After making it to our son (Jordan) and daughter-in-law’s place on Vancouver Island, we immediately began final preparations to hike the Juan de Fuca Trail. It’s a 47-km backwoods hike that includes moderate and difficult stretches. We really didn’t know what to expect, other than expect the unexpected and be prepared.
Our daughter-in-law, Danielle, borrowed camping equipment from her family members to outfit two pairs of hikers: Angela and I and our daughter, Amanda, and her husband, Kelly. Equipment that was borrowed included one-burner stoves, cooking and eating utensils, compact sleeping bags, light-weight air mattresses and two tents. We purchased dehydrated food and energy snacks such as trail mix, beef jerky, and dried fruit. To this we added the fruit leather I had prepared at Maple Creek.
Then began the job of carefully packing everything into backpacks while trying to keep the weight manageable. Our packs weighed 35-40 pounds when they were fully loaded. It does not sound like a lot of weight until a person begins climbing over 30-inch fallen trees, dodging bog holes or scrambling up and down steep slopes using roots and rocks for hand and footholds.
We made good time for the first three kilometres and then something unexpected occurred. One member of our party slipped on a downhill and strained a knee joint. After assessing the injury and being assured it would not be an issue, we continued onward. However, after hiking a couple of more kilometres, the knee failed again. We were hoping to complete 14 kilometres on the first day, but quickly realized we had to adjust our plans or turn back. We sojourned onward, but at a much slower pace and reached the first available campsite at Payzant Creek just before supper time. It was at the seven-km point (half the distance we hoped to travel on the first day) and had been overrun by a 30-person youth group that was using most of the campsites.
As we scanned the forest below us for an empty campsite, a hiker told us how to find one remaining site. We followed his instructions and found not one, but two empty spots which we quickly claimed. As we were setting up camp, hikers continued to arrive and search for places to stay. Taking pity on a family of six (that included two small children), Amanda and Kelly moved their tent to our campsite. The sites were small and tree roots and rocks made much of the area unfit for pitching a tent, so they set up their tent on a wide spot on the trail adjacent to our campsite.
With no wood or safe place to start a campfire, we opted to use our camp stoves. It was then we discovered that one would not connect to a new canister of fuel we had purchased and a second one did not want to fire up. However, we finally prevailed thanks to persistence and patience which resulted in only one close call when the burner ignited in a ball of flame while it was being inspected. I do not recall Kraft dinner and smokies ever tasting as good as they did that night. While our accommodations were a little tight, the view from our location was fantastic. I dubbed it the honeymoon site as it overlooked a 40-foot waterfall that was accessible using a rope that was attached to a tree half-way down the hillside below us.
Our plans changed that night after we discussed hiking distances, realistic expectations and possibly ending the hike prematurely due to the knee injury. After a sound sleep, we agreed Amanda and Kelly would go ahead and hopefully make up the distance needed in order to complete the four-day hike on time. It’s important to complete the hike as planned since each participant must register at the start of the trip, and informing anyone of changes is almost impossible due to a total lack of cellular phone service. However, we did hear of one 9-1-1 call that was somehow picked up by an American phone company and routed to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Day two dawned with a cold breakfast of oatmeal and dried blueberries since we opted to save time and not boil the water. It tasted better than anticipated. Staying hydrated was not an issue as there were creeks along the trail, but each party was responsible to treat or filter the water to ensure they did not contract Beaver Fever. We used tablets that kill living organisms in water within 30 minutes. Since our group was splitting up, we divided up the food equally and gave the one working stove to the pair of hikers that hoped to complete the journey on time. Angela and I opted to proceed cautiously with hopes of somehow getting a message to our oldest son to pick us up at the half-way point.
As Angela and I prepared to hit the trail, we discovered a little creature had chewed a hole in the backpack she borrowed. It was searching for nuts that were in a Ziploc bag. The snacks had been overlooked when all our food was taken to a food cache before turning in for the night. Thankfully it was a little critter and not a bear that was attracted to our site.
On the second day, we cautiously traveled another seven kilometers through some beautiful and moderately-difficult terrain – it was a challenge, especially when compared to most hikes on the prairies. A serious injury that required evacuation in such an environment would be difficult since there are very few spots where a helicopter could drop a lifeline through the trees. In my opinion, the best option would be a sea rescue if the injured party could make a descent to a beach and somehow get over the rocks to a landing craft or be the lucky recipient of an airborne rescue – now that would be a real exciting adventure. Stay tuned.