Waking up in a tent has long been one of my favourite things, especially when you happen to be in the middle of the night. This 2:30 in the morning gave me a chance to crawl out of my tent and see what was happening when no one was around. As I slowly crept down the smoothly pebbled beach towards the lightly crashing waves my eyes started to adjust to what I was looking for. The nights sky was filled with more stars than I could imagine. I could see the Milky way spanning overhead. There were various constellations like the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia nestled among the millions of other twinkling lights, billions of miles away. Looking down on the horizon there were cargo ships of various sizes, some stationary and some moving as they illuminated the nights sky. You can’t help but smile as your slither back through the tent opening and into your awaiting sleeping bag.
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Waking now at a more traditional hour, we all felt rested and ready to take on the day. Unlike previous mornings, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Our situation here made all of us weighing the options of staying for another day. These thoughts made for a slower morning. We relaxed, ate our breakfast and the youngsters played around on the beach and in the driftwood. Their imaginations were running wild and smiles filled all our faces.
But as needed we were eventually packed up and ready to push on up the coast. By 10:30 we were now walking northwest past the bulk of the campers at Sombrio West. There is a road access point near this section of the beach with a large parking lot and plenty of facilities for campers and day use adventurers so there had to be over 20 tents here. As we were starting our fifth day now, as you could imagine our garbage was starting to pile up, and having one of the girls still in diapers did not help the situation. Our original plan was for me to drop my bag and walk the 500m to the parking lot and drop our trash off in the bin then start fresh from here on. Fortunately though, as we got to talking with some others, an amazing family man was so pleased to see us out with our girls that he insisted on taking our garbage to the can himself as he was heading there anyways to get some supplies from his vehicle. This saved me an additional kilometre on the day and displayed the truth behind caring strangers.
The nine of us continued on down the beach. The tide however was working in our favour and the beach bypass was available. We continued down the shore taking in as much of the coast line as we could. Then came the moment where we saw the hanging orange and white bouys and were forced back inland and through the rainforest. According to the BC Parks map this section of the route is rated at a “Moderate” and it was definitely showing. After the previous sections of the trail it was much easier hiking but still not just a walk in the park. The trail is still heavily used and proper maintenance is expensive and ongoing. I am guessing that BC Parks is lacking in both these categories. We still came across broken wooden structures, missing steps, steep climbs and muddy sections. A few kilometres in we came across another suspension bridge. As per previous bridges, the girls wanted out for a run and bounce.
They continued on down the trail but it was short lived as the hills and roots started up again, so back in the Trail Magik carriers they went.
With the heat and no real rain the creek crossings were limited so drinking water refill spots were diminishing. We were hiking with four 500ml Nalgene bottles and a Steripen with hopes of lightening the load by carrying less water and refilling often. This made for a bit of a struggle now. By trail marker 33 and 6 kms for the day we had reached Little Kuitshe Creek campsite.
After a quick stop here for some much needed calories and hydration we pushed on down the line. We also started to notice evidence of bears in the area and came across a few other trekkers that warned us of a mom with her two cubs on the shore line. As we gazed through a small clearing overlooking the ocean we noticed 8 or so sea lions basking around on the rocks. This made the girls happy. A short while later we reached another gift on the trails. I believe it was an old surveying road that was wide and flat. We let the girls out to stretch their little legs and run down the line as we easily walked two by two next to each other. 300m further we had reached the Parkinson Creek Trailhead parking lot and almost felt in shock as we all realized it had been 5 days since we had seen or heard a vehicle. Leaving that noise behind we continued for another kilometre of this dream hiking trail before it changed back to its now predictable style we had become accustomed to.
After loosing some elevation we were now back at the beach and making use of our tide tables. With some adventurous navigating we had managed to gain another kilometre on the rocky shore line. By now though our blue sky had changed to fog and the winds had picked up.
We shifted back inland at the desired point and finished our final 700m to Payzant Creek campsite by trail kilometre marker 40 and 13km of hiking for us on the day. My tracker cut out for a short while so we ended up missing a small section of the trail near the end. I had to start it back up and left us with two separate logs.
Like Little Kuitshe Creek, Payzant Creek is not on the ocean side. They have 8 or so designated camping spots so space is limited. Our two families managed to claim some of the last pads and as other groups were coming in from both directions I am unclear on what their situation was for the night. Being in the rainforest the trees were so dense that you could not even just find a space tucked in the trees somewhere. We started our routine. Tent was set up, changed into some dry warm clothes, twins off with the others to play in the woods, Shannon started on dinner and I went in search of water. Just as we entered the camping area we crossed over a bridge so that is where I started. After talking with some others this was the only location. Walking down to the creeks edge you couldn’t help but notice the beauty in the three tiered cascading waterfalls buried in the canyon surrounded by ferns and lush greenery. I also couldn’t help but notice the small trickle of beige tinted water that was now our drinking source. But luckily, after full and non-upset stomachs we all managed to fall asleep peacefully for the night, a touch earlier this time as the darkness settles in much faster when you are buried in the trees.
