Beach-camping on North Vancouver Island

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Chris took me way up the north Island for my birthday. It’s a secret spot, and the only clue I can give you is what a couple of surfers we met up there said they tell people: “It’s east of Port Hardy.” Let me know if you really, really want to know where it is, and I’ll trade you for some smoked fish or something.

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We arrived in the dark, hoping the cabin wouldn’t already be taken. But there was a car in the parking lot, so—out of luck. It turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened, though. The weather was so great that weekend, warm and sunny, that it would’ve been a shame to be holed up in the cabin for most of it.

A five-minute hike through cedars and salal, we stumbled across a few tent platforms just above the beach, and set up there. Chris built a fire, we had some wine, and then we were done for the night. Driving 6 hours, the last part on logging roads, finding a brand new spot, and setting up in the dark takes it out of you. But there we were, all set up for the rest of the weekend.

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Chris made us an awesome breakfast of bacon-egg muffins and coffee & Bailey’s. I wandered off with coffee, the way I always do, and explored the beach in both directions. Around the headland to the north was a small beach packed with driftwood logs, and no route to go farther. That seemed unbelievable to me, but when we saw the headland from a different vantage point later on, I saw that it really was a dead end. To the south, I went and found the trail over the southern headland, that would take us to the cabin. It would’ve been tough to find in the dark; it starts at the end of a rock crevasse.

We had a lazy morning, and then packed a lunch and water and raingear, and headed south to explore. After some bushwhacking and a few wrong turns, and some separations punctuated with “My darling! Where are you?? It’s this way!” we got on the right trail. Beach, woods, beach, woods, beach . . . Every beach different. A huge plastic fishing float, covered with net, came into sight around the next corner, and we’d reached the cabin.

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It’s just a squatter’s cabin, popular with surfers, and anyone can stay there if they can find it. There’s a wave out front that works sometimes, and another good wave about a 45 minute hike to the south. We stayed and had a beer with the two guys who were there that weekend, a South African and an Australian. They live in Vancouver, but spend a lot of time in Tofino and the rest of Vancouver Island, anywhere they can find surf.

The beach outside the cabin was great for beach glass, and I spent a long time collecting while the boys hung out.

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A huge rain and wind storm blew through that evening, but Chris had already cooked most of the meal. I found a few tarp poles and he pulled out the big tarp, and we stayed warm and dry by the fire. You can’t go wrong with fire-cooked steak with shallots and potatoes. The next day was the warmest. We wandered our beach again, and it felt like early summer. I’m pretty sure we saw the blows of an early grey whale, on its migration from Baja to Alaska. Best birthday ever.

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All Along the Mountains

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I used to live on the Ucluelet Inlet, and guide kayak trips frequently in the area. There is an incredible amount of First Nations history right here. Every beach has a traditional name and use. Every point, every stretch of water. Before white contact, there were 50,000 people living on the coast from the Brooks Peninsula on Vancouver Island down to Makah territory, just across the US border. That number hit a population low of 2,000 in the ’20′s and ’30′s, decimated by introduced disease and by supplies of firearms and ammunition given to select groups or tribes.

The people of the west coast of Vancouver Island from the Brooks Peninsula down, although composed of many separate tribes, now choose the name Nuu-Chah-Nulth, meaning “All Along the Mountains.” This is primarily a language designation, separating them from the Kwakiutl to the north and north-east on the Island, and the Salish to the south and south-east.

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Nuu-Chah-Nulth territory is further divided into Northern, Central, and Nitinat. The area I live in is in Central Nuu-Chah-Nulth territory, which includes the Hesquiaht, Ahousaht, Clayoquot, Ucluelet, Toquaht, Uchucklesaht, Tseshaht, and Ohiaht. Even these names are just broad terms for many smaller groups. The Kelsemat were originally of Vargas Island, but joined the Ahousaht after their men were lost in a sealing expedition in the Bering Sea. The Otsosat were of Flores Island, but were almost annihilated by the Ahousaht in the early 19th century. The Wildside Trail on Flores Island, established by the modern Ahousaht, has interpretive signs at the sites where much of the warfare occurred.

With thanks to Denis St. Clair for much of the above information.

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Tofino, BC

Kelda Larsen:

Katie Marti gets it. I couldn’t have said it better. You’re going to Tofino? If I were you, I’d . . .

