Day 8: Thrasher Cove to Port Renfrew
We woke up just before midnight to the sound of rain. It was composed of small drops, judging by the sound, but there sure were a lot of them. We sat up and listened. The rain was getting stronger. I turned on my headlamp and took a quick video (for the audio) to document the event, and then we both looked around the tent to make sure our gear was nice and dry under the vestibule covering. I zipped open the tent door and peered around outside. The big 10×10 foot tarp that Vicki had set up over the tent yesterday afternoon was working perfectly! The huge driftwood logs around our tent were all soaking wet but our tent was nice and dry. It was like we had a tent inside a tent. We turned off the headlamps and enjoyed the sound of the droplets in the dark. There was a tree above us, and soon the bigger drops from the leaves began plopping down on the tarp, adding a random rhythmic sound to the night. It’s a great feeling to be all warm and dry in your own cozy tent when the rain is falling outside. It was only supposed to rain a quarter inch or so overnight, and since it was midnight and the rain seemed to be showing no signs of letting up, we settled back down under our warm sleeping bag and drifted off to sleep.
Video in the dark of our tent as the rain began to fall
The rain came and went all night long. Every so often it would rain harder and I would wake up again. That’s when I unzipped the door and checked the tarp. Was the rain pooling on it? Would the entire thing collapse and let gallons of water come gushing toward the tent? I reached up and pushed on the tarp. It was taut, but not too bad. I pushed up and heard the sound of splashing as a cup or two of water poured off the lower corner. It appeared to be pooling a tiny bit, but it was so far down near the bottom that it was draining off the excess by itself. That was quite a relief. And then we went back to sleep again. Vicki had done a great job setting up that tarp.
The rain kept waking us up again and again. Finally, we woke to discover some light in the sky. We decided to get packing right away. We were able to do almost all of it from inside the tent, so it went swiftly. We got out our SealSkinz waterproof socks and put them on. Our shoes were certain to get soaked on the hike, so there was no point in even trying to keep them dry. Everything in the forest was going to be soggy and dripping, even if the rain stopped right away. Which it didn’t. In fact, it showed no signs of letting up. Vicki went out to get our food from the bear box while I packed up the last of the sleeping gear. We put our final no-cook breakfast in our pockets and began the final packing. We took down the tent and rolled it up. It was almost entirely dry. I wouldn’t be carrying an extra pound of water this time! Yes! We put the finishing touches on our backpacks and proceeded to do the final step: Taking down the tarp. We untied it and shook as much water off it as we could without getting it all sandy, then folded it up and stuck it in the outer mesh pocket of my backpack. I guess I’d be carrying a bit of water-weight after all. But it was all good.
We headed toward the trailhead and met one of our neighbors, who graciously took a photo of us standing on the beach in the rain. In fact, it was raining so much that I decided to put my Canon DSLR into a dry bag for safety. I stowed it deep inside my pack, so most of the day’s photos were taken using my phone.
We looked around the camp. People were busy trying to get things together as best they could. We weren’t the first ones to leave that morning, either. The rain had woken everyone. I spoke to another gentleman we’d met, and he said that he had camped up in the trees on a dirt spot, and that the rain had pooled and flooded his tent, so that his sleeping bag was soaked. I found out later that it had rained over an inch that night, way beyond the forecast, and I realized how great it was to camp on a sandy beach. All the rain drains away like magic!
It was 7:30am. Time to start hiking. We’d heard that the final six kilometers of trail would take us about six hours. That would give us eight hours until the final boat ride at 3:30pm, and if we hurried we might make the 1:30pm boat. So that was our goal.
The hike began in classic West Coast Trail fashion: Climbing hundreds of feet on a series of steep wooden ladders. Followed by an absolutely soaking wet trail made of mud and roots and slippery logs. Every time we thought we’d finished climbing, another ladder would appear. Or we’d go downhill to cross a creek on a bridge, then climb back up all over again. We already knew that this would be the most difficult day on the entire trail, so we didn’t get dispirited. We just kept climbing. If anything, the rain was helping Vicki to stay cool, and she was doing great.
