10 B.C. hiking tips from an avid hiker
Whether you're ready for the big adventure or something closer to home, what to know before you go
Posted by Cheralyn Frizzell
August on the West Coast is the perfect time to make your escape from work, the city, your cramped apartment, or all of the above, and hit the trail. With some planning, that trail could be the West Coast Trail; a 75-kilometre former rescue trail that was built in 1907 to access survivors from ship wrecks along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. This trail runs through the traditional territory of the Pacheedaht, Kitidaht, Huu-ay-aht and Huu-chah-nulth people and sees up to 6,000 hikers every year.
But before you book your ferry ride, a few things to know. First and foremost, the West Coast Trail isn't for beginners. I'm tackling it for the first time this summer, after years of overnight, alpine camping and hiking all around B.C. and Alberta and even I'm scared. It's wet and muddy, there are over three dozen ladders to climb up and down, and one of the major river crossings is by cable car that you operate yourself. For me, this is the World Cup, the Stanley Cup, and the World Series – it's the ultimate test of my hiking ability, culminating in almost 20 years of exploring the backcountry. But this trail is not and should not be for everyone.
Some of B.C.'s best options are probably right on your doorstep
If the West Coast Trail sounds a bit too daunting, lucky for you, we live in a province bursting with spectacular hikes that range from an easy day-hike to multi-day adventures. Whatever your interest and ability, B.C. offers incredible hikes that you don't need to pay for:
Don't skip safety precautions in favour of a selfie
Whenever you are out in the wilderness, safety should always be your first priority. There are some great websites to help you think about safety in a practical, easy-to-follow way. North Shore Search and Rescue and AdventureSmart are two of my favourites that are worth a read. Before you leave home, here are the top five safety precautions you should take:
- Plan your route: Know where you're going, how long it will take you and when you expect to be back. Don't forget to share this with someone you aren't hiking with so that if you fail to return at the specified time, this person can alert the proper authorities. And no, posting a "trailhead selfie" to your Instagram is not the same.
- Pack and dress appropriately: Pack enough water, food, warm clothes, and an external cell phone charger, such as a UL Certified Power Bank – 2,200mAh, in case you're out longer than expected or you get lost. Wear the proper footwear and clothing for the conditions of the hike.
- Put your phone on airplane mode: As fun as it is to post photos to Instagram or Facebook while in the moment, it's better to put your phone on airplane mode so you don't drain the battery. Wait until you are safely back at the trailhead or your home before sharing your fun experiences with your followers.
- Hug a tree: If you get lost or injured, call for help on your phone if cell reception is available and stay put. Don't try and find your way out, as that could get you into worse trouble and will make it harder for rescue crews to find you.
- Close encounters of the wildlife kind: While hiking, it's important to know what else is in the woods with you. Grizzly and black bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves all call the British Columbia wilderness home. If you happen to encounter any one of these, it's important to not turn and run away, no matter how badly you want to. Keep facing the animal and back away slowly. In order to be fully prepared, take a course in outdoor safety and read up on what to do via the BC Parks Wildlife Guidelines.
Ready for the big one? 5 tips for would-be West Coast Trail hikers
- Registration: In order to see this remote part of the world, Parks Canada will be your go-to place for all West Coast Trail information. When registering, make sure you have the following information ready:
- Preferred start dates
- The number of hikers in your group
- Emergency contact information for each member of your hiking group
- Your credit card
- Where you plan to start your hike from: North is Pachena Bay, Mid-point is Nitinaht Village, South is Gordon River.
- Training: This trail will make or break you. In order for you not to be broken, you will need to train. Cardio, weight lifting and walking tens of kilometres with 30 – 40 lbs on your back will be the only way to have a fighting chance at finishing the trail. 6,000 hikers attempt to hike the West Coast Trail each year and 1-2% doesn't complete it.
- Packing: Your essentials for the trail will be a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, stove, cooking pots and utensils, backpack, sturdy boots, warm clothes and first aid kit. Food will need to be lightweight, high in calories and easy to make. There are blogs devoted to hiking recipes to give you some ideas of what to make out on the trail.
- Getting there: Depending on where you live, you can either drive or take a shuttle to the north, south or mid-point trailheads. If you don't live on Vancouver Island, you will need to take a BC Ferry to Nanaimo and then drive to the trail head. If you don't have a car, there are shuttles that operate on Vancouver Island and stop at each of the trail heads; West Coast Trail Express and West Coast Shuttle.
- The Trail: Which way you hike the trail, either North-South or South-North, is completely up to you. North-South is flatter for the first couple of days, so when your pack is at its heaviest, you are hiking the 'easier' part of the trail. South-North is more challenging, but will become flatter as the days progress. It's important to route plan so you know which campsite you will be sleeping at each night and how many kilometres you will be hiking during day.
Cheralyn Frizzell is a member of BC Hydro's marketing communications team and an avid hiker who's currently tackling the West Coast Trail.