North Coast Trail

The North Coast trail, a rough and rugged trail that will take hikers though beautiful forests, stunning coastlines in a truly remote setting on the northern most tip of Vancouver Island. Most hikers start the hike from Shushartie Bay which is accessible via a one hour boat ride from Port Hardy. Once the boat has departed all there is left to do is venture on and take in the beautiful surroundings and the surreal isolation.

Looking out over Shushartie Bay waiting to disembark the water taxi

As soon as you step foot on shore you are greeted by a small taste of what is to come later on in the hike as you have to ascend a step bank using a fixed rope, something that will become common place later in the trip, nothing like a nice easy warm up. Once you climb up to the highest point on the trail you get into one of the upland bog sections of the trail, this is a truly unique ecosystem that feels more like the alpine than something so close to the coast.

Hiking along a nice boardwalk through upland bog

After the longest overland section is complete you are back on the coast although the route takes hikers on a mix of beach and overland, whatever offers the least resistance the rest of the trail. Our first night we made camp at the Nahwitti River which at one was the site of an old settlement. If you look closely across the river from the established campsite you can spot of of the remaining structures.

Looking out towards the mouth of the Nahwitti River

Day 2 we had a leisurely start to our day with the goal of making it to Cape Sutil, the northern most tip of Vancouver Island, although the actual tip is of Cape Sutil is outside of the park and has restricted access that should be respected. Before making it to Cape Sutil you need to decent “long leg stairs” a substantial series of steps which has the one tidal cut off at the bottom which was part of the reason for the late start. We enjoy a late lunch near the tidal cutoff which has a few small sea caves worth exploring.

The sea caves/arch which will block your way at high tide

Shortly after this you are into some of the most technical hiking on the trail, a series of rocky headlands that has hikers going up and down a number of step slopes.

One of the worst offenders, once you reach the top you immediately have to descend a similar slope to what you just scaled

Cape Sutil itself was a stunningly beautiful beach with sweeping views and in our case totally deserted, even the ranger outpost was empty. I have to say one of the perks of remote hikes like this is unusual feeling of being alone in the world.

Hiking into camp at Cape Sutil, the point on the right it the northern most tip of Vancouver Island
Misty views from Cape Sutil

Leaving Cape Sutil you traverse a series of pocket beaches and rocky headlines. Along the way you see some sweeping beaches and you go past a unique geological feature a tombolo which was a great location to stop for lunch.

An example of one of the many pocket beaches one has to traverse
The approach to the tombolo which is on the far right of this image

Getting into camp at Irony creek it was another stunning location and the one camp that had the fresh water source close to camp. One of the oddest things about this trail was that the water source was often up to 500m away from camp which is not always the most convenient. Other hikes I have done usually have the camp locations near the water source.

Looking out from the tent pads towards the beach at Irony creek
Moody skies over Irony creek
Camp fire at Irony creek campsite

The whole time we where at Irony creek we had whales off shore which is always a treat to be able to see. The next morning we a nice easy walk before doubling back to cross Stranby River over the 2nd cable car crossing of the trip.

Crossing the Stranby River on the cable car

After this it was a series of rocky beaches where we ran into a number of bears one just outside of our campsite at Laura creek. This was also the first night we shared our campsite since the first night as a group had caught up to us at this point.

The incoming tide at the Laura creek campsite

The next section was the last overland section before the end of the trail at Nissen bight. Before dropping back down to Nissen bight you pass near the Nahwitti Cone and another section of upland bog which was full of stunted trees.

Hiking through a section of upland bog near Nissen bight

Once you make it to Nissen bight you are technically done the 43km North Coast trail but you still have another 16km or so of hiking left to get to the Cape Scott trail head unless you decide to hike out to the Cape Scott light house. From here we hiked to our final night at Eric which was extremely buggy but was very surprised to find that at the lake the breeze kept the bugs at bay. The following day we hiked out the remaining trail to the Cape Scott trail head where the trail bus drove us back to Port Hardy.

A humming bird on it’s nest hidden away at Fishermans river

The North Coast trail was along what I was expecting, a rugged route along the northern tip of Vancouver Island. We did not spend as much time on the beach as I was expecting but it was a nice variety of terrain. Nothing beats the remoteness of a hike like and it is something I would certainly recommend for anyone looking for something a little more wild and challenging than the other more established coastal hikes on the island like the West Coast trail or the Juan du Fuca.


Additional information

Cape Scott

Earlier this summer I made the long journey up to the northern most point of Vancouver Island and spent 5 days exploring the area in Cape Scott Provincial park. I have never explored the much of northern Vancouver Island but it has always been a place I have wanted to see more of. Cape Scott is an interesting mix of natural beauty and history. It is the site of a number of separate attempts at early settlement and later on a top secret radar instillation that is now home to a lighthouse. After a lengthy drive on winding roads to get to Port Hardy you turn off for the final part of the journey to access the park, 65km of gravel roads that passes through the the small town of Holberg before reaching the trail head. From the trail head there are a number of options but we decided to setup a base camp at Nels Bight, a 2400 meter long sandy beach about 17km from the parking lot that includes a ranger cabin. This central location provides a good starting place to explore the beaches in the area.

