20160702: Ultra Trail West Coast – the game of slugs and ladders

West coast trail
Black dot showing the start at Gordon River; red dot showing end at Pachena Bay. Nitinat Narrows crossing approx. halfway through the trail. Pacific Rim National Park, Canada.

Christine and I kept in contact after meeting at 2012 Kaslo Sufferfest 200km, a stage race through the interior Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. Fellow competitors bonded through the shared experience of physical hunger, sleep deprivation, literally shredded feet, and sore-to-the-touch quadriceps. We went to Bryce Canyon ultra together. We said, hey, we should run the West Coast Trail someday.

The idea percolated, and years passed.

Now it’s 2016.

I finally said, enough of this sitting around talking. I’m making it happen. I booked myself in for May and backpacked the 75km route from Gordon River to Pachena Bay, with Brian and Shilo, as a preview. We enjoyed the rain and the sun and the slugs and the mud and the sand and the lattice roots and the infamous ladders.

Then I returned with Christine over July long weekend to do it again, lighter and faster.

It took us 20 hours, not including bivy.

Bivy… what?? Yep.

Logistics for this trail are crazy due to the remoteness of the trailheads and the water crossings factor. It’s really best to wrangle a friend into being a support crew to row you across Gordon River, and pre-arrange the ferry at Nitinat Narrows.

Anyway due to the late start we missed the last scheduled boat across the Narrows (43km into the trail) and were forced to spend the night. Not all was lost; this gave us opportunity to spend ample time relaxing at Monique’s burger stand and chatting with her as her day was winding down – yes, burgers and snacks right in the middle of the trail! –  a belly full of 7oz burger and coleslaw settled us into the cold and rainy night.

The next morning we made our leisurely way to the Narrows to catch the 9am boat and finished up the trail under a jewel blue July sky.

It was a treat to see the inland trail where last time I took the beach, and vice versa. It was like a choose-your-own-adventure book. It was also a treat to see the trail in a different season.

I’d visited the Bateman Gallery in Victoria and was touched by Robert Bateman’s involvement in Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park and its ecological mandate. The WCT skirts the provincial park until Walbran Creek campground 22km into the trail. I was reminded how very special our country is.

As we’d done our car drop we got to drive through the outlying part of Carmanah-Walbran… Wow, it was exactly like in a Subaru commercial.

Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is a luxuriously forested sanctuary that offers protection to a large Sitka spruce ecosystem that represents 2% of BC’s remaining old-growth forest. Carmanah Walbran is home to some of the world’s largest spruce trees, some reaching heights in excess of 95 metres and living for 800 years or more. The park is also home to ancient, gnarled cedars – estimated to be well over 1,000 years old – clinging to the side hills. Nestled beneath these awe-inspiring trees is a diverse variety of flora and fauna possible only in an ecosystem that has remained undisturbed for hundreds of years.

Is the overnight layover “cheating”?

*Shrug* I’m on vacation, not in a race. And we had overnight permits, just in case, so we could almost say it was planned that way…!

I have a feeling I’ll do it again, in one day, someday.


Some of these photos are from May (posted here; more trail photos).

Pachena Bay
Finish line, Pachena Bay




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