The West Coast Trail (WCT) is a 75 km (47 mile) backpacking trail on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. The waters off the coast are part of the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific’, and can be treacherous to navigate. The trail was cleared in 1907 as the Dominion Lifesaving Trail to guide shipwreck survivors to shelter and help from neighbouring First Nations or at lighthouses.
Today, the WCT is used by backpackers, as advancements in navigation technology have made shipwrecks rare. The trail is open from May 1st to September 30th each year, with limited access by reservation during peak season. The trail takes between four (very speedy) and seven (fairly leisurely) days to hike.
The WCT features approximately 70 ladders, 130 bridges and four cable cars. There are two points of entry, in the south at Gordon River, and in the North at Pachena Bay. There is almost no cell phone service along the trail, and evacuations in the event of injury are by boat or helicopter. Preparedness for this hike is essential.
Hikers need good gear, and enough food and water purification tablets to last up to a week. The weather on the trail can be unpredictable, from wind and rain (and mud) to sunshine and 25 degrees Celsius (77F). As well, parts of the trail are along the beach, so tides determine daily hiking schedules as parts of the trail are inaccessible at high tide.
My friend, Lily, and I hiked the West Coast Trail in early June 2014. We started at the Pachena Bay and planned for seven days of hiking with 4 km as our shortest day and 23 km as our longest. Our packing strategy was to pack less clothing in lieu of fresher (and heavier) foods.
Starting out our packs were 45lbs each and in our packs and on our bodies we carried:
- Short sleeve quickdry shirt
- Long sleeve quickdry shirt (underarmor brand)
- Fleece sweater
- Fleece pants
- Quick dry shorts
- Rain pants
- Rain jacket (Patagonia)
- 2 pairs sock liners
- 2 pairs wool socks
- Hiking boots
- 3 pairs quickdry underwear
- Sunglasses (Sunski’s – lightweight and polarized)
- Buff (used mostly for hair)
- Rubber gloves (for gripping wooden ladders if they are muddy / wet)
- Gaiters (great for keeping sand and mud out of boots)
(* indicates where split between two)
- Osprey Atmos 65L pack (men’s packs work better on my frame)
- Waterproof packcover
- Source 2L water bladder
- Water bottle
- Hotcore sleeping bag – super compact and rated at -10C as I tend to get cold
- Blue foam sleeping pad (In the future I’d invest in a Thermarest ProLite / XLite as this was bulky and had to be strapped to the outside of the bag)
- 3 person tent with vestibules* (This was borrowed and I’ve since purchased a 2 person tent for future backpacking)
- 20’ of rope and drysac for bear hangs (there are food lockers at most campsites)*
- Trangia 25 Ultralight camp stove and cookset (Alcohol stove, a bit heavier than some models but very reliable)*
- Spatula (for cooking)*
- 2L Alcohol fuel (Methanol / denatured alcohol)*
- Swiss Army Knife
- Insulated mug/bowl
- Dr. Bronners soap (for washing ourselves and our dishes)
- Waterproof matches
- Water purification tablets
- 10′ Duct tape (wrapped around fuel bottle for repairs / flagging if needed)
Health & Beauty
- First Aid Kit
- Insect Repellant
- Toothbrush & paste (in the future I’d use Lush Toothy Tabs)
- Toilet paper (with center cardboard cut out and stored in a plastic bag)
- Lip balm (small luxuries)
- Tidetables (provided with park permit)
- Pencil and paper
- Playing cards
- Alarm clock
- $200 for trail fee and to use at the restaurants on the trail
- Identification (drivers licenses to allow quick medical information access in case of injury)
I like to eat well when I’m hiking and am willing to carry more weight in exchange for feeling highly satisfied with my food choices. If I did the trail again I would reduce weight for dinners by using a dehydrator and bring less food. We ended up feeding another hiker two meals and still had excess food when we left the trail. We ended up losing more than 10 lbs each of pack weight from the start to the end of our hike almost wholly food weight.
- Dried Fruit & nuts
- Protein bars (6 each)
- Pancakes and maple syrup (I pre-made a mix and brought a tiny vial with maple syrup. It was so luxurious)
- Bagel with peanut butter and jam (3 days)
- Rye bread with Baby Belle Cheese, smoked salmon and carrots (2 days)
- Dehydrated hummus, bread and trail mix (1 day)
- ½ Crab with baked potato ($20 at restaurant at Nitinat Narrows ferry crossing)
- Couscous & bags of curry (3 days – not dehydrated, these were very heavy)
- Instant noodles, sundried tomato, fresh dill and smoked salmon (1 day)
- Parmesan Cheese, sundried tomato, pasta (2 days)
Trail Mix & Beverages:
- Dried fruit & nuts
- Hot chocolate
- ¼ L of Cognac in wine bladder (it sprung a leak on the first day and we shared it at our campfire)
The hike was amazing and I recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. We lucked out and had a total of three hours of rain over the course of seven days which is almost unheard of. We saw lots of eagles, and pods of whales offshore twice. Other hikers on the trail were fantastic and most nights we had communal campfires and shared stories. I had wanted to hike the West Coast Trail for more than a decade and it exceeded my expectations.
More information about the West Coast Trail can be found on the Parks Canada website at: www.pc.gc.ca
About the Author: Kathleen set off from Vancouver, Canada to travel Central and South America in November 2014. She wants to learn Spanish, visit volcanos, sail, see the Nazca Lines, participate in a wine harvest and befriend a sloth, a turtle, and a llama during her adventures. Kathleen is blogging at Wandering Williams.
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