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Published: June 10th 2012
The first ladder
Ah, I can do it!!!
Waw, they call it a world-class trek and I have to agree... It is always better when I write a story right after it happened, but even if I have been back for 3 weeks now, I thought I had to share this one anyway. The West Coast Trail, on Vancouver Island, is an amazing adventure.
It is something I wanted to do for more than 10 years and I happened to be in Victoria for a course. My friend Angela joined me there and on May 14, after stepping on the scale to find out that our packs weighed over 50 pounds each, we drove to Port Renfrew to start our journey.
Before the start, we had to do an orientation session where they tell you about the dangers and challenges of the WCT. Very informative and interesting, especially when you hear they average about 100 evacuations per season, which means about one a day. Still, we thought we were "experienced hikers", so we were pretty confident we would be OK, although we had some doubts in our minds when we realized our packs were almost too heavy for us to be able to lift them. Even the
warden said they looked big. We were not going to run out of food.
To actually reach the trailhead, we had to take a short ferry, and as we were walking to what we thought was the dock, the warden called my name and told us that we went passed it, the ferryman was waiting for us right behind the parks' office. Oups! Already lost, and not even on the trail yet! We didn't tell the warden that we had also missed the parks office in the morning and got lost in Gordon River...
But once we were on the other side of the river, we felt more at ease. We started by eating, to try to lighten up our load, and finally we started to hike. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny and the forecast was great for the next 4-5 days. So lucky.
The first day, we only did 5 km, in about 4-5 hours. Aouch! We knew these miles would be slow, so we didn't worry about it, but it was challenging! The trail is not steep, but it is muddy, with lots of fallen trees, roots, more mud, and... 38 sets
of ladders. I knew that and I knew how I would feel about them.
Ladders!!! This is what I said every time I saw the 2 by 4s in the distance, announcing a set of ladders. Well, the first one was about 4 rungs, and I laughed, saying, oh I can do this. But I knew there would be much longer ones. In fact, some sections are over 200 rungs, what they say is equivalent to a 25 to 30 storey building. For someone who doesn't like heights, I really wondered why I picked this trek! The second ladder was about 20 rungs and I was so proud of myself when I managed it. Thinking this must be a long one. I had no idea.
After 4 km, we had the option of continuing another 9km to the next campsite (impossible at our speed) or go down to the beach, where there was also a campsite about 1 km away. The trick though is that to get to the beach, we had to go down some pretty long ladders. I was not too excited about it, but had no choice, really. So we started going down the trail
Ladders at the end of day 1
They don't look so long now!!! But they did at the time.
and finally got to the ladders. There was about 3 or 4 of them in that section, and at the time, they seemed endless. I nearly freaked out but also knew I had no option. So I started going down. Well, even without fear of heights, going down 30 rung-ladders, 3-4 times in a row, with a VERY heavy pack on your back, is strenuous. But because I was so scared, I was hugging the ladders so tight, that I was using my arms way too much, I was sweating like it was 40 degrees and my legs were shaking. It was incredibly tiring. I was literally "sliding" down, rubbing my tibias on the rungs and wondering how I would manage to go back up the next day as we had to climb the same ladders to get back on the trail.
It was tough, and I am not sure if it was tougher physically or mentally. Probably the latter.
Anyhow, we made it, I was still happy to be on the WCT and we totally enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and evening. We cooked some delicious supper, thanks to Angela who is a marvelous cook. I
never ate such good food camping. Honest. Even the mink on the beach must have been envious.
I won't write about all 39 sections of ladders, as there is actually way more to this hike and it would get a bit repetitive. But I will, soon, tell you bout at least one more set!
Day 2 was nice, tough trail with the usual mud, roots, climbs, fallen trees, bridges, boardwalks and ladders. Very pretty trail, very few people, May is the best time to do it. The vegetation is soooo green, we filled our lungs with such good air. We only did 10 km, mostly if not all, in the bush. Took us a good 5 hours I think. Sometimes you can choose the bush trail or the beach, we always went for the bush, as it is very difficult to walk in loose sand or boulders on the beach. Plus, as we liked to say, we are "bush people"!
Day 3 was the most challenging one. This is where the longest sets of ladders are. I knew it and was looking forward to that part to be over! The first big set was very long. But
I managed, with shaky legs, but without too much sweat. And I thought this was the long one. We stopped for lunch, and just around the bend was Cullite creek. THIS is where the longest ladders are. Actually, it looks like a huge deep canyon. OK, maybe not the Grand Canyon but still. It is almost vertical, hence the ladders... The first ladder was scary. Very long and very vertical, and because it was at the top of the canyon, it looked even more scary. The funny part is it was the only ladder that was a little wobbly on the whole trail.
There is two big challenges: first to get on the ladder. But they built really nice little platforms that really help to get on. Angela was much braver and could just do it form standing. I had to sit on the platform, put my feet on the lowest rung I could reach and then twist my body and pack to stand and finally start going down. The second difficulty was after maybe 10 rungs, when I got more tired and would start feeling more shaky and thought I still had maybe 30, 40 or 50 more
to go. This is when I would start counting, thinking every 10 rungs, I am 10 rungs closer to the bottom. Sounds funny? Well, at least it worked.
But now, the next ladder, the middle one at Cullite Creek, was special. It was at an angle, which makes it way more difficult physically because your weight (and the weight of your pack) is on your arms. It was also a little tilted to the side, which made me think I would fall off. And long. Oh my God. Even Angela didn't like this one. I told Angela: "Angela, I am not sure I can do this". Well, what could she say? It's not like we could just hike back up to Gordon River... I actually didn't feel like going back up the ladder I had just climbed either... So Angela went first. She carefully climbed down while I was thinking, waw, this IS so long. I am not sure I can stay sane for that long, even if I manage to do the first part. After many more "Oh my God" and probably a few stronger words, I tried to get on the ladder (this one, strangely, didn't have
a normal platform where I could sit). But I couldn't. So Angela dropped her pack, climbed back up (THAT is a real friend!), and offered to take my pack. I thought about it, but also knew it didn't have much to do with the pack. It was all in MY head and I just had to do it.
It's funny how we know we must do something and we know we will eventually find the strength to do it, but for a moment you really have to figure out where this strength is. It took me a few more minutes, and finally I got on the ladder, with my pack, and one step at a time, I managed to get to the bottom of that ladder. Pfffffffff... Of course, there was one more section, a suspension bridge, (or was it a cable car), and many more ladders to climb. But it now seemed easier and I felt very relieved, and happy.
After day 3, the trail becomes much easier. Some parts are almost boring after such varied terrain. We were so grateful for the dry weather, we both couldn't imagine the mud and how slippery everything would be,
had it been raining. Day 4, 5, 6 and 7 were just pleasant, relaxing, enjoyable, with of course some challenges. A few cable cars (I like them), and creeks to cross with our sandals on, and a couple afternoons with nothing better to do than drinking tea on the beach.
We saw lots of wildlife, seals, sea lions, whales, mink, squirrels, otters and lots of birds and amazing flowers, plants and trees. We even had two campsites to ourselves, and few people at the other ones. We had planned to hike for 8 days but ended up completing the trail in 7. Which was a good thing as it started raining pretty hard on day 8. But we were done, and very satisfied with this amazing adventure.
The trail is fascinating, with lots of very scenic views, beautiful and varied, and fun. It really made me want to just get back on the trail and do another hike right after... Thanks Angela for sharing this adventure! I look forward to the next one!
Tot: 3.147s; Tpl: 0.023s; cc: 27; qc: 121; dbt: 0.0849s; 3; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.6mb