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Hiking through lush forests en route to Nels Bight

Nels Bight is a stunning beach that offers stunning views and a fantastic place to watch the sunset. Over the next 2 nights we experienced very different weather patterns, our first night was clear without a cloud to be seen. Waking up the next morning we got to see something a little different as a heavy cloud had rolled in, while the it was sad to loose the sun the fog and cloud made for some unique photo opportunities.

The sunsets on a beautiful evening at Nels Bight
The sunsets on a beautiful evening at Nels Bight

Fog and clouds shroud Nels Bight
Fog and clouds shroud Nels Bight

Under the cover of cloud we made our way towards Guise Bay, Experiment Bight with the Cape Scott lighthouse before returning back to base camp at Nels Bight. Guise Bay was one of the more stunning beaches that we got to see, had it been warmer out it would have been something you could almost imagine as being tropical.

Looking over Guise Bay from the sand dunes between it and Experiment Bight
Looking over Guise Bay from the sand dunes between it and Experiment Bight

Guise Bay was the site of a number of building from a secret radar station at Cape Scott operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, the current site of the lighthouse was also used for this installation and in fact the lighthouse sits on the same foundations as the old radar dome. Signs of these prior uses are clearly visible, some more than others such as the old plank road that leads from Guise Bay to the lighthouse. The lighthouse is somewhat utilitarian and is not what one would think of when you think of a lighthouse, it is simply a light mounted on a short tower located on the highlands of the cape. Experiment Bight is separated by a small band of sand dunes from Guise Bay, these sand dunes are not something that is commonly found on Vancouver Island so it was neat to explore them on the way over to Experiment Bight.

Looks out towards Guise Bay through a gap in the sand dunes between Guise Bay and Experiment Bight
Looks out towards Guise Bay through a gap in the sand dunes between Guise Bay and Experiment Bight

Flowers grow in sand above the high tide mark at Experiment Bight.
Flowers grow in sand above the high tide mark at Experiment Bight.

By the time the sun was setting it appeared that the fog and clouds that had hung over us all day was starting to clear making for a very different sunset compared to the previous evening.

Twilight as the last of the sun shines through a break in the clouds
Twilight as the last of the sun shines through a break in the clouds

After a day of fog and cloud we once again woke up to beautiful clear sunny skies, this morning we packed up camp and made our way over to the less popular Nissen Bight for the night. The relatively short hike over to Nissen Bight passes through the main Cape Scott settlement area which has a number of remains of attempts to tame the area by settlers in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s although some did stick around until the 50’s most had left with the onset of World War I.

Old tractor at an old homestead site
Old tractor at an old homestead site

Nissen Bight and Fishermans Bay are very close to each other and can be accessed by a short trail or tide permitting over the beach. Nissen bight offers a less populated camp site although the water source is some distance from the main camping area. Nissen bight is also the start (or end) of the North Coast trail.

Sunset as viewed from Fishermans Bay near Nissen bight.
Sunset as viewed from Fishermans Bay near Nissen Bight.

After a night at Nissen Bight it was on to our final camp destination at San Josef Bay before heading home, although it was a long day of hiking it was easy going as it is mostly flat (or downhill) the whole way. San Josef Bay is a stunning white sand beach which has some unique sea stacks and caves between 2 bays. The sea caves and 2nd bay are only accessible when the tides permit, there is a steep overland route but it looked rather difficult. It should also be noted that while San Josef Bay does have a water source it is located at the 2nd beach which may be cut off due to the tide to keep that in mind when planning (we collected water at Eric lake). San Josef Bay is a popular location for day hikers or less adventuress hikers as it is a short few kilometers from the trail head so expect it to see more crowds than other beaches in the park.

Sea stacks at San Josef Bay
Sea stacks at San Josef Bay

Cape Scott is an iconic hike and is well worth the journey to get there. It offers an amazing selection beautiful natural sites with some neat history which is not something you experience at most hiking destinations. While the hiking is relatively easy the distances getting out to the beaches near the cape are long and depending on the conditions can be a challenge in that regard.

 

Hiking from Paradise Meadows to Wood Mountain

Early this summer I hiked from Paradise meadows (Mt Washington) to Wood mountain (Old Forbidden ski area), this was a trip inspired last year when doing another hiking trip I saw a sign indicating a trail over to Mt Becher which previously I had only been to in the winter. The hike starts off walking though Paradise meadows out towards Kwai lake.

