This is part one of a much-overdue multipart chronicle of my hike last year on the Sunshine Coast Trail in British Columbia. I had it partially-written and unpublished, but it's been on my mind a lot recently and I figured it would be better to at least release it in parts rather
than all in one chunk never. Feel free to contact me if you are planning your own hike of the trail and have any questions.
For a while now I’ve been missing the feeling of strapping on my backpack and heading out into the wilderness for an undetermined amount of time, with days ahead full of sweat and exhaustion and other good things. Since finishing my Pacific Crest Trail hike (you can read about the first 50 days or so on this blog) and moving to coastal BC I’d been on some day hikes and overnighters here and there, but there wasn’t anything established that promised more than a couple of days in the woods. I’d thought about the super-popular West Coast Trail, but at only 70km and 75+ permits issued per day, spending the travel cost to hike three days along what essentially sounded like a hiker highway didn’t sound appealing to me at all.
I say that now, but I’m sure I’ll get around to it and love it and all of you who’ve done it can say ‘I told you so!‘
So, by some interesting series of events this spring, my boyfriend Tyrone and I moved to BC’s Sunshine Coast. I soon heard about the Sunshine Coast Trail. From north to south, it starts in Lund on the upper Sunshine Coast, and ends at Saltery Bay by the ferry terminal. It’s 180km, has a dozen or so huts which are all free to stay in, and the estimated travel time was two weeks. That’s about all the info we could glean online other than anecdotes about which huts were best, and when was the best time to hike if you wanted to go ultra-ultralight and solely live off of salmonberries.
Tyrone and I had never hiked together before, somehow. I hadn’t ever really gone hiking with anyone else before other than the friends I made on the PCT. But even then, we didn’t hike together so much as take breaks, camp and hitchhike together. Pace is a real problem for me. I have a very consistently fast hiking pace that I can’t seem to slow down no matter how hard I try, even after thousands of miles of trying to fix it. On a mountaineering trip last year, I had to break away ahead of our group on our last day hiking out because I kept tripping and bumping into the people in front of me because my slow, stunted footsteps just felt so foreign.
My point is, I had no idea how to hike with someone else, let alone a significant other. I imagined us together on some unknown trail, my feet carrying me up the loamy path as if with a mind of their own. I twist my body to make eye contact with him before I crest an mossy ridge. “I’m sorry!” I cry, “I can’t help it!”. And he yells back, “I don’t think this is working out”, and I sob, “I can change!” But it’s a lie, and I’m already out of sight.
Anyway, drama aside. We were going to do this thing. I was put in charge of the meal planning, so I went all out and bought all dehydrated meals for dinner. This was pretty new for me since I was accustomed to the usual cheapo hiker slop – ramen noodles, canned sausage, corn chips, et cetera. I hadn’t had a dehydrated meal since my terrible chilli mac episode just one week into the PCT (I can’t recall how into detail I went about that particular gastrointestinal adventure).
I didn’t pack my usual kit either, since we were sharing a tent. Tyrone packed his brand new MSR Hubba Hubba NX. I replaced my NeoAir Xlite with the newer version that was longer and wider and hopefully more comfortable than the tapered women’s pad that I’d managed to sleep on for half a year. Overall our packs still ended up being pretty heavy mostly due to the food. We packed dinners for 9 days, and about 5 days of breakfasts and snacks. We’d resupply in Powell River when the trail crossed through, probably after four days.
Day 1: Km0 – 15 – 15kms
We decided to hike from north to south to work our way up to the more difficult terrain, and also so that we could just walk right onto the ferry in Saltery Bay. Thanks to a couple of generous friends and family, we got a ride early in the morning to Earl’s Cove, where we took the ferry to Saltery Bay and got another ride from Saltery Bay to Lund in time for our water taxi to Sarah Point, where the trail began.
We shared the water taxi with one other – a hiker from Germany named Constantine. He was a WOOFer in Powell River and was hoping to finish the trail in ten days. He’d fashioned a hiking stick out of piece of bamboo by attaching a leather strap to it. We welcomed him to hike with us for as long as he wanted.
The three of us sat on the windy, rain-soaked roof of the boat as we wove between the Malaspina Peninsula and the Copeland Islands. Our captain slowed down to show us some old petroglyphs on the side of a rocky bluff.
When we arrived at our drop-off point – another rocky bluff – I hopped off the boat onto a narrow outcropping and caught our packs as they passed to me, holding them down on the barnacle-covered ledge and hoping I didn’t drop everything into the ocean. We all managed fine and scrambled up the rocks to safety, and as we waved goodbye to our captain I was overcome with the familiar, exciting realization that there was no turning back now. Anything could happen.
