille – 135 – 18 hours – need to break it up half way, make sure all vegetables
- Quinoa – 135 – 5-8 hours, fruit roll up tray
- Lentils – 135 – 8 hour
- 50 g
- 3g chia
- 6 g barley
- 10g blueberries
Japanese Curry (2x)
- 66g dried rice
- 4g kale
- 50g lentils
- 25g tofu
- 15g tvp
- 21g beans
- 8g ratatouille
- 1g spring onions
- 10g dried mushrooms
- 1/2 block block japanese curry block
- Furikake spice
- 1 package rice noodles
- 2g curry packet
- 50g tofu
- 50g beans
- 5g coconut milk powder
- 10g tvp
- fish sauce
- 100g lentils
- 50grams quinoa
- 20g vegetables
- Salsa macha
- Olive Oil