After a strenuous one kilometer hike, we made it to the main West Coast Trail intersection. The trail to Thrasher Cove was technically only a side trail, although most people tried not to go both up and down this part if they could avoid it. We took a short break and ate the rest of our breakfast. It was too wet to take a proper sit-down break, so we continued onward into the forest.
About a kilometer ahead was the trail’s highest point. When we spoke to the man who got flooded out (who’d hiked this trail before), he told us that after you reach the highest point, the rest of the trail was “All Downhill.” This turned out to be the biggest lie we’d been gullible enough to believe on the entire trek! He made it sound so easy, as if we’d already done the toughest part of the toughest day on the trail. Oh, how wrong he was!
Oh, there were, indeed, a few places with a smooth flat trail heading downward. I’ll freely admit that. And the fact that the hike ended at sea level meant that it had to be “all downhill” in theory. But, in reality, it was nothing but a grueling endlessly uphill and downhill hike for the next five hours, on a so-called trail that was so often not a trail at all!
Luckily, the rain eventually let up, and most of the trail stopped running with water. A mist began percolating through the forest, and everything was dripping. It was quite peaceful and beautiful. Every watercourse was flowing, often directly across the trail, but this didn’t matter all that much as our boots had been soaking wet for hours. They eventually stopped squishing a bit as we continued hiking. We finally stopped for a lunch break under an overhanging tree, but we didn’t stop for long. I kept looking at the GPS and realized that we were on pace to make the 1:30pm boat if we didn’t stop to rest very long. Otherwise, we’d be stuck at the river and have to wait almost two hours while still being soaking wet. We’d get too cold for sure if that happened. So on we hiked. And it was brutally hard, just like we’d been warned by the trail guide book.
Video of a wooden ladder and a small waterfall
Our hard work and unceasing effort paid off in the end. We arrived at the final ladder at the Gordon River trailhead at 1pm, with plenty of time to spare. We descended the ladder and arrived on the rocky shore near the mouth of the river. Then we took off our packs and waited for the boat. While we waited, the family that we’d shared an evening fire with three nights ago at Walbran Creek arrived and we had a joyous reunion. We were all happy that we made it through the rain, and we spoke about our immediate plans to stuff our faces with hamburgers and pizza.
It also turned out to be a good thing that we arrived early, because the boat showed up at 1:20pm, a full ten minutes ahead of schedule! The flat-bottomed boat had a cool ramp that the pilot lowered onto the rocky beach, so it didn’t need a dock. We all shouldered our packs and trooped on board, taking seats along each side. Then the pilot backed off the beach, and we left the West Coast Trail behind us for good. We motored upstream about a half mile or so, and pulled up to a dock at Butch’s Wharf. We were still wet, but we were back on dry land.
We hiked up the road to the Pacific Rim National Park Ranger Station at the Pacheedaht Campground. This was where northbound hikers checked in and took their orientation class when starting their trek. We were also expected to check out here, but that seemed less important to the rangers than issuing new permits. This building was also where the West Coast Trail Express Bus would pick us up in a few hours to take us back to our hotel in Victoria.
Meanwhile, since we had time to kill and were still soaking wet, Vicki and I spent some money on hot showers and laundry. What a luxury! I stayed in the shower waaaay too long, until Vicki began wondering if I was OK, because she wanted me to watch her pack while she cleaned up. Oops! I’d brought my entire pack into the shower room so I hadn’t worried at all. Oh well. So I got to sit and watch the clothes dryer as it worked on our hiking clothes. I was wearing my night clothing, so I was warm and happy. It turned out that they didn’t have much hot food at the campground store, let alone hamburgers, but we found a couple of items that were tasty enough. We decided to save our appetite for a restaurant in the city.
The bus arrived late, as it always did (of course), and we didn’t get back to our hotel until after 9pm. This was a bit late, but that was OK. We got our non-camping clothing out of storage, then ate in the restaurant in the hotel itself, which was a bit pricey, but we didn’t care. We didn’t have much time. We had to wake up at 3am to catch a 5:30am flight to San Diego! And that’s exactly what we did,
All in all, it had been a fun-filled week of backpacking, in one of the prettiest locations around. Both of us were extremely glad we’d come, and would recommend this hike to any experienced backpacker.
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page