Saturday, July 4, 2009

Juan de Fuca Trail Day Two 10 June 2009

This was the day of the hike I had been dreading the most; Bear Beach to Chin Beach. A little over 10 km long, it is rated as “very difficult.” Last September I hiked from Sombrio Beach in to Chin, a distance of 6 km and rated as “difficult,” a hike that had radically changed my perceptions of the JdF and my own fitness levels.

Chin Beach 2009

When I hiked from Sombrio to Chin, I had expected a challenge, but nothing like what I was confronted with. The first kilometre out of Sombrio is brutal, and by the time I made it to the old logging road at the high point of the trail, I'd climbed about 160 metres—much of it more than once. By the time I got to Chin Beach four hours later, I had used up all my energy reserves, and I ended up setting up camp and then sleeping for a couple of hours, quite exhausted from the hike. The next day I was facing either going back the way I'd come (no thank you!) or continuing into a section of trail I didn't know, but that was twice as long and rated as even more difficult. I ended up pulling the pin the next morning, hiking out to the highway some 200 metres above me ( a heavy climb, but the least objectionable alternative at the time).

Over the winter, I was certain that I wanted to hike the JdF, but that rating, “very difficult,” kept raising its head. The 10 km kept growing in difficulty in my head, getting longer, higher, and more wild. I thought about it, and the more I thought about it, the worse it got. So facing it on my second day out, well, I was not happy. In fact, I was very nervous.

When planning the hike, I had set aside 6-8 hours for this section of the trail. My thinking was to hike to the halfway point (or better, if I was lucky/strong enough) and then break for a good lunch and maybe a short nap before taking on the second half. I was looking forward to having finished this section, but I wasn't looking forward to doing the actual hiking. I ate breakfast, refilled my water bottles, and was on the trail just after 8:00 am.—and was on the beach at Chin at 12:30pm.

It's not that the hike wasn't hard, it was. It just wasn't brutal, and nowhere near as hard as I'd built it up to be in my mind. Going back over the map, I see that the trail never gets more than about 100 metres above the beach—only two-thirds the maximum height on the Chin to Sombrio section. I can't really figure out why it's rated as “very difficult,” except that its twice as long as the Chin-Sombrio section.

Beautiful, though. Some points look down on some lovely looking beaches, although there is no land access to them. My timing was apparently off, though. The couple who left 10 minutes behind me kept seeing Grey whales at the lookout points, while I only saw one seal lazing about while hunting the near-shore. The couple figured it was the same whales, moving down the coastline at about the same speed that they were. Mostly I was seeing the slugs, spiders and millipedes along the trail.

Slugs on the end of a log

This actually makes sense; I was more focused on the microcosm rather than the macrocosm (well, maybe not the micro-, but at least the “small-cosm”), just as the outward journey of the hike was reflecting the more inner-directed journey I was on. There was a tremendous amount of inner monologue going on in my head, liberated by the physical demands of the hike. It was very difficult to achieve the state of inner silence, of “just being” while hiking.

I also spotted a couple of red squirrels along the trail. At first I thought they were immature greys, but as I got a better look, I realized my mistake. The Grey squirrels are an imported, invasive species that are driving the red's out of their traditional territory, driving down their numbers until they are a threatened species in Canada.

Red Squirrel

This should actually be a self-limiting problem; the Red squirrels are small (about half the size of the Greys) and are supposed to taste bad. But the Greys are not only larger, but are actually quite tasty. So one could eat local and help re-balance the local environment. But just as with the feral rabbits up at the University of Victoria, there's the Bambi factor at play. People don't want to kill anything cute. And they certainly don't want anyone else to kill anything that's cute. The fact that both the Grey squirrels and the rabbits are massively destructive bits of unharvested protein that would be better in a stew pot than running around loose, doesn't matter. They're cute, and mustn't be killed. Just ask the seal hunters about how that plays out (okay, the seal hunt is based on false reasoning and is pretty stupid, but the opposition isn't based on sense, but the Bambi factor—which is why pictures of big-eyed whitecoats are used by the opposition, even though the whitecoat harvest was banned decades ago).

Camping on Chin Beach isn't the same as it was ten months ago; then I was alone until the morning, when who surfers appeared out of the bush at 7:30am. Now, early June and there are well over a dozen hikers in the campsites tonight. The mountains across the Strait are sheathed in mist all day—a mist that turns out to be smoke drifting down from forest fires hundreds of kilometres north of us. As if to relieve my frustration at being so crowded when I would rather be alone, I spot whales spouting off the point a kilometre or so northwest of the campsite.

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