North Coast Trail 27/06/09

Su-Laine on the North Coast and Cape Scott trails:
“Magnificent location, no crowds, more adventure than we’d hoped for. After a 7 pm ferry to Nanaimo, our group of five got on a 10 am water taxi in Port Hardy, and by noon on Saturday were on the white sand beach in Shuttleworth Bight. A quick walk took us to Irony Creek, where we set up camp and dropped the weight from our packs, then spent the afternoon walking on the beach eastward and back.

From Sunday to Tuesday, we backpacked to Laura Creek (11.8 km), Nissen Bight (7.5 km), and Guise Bay (10 km). The trail alternates between beach and forest sections, with one cable car across a river. The mud was deep in places but the trail was easy to moderate in difficulty. The more difficult parts of the NCT, which we didn’t do on this trip, are at the east end. The beaches are teeming with tide-pool life and colourful seaweeds. After setting up camp at Guise Bay, three of us took an afternoon walk to the Cape Scott lighthouse where we were greeted with enthusiasm, Freezies, and a canteen of junk food and cold pop (bring your wallet!).

On Wednesday morning, we packed up for our 10 am water taxi pickup, feeling a little over-privileged for taking this luxury and for our amazingly good luck on the trip: near-perfect weather, and having had three campsites and their huge gorgeous beaches all to ourselves. Our mood changed when the boat didn’t arrive that morning, or afternoon, or evening. It took a frustrating day to make contact with the water taxi operator via borrowed satellite phone, and to find that rough seas to the east were making a pickup impossible that day and probably the next as well. Our best option was to walk 18 km to the Cape Scott trailhead where we could meet an arranged ride out. We looked at the maps, waited for scattered group members to return, and made a quick decision to try to hike to a campsite 8.5 km down the trail that evening. By then it was 8 pm. We covered the distance in 2 hours and set up tents in the last rays of sunlight. On Thursday morning, we did the rest of the hike out in 3.5 hours and made it back to Port Hardy in time for showers, a quick meal, and a sprint to the 9:35 pm ferry home.

I’d planned our original itinerary as a way to cram 4 full days in prime scenery into just 5 days. But if I were to do it over again I would have arranged for a vehicle or bus ride at the trailhead, with a hike out to it, instead of a boat pickup which is much more weather-dependent. The original Cape Scott trail has been improved a lot recently and we found it relatively easy. If you do arrange for a boat pickup, work out a contingency plan with the operator before you leave, carry a satellite phone (not just a VHF radio), and bring enough extra food for what could be a long wait. But however you do it, the North Coast Trail is an incredibly beautiful place, and I feel lucky to have seen it with a great group of people. It is also, for now, a remote place. We didn’t see another person until the third evening of the trip.

Things we saw: sea otters – colourful characters at the Cape Scott lighthouse – a beaver – Craig throwing oatmeal at John – black bears – sunlight on the beach at 10:45 pm.”

Deb on the beach

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