Saturday, September 4, 2010

It's going a little something like this...

We're on the road... and just arrived in Williams Lake. There are a lot of horses here. Over the past week or so I've been keeping notes and taking photographs (of course). So, here's what I have to say...

The North Coast Trail

First Day – Shuartie Bay to Cape Subtil.  We were dropped off by the Cape Scott Water Taxi, in the rain. The boat ride over from Port Hardy had been fantastic in itself, we had porpoises surfing our wake on the way over... it was amazing to look down into the water and see the animals speeding ahead of us. I managed to get a few photographs of splashes where a porpoise had just been. A couple getting picked up by the boat gave their verdict of the trail: “wet”. Crossing the slippery rocks and trying to fill out our BC Parks registration and re-fold the map in the rain was a little frustrating, as was walking off in the wrong direction for the first 10 minutes. Once we had got on track, passed the family group who came in with us for an eight day trip, and got ourselves dressed for the warm and wet conditions (gaiters, board-shorts, and rain jacket) we started making good progress. The mud was deep... real boot-losing mud. There were some treacherous wooden steps clinging to the mud in places which gave us a break from hopping around mud holes, and boardwalks over the sections of marsh-land with weird stunted forest growing in it. Later we were told that there in a surprising amount of old-growth forest on the Island (I thought the whole place had been logged). Because of the poor soil in some places, the trees are small but hundreds of years old and aren't of any interest for logging.  We met two girls who were on the last stretch of their hike, heading in the opposite direction, and who had done the route in 4 and a half days (our plan too), so we at least knew what we wanted to do was possible.

We passed by a potential camping spot of the day (probably where we should have stopped) and made our first cable-car crossing. After hauling the car back from the other side of the river and hauling ourselves and our pack back again we had both tired arms and legs. But... we carried on. Once on the coast we were hopping between tiny beaches, clambering up steep muddy slopes and lowering ourselves from trees down the other side. There was a water source marked on the map, but where was it? We crossed a dry creek. Oh dear. Fortunately we found the water source in the next and I added another 10kg to my pack, which is just what I wanted at that point. At last we reached Cape Subtil, and despite being on the end of a 10 hour day of hiking through deep mud we took in the fantastic deserted beach, and even found that there was a food cache and outhouse where we expected nothing. We set up camp, ate dinner, and started a reluctant campfire to end a long day.

Second Day – Cape Subtil to Shuttleworth Bight. We were determined to have a less fearsome day of hiking, and just needed to make it to the next campsite on the trail. It happened that this was for me the best portion of the trail too. Almost all day we were hopping across tiny beach, then back into the forest, climbing over logs... onto the rocks, looking in rock-pools, and back into the forest again. Our easy day still took around 6 hours, but that felt like nothing compared to Day 1. The campsite was hidden away in the trees so we set ourselves up a clothes drying and cooking area on the beach before we retired into the forest fr the night. We kept a look-out for whales swimming by, but they must have all been hiding. We did get a great sunset with the silhouette of a fishing boat... one of the only signs of other people we had seen since the first morning.

Third Day – Shuttleworth Bight to Nissen Bight. Whilst nothing compared to our first day, this was another long one. Very long beaches... some of which were a strange spongy (and smelly) mixture of dead seaweed mixed up with pebbles. The beach markers for the trail were all old buoys, broken free from their anchors and hug in the trees to mark the entry and ext to the beaches. Most of the other human detritus washed up on the beaches was fishing related too... which somehow seemed more appealing that the usual beach junk. Of course there were logs too. When I first came to BC I was amazed by the size and number of logs on the beaches, but now I couldn't imagine it without them. I love finding logs with old holes bored in them, and rusty staples and chains attached. I got to take some photographs of rusty metal, which is a beautiful thing (to me at least). 

