Juan de Fuca Trail 29/06/11

Steve C. on the Juan de Fuca trail:
“The Juan de Fuca trail stretches 47 km from Jordan River to Port Renfrew on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. Shorter and easier than the famous West Coast Trail which neighbours to the northwest, the Juan de Fuca trail still provides a challenging backpacking route, and is a great introduction to the rigors of coastal hiking.

Our JDF team of semi tent-less strangers (four with tents and two with a “tarp”) (Bala, Susanne, Sherron, Pieter, Angela and Steve) assembled at the China Beach campground on Wednesday evening, after a semi-frantic dash to catch the 7 pm ferry and a precarious convoy across Greater Victoria to the campground. That evening had us all falling asleep to the gentle sound of rain and much “tarp talk” emanating from the two brave tarpers. We all learned of the origins of tarp camping and how it was invented by a rocket scientist who no longer wanted to be a rocket scientist but took on a new passion for the outdoors. Out of this was invented the tarp as a way to minimise weight. Rain that night seemed to confirm the discouraging weather forecast, but after it cleared the next morning we wouldn’t see the wet stuff again until our last night of camping. Before we could start the trail we needed to place our two vehicles at either end of the trail. Two hours of car faffing later, our international team (Canadian, Swiss, German, Indian, Dutch and English) was ready to hit the trail.

The first day’s hike to Bear Beach is rated as “Moderate”, and this turned out to be a fair description, with easy terrain but quite a few ups and downs. Much of the trail was in the forest with the exception of a short section around Mystic Beach. The campsite at Bear Beach was quite busy, but we were able to find a quiet spot to ourselves at the far western end of the beach near to the picturesque “Mushroom Rock”. After supper we were all treated to an “Indian style” campfire, differentiated from its Canadian counterpart by the use of accelerant, an interesting grid structure and a higher success rate. The “Canadian fire” the following night (courtesy of Sherron) was however more aesthetically pleasing, hotter and much cosier.

We were all nice and stiff for the next day’s hike to Chin Beach… rather unfortunate as this was the hardest section of the trail. The trail progressed up and over a series of hills and deep ravines for over 10 km, and had a quite a few sections of slippery and steep terrain with plenty of mud. Physical effort was rewarded with a variety of spectacular viewpoints over the coastline, with plenty of photo opportunities. One of these photo ops provided us with the most dramatic moment of the trip. A branch overhanging the cliff edge proved to be an irresistible lure for most members of the team, including Sherron. Sherron’s tree climbing efforts were cut short by an ill-timed loss of footing, and she plummeted like a tranquilized bear down and out of sight over the cliff edge. Thoughts of splattered bodies at the bottom of the cliffs were however soon dispelled as Sherron’s bruised and scraped form emerged from the bushes that line the precipice. The only complaint was from the photographer of the group, Susanne, who said that while she was waiting to take the picture of Sherron, Sherron disappeared!

Chin Beach was busy, more like a refugee camp than a wilderness campsite. Our “go west” mentality was however rewarded with a quieter spot, separated from the main beach by a small headland. Making our food reserves out of reach of the bears provided much evening entertainment. The first food hanging spot was deemed too close to the tents, which was probably a good call as the bags would have been hanging between two tents. The second option (the metal food cache) was no better as it was completely crammed. The third option involved climbing the rocks of the headland in the dark and some nocturnal rope-work. That worked well and both ourselves and the food were still intact come the morning. The night was noisy with a lot of breaking wave action, and it wasn’t until the morning that we realised the water had come up to within a few feet of the tents. Other campers on the main area had to move in the middle of the night to avoid being swamped… and that would have been our fate if we hadn’t of gone west.

Day 3 was meant to be an easier day, but longer in length than the previous two days. The first couple of kilometres proved to be the trickiest of the whole trip, but soon an interlude of easier terrain presented the first opportunity to partake in one of Bala’s famous “side trips”, down to some spectacular Sea Lion caves. There were three takers and three passers. We’re not really sure what happened on that “side trip” but when we rendezvoused again at Sombrio Beach the three side trippers looked well knackered! The section of trail leading up to Sombrio beach was probably the most spectacular of the whole route. The beach itself was however crammed with the leftovers of the Canada Day festivities the night before… making Chin Beach seem comparatively quiet. Leaving Sombrio Beach behind, we headed up into the gloomy forest for an evening walk to the last of our campsites at Little Kuitsche Creek. Along the way, to our great surprise, it was discovered that Steve had remaining six bars of chocolate. As this was the second last day of the trip, speculation was made as to what these bars of chocolate were saved for – perhaps the bears? We were told that a bear had been seen that morning at the Little Kuitsche Campsite. The campsite was in the forest, gloomy and almost entirely full. In the one spot we found we cooked first before putting up the tents, as room did not allow the tents to be put up first. Evening entertainment took the form of force feeding one another leftover food slop, and binging on uneaten chocolate reserves. The tents were up just in time for the overnight deluge of rain.

The next morning brought the end of the rain and a return to the bright sunny weather we had become accustomed to. The last day’s hike to the trailhead at Botanical Beach was a 14-km yomp over mostly easier terrain. There was one more of Bala’s famous side trips along the way, this time to another dubious Sea Lion Cave, through the back garden of the local “problem bear”. This time there were four takers, with the other two opting for the alternative chocolate and nut binge in the sun. We arrived at the trailhead in good time, and after a bit of creative car packing were able to get us all back to the first car in one trip. We were pleased to get onto an earlier ferry than planned, and were treated on the way back to a magnificent sunset and the sight of orcas in the water…. a fine end to a fine trip… A great trail, great weather and (most importantly) great company. Thanks to Bala for organizing this!”

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