Sombrio Beach East at kilometre marker 27 to Payzant Creek at marker 40 with a max elevation of 60m over the 13 kilometres.
The following morning was bitter sweet for all of us I think. Today was going to be our last day of hiking. Waking up under a thick morning fog leaves a prehistoric feeling in the air. At this point in the hike our food quantities had been askew. We heated up a small portion of what ever oatmeal we had remaining then topped off our hunger gap with some macaroni and cheese. What ever food we had remaining was turned into some snacks and with a couple donations from our hiking companions we felt confident that we should make it to the end of the line without growing weak. After a load up on water, the bags were packed up and our two groups headed out as one. Today was slated to be one of the easier and shorter days and indeed it was. We looped passed Providence Cove and moved on. We could tell that we were getting closer to civilization as the trail was adequately maintained and more user friendly. The mud was very limited and ocean views were plentiful. By mid morning the fog had lifted and blue sky was shining down on us once again.
The park had set up some boards displaying information from trail history to flora and fauna descriptions. After four kilometres we were starting to feel fairly out of place as we would come across day hikers with their clean and fresh smelling clothes. Their tennis shoes and skinny jeans were a clear indication that we were not far from the end now.
Slightly after five kilometres in for the day we reach a trail junction. Turn right and you return directly to the parking lot. Continue straight and you cruise the Botanical Beach Loop along the coast with its tide pools and marine life before returning to our awaiting truck. Beach loop it was. The girls had been out of the carriers by now and leading the way down the line.
By now we have made it 45.5 kilometres with no incidents….. Just when you think you have it made, just when you are enjoying all your success and memories over the last few days accomplishment, it happens. While Shannon and Lidija were walking hand in hand over one of the more desirable on-ground wooded structures things shifted directions. Some of the nails sprung loose and the support gave way sending Shannon off balance. As she crashed her way to the ground this chain reaction brought Lidija off to the side and into the ferns as well. Luckily however they both make it back to their feet with some minor scrapes and a little blood seeping from Shannon’s eyelid. And just to top it off we were hiking at high tide so any chance of viewing the starfish and other aquatic life trapped in the tide pools was eliminated. This end of the trail excitement was not enough to have our heads hanging low. The two families made it to the 47km trail marking in the parking lot with smiles and feelings of accomplishment all around. Photos were taken and hugs were enjoyed over our little victory. Payzant at trail marker 40 to Botanical Beach parking lot at marker 47 with a max elevation of 72m over the 7 kilometres.
With the truck loaded up with people and bags we shuttled back and forth the 2.5 kilometres from the trailhead to the town where we all sat down at the Port Renfrew pub enjoying a drink and lunch on their patio overlooking the marina. We shared stories of the past few days and felt over stimulated by the commotion and infrastructure of the area. It’s amazing how separating yourself from civilization for a couple of days can change you so easily, and just how amazing it reverts back into the convenience of what we are accustomed to.
From here we said our good byes, loaded the girls into the car seats and parted ways. Until we meet again, in a couple days, as we face each other back at home. What will our next adventure be together, we do not know. But what we do know there will be another.
The 47 kilometres of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail was more of a challenge than I had expected. We met others on the trail that have completed the popular West Coast Trail and mentioned that the JdF was more difficult. I believe the weather can be your toughest obstacles for sure. If you are fighting the elements day in and day out you will have a completely varied opinion of the same trail. What I do know for sure is that BC Parks is doing their part at making the best experience for everyone that chooses to enjoy the park. The trails was fairly well marked at all junction points. The camping areas were equipped with multiple pit toilets complete with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. There were metal bear caches in every location, but in some situations were limited on space. They have multiple map boards posting distances, degree of difficulty, tide times and amenities for your local surroundings. The west coast rainforest creates for a constant beating on the trail system and keeping up with all the maintenance would be a never ending task. Just as new structures are completed old ones are breaking down or a tree comes crashing upon bridges and overpasses. Mud slides and wash outs are always unpredictable and repairs can take months. So if you are planning on tackling this hike come into it with an open mind and forgiving expectations as like most other things in life, your mood and moral will make or break any situation.