Thursday, 30 July 2015

North Coast Trail & Cape Scott Trail - Cape Scott Park, BC    July 13 - 20, 2015

(Part 2 - Cape Scott Trail Section)

The Cape Scott Park trails are much wider, less rooty, and generally much easier to hike on than the North Coast trail sections. These last two and a half days would not necessarily be easier though. Although you are not looking at your feet constantly, we had much longer (in kilometers but not really time) to hike each day. The hiking was also mentally draining in a different way, as sometimes the inland sections were boring. I'm sure the forest was somewhat boring on the NCT as well, but you didn't have a lot of time to think about it. You were thinking about how to step so as not to slip off of a tree route and fall (because I always did fall as soon as I slipped, no matter how hard I tried to save myself, the heavy backpack always threw me off and I would end up on the ground). Which of course is mentally draining as well, but in a different way.

Day 6 - July 18, 2015 - Nissen Bight to Nels Bight, then up to Cape Scott Lighthouse and back

This day was cloudy on and off, but finally beautifully sunny as we sat on the long white sandy beach of (very busy) Nels Bight.

 Look at that. It just keeps going, mostly straight, wide, no roots, no trees, no mud. Its like..... its like a real trail...

 Near the old dutch settlements.

 Sign at Nels Bight.

 Nels Bight

 Confused deer on the beach. I know he/she doesn't look overly confused, but the way it was walking along the beach it was totally confused by so many people.

 After setting up camp and therefore losing most of our gear, we hiked out to the lighthouse. On this inland section between Experiment Bight and Guise Bay there is a lot of old road to walk on. 

 Face in a tree.


 The view from the lighthouse was not particularly interesting. However there was a cat to pet, and water was available from a tap. Despite having to haul it 6km to get it back to Nels Bight I took full advantage of the tap water and filled up all the bottles and the 4L dromedary bag. This water you did not need to filter, and it was clear (no jungle piss here) . Then I hauled the majority of that (I took the bag) back to camp while Heath took the rest. It was a good thing too, the creek at the western edge of Nels Bight was terrible. Supposedly there was a source and a bowl it flowed into, in the forest between the creek and the sign. Several people told us about it. I never tried to look for it, but Heath never found it the next morning  when for once we had to get more water after drinking too much the afternoon before, and actually running out at breakfast. He instead filtered us some jungle piss from the visible creek. In the guest book on the bus one person also mentioned they could not find this mysterious but often referred to bowl.

 Guise Bay

 Experiment Bight. Stronger waves on this beach.

 Nels Bight. Its very large and that is a good thing. This beach had tons of people camped on it. Most of them older than us. Good for everyone getting out here and enjoying a beautiful weekend (for it was the weekend again).


Day 7 - July 19, 2015 - Nels Bight to San Josef Bay

Another hot day with very little cloud cover. All of it inland, only passing a lake on the way. Since the bus leaves at 1-2pm there was no reason for us to skip San Josef Bay which some people refer to as the nicest beach in Cape Scott Park. With so many kilometers to cover it would have been hard to catch the bus in time on this day anyway. Instead we camped one more night and slept in the next day. 

 After many hours of somewhat boring hiking we got to Eric Lake. The water was pretty clear, it might have been nice for a swim, but with still more to hike it wasn't appealing enough to try.

 At the junction with the parking lot we get to this. What is this??? While the trail in the rest of Cape Scott is pretty nice compared to the North Coast Trail, this was again even easier to hike on. The entire section from the parking lot to San Josef Bay was like this: graveled and wide enough for two people to walk side by side. Actually it was level enough to get a wheel chair down if you wanted to. It was weird after so long in the jungle (forest).

 San Josef Bay

 San Josef Bay

 There are two beaches at San Josef Bay. While there is an inland trail between them, it is reminiscent of the NCT. We opted out of that, and instead waited till the time was close to low tide, and instead crossed to the second beach on the beach at around 8pm. Why did we need to go there? Not just to see the sea stacks, but the water source is over there. This makes this water source almost worse then Nissen Bight for access. Its not a long hike, but it is a pain to wait for low tide.

 Sea stacks

 Bit of sandy beach in between beaches.