Originally posted on If I Were You...:

I would use this to get around: a bike with a surfboard rack on the side. There is a bike/walking trail that runs beside the main road into/out of town and there are always really beautiful people riding their bikes to/from the beach wearing a wetsuit/bikini/boardshorts with a surfboard in tow. If I were you, I’d want to be like them. Otherwise, you’ll probably need a motorized vehicle of some sort to get you from town to the beaches and back again (or vice versa).

I would stay here:The best way to enjoy Tofino is to rent a house on the beach with a bunch of friends. Campgrounds are grossly overpriced and grossly undermaintained, so I am telling you right here on this very blog NOT to do it. There are some hostels and guesthouses for the shorter pursestrings, of which Whalers on the Point is a good option…

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Mountain Biking the Cumberland Trails

Cumberland trails are awesome! Drive up the main street, past the Riding Fool Hostel and Dodge City Cycles, and the access to 150 acres of the Cumberland Community Forest is right there. The trails are all mapped and graded from green to black diamond, and you can easily spend a full day riding.

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My buddy Sarah and I went for a quick ride the other day, which meant two hours instead of four or five. Every ride starts out with a long climb up the gravel logging road (seems like every post on this blog starts with that!!). The main section of trails is composed mostly of intermediate blue, making it challenging but do-able. There are a lot of roots, and some areas are rocky, and you come across trials and jumps all over the place. I like working on a few trails over and over again, until I can ride the whole thing without touching down.

After a bit of a climb, we cut out onto Missing Link. It ends up at a great viewpoint over Comox and Georgia Strait, across to the mountains on the mainland.

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After some downhill, we joined up with Two & A Juice, which then comes out at the bottom of Buggered Pig. If you’re ever in a real hurry, a good half hour to 45-minute loop is to climb Buggered Pig, a trail full of roots and raised skinnies, and then bomb down smooth, cruisy Bronco’s Perseverance. But anyway. We climbed BP, attempting some of those bridges and skinnies along the way. From there we had a long climb, back on the gravel again, up to Sykes Bridge. We were planning on going all the way up to Blue Collar, but ran out of time, and ended up jumping on Teapot instead. That plus That Dam Trail gave us some sweet downhill, bringing us out at Allen Lake. From there it was home-time, and we took the gravel road straight down. 

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The next thing I want to do is skip all the middle trails, and climb all the way up to Blue Collar to start with. Has anyone done Blue Collar to Double Pumper to 50:1? That looks like a good ride. What’s your favourite route on the Cumberland trail? I highly recommend picking up a bike map at Dodge City Cycles, and checking it out for yourself. 

Hiking Jack’s Peak

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There’s a lot of great alpine hiking and mountaineering access in the Pass, that stretch of highway between Tofino and the rest of the Island. 50-40, Mount Arrowsmith, Nahmint — there are tons of good ones. My friend Nathalie and I met up at Marion Main to access Jack’s Peak.

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Like most hikes in the area, the route starts with a long ascent on a deactivated logging road. In about two hours, we reached the hydro dam. From there, it’s a bushwhack, flagged periodically with pink tape. That, plus the use of a GPS, made the trail easy to find. The route is steep, and thick with brush, but it only takes half an hour or so. Despite all the brush, the forest was beautiful, and we even found a rare yew tree. I’ve seen yellow cedar over on the 50-40 hike, and I’m sure the Jack’s Peak area has it too.  

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IMG_2096The brush opens up onto mossy rocks, and a lookout over the lake. We didn’t actually continue up to Jack’s Peak that day, though. The lake was our goal, and we figured we’d decide how much more to do once we got there. What happened when we got there was awesome bright sunshine, and a really unusual warm breeze coming from across the lake. Instead of heading into the shadows to summit Jack’s Peak, we hung out on the moss in the sun for a leisurely hour, watching ravens and eagles, and planning a true ascent for next time. There’s a 12-hour loop you can do, heading up from the lake lookout to Jack’s Peaks, and on along Blak Ridge. But that day, we were happy to just soak up the sun. Gaia, Nathalie’s dog, seemed content too. She burrowed into a comfy spot and went to sleep. Nath puts a harness on her for longer hikes, in case of an injury, which has happened before. The harness has grips, which makes it easy for Nath to heft Gaia on top of her pack and carry her out if necessary. It chills Gaia out a little bit too, because when the harness goes on, Gaia knows she could be in for a long day of hiking, and she paces herself.