Fourth Day – Nissen Bight to Eric Lake. Whilst we had officially ended the North Coast Trail at Nissen Bight, complete with it's fishing-net volleyball court, hammock, and hanging chair (among other driftwood and fishing-debris furniture), we had a few more things to see. Eric Lake had a Ewok Village style camping arrangement of tent pads connected with wooden boardwalks. We had a quick dip in the lake but both quickly got too cold to brave swimming. We were tantalisingly close to Cape Scott at this point and could have made it out there if we had made another long day... but decided against it. We will come back with kayaks for that one! Our last morning of hiking was spent heading out to San Josef Bay, which is a beautiful beach. Small rocky islands stand on the end of sand bars, and at low tide we were able to walk out to them. The beach apparently gets good surf in the winter...

We were picked up by the shuttle van for the trip back to Port Hardy. Apparently only about 600 people will have hiked the North Coast Trail this year, but that number has grown dramatically in the few years since the trail was built. Along with the Juan de Fuca and West Coast Trail the North Coast is a punishing, but beautiful journey. Barely making over 1km per hour on our first day was hard, but you have to measure this trail in hours, not distance.

Back in the Saddle Again.

Phase... err, three? of our trip began by rolling off the ferry on a damp morning in Bella Coola.  By not checking the ferry schedule we had a nice surprise visit to Bella Bella, en route... followed by a good sleep on the floor of the ferry. The day before had been punctuated by eating, and running over to whichever side of the boat whales were swimming past at the time. Not a bad way to pass 20 hours.

We rolled into Bella Coola at a rather early hour of the morning, but did a bit of “sighseeing”, hen headed for the cafe for a giant breakfast. It turned out we would need this later on. Bella Coola was a moist, but pretty mountain town, with steep mountains all around. Arriving by bike made us an instant conversation piece in the cafe (as it does everywhere else) and we got plenty of advice. The most useful piece turned out to be “get out of the valley before dark”... due to bears. There are an unusual number of salmon in the rivers this season and we'd seen then jumping by the ferry dock at Bella Bella. After another chance meeting on the road with a bear-tour operator on our way up the Bella Coola valley, we decided to tackle “The Hill” - 60km of unpaved road with a fierce 5000ft climb. We'd been told there was a good spot to camp half way up if we needed it, and we'd be out of the way of the bears.

The Hill was a monster. Heavily loaded bikes didn't help, but we plugged away at it and were at the camping spot far earlier than expected... so we filled up our bottles with glacier water and made a charge for Anahim Lake, and the start of the paved road. The plateau at the top of the climb was beautiful, with snow-capped peaks of the Rainbow Range all around and lakes by the road side. We maybe saw a handful of cars all day. I got the first (and so far only) flat tire of the trip, which led to a bit of strategic duct-taping the next morning to repair my slashed tire. If we were going to do much more of this, we would need beefer treads, but the paved road was so close... and we made it.

We arrived in Anahim Lake to find... not much. We did fine the best gas-station in the world though, who sold us chocolate milk, homebrewed beer, and a cinnamon bun. Plus they gave us directions to Escott Bay Campsite, a frustrating 7km of unpaved road away... but so worth it. We camped by the lake, and were able to cook and eat in an indoor shelter, compete with indoor fire-pit (exempt from the fire ban). Very content, we got a good night's sleep after a 150km and over 11 hours of travelling. Anahim Lake's only cafe (Donna's Place) doesn't open until 11am, but Donna was very friendly and sold us coffee and cakes at 9am. This is a happy situation for bike tourists.

Day two was a lot easier than Day one, riding on mostly a gentle downward slope for 116km to Graham's Inn at Tatla Lake. We loaded our stomachs with nachos, beer, and fries... we rolled the last 15km to the lakeside campsite. Another beautiful night of camping, and some dubious dried food later, we were still feeling good and 1 day ahead of schedule.

Our third day brought us about another 100km closer to Williams lake, through some of the areas of Highway 20 hit by recent forest fires. It was sad to see the devastated forest, with smoke still blowing across the road in places. We know from people we have met along he way that it has been much worse than this lately and e are lucky to be passing through now, and not two weeks ago.

Tomorrow we should arrive in Williams Lake, and are planning a day off (with our hard-earned spare day) before we tackle the West Fraser Road up to Quesnel... avoiding Highway 97. Then it's on to Wells and ditching the bikes for a canoe!