 Looking back at the section that is the major reason to wait for the lowest part of low tide. We went a few hours earlier than the lowest tide time, and we got our feet wet (we were wearing sandals by this point) on the way in. Less so on the way back.

 On this second beach there was a large tidal beach pool. The only one on the trail I found. It would have been nice to swim in this if it had been earlier in the day, but by this time we were pretty tired and just wanted to get the water back to camp.

Second beach. The water source on the east end of the beach was very very low flowing (and therefore of course jungle piss). You could barely submerge your filter hose in it. Someone told us there was another creek on the west side, but another party said they tried over there and couldn't find anything. At least we had this nice view to look at.

The next day there are no pictures. It drizzled during the night and into the morning while we broke camp and hiked out. The night before I'd eaten a bad freeze dried dinner or something and wasn't feeling well all night and into the morning. The hike out was a short march of 36 minutes. At the end, even though it was only just past 11am, the trail shuttle was already there! Since we were the only ones taking it, we got to leave right away and got back to Port Hardy much sooner than I expected. It was very nice of the company to send the shuttle so early.

All in all I recommend this hike, especially if you like solitude. While the shelf, beach hiking, and water sources are all nicer on the WCT, the NCT trail has better beach camping and of course less people. The pocket beaches are very neat and scenic, even if they are all pebble beaches which become tedious to hike on. The ropes were a nice change from ladders which can scare me with my fear of heights. It makes sense to take the time to do the NCT slowly, rather than march through it quickly. But that is just my opinion. 

(Part 1 - North Coast Trail Section)

North Coast Trail & Cape Scott Trail - Cape Scott Park, BC    July 13 - 20, 2015

(Part 1 - North Coast Trail Section)

After completing the West Coast Trail (WCT) two years ago I'd always wanted to go back and complete another coastal hike. I cannot remember how I heard about the North Coast Trail (NCT), but the fact that it had far less people hiking on it every day was very appealing. It was also advertised as more rugged and wild than the older WCT. During the previous winter I decided it was time to go back to Victoria island and complete this trail (rather than say, the Juan de Fuca or the Nootka which I will most likely do in the years to come). 

To get to the trail head for the NCT it is necessary to take a shuttle boat from Port Hardy, which then on the way back makes it necessary to take the shuttle bus back from the Cape Scott trail head. These costs (depending on how many people are booked on the days you are going) make this trip somewhat similar in cost to hiking the WCT, even though the actual trail fees are much cheaper ($10/day/person). I had booked the shuttles beforehand, but the actual trail does not need to be booked because currently there is always plenty of space. 

The day we were driving up to Port Hardy it poured rain for about an hour or two. I was worried it would do so the next day, but we were lucky it did not. This was after a long dry spell in weather on the island. The weather forecast wasn't too great, but not terrible. It looked like we would probably have a good trip (nice enough weather and relatively dry trail).

The shuttle boat leaves at 8am and takes about half an hour to get to Shushartie Bay, where there is no dock and you must get off the boat by stepping onto rocks along the coast. This was relatively easy for us, so personally I don't see need of a dock here. Then the boat leaves and your only option to get back to civilization (besides calling for rescue) is to start hiking.

Day 1 - July 13, 2015 - Shushartie Bay to Skinner Creek

This day was mostly overcast with only light rain for about an hour. It was completely inland.

 Boat ride out to Shushartie Bay. We saw an otter on the way out, but I didn't get a photo.

 Nearing the NCT trail head, which is the sign on the shore.

After being dropped off with another group the boat leaves us alone on the trail. It is quite odd watching the last of civilization drive away on you. The other group would be completing double sections each day for the first two days (when I say sections I mean the portions of trail as described on the map, which correspond to our itinerary) so we would not camp with them. Although I knew we could probably hike some double sections, I had opted for a slow steady pace which allowed plenty of time at camp to enjoy the beach/ocean. I was on holiday after all.

The trail doesn't bother easing you into the hike, it starts you off with a steep section including the first rope to help you up. You gain a fair amount of elevation (for a coastal trail) in the first kilometer.

Then you are left in the forest scrambling over trees and roots and stomping through mud holes. This isn't the best picture, as the trail you can see here is clear for this section.

The forested trail is punctuated by sections of boardwalk through meadows and short stunted trees. We sat down here for our first break (an hour had passed) and right afterwards it started sprinkling on us for about 3/4 of an hour.