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We stopped halfway down, and had a great view of Pogo and Triple Peak. Nath’s boyfriend and another friend of ours were hiking Triple Peak on the same day. Checking out the summit with binoculars, we were actually able to see them on top of Triple Peak. Just lucky timing. We spent a while trying to zoom in and take a photo for them, magnified through the binoculars, but it didn’t really work. We finished the hike in tank tops, January feeling like June. Conditions were perfect that day. We said goodbye and took opposite turns on Highway 4; Nathalie back to Tofino, and me, home.

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Beach Day in Tofino

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A good thing about living in Port Alberni is that Tofino’s only an hour and a bit away. We were socked in with fog again in town, so we packed the car up and headed to one of our favourite beaches on the west-west coast, North Flo. I got my wetsuit on right away and went for a surf before the tide got too low. The forecast was 5 feet 18 seconds, and I could definitely feel the 18 seconds part. The current was strong, and just wading through ankle-deep water at the very beginning was a huge slog. I caught one good ride on the green out there, but I couldn’t make it out back no matter how hard I tried.

While I was in the water, Chris and the kids went foraging. They came back with about ten big mussels, which we roasted on the fire. Awesome snack! Then he threw on some zucchinis and shallots and one carrot (a special kid-request), along with some “meat grenades” he’d made the night before. Meat grenades are homemade hamburger, stuffed with red pepper and cheese. So good on the fire. These are the roasted mussels, shelled:

IMG_0643The kids found a driftwood fort, and set it all up with two bedrooms, a fireplace, and a shelf for weapons. K. and I played “burning lava” all the way to the river and back. That’s his name for the same game we used to play as kids: you run along the driftwood logs all down the beach, and can’t touch the ground. K. gave us three lives, and we came back to the fire with two each.

It was a beautiful west coast day. The sky was a deep blue, and eagles soared above us. Two ravens came and hung out in a nearby tree as well. I ran into some friends from Ukee down the beach, whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. They were out there with a beach fire as well, surf boards, and a couple of surf kayaks. They said they were having just as much trouble as I was in the surf that day, but they showed me a good spot to paddle out, and told me to wait till about half an hour after the turn in the tide. Even so, everyone’s second attempt was tough as well. I still didn’t get out back. The way I look at it, I just went for a really long swim yesterday! That’s how it is sometimes. Oh, and those few glory seconds on the green the first time out.

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We stayed till sunset. Chris built the fire up to raging for when I got out of the surf the second time, and the kids dragged a big piece of wood right down to the break and played around in the surge until somebody got a soaker. At almost-dark, we spread the coals out to leave no trace, and herded the kids up the beach, each of them trailing a glowing stick, tracing names and patterns in the sky. Waiting for us in Tofino was a crab dinner at Chris’s good friends’ house on South Chesterman beach. It was just a really great day from start to finish.

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Fossli Park Trail Hike

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Good thing I’d planned on a quick trip anyway, just a burn down the trail to the lake and back. Five minutes in, I came across a logger, who said there would be some blasting right beside the park, and I couldn’t go down. But I talked him into letting me go, promising not to be anywhere near the suspension bridge at 3 o’clock. He must have wondered what I was doing with my big pack on; I just wanted to hike with some extra weight. 

Fossli Park is a very small and beautiful provincial park, on Sproat Lake in the Alberni Valley. Referring to guidebooks, it’s notoriously hard to find, but I found a great regional link with perfect directions. Access is on a logging road, but the potholes aren’t too bad, and even a car with no 4WD could make it. 

The trail starts out on an old logging road, and then narrows into a real hiking trail and goes through the woods. Quiet and green, the well-used path leads to a suspension bridge over a river. I stopped there for a while and watched a merganser duck make its way upriver, until it stopped and rested in an eddy at the foot of a small waterfall. I waited to see if it would duck under and swim, or fly over, but it stayed in the eddy, so I moved on. 

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In about 20 minutes, I reached the lake. The whole Valley’s been fogged in lately, so I couldn’t see across. Everything was still and peaceful, and overhanging trees cast reflections on the calm water. There’s a small beach, and this would be a great summer spot for a day at Sprout Lake.

On the way back, I came across the logger again. He was checking the trail to make sure everyone was gone before the blast. We chatted for a bit, and he gave me a good piece of locals’ info. If you want to know of a great swimming spot nearby, and how to get to it, let me know!