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Building Confidence Hiking Six Days On The West Coast Trail

Guest Post by Angela Herman sharing her experience hiking along the West Coast Trail in Canada.

When Angela posted the pictures of her journey along the trail in The More-In-Me Women’s MOVEment Group this summer, I asked her to share her experience in more detail. This is her story of discovering ‘more’ of herself through this adventure.


Back sometime in fall 2017 my friend Michele was working on plans to move back home to beautiful British Columbia in Canada the next summer and of course that meant we were starting to make plans for all the adventures we would do together.

One that immediately came to mind was the West Coast Trail (WCT) on Vancouver Island. The WCT made its way onto our bucket list for no real profound reason other than the fact that it was simply recommended to us on numerous occasions (most notably her dad who has done it 3 times) for its challenging terrain but worthwhile coastal views. The reason we did it together is the more profound motive for conquering this multi-day hike. She is the friend who trained with me to do our first half marathon as a hypothermic half in Montreal, who stayed up late with me studying all those nights to complete our nursing degree and who ventured abroad with me to do our first big trip and volunteer nursing. Michele is my greatest adventure buddy and we couldn’t wait to be on the same side of Canada again and spend some quality time together. Our favourite memories are invested in travel and the outdoors so the WCT seemed like just the thing to make some more.

Planning: 

Planning for this trip does require some forethought as reservations begin in January but the actual hike is only open from May to September. When booking the hike I’d recommend to do this hike later in the summer. The trail runs through an area classified as a rainforest which means if you go in the spring you have a high risk of trekking through knee deep mud – fortunately, August was very dry and meant next to no mud for us! Another thing to consider when planning is where you want to start the trail. This hike is not a loop trail; you start in either Port Renfrew or Bamfield. You will have to take a bus back to the end you started at via bus, for an additional fee apart from the parks fee, unless you have family or friends willing to pick you up at the end. On the note of fees, budgeting for this trip is needed. The cost of any last minute gear, the ferry to Vancouver island, park entry fee, bus fee..etc can surprisingly add up – just something to keep in mind!

Other than the booking I really hadn’t done much to prepare. I was in the middle of finishing up a statistics course for most of the spring up until 2 weeks before we left. I knew nothing about the obstacles we were about to face on this multi-day hike until about that 2 weeks rolled around and oh.my.god. did I get nervous. Having done zero overnight hikes I read all the blogs and forums during those two weeks and was really hoping for the best when I took the ferry over to the island to meet Michele (whose parents live on the island and were kind enough to host me). I arrived on a Saturday for some last minute packing, checklist double checking and pep talks from her parents. We did our orientation to the trail on Sunday, learning about the wasp/bear hot spots, trail conditions and even how to decipher otter from cougar prints (ignorance was bliss for me and I just chose to assume that everything was an otter print…) and by Monday her parents were dropping us off like it was our first day of school – calming our nerves, wishing us well, hugs goodbye and making sure we were safely off on the pontoon that took us across the river to the trail head.

The WCT:

The start at Port Renfrew is considered the harder start to the trail with more roots, logs and bridges/ladders causing you to do about 1km per hour. The trail extending from Bamfield is more smooth sailing where we covered about 4km an hour. We started in Port Renfrew to get the “tougher” trail in first when our legs were still fresh despite meaning we’d be carting our packs full to the brim. As soon as we stepped off the pontoon we were greeted by the first of many ladders with at least 50 rungs. While I’m not one to be afraid of heights, that ladder had me on the verge of vertigo, channeling my inner yogi breath to ground me and focusing on keeping three points of contact at all times. Once at the top I crawled over the last rung onto the trail head, threw my back pack off and laughed while thinking “wtf did we get ourselves into”. Surprisingly, seeing Michele and our fellow hikers feel much the same as they reached the top of that first ladder (fun fact: only 75 hikers are allowed on the trail each day) it actually reassured me that hey, maybe I could do this? I wasn’t alone in feeling overwhelmed, we were by no means the least fit of the bunch and if we did that ladder how much worse could it get? Our bags were going to get lighter as food dwindled and each step would bring us closer to the last km. It was this attitude I think that got us through those 7 days. Reflecting back, I still think this was the best trail head to start with as it was nice to finish the 6 night hike with an easier trail and lighter packs. 