The rain had let up, finally, and the sun had broken through for our inaugural ascent over the narrow peninsula. We managed to locate the start of the trail, overgrown in salal, and marked with a humble, nondescript sign. I marched on ahead, taking in the wonderful difference of the upper Sunshine Coast ecology. The flora was different – drier somehow than the forests of the lower Coast – yet still rainforest on some level. The slugs were out in full force, taking advantage of the recent rain. There were the invasive black slugs that I was used to, as well has massive banana slugs with mottling and speckles that I had never seen before. I supposed they must be unique to the region. For the first kilometre or so I kept calling back to Tyrone – “Watch out for that slug – oh, that one is HUUUUGE” – until it went without saying that yes, there were slugs everywhere, and awkwardly dancing around the creatures in our heavy boots would become the normal cadence of our hike for the remainder of the trail.
Once over the top of the peninsula we descended again down to a campsite and rocky beach where we encountered a pair of kayakers out on a day trip from Kinghorn Island. Tyrone, being a guide himself, chatted for a while with the kayak guide while I made some fine-tune adjustments to my pack. Then the three of us left the beach and went on our way through the ever-changing forest. I lent Tyrone one of my lightweight hiking poles to ease the process of breaking in his new boots, which he ended up keeping for the rest of the hike. It seemed to work out fine in the end, me being right handed and him left, but it definitely impressed upon me the difference of hiking with or without poles. I was faster and more stable with a pole – and even moreso with two.
The trail was rugged, yet well-signed, with a kilometre marker at every interval. Some sections were overgrown with ferns, and imagined that combating the rapid growth of the forest would be a full-time, practically futile effort. Our little group separated just a few kilometres into the hike. We leapfrogged a bit between short breaks, though Tyrone and I stayed together at least within a minute of each other. At the top of a sunny bluff we took off our shoes and ate some Fritos and I watched several ants scurry erratically around the charred remains of a small fire ring.
“I hope he doesn’t mind that we went on ahead,” Tyrone commented about Constantine.
“I don’t think so,” I said thoughtfully, “He’s on his own schedule.” I believed it, but the thought brought me back to the anxiety I had experienced while on the PCT about being left behind. I had wondered many times if my fast pace was powered by that fear more than my legs.
Constantine cheerily passed us as we were pulling our socks back on, and although it wasn’t long before we overtook him again, we decided to wait for him at Wednesday Lake, around the 12km point to see if we wanted to decide as a group where to camp. Wednesday Lake was a beautiful, serene freshwater gem perched on the narrow strip of rocky land between the sea and the inlet. There was a bench just off the trail overlooking the lake and a small tent site. You’d never know from the view that you were surrounded by saltwater and not in the middle of interior BC. I considered going for a quick swim, but it was getting late, and the rain had started again, and I knew that if I swam now I wouldn’t be warm again until tomorrow.
When Constantine caught up we talked about camp plans. He decided he’d like to camp at the lake. Although we were tired, and our feet were sore, we knew we had a few more kilometres in us so Tyrone and I decided to keep going with goal of camping at Malaspina Hut around km15.
We reached the hut at the golden hour and set our packs down on a picnic bench that took full advantage of the incredible view of the Georgia Strait across to Vancouver Island. We boiled water for tea and dinner and ate slowly while illuminated in the orange sunset light that faded and diffused into pink through the encroaching rainclouds over the water.
The hut itself was huge and completely open with a loft and some seating and counter space on the ground floor. A plexiglass section of wall offered a partial view of the water through some arbutus trees. A small layer of dead bees lined the base of the window, and I facetiously noted that you could take nearly all of the exterior walls out of a house and bees would still get trapped inside.
We decided to set up our tent outside rather than camp in the hut. We scoped out a tree with a sturdy bough next to the hut to hang our food from. I taught Tyrone the PCT bear hang method despite spending nearly half an hour trying and failing to throw my rope high enough to get over the branch. Eventually I succeeded by climbing up into the loft of the hut and hurling my rope/weighted stuff sack out the window toward the branch.
It was good timing when we got into the tent, just as the rainclouds reached us and unleashed a heavy dose of coastal summer showers that continued through the last of the day’s light. We fell asleep easily and were woken only once a couple hours later to a quick flash of light across the tent and subdued voices, then it was dark again, and we were left with only the sound of the rain.