West Coast Trail

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Backpacking Trip: West Coast Trail (Shipwreck Trail)

This was a six day backpacking trip on the West Coast Trail of southwestern Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. This trail has also been referred to as the Shipwreck Trail or the Lifesaving Trail due to the number of shipwrecks off this coast over the years and the fact that this early telegraph line trail was expanded specifically to provide an escape route for shipwreck survivors. This coast is referred to as the "Graveyard of the Pacific".

The Canadians consider this to be the toughest backpacking trip in North America. I don't know if that's true, not having done all the others, but it's definitely a hard trip. In terms of the sheer number of physical obstacles, I'm sure that they're right. I don't remember the exact numbers but there are something like 40 - 50 near vertical ladders to be scaled up and down with a 60 lb pack. Dozens of 18" wide log bridges to be crossed over the bogs - the top was normally shaved flat to a width of about 12". Four cable cars where two people pulled themselves across hand over hand. A beautifully designed single file suspension bridge over Logan Creek and many boardwalks over the interminable Bogs - some brand new and some decayed. Plus fording at least one stream, possibly others depending on your choice of route that day: trail or beach. Mud, slime, sand, and slippery rocks everywhere ... but very beautiful too. The beach route had to deal with tides, surge channels, and impassable headlands. This is not a trip for the faint of heart or those without a good sense of balance or the ability to use tide tables.

I've been to boggy places before, Dolly Sods West Virginia and the White Mountains of New Hampshire; the West Coast Trail makes them look like a dessert. I saw more mud in six days than I think I've seen in the rest of my life combined. And we did this trip during a week of perfect weather which was preceded by another week of perfect weather. The first three days were brilliant sunshine and electric blue skies - when you could see it through the rainforest canopy - followed by three days of fog, and sunny/cloudy weather. Just the heavy coastal fog was enough to relubricate all the slime. If you did this trip in heavy rain you'd need a life jacket.

This is a very beautiful trail alternating between the rain forest and beach depending on tides and conditions. Tide tables and good judgement are essential to doing this trip safely. Being in a rain forest, EVERYTHING is saturated with primeval slime! All of those log bridges that you have to cross ... they're very slick and well lubricated ... and that was during a dry week. I slipped off one bridge and put one foot into the ooze above my knee! I would have enjoyed this trip more but on the third day I came down with the flu and heard about the terrorist attacks ... after that I just wanted to come home. Even in the middle of nowhere, news of the attacks spread like wildfire up and down the trial.

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