Ten Things They Don’t Tell You About the West Coast Trail
- It’s longer than 75 kilometres! A recent trail rumour has suggested you can add at least another 10 kilometres, albeit subjectively, but once you start factoring the vertical up & downs of the ladders, huge boulders (Thrasher to Owen Point), surge channels, & tidal chasing – well you get the picture.
- You can ‘reserve’ a standby/walk-on spot. This one’s a political beast, but here goes … you call in the spring only to find out the trail is already sold out, and decide to take your chances on one of the 5 ‘walk-on’ spots that are available for hikers on both ends of the trail (Port Renfrew & Bamfield). You arrive at the camp-site office at first light (opens at 9am), and are first in line for one of those spots, then only to be told: “Sorry, we are full, as we already booked those spots – yesterday” (yes, Parks Canada carry these forward) or that a ‘given commercial tour operator’ has taken up the entire block of ‘walk-ons’ from 2 days hence. In a nutshell, the walk-on system as it currently stands is also a ‘show-up days before, reserve your spot & come back later – no queue needed’. And yes, I am speaking from experience.
- Bring more money than you think you need. Cash is king on the WCT. Parking on the trailhead for the week runs between $20-$50. Some spots charge per hiker not car. Why? Because they can. Use your smarts. Standard fair such as a burger at Chez Monique’s or salmon at Carl’s (Nit Nat Narrows) runs a minimum of $25 with a pop or beer, and that doesn’t factor in all the other copious treats you can buy. Then there are the First Nations Camp grounds $20-$30 per tent, as well as the shuttle into Bamfield from the trailhead, another $10 per person. Factor in bringing a minimum of $100.
- Cell phones don’t work. Or at least do not count on it. We were told on our last orientation that they work sporadically. Be prepared, & plan accordingly.
- Learn to emergency-signal properly. I am not saying that this will guarantee a rescue in short order, but on our last hike, a dozen plus hikers waving tarps, blowing continuous whistles (couldn’t be heard over the waves), and flashing their headlamps did not achieve the desired effect, and the 2 boats they were attempting to draw in decided otherwise, and left the scene. Parks Canada came in the next morning and took the hiker out. FYI, 3 of anything is the universal sign of distress. And yes, this would have been a great occasion for a GPS messaging system such as SPOT.
- Know your traveling companion. Have the ‘beach talk’ before you step on the trail. Who are you, really? Any phobias, health issues (physical AND emotional), and don’t forget to ask about their medications. The trail can make, or break, a relationship.
- Sand is not the ideal place to dig a cat hole. If the outhouses are beyond reach, then hit the tidal pools, or below tidal line. Paper should be burnt, or better still, use seaweed. Seriously, you’re in for a treat!
- Teabags & food wrappers do not compost in fire rings. Leave No Trace means exactly that. Its unreal how many fire pits, on as many beaches, are used for garbage disposal. Don’t even get me started on the gum I was wearing after one campsite. Pack it in pack it out (& please don’t leave it behind in the bear cache).
- Do NOT extinguish your fire with sand. You kick off your boots with a huge sigh of relief, and inadvertently step foot into a still ‘burning’ fire – ouch! The potential for severe burns from hot sand or still burning embers is very real. Put it out, COLD, with water, it’s in ready supply!
- Take a Wilderness First Aid Course (before you step on the trail). One of the top reasons for evacuations on the trail is related to falls – from the boardwalks (many are broken!), ladders, slippery surge channels, boulders, and bridges – resulting in sprains, open fractures or worse. Evacuation numbers run from 50 – 80 plus every season. It’s not a long season, so odds are pretty high in you witnessing an incident. Parks Canada also clearly states that you may have to wait out an evacuation overnight, more so in regards to inclement weather. Would you know what to do?
Alison Harle – Wilderness First Aid Instructor/Trainer, Wilderness Medical Emergency Technician.
Note from author: I have hiked the West Coast Trail four times, and every time have witnessed an evacuation. I have also administered first aid to hikers on at least 3 occasions, including splinting one broken leg and another time my own broken fingers. I took my first Wilderness First Aid course after hiking the West Coast Trail the first time. I now know better.