Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Girlie Girl on the Westcoast Trail

I do not intend this post to be a guide on the trail, after all, there are many detailed accounts from experts. This post is about my perspective as a non-athlete, 5' 1 city girl (well, mom, actually). 

I'd be the first to acknowledge that I am not athletic nor tough. It took me over a year to convince myself to actually decide that, yes, I will do it -- this infamous trail that have claimed some lives. Despite all the facts stating that, no, it's not for you, Liza, I did as I do when I'm afraid, just closed my eyes and jumped anyways (not literally, obviously). I did read up a lot on it, so that I knew what to expect (it would be irresponsible if I didn't.) It was more than just a physical achievement, the West coast Trail was a "mind thing. Determination played a huge part in finishing it.

It wasn't important to us to do it in record time (on our third day, five guys with only camel packs with the goal of doing it in ONE DAY passed us! Apparently, they swam across the river too.) We took 7 days to do 77 km (included a 2 km hike to Thrasher Cove campsite, which was known to be one of the more difficult section, it's not on the path, many trekkers we have met chose to bypass this beautiful place).

Scary Things 


Picture this, a decrepit looking wooden ladder, maybe up to 200 rungs, wet, muddy, some rungs missing. It's raining, I had at least a 40 lbs pack (probably heavier when rain soaked) on my back. The worst thing about it was not the things I have said above, the worst was that I have pulled my thigh muscles and there were 70 of these ladders! I admit that when looking down below the side of the cliffs, these ladders were where I had thought, "I will die." Sometimes, the rungs on the ladders were so far apart, I couldn't completely reach it - talk about a leap of faith. And just to cheer me up, there's also the thought of where there were many ladders that descended, there were probably just as many to climb up.  Yup, pulling myself and my pack up. All that said, I actually preferred these ladders because at least, I knew exactly where my foot will go with each step.

Log Bridges

Once again, wet, mossy and muddy -- and most definitely slippery. Some uphill, some skinny,  some very fat, sometimes notched, some only cross hatched, some over a ravine only a few feet down, but some may be up to 30 ft down a creek. You may think that a nice fat log would be preferable, that would be true except, when it came time to come down the thick log, it was a monumental task for my short legs (you can't just jump down because down is a tangle of very thick roots and maybe over a foot deep of mud).


The tangle of roots were wearisome and frustrating. One of the most common injury was twisting your ankle. I did that a lot -- thankfully, no serious injury. I did trip on one, fell down and hit my eye (black eye is the result), I had a great difficulty in getting up because my pack was so heavy. 


It's a horror story of mud! Days and days and days of mud (seven days as a matter of fact). Nobody knows mud until they have seen the mud specifically on the south end of the west coast trail. Seriously. It was endless. We wasted so much time trying to figure out how to cross a simple mudfield. My natural instinct was to avoid them (impossible), even though, I kept telling myself to just go. I did eventually slog through most of them. Sometimes, I tried to slog through the bog, and my leg kept sinking and sinking, and would not reach bottom, so I would pull it out (think suction sounds). I really really wanted to avoid the mud above my knee and gaiters because the mud would have entered my shoes and then I would have had to hike for several hours with mud inside my shoes -- having my feet wet and squishy were uncomfortable enough. It was true that the trail does somewhat get better on the north side, but there were still plenty of mud. 

Broken Boardwalks

It wasn't a big deal when the boardwalk was only over a foot of mud, but often, it's more dicey than that. (For Rick, he was able to just leap over.) Sometimes, you step on a slippery boardwalk and it will break. Sometimes, the plank wasn't attached to anything. Sometimes, the broken boardwalks will be on a steep side and front angle. 

2 or 3 ft ascent/descent

I hated these with vengeance!!! They were so hard for me because my legs couldn't reach the ground or the step. Often, there were no foot holds because everything was soft mud. The roots, which were often my foe, were at the same time, helpful in pulling myself up or down for support. Going backwards was my solution, but sometimes I just had to slide down my butt. Remember the heavy backpack, though, every move I made had to be controlled because the pack could end up throwing my weight off and I would go hurtling forward.


Imagine waking up in the morning in your tent and starting to prepare for the day's hike by putting on wet socks, wet pants, wet everything. (Even though, we had spare dry clothes, we didn't want to waste them by wearing them in the rain, we saved our dry clothes for when we were finished for the day.) We would pack our wet tent and wet everything and carry these wet things on our packs which were now even heavier than when we started.

Why it's All Worth it!

  • The ancient and enormous trees that are still alive!!!
  • The wall of ferns growing on the uprooted roots of a gargantuan trees (talk about vertical garden).
  • The various shades and textures of moss (I would be in the middle of a ladder when I would stop and admire sometimes).
  • The shock of red/orange of a wildflower on a rocky piece of land in the middle of the ocean on a low tide. 
  • The constant roaring and and always breathing ocean at the campsites.
  • The spectacular walls of headlands.
  • The people you meet along the trail - woman from Colorado, a seasoned hiker who had done the Patagonia, early 20s with her parents in their 60s; a German PHD student by himself who attended a conference in Vancouver; Monique who owns Chez Monique, the burger joint close to the halfway point (we walked away very full after dropping $75 on burgers and beers), she was from Quebec, her dad was Algonquin I think but her light skin and eyes makes it obvious that she takes after her mom who was Irish; the lighthouse keeper's wife who tended a very nice garden, their supplies arrive by helicopter ...
  • Walk on the sea floor and watch sea anemones open and close with the gentle moving water, sea cucumbers, a rainbow of seaweeds, sea urchin shells, crabs rushing here and there ...
  • See sun bleached skeleton of I'm not really sure what, sea lion, maybe?
  • The air.
  • The salmon berries.
  • The sense of awe when arriving at yet another spectacular campsite.
  • The fear/exhilaration of crossing a fast moving and very cold river or creek.
  • Getting in and out and riding the cable cars.
  • The suspension bridge.
  • The view at the suspension bridge.
  • The many many bridges -- some better than others. All more slippery than the next.
  • The numerous bald eagles.
  • The sweet candy that the guy who took people across the Nitinat crossing gave me.
  • The Finish at the beach in Bamfield holding hands (no mud!!!).
  • The Sense of accomplishment of what your mind and body can achieve/capable of under great stress.


Prepare your mind for hardships.
Don't rush! Enjoy and appreciate it every moment (maybe not the mud part, that's just unpleasant)..