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Some Ways to Stay Dry and Warm on the North Coast Trail

If you are hiking on the coast of BC, you are going to have to plan for wet weather. The North Coast Trail in Cape Scott Provincial Park is one hike that is subject to wild weather and lots of rain.

When hiking, the system you have for clothes is very important. The clothes need to be the right fabrics for staying dry and warm. Cotton gets wet easily, is difficult to dry, and cools your body off very rapidly. Cotton needs to be completely off the list. Some good modern fabrics are polyester (fleece), polypropylene or merino wool.

The layer system needs to be well established in your pack. Your base layer that wicks moisture away from your body is critical, and on top of that base, a mid layer of insulation comes next, and the outer layer that sheds water tops off the system. Keeping these layers handay while hiking is important and you stop for breaks or if the weather changes.

Your bagging system works to maintain dryness. Plastic garbage bags inside stuff sacks works, but extremely lightweight dry sacks have arrived in the last few years. Dealing with larger bulky items, such as a sleeping bag, is made easier with compression bags.

The most bomb proof sleeping bags are synthetic fill bags that retain their insulating capabilities even when wet. Down bags can work, but you have to take extra care to maintain them in a dry condition so that they work properly.

Gaiters that connect to the top and bottom of hiking boots can prevent wetness inside of boots, especially in muddy environments. Of course, they do not prevent water from getting in if the water is above the top of the boot.

At the camp level, the type and quality of gear make a huge difference in keeping things dry. Just like with clothing, tents and tarps have become lighter and more flexible over the past few years. The balance between function and weight is extremely important for hiking trips. Most tents these days are built to be dry and handle strong winds.

Operating your tent with ease is very important. Details are important. Knowing how to set it up, take it down, stake it against moisture and wind are essential to ensuring your dryness and warmth.

Modern lightweight tarps are a great way to help prevent moisture from invading your clothes and gear. Setting up a lightweight tarp can provide shelter over cooking and eating areas, and help keep you dry when getting in and out of your tent.

Keeping dry and warm is very important for enjoying coastal hiking on the North Coast Trail. You now have some basic ideas of how to acheive a dry, warm hike.

The Endangered Wolf of the North Coast Trail

The North Coast Trail and Cape Scott Provincial Park are home to the Vancouver Island Grey Wolf. Over the years, the wolf population has been pushed further north to the least populated areas. This has limited the gene pool of the Vancouver Island wolves, endangering their existence. They are a distinct species, so they are on the verge of extinction of numbers continue to dwindle.

These wolves live in packs of from 5 to 35, and are high level predators, consuming mostly black tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. The decreasing populations of deer and elk, as well as the booming cougar populations competing for the deer and elk, are putting pressure on the wolf populations.

BC's North Coast Trail-A Challenging Experience

Cape Scott Provincial Park has a relatively flat trail system. Hiking trails within the park lead off to the Cape Scott Light Station, Hansen's Lagoon, and to a several outstanding beaches. The addition in 2008 of the North Coast Trail brought a number of other incredible features to the park. But the North Coast Trail is a challenging hike.

Several features add challenges reminiscent of the West Coast Trail in former times. Transportation to and from trailheads is one complication. It is relatively expensive to start the trail and be picked up at the other end.

The mud, bog, and difficult root systems that have to be negotiated add more complications. Combined with slippery boardwalks, these upland features make safe hiking slow and tiring. Big storms that come in off the Pacific bring high winds, contributing blow down along the trail, with puts more obstacles in the way.

Down at the beach level, river crossings and cobblestone beach walking adds more water into the mix and difficult traction for long stretches. Most of the cobblestone beaches are quite steep, making one-sided walking the norm. Many of the beaches are pocket beaches with steep headlands that had to be gotten around or over, depending on tide levels.

All told, the additional 43 kilometers of the North Coast Trail are very strenuous and hikers need proper rest to keep the hike going.

Amazing Beaches on the West Coast Trail

Five unforgettable beaches lie along the West Coast Trail. Some remarkable feature allows them to give each visitor a special experience to the camping on this incredible trail. Anyone who claims to be an outdoor person in BC simply has to do The West Coast Trail. The experience kind of defines us. The beauty and power of Camper Bay, Walbran Creek, Dare Beach, Klanawa River, and Tsusiat Falls have left indelible memories in many who have traveled the trail.

