Vancouver Island: Trauma on a West Coast Trail Backpacking Trip

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Vancouver Island: Trauma on a West Coast Trail Backpacking Trip

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    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member


    Companion forum thread to: Vancouver Island: Trauma on a West Coast Trail Backpacking Trip

    Vancouver Island and I are on a collision course for a rematch. Here’s a story about my recent trials on a West Coast Trail backpacking trip.

    Mike Bozman


    Locale: BC

    Anything can and will happen on the WCT!  Did you read about this trip?



    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    Wonderful write up Emylene; I’m sorry for the outcome. As for hiking the west coast trail in the future…have you considered the coastal trail in Washington state that starts just across the Straights at Neah Bay? I believe that it’s a bit less crazy but has the whole wild beach and rain forest thing happening. Just a thought.

    edit: I realized later that I’m thinking about myself! I used to frequent Shi shi beach and others in Washington state and, like you, I’d like to return.

    BPL Member


    Great read.  Thank you for sharing.  Underscores the importance of a solid first aid kit

    eric lansford
    BPL Member


    Locale: PNW

    I have done this hike 4 times…each time is a blast and an adventure!

    Bummer about your knee…hate to hear your trip ended so early.


    Papa Sherpa


    Diane Pinkers
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Washington

    I’m pretty sure I’ll never tackle a trail as intense as this, but could you please list what was in your first aid kit? I go back and forth on what I need.

    Even hiking the beach in Olympic National Park is tricky. That’s enough for me.

    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    Amazing story! I dont think I’d be up for that trail, however beautiful. Did you have to pay for the rescue? That’s a lot of expense for the rescuers.

    BPL Member


    Oh, Wow…

    while reading this story  a lot of pictures came into my mind and I thought I could share a little of my WCT experience. In 1980, I was a young and naive guy, set out with a huge pack and my guitar from Germany, to explore Western Canada. While hitchhiking a guy told me about the WCT and because i had a lot of time,  I decided to go there. Had no idea whatsoever, I only knew where it was. I wanted to hike North South, because I was told, the more difficult part was the Southern part. So i went o Alberni, a town in the middle of the Vancouver Island, got a ride to the head of a 60 mile logging road leading to Bamfield. Since there were no buses naturally, I started walking but after a few hours got a ride and was dropped off at the northern trailhead. I walked to town, to get some food, and as I mentioned, “stupid” and naive, never hiked anywhere else than in Germany, i thought, a loaf of bread, a jar of jam (yes I remember that) some tea, some rice and gravy. Thought that will do. At that time the trail wasn’t so known, and I was the only one at the trailhaed. There was an information booth, where you could get a brochure showing the trail (I still have this), but no infos on the map, and a tide table and of course no permission. Parks Canada took over the train a few years later I think. . So I started hiking, with a huge backpack with everything i needed for travelling 6 months and of course, my accoustic guitar in a bag. No hiking poles naturally, and what an adventure it was. I hardly met any hiker on the trail, and I remember the cable cars (don’t know if they are still exisiting) where you pull yourself across the river, and the difficulties I had to hold the cable car with one hand, while trying to get out the heavy pack and guitar. And I remember being soaked within minutes on the trail, I remember the hardship of hiking either in the mud, or hiking in deep sand (I preferred the mud) and calling the ferryman at this one big river, who wondered that anybody would hike the trail that early, and I remember Logan Bridge who was crashed by a tree and you had to climb down on a rope, cross the river, and climb up again on the other side. And I remember the little cabin ( I think it was called Klamath River) with the stove inside and I how nice it felt the next morning to wear dry clothes, which of course, lasted 2 minutes. And I remember all those trees that blocked the trail and weren’t removed, instead they were just flattened and you would balance on it, carefully, cause very slippery. But most of all I remember the excitement, the Joy, the Happiness and the freedom I experienced.

    I made it in 4 nights, 5 days, arriving in Port Renfrew very tired and very exhausted, and most of all, very hungry. I can’t remember seeing any campsite around there, so I kept walking the road, hoping I might get a ride, which eventually happened. A father and his son picked me up and actually, took me all the way to Vancouver and even let me stay at their house where I had the best sleep in my life before getting back on the road again with my huge Backpack and my  guitar…

    Only to come back a year later, smaller Pack, no guitar and better prepared, to hike the trail again

    Well I guess i was carried away a bit while writing, but while can happen… I guess…after all, it was my first serious hike I ever did.


    Mike M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Montana

    thanks for the report and wish you a speedy recovery

    the first I heard of the trail was Joe Grant’s account of running it (and swimming) in a day- Wow!

    john cremer
    BPL Member


    Emylene,  Thank you for sharing this good story: It is well told and photo documented. All the best to you with wishes for a full recovery and many more hikes in the future.


    Eric Blumensaadt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mojave Desert

    Emylene, you have GUTS! Even in my prime I doubt if a trail this difficult would have attracted me. I once skied the Canadian Ski Marathon, one hundred miles in two days from LaChute, QE to Ottawa, and my Canadian buddy that skied it with me joked that CSM really stood for “Canadian State of Masochism”.

