Mother & Daughter Hike the West Coast Trail - British Columbia
March 28, 2016
by Jane Gamble
.My daughter, Sarah, had a week of leave and no plans. “Mum, what should I do? I just want to get away.” Without pause, I answered, “You should go on a nice long hike.” Nice long hikes are my solution to every situation in life. If I were on my death bed, I would want to take a nice long hike. “Fly out to Vancouver Island and hike the West Coast Trail. I did it alone when I was your age – it’s legendary!” Like that, her flight was booked, her bag packed. However, as the time drew closer, I began to have misgivings. Sarah’s hiking experience was limited. Crazy people aside, there were still the bear and cougar to consider, as well as the possibility of an accident. Probably not the sort of trip she should be undertaking alone, I said to myself as I booked my ticket. I felt justified in the decision to join her for safety’s sake, but the truth was that I wanted to be in the woods.
After two days of travel, we arrived at the trailhead in Bamfield and sat through the mandatory briefing. “Unfortunately, it has been raining hard for the last two weeks. The trail is muddy, the ladders are slippery and the streams are swollen. If you need to be evacuated, rescue is possible by sea or air, but only if we can spot you.” Sarah looked at me and I said, “Sounds like a good adventure!” A lifetime of experience told her I wasn’t one to resist a challenge. However, the difference between us was more than the 24 years in our age. I possess an optimism that struggles to understand doubt. Sarah is cursed with a realism that focuses on obstacles. It is a difference that defines us as individuals and influences how we respond to adversity. And adversity was what we were about to undertake despite Parks Canada’s warning.
The 47 miles of the West Coast Trail weaves through dense forest thick with bogs, streams and after heavy rain – miles of mud. Where there are boardwalks over the mire, their condition is such that one is often safer braving the hazard itself. Where the trail follows the coast, the way is alternatively sand, boulders and tidal ledges. Where impassable headlands force the trail back into the forest, the path is up long ladders with slippery rungs. The West Coast Trail is considered one of the world’s great hikes but it is unsurpassed beauty at a price.
We had allotted 6 days for the hike with just enough time to get back to Victoria and make connections home. We would have to keep on track, but in my experience, 10 miles a day wouldn’t be difficult. The flaw in my plan was not factoring for mud or morale, and both soon became serious issues.
The beginning of the trail was a breeze and I began to hope that the warnings had been exaggerated. Soon, however, the path devolved into deep channels of muck. Sarah leaned into her hiking pole to cross a particularly difficult patch and landed face first. Every misgiving she had about the trip erupted in tears and anger as she whipped mud and blood from her face. I picked her up and said what any mother would say – “Never show weakness.” I led her to a stream and we washed away the worst of the mess. “We can do this”, I said, “but we have to keep moving.”