Tuesday, April 5, 2016

West Coast Trail or bust!

Ever since I first heard about the West Coast Trail (in Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island), I've wanted to embark on this multi-day trek through some of the world's most beautiful coastal rainforest. 
Doesn't get better than this. Photo: Wikipedia

It's only a day's travel from Vancouver to get to the trail head, but being ranked the best hike on the planet, it's not easy to reserve a spot ahead of time... and reservations are mandatory. Registration is by phone or online and starts in January for the May through September season. Registration opens and closes on the same day because it's so popular, and they've scrapped the wait list option. It's kind of like trying to get tickets to an Adele concert. I forgot to make the call in January, and now it's April so we may be SOL, but... nothing is impossible, right? For those willing to try their luck, one can camp out at either end of the trail in the hopes that someone will cancel their coveted reservation. Call ahead to either the Gordon River (1-250-647-5434) or Pachena Bay (1-250-728-3234) trailhead offices to see about getting a reservation before you head over to the Island. 

How to get trail-ready for a multi-day hike

My friend Adriana and I are bound and determined to make it happen this year. We're hoping to go in late August, which of course is peak season, but we've both got school and work the rest of the time, so it's either go in August or wait till next year. And I'm tired of putting off adventures every year. Carpe Diem! Besides calling every other day to see if there are any cancelled reservations, we're going to prepare ourselves by doing weekly hikes around Metro Vancouver. Being in good shape, both cardio and strength-wise, is essential for a 75 km hike through some challenging terrain. I got a jump start last weekend by doing a small solo hike in Belcarra Park in Port Moody. 

Jug Island on Indian Arm

The Jug Island trail is a gorgeous, varied terrain, out-and-back 5.5 km through the forest and down to a little secluded beach on Indian Arm. Takes about 80 minutes, not including time to explore the beach and have a snack. Definitely doesn't require any extra equipment or fancy hiking boots. A good pair of running shoes will do. For the WCT, however, a good pair of worn-in hiking boots is important.

Equipment and other considerations

There's tons of information online about how to prepare for the West Coast Trail, from making reservations, paying fees, and what (and what not) to bring. People with weak cardio or with back, knee, or ankle injuries are advised to avoid this trek because getting rescued is not really an option. This is a real backwoods experience. You have to bring all your own food, water purifying tablets, first aid and emergency supplies, and be prepared to wait 24 hours IF emergency evacuation is even possible. In my case, I've got to consider my IT band syndrome. My left knee has acted up whenever I've tried to get back into running (and even long-distance hiking) after I bungled it doing the 2011 Victoria Marathon. It's a chronic injury that flares up with excessive wear-and-tear, but I'm hoping with a knee brace, a lot of yoga, and a solid foundation of shorter day hikes around Metro Vancouver this spring, I'll be able to hack it on the WCT. I may have to see a physiotherapist but I'll do whatever it takes because let's face it, I'm not getting any younger... 

The bare essentials:

  1. Good pair of well-worn hiking boots (to avoid blisters, don't get a new pair of boots a week before you set out on the trail)
  2. Good backpack that carries a MAXIMUM of 1/4 of your bodyweight (1/3 for men)... on your hips, not your shoulders.
  3. Lightweight tent, tarp, sleeping bag and foam pad, and waterproof outerwear, including gators to go over your boots. 
  4. Stove, fuel, lightweight, high-energy food, & water purifying tablets.
  5. A rope to tie your tarp, hang your food away from bears, etc.
  6. A flashlight, watch, map of the trail, matches, pocket knife & first aid kit, including insect repellent and band-aids. 
  7. Duct tape. Because this solves almost all problems everywhere.

I'll post more details as we get closer to the trip, but for now, if you're planning to also do the WCT this year, here is a comprehensive list of all other considerations for planning and packing for the trail. Happy hiking!

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