The single most valuable trip planning tip I’ll give you is to call the town of Powell River and get them to mail you a map ($5). The map isn’t navigation quality, but it has the kilometers marked for through-hikers. You’ll find that the other resources available are written for day-trippers, who don’t need to know the distances between campsites and huts. You, on the other hand, do. Save yourself the guesswork. Bring plastic bags and guard that map with your life.
The other thing is, the trail is extremely well marked with signs, flagging, and reflective squares nailed to tree trunks, and kilometer markers. Even through the dark dense old growth forest and through snow and plenty (and I mean plenty) of deadfall, we still found our way rather easily (with confirmation by GPS). GIS may show sections of trail that are not connected; don’t let that scare you.
Though you will want to go faster and do more daily distance than the standard suggested itinerary, the spacing of the huts makes it difficult to do so unless you are willing to double your days. We compressed a 6-day itinerary into 4 by doubling up the first two days while the weather was okay. The campsites are… well, let’s just say that in wet weather the hut are a more comfortable choice and often closer to/ on the trail.
- Day 1: 28k, Powell River to Fiddlehead, 10hrs
- Day 2: 26k, Fiddlehead to Elk Lake, 10hrs
- Day 3: 13k, Elk Lake to Walt Hill, 5.5hrs
- Day 4: 12k, Walt Hill to Dixon Road, 4hrs
You will still want to bring a tent because the huts, while they are roofed, are not all enclosed to the elements. Where designated as “winterized”, they are fully enclosed. A pellet stove provides very minimal warmth. Hopefully there will be a supply of lighter fluid available for your use to help get the darn thing started.
The trail itself is a variety of everything. One moment you’re walking through developed recreation sites and on paved path, and the next you’re on singletrack in old growth forest. One moment you’re on abandoned rail or forestry road, the next you’re doing a near-bushwhack through alders or on double track quad trails. The trail appears to have been created to string together pre-existing recreation areas. It doesn’t provide a totally remote experience, which is neither good or bad. The toads, slugs, and snake were fun.
May probably did not showcase the trail at its best. We experienced sleet and hail and lightning and 40 hours straight pouring rain. We literally walked up streams, navigated around waist-high pools filled with large blocks of consolidated snow, through riparian zones that overflowed and turned the forest into mangrove-like wetness, and post-holed through snow that made what should have been a simple ascents into longer trials. At the end of the day we literally poured water out of our boots.
One night while we were snuggled into our sleeping bags at Walt Hill, we heard a massive crack so loud I nearly jumped out of my skin. Then I smelt something burning. While laying there in my snuggly warm bag, listening to the driving rain against the window, pondering whether to get up into the cold dark night, pondering how little I really wanted to pull on wet boots and a raincoat, hoping that maybe that I was only imagining the smell of burning, Leslie’s voice drifted over to me through the dark. “Do you smell something burning?” Sigh. “…Yeah,” I replied. Pause. “Ahhhh… I’m sure the rain will put it out…”. Good. My thinking exactly. No action required.
I swear lightning hit a tree or something very close by. The next morning it was still raining hard and we did not bother to even look around before heading down a wet Suicide Pass to get off that darn Walt Hill.
Kudos to the trail maintenance crew who were out there clearing winter deadfall. We met Mr. Eagle Walz, the author of my SCT hiking book, while he and the crew were working on renovating the Confederation Lake hut. It’s obvious they put in a lot of work to keep this trail accessible. Thank you!