Monday, June 22, 2009

Juan de Fuca Trail Day One 09 June 2009

Up at 5:00 am which, sadly, is not that uncommon for me. Wake Paula (who doesn't take to 5:00 am well), toss my backpack in the back of the (borrowed) car (there was no public transit from our place early enough) , and off to breakfast at Tim Horton's and the bus depot. Paula pulled away and ½ an hour later, I was on the West Coast Trail Express.
There were only five of us aboard, and I was the only one bound for the JdF instead of the WCT. Which I was quite happy about. Got dropped at the China Beach trail head about 7:45 am and walked down the drive and onto the trail. No worries,eh? The first stage of the hike is through the trees for 2 km to Mystic Beach. Some gentle climbs and drops, some hints of what is to come, but still an easy hike.
Mystic Beach is gorgeous. Waterfall, and sea caves dug into the sandstone by logs and waves. It's been 2 decades since I was last here—then, ripped to the tits on mushrooms. Now? Hoping that endorphins and Advil® will get me through the next five days.
Waterfall on Mystic Beach
I stopped to fill my water bottle at a creek-fed pool, and as I was pumping water through my filter, there was this ungodly noise, followed by the appearance of 2 mink engaged in a territorial dispute. The one not winning the argument kept right on going, but the other stopped cold and stared at me, clearly wondering if I needed to be taught a similar lesson. Eventually he did back off, but not until after subjecting me to a long measured stare from 2 or 3 metres away. Quite the auspicious start to my first attempt at the whole JdF.
Cave in the sandstone cliff, Mystic Beach
It was easy to cross Mystic—the beach is mostly sand. And it was easy to spot the trail entrance. The next 6 km or so is listed as a “moderate” hike and I would agree. Plenty of up and down, but not too steep or high. Most of the bridges have handrails—although work is still being done to clean up from the winter storms (something that would become more of an issue as the hike continued. Some of the bridges are logs salvaged out of the bush and flattened on one face with a chainsaw, and then cut on opposing diagonals to give at least the semblance of drainage and grip.
Reminder of the origins of the JdF as a lifesaving trail
This use of salvage is a significant one; BC Parks doesn't have the budget to repair, never mind upgrade, the JdF. Originally, the trail improvements were done by a crew of local First Nations youth on an employment program. The improvements (bridges, boardwalks, steps, etc.) were necessary not only for hiker safety (a good thing, as getting in to haul people out is not easily accomplished), but also to protect the trail and wilderness. The rainfall here is measured in metres (most of it occupying in about a four month period) so things like steps built into the slopes don't just help hikers, but help prevent the trail itself from becoming a river and eroding the slope into a new gully or wash. At the north end, between Botanical Beach and the campsite at Payzant, the boardwalk serves to protect a rather fragile temperate rainforest environment from pounding feet.
Bridge over Ivanhoe Creek
But the lack of funds for maintenance and repair means that the two (two!)guys who do all the work on keeping up the 47 kms of trail (including outhouse and campsite maintenance, as well as trail repair) are left scrambling. There are no materials for proper repair, so they are continually salvaging fallen wood to bridge streams or soggy areas, or simply to repair damaged or rotted-out parts of previous improvements. As one said to me, “It's fine for the trail to be a wilderness trail. But where there are improvements, the assumption is that they're safe. It's not good when someone's foot goes through a step that's rotted out.” And there are steps missing in places. And in places, the rebar used to pin landscape ties in place for steps and erosion control is now poking up 15 to 30 mm above the ties, creating tripping and fall hazards. Thankfully, these have all been flagged, making them visible and less of a problem. And between Chin and Sombrio Beaches, one entire slope has pretty much been washed away, and the trail with it. The current fix? Two staged 15 metre ropes to help get you up or down the slope.
The use of salvage has its problems as well. The log bridges, being logs, are subject to the same forces that are continually renewing the forest itself. This means that they get moss and algal growth on them, rotting away the crosscut treads and making the surface slippery. In some places log rounds have been used to make steps across springs and muddy areas. Eventually these go black with mold and become extremely slippery, often being more dangerous to walk on than sinking shin-deep in the mud would be. And yeah, I did wipe out on one.
Dollars were promised for trail repair by the Campbell government last year, and some of it even came through—but nowhere near what was promised. And during the recent election campaign it came out that 50 positions were being cut from Parks—that's about 20% of the workforce. But for some reason, the multi-billion dollar boondoggle that is the Winter 2010 Olympics carries on, unfazed. Not saying that there's a relationship, just saying that the accounting around the Olympics is shrouded and Parks is being cut, while the economy's tattered remains flap forlornly in the breeze. Tourism's down, logging's collapsed (again), and global warming has made it even odds whether there will even be any snow for the Games. I suspect that Gordon Campbell will become B.C.'s “Pregnant Premier,” as Jean Drapeau became Montreal's Pregnant Mayor after saying that “the Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.” Gordon Campbell will have his legacy. The only thing up for discussion is how big a burden it will be on the taxpayers and citizens of the province.

By the time you've hiked from Mystic to Bear Beach, you've ended up climbing quite a bit, so the last few hundred metres of trail exiting onto Bear Beach is quite a drop. The section is improved with stairs and handrails and such, but the idea of climbing it first thing in the morning heading the opposite direction is definitely unappealing. Of course, it's pretty much identical to every morning's departure from a beach—it's always uphill and it's always steep.
Bear Beach is a very long hike from end to end. And it's not necessarily the distance—the beach is a boulder, rock, and pebble beach, making it an awkward, frustrating, and ankle-threatening hike. There are formal camping areas at each end of the beach, each with outhouses and food caches. I couldn't imagine trying to hike the length of the beach first thing in the morning and then taking to the trail.
Hiking the beach itself, I very quickly met a bear—a young black bear apparently trying to transit from trail to trail. He had trouble getting my scent, but he could hear me as I made a very large circle around him, and he eventually headed back up the trail he'd come down.
The beach itself is very interesting. The cliffs facing the ocean are sandstone, and so are carved into beautiful curves and shapes by the ocean and weather. I know that when I think about sandstone, I think of layers of silts and sands being laid down and slowly concretizing. Here it is the opposite; here the sand is being washed out of the cliffs. All the rocks, pebbles, and the sand that are the beach on top of the sandstone shelf that extends out into the ocean come from the cliffs. The sandstone is creating sand, rather than being created by it.
I ended up camping near Ledingham Creek, in front of Rock-On-A-Pillar, which is exactly what it sounds like; a hoodoo similar to those in Southern Alberta.
Rock-On-A-Pillar, Bear Beach

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