Sunday, 30 June 2013

Keeha/Cape Beale Trails

Well, I haven't been out on the trail in the past couple weeks for a few reasons. First, the weather out here has been terrible. It poured rain all of the past week. The sun is now shining brightly, so I'm hoping it will dry up for my next expedition out on Tuesday. The second reason is I rolled my ankle while out on a hike to Keeha Beach, and I've been trying to take it easy and let it heal so I'm good to go for the rest of the hiking season.

But I've been doing a lot of interesting trail-related stuff and learning quite a bit about the local environment. When I rolled my ankle I was out on a hike with a class from the Bamfield Marine Station summer university program in Ethnobotany. Ethnobotany is an interdisciplinary combination of botany and anthropology, looking at the traditional knowledge of plants and both their cultural and ecological roles. Although I wasn't taking the course, I had the opportunity to participate in a few of their field activities, including the hike out to Keeha and a traditional pit cook on Pachena beach. I also, to test the mettle of my ankle after a week of rest, hiked out to the Cape Beale.

First, a little bit about Keeha and Cape Beale. Both of these are hikes are day-hikes with overnight possibilities. They are both trails located within the West Coast Trail Unit of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, but are not at this moment truely connected to the West Coast Trail. However, it is apparently possible, although I haven't done it yet, to hike from Pachena, out to join these two trails, and then on to Bamfield, as that was the route of the original life-saving trail that the West Coast Trail was based on.

These two trails are not maintained to the same level as the West Coast Trail, despite being in the national park reserve. Although relatively short (3.5 km and 6.5 km each way, respectively) they are over some relatively rough and often very wet terrain. If you hike these trail after a wet week, like I did, it can add quite a bit of time to your journey. For example, to hike the entire 13 km to Cape Beale lighthouse and back it took us about seven hours, at a moderate pace with breaks. However, is we had hiked the trail during a dry spell, I bet it would have taken us at least 2 hours less. Slippery logs and roots abound, as do giant mud puddles, on both trails. Thus the rolled ankle and mutliple bruises, as if you hike either of these trails in wet weather, you WILL fall. We pretty much all had a good slip or two.

Keeha is a beautiful beach a designated backcountry campground. At the north end of the beach there is an old Huu-ay-aht village sight. Please respect First Nations cultural heritage and be aware that this part of the beach is treaty settlement lands, as well as national park.
Brief rest at the Keeha/Tapaltos-Cape Beale junction with Prim the wonder-dog

The Keeha and Cape Beale trails split  off at after about 1 km. To get the Cape Beale, go right, following the sign to Tapaltos, which is a beach aproximately halfway to Cape Beale. Apparently local surfers like the waves at Talpatos, and there's some interesting flotsam and jetsam, including an old linesmans cabin, on Tapaltos.

Respite from the many stairs ascending to the lighthouse

Cape Beale is the oldest lighthouse on Vancouver Island, and was established in 1874. It is still a manned light, with the lighthouse keepers living there year round and tending quite a fabulous garden. When we arrrived at the lighthouse we were greeted by the lighthouse keepr Karen and her dog Pepper. She generously offered us a pot of tea, and plate of delcious homebaked oatmeal-chocolate cookies, which we enjoyed while sitting out in front of the lighthouse and enjoyed the view. You do have to watch the tides when you hike to Cape Beale, as at high tide the lagoon is often filled and prevents access on foot to the lighthouse. There's also a pretty epic land-bridge just past the lighthouse, definitely worth a side-trip.

Also, tomorrow is Canada Day and the 139th birthday of Cape Beale lighthouse! Happy Canada Day!

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