Next section of trail was significantly more muddy than the first part.

After 4 & 3/4 of an hour we made it to Skinner Creek campground. You must scramble through a bit of a log jam at the end of this creek to get out here onto the beach, then you must cross Skinner Creek (low this year) to get to the campground. The bear lockers are up on that section of land near the center of the photo. Skinner creek has a good water just barely upstream of those logs.

Bald eagle hanging out on the beach. Saw two more that evening.

More of the beach near Skinner Creek.

Day 2 - July 14, 2015 - Skinner Creek to Cape Sutil

The second day we woke up to party cloudy skies. We headed out early because the section of trail after the cable car crossing was listed as very difficult on the map.

 Walking along the beach at Skinner Creek in the morning. It says on the map you can only pass this section at low tide, but I didn't see anything that looked too treacherous to pass at high tide, so I'm not sure why that is. The beach seemed to go up far enough to pass at high tide at least, but I could definitely be wrong. Maybe its worse at times of year when the tide is higher.

 After a very short section in the trees we ended up on a cobble (stone) beach that leads to the Nahwitti River and campsite. This is one of the only campsites that sits on a cobble beach rather than a sand beach, and with the absence of good water (you have to go pretty far up the river to get away from the tidal section) I cannot recommend it at all. Cobble beaches were very common on this trail rather than sand ones. They would become tedious in the days to come.

 Descending the cable car platform on the other side of the Nahwitti River cable car crossing. This was the highest ladder on the trail (as there were no ladders in the forest, all sections use rope instead).

 Starting the hardest section of the trail. Crossing a creek near the beginning of the - every step is over a root, tree or through a mud hole - section. Still not too much harder than the day before.

 A bit of relief in more open forest closer to the coast.

 Going back inland to denser forest and trickier trail.

 Out on the cobble beach again. The trail goes inland for a while and then onto another section of beach, that includes some caves. This part is actually not passable at high tide, but we were just in time to not get wet going past the caves.

 After that section you get to the 'funnest' headwall / rope section. First you go up this, which isn't so bad.

 Only to come to a piece of land that is only a foot wide and see you must go down two more ropes that take you almost back down to the next beach.

 This is looking up. Not only do you have to go over that tree on the first rope. The bottom of the second one is wet and the gravely slope is steep and wet. You get almost no traction, so you have to keep good hold of the rope. Someone wrote in the washroom guestbook at the next campsite it made them feel like Tarzan. In the guest book on the shuttle bus back a few people said this should be replaced with a ladder. I don't agree unless tons of people get hurt here. This is what the trail is known for and its almost fun. Especially in retrospect (type II fun).

 Then after a few more up and down sections of beach and headwall you get to Cape Sutil beach which is all sand. Its a nice beach, but the water source is far away from the pit toilet/bear locker and its not a very good one either. Not tidal, but low flowing and very yellow (jungle piss as I like to call it).

Camp. The skies cleared up and we got a nice sunny evening. All the pit toilets had toilet paper dispensers which were usually full, which I found very nice and very odd. This one had a guest book as well. My favorite entry was "the Germans are coming". Not referencing any world war I am sure, but rather that Germans are known to come over to Canada to hike our harder and far less crowded (than in Europe) trails, and the NCT is a perfect example (currently) of a less crowded but hard trail. This is true because when you look at the guestbook in the shuttle bus the vast majority of people from outside of Canada are Germans. I had already been arguing this point with Heath just two days before, so it was nice to be validated by a toilet guest book if nothing else.

Day 3 - July 15, 2015 - Cape Sutil to Shuttleworth Bight

We woke up to fantastic news from the trail wardens who have a hut farther down the beach: the fire ban had been lifted from our area and we could have beach fires again! We had not been able to the first two nights due to a province wide fire ban due to the dry conditions and many forest fires already burning throughout BC.

The day started out with a short inland section which was easy.

 This lead to some pocket pebble beach sections. In and out of the forest.

 Pebbles are so much fun....

 Another one.

 There were a couple longer inland sections after the first set of beaches.

 Another beach. Mostly pebbles.

