Although I have hiked the west coast trail over 40 times as a guide over the years, I never tire of the wild and expansive beaches together with the lush rain forest. However, in order to get the most out of your hike it’s very important to prepare. These 10 tips will help you get the most out of your hiking experience.
1. The West Coast Trail is a world-class hike that delivers much but demands even more. Taking on 77 km of slippery shelf, gravel beaches, muddy and slippery rain forest, manmade ladders and bridges, coastal storms, potentially long hiking days, while carrying a pack of 40 pounds or more, requires that hikers prepare physically before starting the trail. You should combine a regimen of exercises that build strength in the legs and shoulders, with practice hikes with your loaded backpack around your neighbourhood. If you include a hill or steps during this practice hiking, your body will thank you when you actually begin your West Coast Trail hike.
2. Two hiking poles are recommended. Good quality telescopic poles will add balance while negotiating roots, mud puddles, and other obstacles in the rain forest. They also provide momentum, assistance, and shock absorption while hiking on loose sand and gravel rock beaches.
3. Distance and time are very misleading on the West Coast Trail. Traveling through the rain forest, with its plethora of obstacles, especially during rainy periods, will slow you down dramatically. This is definitely true with the section of trail from the Gordon River trailhead to Walbran Creek. It may take you the better part of a hiking day to cover 6 km. When I lead groups, it will not be until midday on the 4th day that we will reach Walbran Creek.
4. And, speaking of groups: the more hikers in your party the slower your pace. When determining the number of days you will set aside for your hike, consider the anticipated pace of your slowest hiker and set your schedule accordingly.
5. Most hikers will complete the trail in 7 days. I always recommend giving yourself one more day than you planned for. This extra day will give you the option of adjusting your schedule to account for very bad weather, injury, or a slower pace than expected. If you find your pace to be faster, or on schedule, use the extra day as a layover on one of the fabulous beaches.
6. Should I go north-south or south-north? Everyone who has done the West Coast Trail has an opinion on this one. Those who advocate the south-north option point to advantage of getting the more difficult hiking days over early in the hike. The north-south group feel that by eating down your food supply, it will easier to grapple with the harder sections. Our company does it south-north as over 95% of our clients were happy to get past the harder sections early in the hike.
7. The West Coast Trail is part of the government’s Pacific Rim National Park. The Park has excellent material and the official trail map on the government’s website is there to help you further with your planning.
8. Coordinate your visit with tide levels. There are headlands that require certain tide levels in order to get around them. The official trail map will indicate at what tide level a headland is passable. It is much easier to hike the beach and shelf, so coordinating your hike to meet the best possible tide conditions, will help you avoid the slower inland route around these headlands. You can obtain tide levels by visiting the Fisheries and Oceans Canada tide level website for Bamfield.
9. Having the right equipment and clothing is critical for an enjoyable hike. Hiking boots that are uncomfortable, for example, can cause blisters and turn what should be an enjoyable time in the wilderness into a hike you can’t wait to finish because of pain. For equipment information, be sure to do your research and be sure to purchase equipment from a store specializing in outdoor equipment.
10. Sections of the West Coast Trail cross reserve land belonging to the Dididaht First Nations. Unique to one such piece of land near Carmanah Point is the summer home of Monique and her husband Peter, a former chief of the Dididaht First Nations. They have created an oasis of information, assistance, and incredible burgers for anyone who chooses to stop by to visit.