Monday, May 21, 2007

The best laid plans...

Every May Long Weekend for the past three years, my hiking partner Ian and I have hiked the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The JDF is our home turf, and is often the destination for day hikes with our friends and families. We normally spend one night near the trail head (Mystic Beach) and then two more on the trail. This year, we decided to try to cut it down to two nights total by hiking in further from the trailhead after work on Friday.

We were packed and ready to go, the tides were in our favour, and we had an itinerary we were happy with. Unfortunately, plans to leave work early were thwarted by Ian's boss, and he ended up working overtime rather than leaving early. By the time he picked me up it was close to 6:00pm, and the trailhead was an hour's drive away. We weren't comfortable with trying to make it to Bear Beach before dark, and as the trail is muddy and slippery at the best of times, had no interest in night hiking. We decided to adjust our itinerary and camp at Mystic Beach near the trailhead once again.

The hike down to Mystic Beach is quite simple, and took us 30 minutes. Mystic is a popular beach for camping, so we staked out a spot quickly before the cooler-toting crowd took all the good spots. It's important to know the tides when camping on the beach, and we made sure we were well above the high tide line. The previous year, some teenagers were camping below the tide line, but didn't seem interested in any advice from the rest of us. We heard shouts during the night, and woke up to see them sleeping in the trees with wet gear hanging from the branches. But I digress. While getting dinner ready, I reached into my pocket to discover our payment envelope that was supposed to be deposited in the box at the trailhead. Whoops. 45 minutes later, we were back at camp just as the light was fading. We stayed up a bit longer to meet our neighbours and their dog, Duncan.

Saturday morning, we revisited our itinerary and tried to figure out if we could still finish the trail by Sunday evening in time to catch the trail bus at around 5. It wasn't critical that we did, as we had made arrangements for my girlfriend, Rebecca, to meet us at Botanical Beach midday Monday. Still, we like to set lofty goals, so we figured we'd try to make it to Sombrio Beach, 25.5 km away. I have been training quite a bit lately, and was feeling optomistic, but Ian hasn't been active for the winter and was a bit less eager. We decided to get to Chin Beach, 19 km away, and decide then.

We left Mystic Beach at 8:45 after a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, and arrived at Bear Beach at 10:25. There we had our second breakfast to give us energy for the most gruelling section of the trail ahead. Between Bear and Chin, the trail goes away from the ocean and over 8, 9, 0r 17 (depending upon who you ask) steep hills, tumbling back down to cross a creek, then back up again. Through the old growth areas the trail was in good shape, with a slight mist to keep you cool. In areas that had been clearcut many years ago, the ground was muddy, wet, and lacked the bright green undergrowth so prevalent in the old growth portions. Some of the river crossings were in need of repair after this past winter's violent storms. On the third hill climb, we stopped for a snack and Ian mentioned that his knee was starting to bother him. We slowed our pace, and pushed on to Chin.

Coming out of the forest at Chin Beach at 3:45, we could see off to the South West and the huge storm clouds blowing our way. Heavy rain was inevitable, and Ian's knee was no better, so we quickly set up camp before the rains came. We managed to set up our tent and a small tarp for a sitting area literally seconds before the skies opened up. For the rest of the evening, the rain came and went, and our view gave us 20 minutes warning before each downpour. Ian got a nice warm fire going despite the lack of dry wood, and we spent the evening under the tarp relaxing and eating. At 10 we let the fire go out, stashed our food in the provided bearproof lockers, and went quickly to sleep.

The rains came in earnest Saturday night, and didn't show any sign of stopping on Sunday. The tarp let us eat breakfast and pack up our gear in relative comfort, then we raced to take down the tent without it getting too wet. Finishing the trail tonight was no longer an option, so we planned to head to Payzant Creek, 19 km away. This would allow for a short 7 km hike on Monday morning to meet Rebecca at noon.

The rain was heavy, but this section was mostly forest hiking so we were somewhat sheltered. Our pace was slowing, and Ian's knee was really starting to bother him. At Loss Creek there's a side trail up to highway 14, and I let Ian decide if we should quit or keep going. He wanted to keep going, so we made for Sombrio Beach for elevensies.

At Sombrio, it was obvious Ian wasn't going to be able to finish the hike. We had a quick snack under a tree, then made our escape from the trail. Sombrio is accessible by car and is a popular beach for surfers. We made our way to the parking lot, then headed up the long gravel road up to the highway. Half an our later we arrived at the highway, dropped our packs, tried to look as miserable and pathetic as possible, and stuck up our thumbs. For 20 minutes we obviously didn't look pathetic enough, but finally the rain soaked every last bit of us and we reached the point where nobody with a heart could ignore us. Two very kind people and their puppy told us they were going to China Beach, which was perfect as that's where Ian's Jeep was.

Ian dropped me off at home, shivering at wet. I gave my dog a wet hug then crawled into a steaming hot shower. I'm disappointed that we didn't complete the trail, but also happy that we made the right decisions throughout and didn't risk any more injury or misery.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the post. I'm on the opposite end of the continent (Miami), but felt from your descriptions like I was on the trail with you. The JDF is a goal of mine someday -- only done day hikes on two trips to Vancouver so far. Will keep reading up on your adventures and no doubt learn something. -- kevonionia

DSD said...

I've experienced this also more than a few times...
The JDF isn't going anywhere, so I'm sure you will return...
Looking forward to more posts.

Anonymous said...

You made all the right decisions, especially the one to put that tarp up quick! I've been on the section where you have 12-17 ups and downs on the JdF and it is a fairly grueling way to start the backpacking season. There was serious water coming from the sky and if your tent stayed dry, well done!!

Maybe I'll think about sewing that extra 7oz tarp just for backup...