 A longer pebble beach. It started to cloud over and almost sprinkled on us, but couldn't really commit to it. We saw a lot of boats out on the ocean these first three days, mostly fishing vessels probably. I wondered if they could see us, and what they thought about what we were doing. Often I wondered if they were drinking beer at that very moment....

 Another short beach section on the "sutil scramble". As much as I would love to walk on that sand there, these sections are so short you almost want to stay on the higher pebble section to save time hiking on and off the beach.

 After some more pebble hiking we finally got to Shuttleworth Bight where right at the campsite the pebbles and dead sea grass ended, and the nearly white sand beach started. However it was quite cloudy on the beach and I opted to get the tent off the ground (sand), so I camped in the inland section of the campground which included tent pads here. I had taken four eye screws with me just for this to make it easier to secure the tent to the platforms. They worked really well and it was easy enough to rig up the other tent lines.

 After about half an hour of arriving at camp the sun came out and we went out onto the beach to enjoy our fire and the sunset. This camp was next to Irony Creek which is a good larger creek that is only tidal for the first few hundred meters. Doesn't take that long to get up the first few little steps to ensure good water (and not too yellow).

Start of the sunset.

Day 4 - July 16, 2015 - Shuttleworth Bight to Laura Creek

We woke up to a beautiful day, and a nice long walk along the low tide line shore of sandy Shuttleworth Bight. The longest sand hiking section on the trail (unfortunately), we were in for a lot of pebbles and sea grass today. This section is nearly all along the shore, especially at the end of the day where you don't have to go inland for hours on the last stretch to Laura Creek. Again the rocks only stop right at the campground and then some sand begins.

 Looking back at our sandy beach hiking.

 In the middle of the only long inland section today was the second cable car crossing over Standby River.

 More pocket pebble beach.

 Looking back.

 Some gravel, and some shelf. There is shelf only on this days section of the trail, but most of it is too uneven and broken up to be much good for hiking. Not like the WCT at all, which had very lovely shelf sections on many days.

 Looking out to sea.

 Starting out on the long section on the coast.

 Rounding a corner, and getting even hotter this day.

 Finally past Laura Creek and near the campsite. The pebbles end and sand begins. Laura Creek is similar to Irony Creek. Only tidal for a few hundred meters and then a few little steps ensure good water.





Day 5 - July 17, 2015 - Laura Creek to Nissen Bight 

This day started cloudy and didn't improve until right at the very end of the day when the sun was setting. It didn't rain at any time though. At camp I was getting chilly from the damp cold (which I am not used to being from super dry Calgary) and was sure glad to have a beach fire this evening.

 Looking back, at the end of the beach, towards Laura Creek campsite.

 This day was all inland again but the trail was easier than it was before. More boardwalk, more sections that looked like the above - clear to walk on for quite a few steps without looking down at your feet.

 Crossing one of the only creeks without a bridge of some sort.

 Laughing Loon Lake.

 A meadow section mostly covered in boardwalk.

 Nissen Bight. The campground is on the west end which is much nicer, it has a lot more sand. The other end of the beach is mostly pebbles again and sea grass. But it is the end with the water. A slightly lower flowing creek (as in it produces jungle piss) than the last two, comes out on the east end of the beach. Which is a full 900 meters away from the campground. Since that is the end you come out on when hiking the NCT (about 100m too far west but close enough), I opted to filter all the water with full backpacks on and then go to the campsite afterwards. Instead of dropping them back off, setting up camp, and only sending one person back like we had done the last two nights. This campground in particular was why I'd finally bought a four liter MSR dromedary bag. We'd started using it on the second night and it was super nice (creek far away or not) to only filter water in the evening, and not having to go out and do so again in the morning after breakfast to ensure there was enough water throughout the day. I strongly recommend bringing one on this trip, and I think I will take it everywhere from now on.

 A (probably adolescent) whale was out in the ocean near the beach for about half an hour. This was about as much of him/her we saw though.

 Also saw this green crab.

Sunset. This ends the newer North Coast Trail section of the hike. The next day we would be hiking in the older Cape Scott Park. This night we had two other groups camping on the beach with us (they had walked in from the Cape Scott parking lot), the first time ever. Every other night we had been alone (if you don't count the trail wardens in their hut down the beach on the second night, though I suppose you should count them).

(Part 2 - Cape Scott Trail Section)