The campsite at Camper Bay, just behind a large gravel bar, is like a huge amphitheater. The sand and cobble area up near the forest edge is bounded by a vertical cliff and a steep forest edge next to the creek. It is a place for rest along the trail.

Walbran Creek also has a large gravel bar at the end of a creek, but it is dammed up into a small lake. This is a good place for swimming and cleaning along the way.

Dare Beach is a long sand beach with surf crashing up, giving it a wild and umpredictable feel. On calm days, it is a tropical paradise; on blustery days, it is a surfer's dream.

The beach at Klanawa River also has an extensive log jam and dammed creek, making a nice swimming hole. This is a solitary beach, often skipped over by the hikers along the trail, trying to get further along.

The beach at Tsusiat Falls is a long and popular camping area, and a cleaning and swimming hole at the bottom of the falls. After leavomg this beach, an amazing view comes in sight from the bridge at Tsusiat Creek. The water just disappears over an edge of sky and sea.

The power and influence of the Pacific Ocean on every small speck of this trail is apparent as any hiker makes it through the West Coast Trail.

Canada's Lighthouses on the West Coast Trail

The Canadian Coast Guard has had plans to scuttle all the remaining manned light stations for years, making them fully automated. Two of these guardians stand watch over the section of coastline along the West Coast Trail. The Pachena Light Station and the Carmanah Light Station are two old, but important manned light stations in BC.

Built in 1891, the Carmanah Light, located about midway along the trail, is an old style lighthouse with the familiar tower shape. The Pachena Light is a little younger and still has the tower shape, but is clapboard on its exterior. The views off both points are incredible, reaching out for tens of kilometers on clear days.

The Pachena Light Station is visitable as a day trip from the trail entrance at Pachena Bay, just out of Bamfield. The station is 10 km from the trailhead, but well worth the walk out. Plan on having lunch, taking photos, and walking back to Pachena Bay by late afternoon.

So if you plan to journey down the West Coast Trail, or just visit Pachena Bay at Bamfield, take the time to stop by and appreciate the light stations that work tirelessly to keep our boaters safe.

The West Coast Trail of British Columbia

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is the home of the West Coast Trail. Coastal Bliss can help you navigate your way over this incredible trail. The hiking terrain on the West Coast Trail moves over sandy beaches, rocky headlands, wide sandstone ledges, and boardwalk passing through salal covered wetlands. We travel around rocky points and through arches; we explore tidal pools looking for sea life that makes its home there; and we pass logging relics and lighthouses living through some of the fascinating history of the trail. The trail was originally a pathway for a telegraph wire connecting Bamfield and Port Renfrew. It was turned into a more passable trail for the rescue of shipwrecked mariners that escaped disaster along the rocky shores of Vancouver Island. As many as 66 ships have been lost along this ssection of the "Graveyard of the Pacific". Some of the remnants of these ships are still visible on the rocks and beaches along the coast.

The temperate coastal rain forest along the West Coast Trail is dominated by old growth spruce, hemlock and cedar. Our guides interpret the landsacape and seascape along the way so that you have a context for your journey. Some of the tallest and largest trees in Canada make their homes in and around the West Coast Trail, including a controversial section in the Carmanah Valley, which has a creek that crosses the trail and comes out near the Carmanah Light Station on the trail. Annexing the trail into Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has increased the safety of the trail by having consistent maintenance, organized facilities, and a reservation system in place. This has also increased the popularity of the trail, which sees somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 visitors a year. Increased safety does not mean that hiking the trail is risk free. Anyone considering this destination need to prepare for the physical demands, organize the transport, the food, and ensure that their equipment is up to par. Having a tour company guide you through the way removes much of the organization and may open the adventure up to more fun and a better experience.

