Cape Scott Trail
A captivating walk on the beach in Canada.
My adventure begins in Port Hardy, one of the most northerly towns on Vancouver Island. Sitting snugly in a local cafe Marta and I purchase the back-country camping passes and jot down the tide times. The conditions in these parts are by nature wet and cloudy, yet with this Summers unusual weather we are faced with blue skies and sunshine which is quite welcome considering the muddy reputation of the Cape Scott trail.
The trailhead is guarded by a 60km dirt logging road, the speed limit is 50km/h yet every vehicle bigger than our ford ecoline van seems to be oblivious to this leaving us dust blind with every daring pass. Getting closer to the trail head we pass through the small town of Holberg with a gas station that is sometimes open and a pub rumoured to have epic burgers and chips. We pull into the heritage park a mere 800m from the trail head covered in dirt from our windows down drive. This camp is run by a classic friendly old fella who charges $10pp a night for camping and $5 a night for secure vehicle parking, a great service for people like us who don’t feel comfortable leaving all of our possessions parked at the trailhead.
The next morning blue skies overhead the friendly old fella drives us to the trail for the start of our trek. The trail winds through forest for 3km until it encounters Eric lake, a good (but buggy) place to camp if you make a late start. A short trail to view the lake is recommended, we took a short break here and watched the water lilies ebing and flowing with the lakes surface. The trail continues through the forest and I realize that we are lucky it isn’t a wet week, logs and horizontal ladders line the trail providing hikers a slippery but dry path through the mud and roots. Many sections are boardwalk giving us a chance to stretch our stride (and catch my hiking poles in the cracks). The views are all forest on this first day, but that doesn't mean its boring. The well read hiker can enjoy the deep history of this area and follow the branch off trails into a old grave yard or out to the dykes, it adds a greater element to the usual grind of forest hiking.
We stride past the 9km mark and reach fisherman river, the clearest water source and a great place to rest for lunch before the final stretch to the beach. The most popular camping spot is Nels bight at 17km, it's popularity comes from the plentiful amount of sand to camp, water close by and a rangers cabin staffed in the peak season. We entered past a congregation of floats strung through the trees like grapes on a vine and are immediately struck by the vast ocean view. A 100m stretch from forest to water is lined with soft sand and dotted with drift wood each unique and battered by time. About 15 tents are dropped along the sand in various arrangements, most with a small driftwood windbreak constructed in anticipation of the weather that normally frequents the area. Sunset that night was so deep and colourful that it made me forget about my weary legs. The rippling reflection of the setting Sun on the ocean waves is not something you can experience everywhere.
The next morning as I was stepping out of the tent to stretch up to the sky I saw a older hiking couple standing still squinting at something, “is that a bear?!” they asked me. Sure enough I focused my eyes to the trail entrance and saw a black bear standing on its hind legs surveying the little tent city that had been erected on his beach. “I'm sure glad you guys showed up” I said, my tent was first in line for this curious bears inspection! For this reason all the official tent sites on the trail have food caches and hikers should be bear aware.
Many people stay at Nels bight for the duration of their hike opting to day hike the 6km to the lighthouse and other close by areas of interest. This is the most comfortable way to do the trail but not for those who seek a bit more solitude. Half way to the lighthouse there is another beach camp called Guise bay which we packed up and moved our nylon home to on the bear morning. This was my favourite due to the calmer clearer water and interesting sand dunes to explore near by, stronger hikers should consider aiming here for their first night. From Guise we dropped our weight and headed to the lighthouse with hope that the lighthouse keeper will have some snacks for us to purchase. The trail is nice and easy including a side trip to the sea stacks, most trekkers will hit the lighthouse in well under an hour. We had decided to avoid any information or pictures on the lighthouse to maintain some mystery in the trek, oh boy we were pleasantly surprised! The keepers are very friendly and the grounds are beautifully kept. There is a small snack shop with a random assortment of junk food supplied at no profit for the keepers (remember to bring some money!) and wifi if you need to make contact with home.
Another tranquil night faded into a classic foggy morning for the Cape. It is mysteriously beautiful, giving everything a mat shine as it rises and falls over the tree tops. On our mission to try all the camps we broke tradition and moved our camp again to Nissen bight. This camp is only 15km from the trail head but the furthest from the lighthouse. This is the beach you go to if you want to be alone, most Cape Scott hikers only day hike here and only half of the few people on the North Coast trail will set up camp here. We were one of three camps on this kilometre long beach and found it to be very relaxing. The water is a 2km round trip from the food cache so it's best to get as much as possible in one go. This beach has great potential for whale viewing, though we didn't see a whale I saw many spouts breaching the horizon line. Good spots here are limited as the high tide line does get close to the forest in many areas. Close by is fisherman bay another area with history and incredible sunset vistas.
On the forth day we cruised the 15km out with big smiles and satisfaction in our hearts. For the beginner or intermediate trekker this is a perfect trail to gain confidence without the large crowds many of the trails further south on the island experience. It can be easily customized to suit what you like and give a stunning variety of vistas and experiences to write home about. For the more advanced hiker I would recommend this for a relaxing getaway or if you want something simular but challenging look into the North Coast trail with an extra day to hit the lighthouse on the Cape. Above all try to hike in a good weather window, I don't imagine the beach camping to be so great in the ocean wind and rain.