    I’m for short-suffering is suffering must be endured. Long suffering is for masochists – or Vancouver I. West Coast Trail hikers.

    Please do not attempt a repeat backpack of this trail.  Just cherish the memories of this hike. (If memories of suffering can be cherished.;o)

    Ryley Breiddal


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Wow!  I’m so happy to see a safe outcome.  Injured within a few km of Thrasher’s Cove is probably one of the better possibilities on the whole trail, since it’s in sight (?) of Port Renfrew.  Amazing resolve to get back to safety on one leg.

    I’ve hiked the trail 4 times, going back to age 11.  I think growing up in the area gave me a unique advantage – all our trails are similarly dangerous in terms of roots, rocks, and slippery boardwalks.  My experience on a solo trip in Sept 2010 looked pretty similar to the photos you’ve got there.  My recollection was laughing out loud a few times at how ridiculous it got.  I remember stepping on a cut stump in the middle of a giant pool of mud, only to find out it was floating!  I ended up thigh deep in mud, trying to keep my shoes on.

    For what it’s worth, in terms of gear, I’ve not found boots to be of any particular value.  Trail runners have essentially the same soles, are similarly grippy (as in “not very”), and have the advantage of partially drying out (or at least draining).  I think anyone with ankle injuries will disagree, and they should take their own path for sure!  I also skipped river crossing shoes and just slogged through.  My feet were already totally soaked sooooo….

    Rod Braithwaite
    BPL Member


    Locale: Salish Seashore

    Quality report Emylene, thank you and get well soon.

    Hazel and I live in Victoria, BC, and have hiked the West Coast Trail (WCT). I would describe it as a “high risk, high return” type of hike – often demanding and gnarly, but the astounding views and the rain coast experience make it really worthwhile, IMHO.

    For those interested in less commitment & logistics, the Juan de Fuca (JdF) is a 47km continuation trail immediately adjacent to the south end of the WCT. No reservations are required, only back country camping permits, which can be obtained ahead of time or purchased at the trail head self-serve kiosks. Because the JdF trail parallels a nearby paved road (highway 14) and the landscape is less dramatic, day hikes and potential bailouts are readily accessible.

    For those who want MORE difficulty and commitment, check out the North Coast Trail.

    Hazel and I sometimes describe the WCT as “the big sister”, the JdF as “the little sister”, and the NCT as “the wicked stepmother”, just to frame how the three hikes went for us. (I’m 61, Hazel is ageless)

    john mcalpine
    BPL Member


    Wow…..great write-up Emylene.  Sorry to read you had to exit the trail.  Your photos really add to the story.  You’re a machine for getting out there a second time.

    I was fortunate to do the hike last summer in September.  I didn’t get a permit for this summer.  The permits went very fast…. :-(

    Another way to get there is from the City of Port Angeles Washington.  There’s a ferry that goes directly to the heart of downtown Victoria.  From Victoria it’s a short 2 hour drive up the coast to the southern trailhead.  I parked my truck there and caught the morning shuttle to the north trailhead.  It was nice having my truck waiting for me at the end of such a wonderful hike.  I started the hike Friday at 3pm and finished two days later on Sunday at 11:30am.   I do not recommend that….  next time I will take five days.  The trail deserves five days.

    Rod Braithwaite
    BPL Member


    Locale: Salish Seashore

    +1 on the “park at southern trailhead, take shuttle north” suggestion.

    There’s not a lot of accommodation or other hospitality in either Port Renfrew (south) or Bamfield (north). There’s pub fare and a few motels, but most folks finish the trail and head back towards Victoria, looking for food, showers and beds.

    So it’s really nice to step off the trail and straight into your vehicle. From there its about 75 minutes to Sooke, and around 45 minutes more (2 hours total) to the outskirts of Victoria.

    From Bamfield it’s 3 hours 45 minutes, much of it on gravel logging roads. (when you’re really tired, though the local mountain range, and maybe after dark).

    Emylene VanderVelden
    BPL Member


    Haha I am laughing at everyone else’s stories! Glad I’m not the only one with some war wounds and character building experiences!

    As to the first aid kit supplies, I’ll have to get back to you. I customize the kit each and every trip and I have to look at my spreadsheets to see what I packed. In this case the life saver was a knee brace with Velcro closure. I had a few other bits and bites which helped stabilize the knee while crawling as well. Some people say you can use your trek poles as a split, which is true if you don’t have to travel for help or safety, then you need crutches. I knew both those things from before and had tape and good tensors, as well as a set of poles I knew would become crutches in case of injuries.

    As to the rescue expenses, the boat ride off the trail is paid for with your permit. Ambulances, hospital bills and crutches are buyer beware. As a Canadian citizen, the hospital part is covered. Ambulances run 500.00 CAD if you don’t have insurance. Crutches are 30.00 CAD. I had insurance, which I recommend to anyone doing this trip.

    Steve Liu
    BPL Member


    Was there in 2015 and remembering the dog being a pup…glad now he’s grown up!

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