Hiking the North Coast Trail and Cape Scott Provincial Park

Cape Scott Provincial Park lies at the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. Having been a Swedish settlement and a national defense site, alongside its presence as a light station warding off ships from the dangers of the point, the park is a testament of human determination. The terrain of the park is relatively flat, with a central lake, and a long lagoon and wetland. The long sandy beaches are punctuated by smaller coves and pocket beaches. Quite challenging as kayaking destination, it is a tremendously diverse hiking area, with trails criss-crossing the park between the best beaches, the lake, and the lighthouse.

At the eastern end, the new, more rugged North Coast Trail heads off toward Shushartie Bay, just around the corner of the island from Port Hardy. Hiking this trail is an intimate experience of boardwalk, beach, and mud. About five days of hard slogging takes a hiker through an experience of self like few other experiences. The difficulty is rewarded with the scenery. The vistas from the beaches on this north end of the island are spectacular.

The wildlife here is also part of the trip. Black bears live in this area, and can be a nuisance in the parking lot, but tend to keep to themselves for the most part. Hikers can expect to wake up to fresh wolf tracks around their tents every night without ever laying eyes on an actual wolf. Sighting one is unusual because of their shy natures. Seals, sea lions, and whales are frequent visitors to the waters around Cape Scott although not always visible, even from the beaches, when the surf is up.

Although it is in a park, the trail is not monitored like the West Coast Trail. No matter where a hiker is along the coastal areas of Cape Scott or the North Coast Trail, that hiker is committed. This is real wilderness. Even experienced hikers need to be on top of their game to make this trip.

Guided tours take all the factors into account and provide a safety envelope for hikers, so it is recommended that hikers take a guide or take an organized tour. When Parks Canada is putting out warning information about the West Coast Trail, this needs to be taken as an extra caution for the North Coast Trail.

The North Coast Trail is incredibly beautiful, but it needs to be respected for its true wilderness location. With the proper planning, experience, and training it is an experience well worth having for anyone who is wanting an adventure and an experience of real, untamed nature.

Getting the Right Hiking Boots for Coastal Hiking

The range of conditions that feet can see in the temperate regions is vast. Coastal hiking in temperate regions takes you through mud, root systems, rocky areas and sandy areas. And there are often streams to ford. Slippery boardwalks are just the icing on the cake. The West Coast Trail experience, now also available, and more so, on the new North Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, gives all of this and more. Feet-and bodies-have to cope with this wide variety of conditions, and the boots worn can make a tremendous difference.

Coastal hiking is like heavy mountain backpacking. Boots must be designed for this activity and include stiffer shanks and special construction for waterproofing and durability. These heavier boots provide the best level of support, protection, and durability for heavier loads and longer trips. Both the West Coast Trail and the North Coast Trail are extended trips over demanding terrain, so an extended (heavy weight) backpacking boot is appropriate.

The support given to the ankle and foot are mostly from the stiffness and durability of the shank that runs the length of the boot under the foot, not from the high ankle height of the boot. The shank is the main support system in a boot. High tops can provide a little extra support alongside the shank, but not much. High tops help prevent ankle abrasions; and they help keep water from entering the boot in low water conditions. A pair of gaiters is really necessary for coastal trails. Gaiters cannot prevent water from entering boots from the top in deep puddles, but they can keep the system dry in water levels slightly higher than the boot top if you are moving through at a relatively quick pace.

New boots designed for rugged terrain will feel stiff but they should still be comfortable. It is good practice to wear your boots to break them in before any trip, even if the boots are old and broken in. Wearing them can help you track down troubles before you get on the trail. Make a pre-hike with as similar conditions as you can find or create. Check them over during and after this test hike. Breaking new boots in will take weeks. The pressure of your foot in the boot must mold and shape the boot to form fit your foot. With denser materials in heavy hiking boots, this takes some time and distance, perhaps 80+ kilometers. Before you go, try a good two to three hour hike with your pack loaded to see if anything is heating up or hurting.

Considering coastal hikes like the West Coast Trail or the North Coast Trail, good quality, reliable boots are essential. These boots need to be supportive for the rugged terrain, water proof to the top in construction, and need to have a proper, comfortable fit. These trails require multiple days with considerable weights in the backpack, so they need to be broken in well to prevent blisters and injury. Additional help with water-proofing can be found by wearing gaiters over the boots. At the end of the day, the hiking boots you wear can make or break a trip.


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