While having some hiking experience and regular exercise in your daily life is important, a key prerequisite in my opinion, to complete this 75km hike is to mentally prepare. I did little to no physical preparation besides my regular 5 – 10km runs and the odd day at the gym or yoga. The terrain and obstacles are varied, and you need to be prepared to wade rivers, climb ladders, use cable cars, cross suspension bridges, negotiate sandy beaches, steep slopes, roots, and toppled trees. Michele and I read up about the trail on blogs, books and Parks Canada to really know what we were getting ourselves into (but again only about 2 weeks before we started…oops!). I highly recommend reading up on what you’re getting yourself into as knowledge is power and it really helped my friend and I keep a good attitude the whole way (which is pivotal when you’re climbing a 60 rung ladder with a 40lb back pack). We knew it would be hard, we knew we would be tired at times, we knew we might get rained on, we knew we would have to cross the above obstacles but we also knew that with some deep breaths and laughter we could get up those ladders, cross those bridges and that we were so lucky to experience the west coast and this trail and that kept a smile on our faces. As my Aunt Laurie always says “where your focus goes energy flows” and that couldn’t be more true on the West Coast Trail.

Community: 

While the scenery was amazing, one of my favorite parts of the whole trail was the social aspect. The trail is by no means busy but it is peppered with fellow hikers coming around bends you and you start to recognize people along the trail that you’ve been playing leap frog with across the trail or that you saw at the previous campsite. You then start rooting for each other, checking in on how their day is going, sharing tips of obstacles to come for hikers coming from the other direction and wishing each other happy trails as each group departs in the morning for their next marker.

For us, there was a particular group of 7 and a father and son duo (the son being only 10 years old and didn’t complain once!) that started on the pontoon the same day as us. We crossed paths regularly on the first 3 days. On the third night Michele and I set up camp (all camp sites are allocated along the beach – think falling asleep and waking up to nothing but the sound of crashing waves) and we made ourselves a fire. There were many structures up from previous hikers with drift wood wind breakers, string up for a clothes line and stone fire pits. That night, having been the first to show up at the site, Michele and I scored probably the best site on the beach with all these items already set up. The group of 7 and the father-son duo admired our snag and joined us to dry their clothes and share life stories, and a little fireball, over the fire.

This was one of two of my favorite days of the whole trek. It consisted of the most varied trail, we had beautiful sunshine, and we had made some new friends that would cross the last km with us singing “ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low”. While the end had a smoother trail, it was by no means a give away and crossing that last kilometer was the second most memorable moment. It was our first real day of rain which made the remaining 30 – 60 rung ladders slippery, our feet were tired, our hair and bodies ached for a proper shower – but it was so satisfying to encourage each other over that last km, to sing our way to the end and to high five our 7 day accomplishment with our new friends.

Confidence Through Accomplishment: 

It is an understatement to say I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and that  I would highly recommend it to anyone. It was my first overnight hike and I felt safe given the well-marked trail and given that there were enough hikers around you, you never had to worry about getting help if needed. As long as you give yourself  a little wiggle room for completion time, it is definitely doable with the right preparation, mindset and adventure buddy.

My intention for 2018 was confidence. To build confidence and to be confident in myself. There are so many things that get put on my bucket list that I simply never get to because I’m too nervous to try or I let all of life’s expectations be in the way. I’ve been more selfish in making more “me time” by signing up for courses I never thought I could do well in, learning skills I’m not strong or naturally gifted at and trying experiences I have never done before. I left this hike with an obvious feeling of achievement and it was just another example to myself that I am more physically and mentally capable than I give myself credit for – Again, as Laurie would say: there is more in me.

My go to WCT sources:

https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/activ/activ6a

Blisters and Bliss: The Trekker’s Guide to the West Coast Trail by David Foster and Wayne Aitken

 
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