Thursday, 9 January 2014

Storm season and a new beginning

So I'm going to try and get this blog going again. I let it slide for quite a while due to some personal issues and my general state of business, however I'd like to get it going again. Although I'm not sure anyone ever reads it, at least it will keep me writing and thinking about the West Coast Trail.
Self-portrait taken on the top of the Hole-in-the-Wall on my last sunny day on the trail

 The West Coast Trail is closed from October 1-April 30 every year. As I was accustomed to alpine hiking before I moved to the coast I considered this season to be fairly long as I am used to trails being closed in the winter, if not officially, at least nominally due to snow (which in alpine areas can mean avalanche danger). So I didn't question a winter closure for the trail. Then a friend asked whether they could hike the West Coast Trail in February and why it was closed because snow and snow-related difficulties are not present during the typical West Coast winter. Here's the answer:

Storm season

What do I mean by storm season? For those familiar with West Coast beaches, they will know that large driftwood logs, often several feet in diameter, and usually at the 'back' of the beach abutting the forest, are a defining characteristic of the West Coast beach. A common question of those new to this environment is “how did those get there?” In the summer, and even on most winter days, they seem far from the tideline and it's a stretch of the imagination to picture a surf strong enough to lift those giants far up the beach. Before this year, I KNEW there were winter storms....theoretically....that were powerful enough to create that 'storm-line' of driftwood giants barricading the beaches...but I'd never seen anything like it. 

My tent barricade in by piles of driftwood at Tscowis

 Until my last trip on the trail this past September.

September 2013 was a lovely month for hiking. At the beginning of the month I hiked the entire trail from Port Renfrew to Bamfield taking a leisurely ten days to do it. Then, on September 17, I began what was to be final trip of the season, heading into to Carmanah from the Bamfield end, spending a few days at Carmanah, then heading out via the same northern trailhead. The weather was gorgeous and sunny, even hot at times (a swim at Tsusiaht falls was a must), and all seemed to be going well. However, on the third day of the trip the wind picked up and was blowing hard, in spite of the sunshine. I crossed paths with the Ditidaht Trail Guardians near Nitinat Narrows and they warned me that a storm was coming. Having encountered what I thought was 'stormy' weather before on the trail, I thought, oh well, I can handle rain, and continued on.

I had convinced the others who I was hiking with to stay the night at Dare Beach, instead of going all the way to Cribs, as it is a beautiful spot and slightly shortens the long trek south from Tsusiaht. We set up camp about ten feet past the previous nights high tide line, had a lovely fire, and watched the a gorgeous sunset followed by a full moon rising. It was near-perfect.

Gorgeous sun and a calm ocean in late September, the calm before the storm

 At 4 am I woke up to a strange clicking/buzzing that sounded like an odd sort of rain. However, the sound originated from something hitting against the bottom section of my fly, not coming down from above. It was tiny little sand flies, jumping about. Usually these creatures stay near the tide line, so I wondered why they were suddenly descending on my tent. As I lay there wondering, I heard a shout from a fellow camper. “Hey, our tent is wet!”. I peaked out, and they had camped about a metre closer to the ocean then I had, and the ocean had crept up, far past previous high tide lines, until it was lapping at their tent. A panicked move, and then head-scratching ensued. We had camped far above the previous nights high tide at 10.5 ft, and tonight was supposed to be 11 ft, so why was the tide so high? Looking out at the ocean, even in the dark, you could see the reason. The waves were at least twice the size of what I'd ever seen before on this section of beach. The wind had also picked up, and rain was starting to pour down. In my sleepy state, I didn't fully realize the size or power of the storm that was descending on us. I decided to just huddle up in my sleeping bag, and wait and hope that it would get better later in the morning.

It didn't get better, and by 10 am the rising tide was again a worry. The others had already left, as they were on a stricter schedule than I and had to finish the trail by a certain date. So when I emerged from my tent I was alone, wet, and, it felt, in a completely different environment then I had ever been in, even though I had thought I was familiar with this section of the trail. It had rained so much in the past few hours that creeks which were barely dripping by the day before were raging torrents, and the tide threatened to sweep over logs and dunes that the ocean probably hadn't touched since the hiking season began. Intellectually I knew these types of storms could happen, but the difference in knowing what it could be like and being in an actual west coast storm meant that I stumbled about in general disbelief.

Wetter than I've ever been in my life, my goal was to reach Chez Monique's. Unfortunately, as I had made a late start from camp, I had to battle a high tide, which, strengthened by the storm surge, was constantly lapping at my ankles. What I found myself doing to get to Monique's was definitely dangerous and decidedly stupid. Descending from the ladder from the lighthouse, I found that the tide has already swamped the beach, and the waves were bashing up against the piles of driftwood logs under the headland. I could see Monique's, but the only way to get there was to crawl on hands and feet along precarious piles of driftwood logs, which were being battered by the waves so the oceanside logs rolled and crashed into each other. But I could smell bacon. So I recklessly, yet slowly, crawled over the logs,  moving during breaks in the waves, and slipping and sliding on my hands and knees.

When I got there, my fellow campers shouted a greeting, and Monique bellowed some sort of combination of a welcome and admonishment for my stupidity. She and her helpful WOOFers cooked up  a big pot of soup for myself and the other bedraggled hikers to sip on while we dried out wet things by her wood stove. The waves came so high they began to threaten her shelter, and a fast little creek of rainwater began to flow in the dip between her kitchen and the ocean. As the storm grew worse, Monique and Peter encouraged everyone who made it to their home that day to take shelter there for the night. She shrugged off our repeated thanks for her hospitality by saying “It's a storm! What would the ancestors say if I didn't help people during a storm like this!”
A fellow hiker holding up his 'rain gear' for the storm in the only place on the trail it was any good....inside Monique's shelter. This is the only photo I have from the storm, since my cheap camera can't handle the wet.

So Klecko, Klecko Monique  and Peter, for sheltering me from a REAL west coast storm. Now I know how the logs got there.


  1. Keep posting!!

  2. Having recently completed my 2nd hike of the trail during the second week of July, I wish I had found your blog earlier, Lots of interesting info and stories. I hope you start posting again in the future about your hiking adventures. You posts are inspiring me to try some of the other trails on the West Coast. Thanks...

    Rick Giles
    Orleans, ON