_D8C7318_webEasy walking along the boardwalks through Paradise Meadows

Stopping for lunch always somehow sends out a silent signal to let all the grey jays (whiskey jacks) in the area to flock to you. This time there where a number of juvenile birds that  seemed not only hound us for food but also the parents.

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Once you are nearly at Kwai lake the trail gets a bit more adventurous, this is where you turn off of the established trails in the core area of Strathcona park and start to head towards our camp for the night at McKenzie lake. While the trail was clearly not traveled all that much it was still easy to follow despite the small snow patches. Even though the trail was clearly not maintained anymore it was still easy walking through a mixture of sub-alpine forests, meadows and past a number of streams, tarns and lakes.

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Before arriving at the McKenzie lake campground there was a real treat as we had to walk through a swampy meadow that had a number of wildflowers out in bloom which added a lovely splash of colour since the weather was rather dull.

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The campsite we stayed at is located on McKenzie lake but Douglas lake is only a short walk away and looked to have spots for a few tents. We had a bit of a cool wind coming off of the lake and seemed like Douglas lake would have been more sheltered from the wind but since we had already setup at McKenzie lake we stayed there.

Both of the lakes where bigger than I expected and similarly beautiful to other alpine lakes I had visited in the region.

_D8C7552_webLooking out over McKenzie lake from camp.

_D8C7537_crop_webLooking down McKenzie lake to the further point from camp.

Although the weather had not been ideal on the first day there had only been some minor rain but starting early on day 2 that seemed to change. A rain storm soon settled in for most of the day as we hiked back to the car we had left at the Wood Mountain parking lot. Before leaving camp I spend a little big exploring and taking in some of the sights and scenes around the lake.

_D8C7582_webLooking out from camp while waiting for the rain to hopefully let up

_D8C7521_webA nice cluster of Veratrum viride near Douglas lake.

Hiking out of McKenzie lake was one of the highlights of the trip as we enjoyed a brief (but welcome!) period of sunshine while we hiked through more of the meadow we had to hike into the camp site the previous afternoon. It did require some careful navigation and a leap or two to navigate some of the swampier areas.

_D8C7606_webKyle demonstrating his excellent sherpa skills while helping carry bags across one of the trickier crossings.

The remainder of the hike was done in rather poor weather conditions which resulted in a real lack of photos although the scenery certainly did not disappoint. After leaving the meadows outside of camp we quickly got into old growth forest that continued until we reached the old ski area. Hiking down the Mt. Becher trail was certainly interesting since I had previously only done it in the winter.

This was a wonderful one night hike that I would not hesitate to do again, I think the biggest downside to this is the requirement to juggle cars as you need to leave one at each trail head but in reality the drive between them is not that long. The first day was a little long (~16km) but the hiking was easy and mostly flat, the 2nd day was shorter in distance but did involve more up and downs until you reach the main Mt. Becher trail at which point is is pretty much all downhill until you reach the parking lot.

Here is a map to give an idea of the route and distances involved, the total distance covered was just over 27km (~16km on day 1 and ~11.5km on day 2)

map

Additional information:

Strathcona Hiking

A few weeks ago I spent 4 days hiking in the stunning mountains located in Strathcona Provincial park. We first hiked in to Baby Bedwell lake to setup base camp. From here we would explore some of the surrounding areas including Mt. Tom Taylor. While the weather was not ideal we made the most of it and on the plus side it never rained!

The hike up to Baby Bedwell while steep was a very good trail which was easy to follow and provided some nice views of some streams.

Our first views of Baby Bedwell lake where far from the stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains that people had been raving about…

It was far from summer at camp.

The following morning we started out on our attempt to summit Mt. Tom Taylor. The weather was much the same with limited visibility and we had some difficulty finding the trail but eventually we got going. While it was nearly August we still where dealing with winter conditions.

Once we got closer to the summit the clouds did break a few times to tease us with the views we missed on the way up.

The following day we had a bit of a break in the weather and decided to enjoy some of the views we missed the day before and explored Bedwell lake area.

Overall it was an amazing trip and I can not wait to get back into the mountains.

Payzant Falls

A few weeks ago I was looking for some new locations that I could visit while stuck inside due to poor weather. One of the places I found was Pazant Falls on the Juan de Fuca trail near Port Renfrew. After putting it off for a number of weeks due to more poor weather I finally made the trip out to the falls with fellow photographer Daniel Byrne. The first challenge was actually finding the trail head which was not signed well at all (which seems typical for parks here). After finally finding the correct trail we set off in a light drizzle which slowly progressed into rain. The hike out was really nice once you accepted that you would be slogging through large puddles and deep mud. Once getting to the falls all of the difficulties finding the trail and then hiking it seemed more than worth while as we where greeted by a extremely tranquil location that is going on the short list for place I will make a return visit too.