A group of hikers stares intently at the rolling waves, the ocean’s salty spray mingling with the layer of sweat and dirt already covering their bodies. They’ve come here for a taste of the wild, and suddenly, for an instant, they find it—the graceful arc of a grey whale’s back as it slices the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
The West Coast Trail (WCT), a 75-kilometre recreational hiking route on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, welcomes 5000–6000 hikers from around the globe each year. A part of Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the trail winds through the coast’s temperate rainforest, traversing boggy marshes, sand-stone shelves, and pebbly beaches with panoramic views of the ocean.
The trail is open from May 1 to September 30. Demand is high, so Parks Canada recommends making a reservation to guarantee a spot on the trail. The average hiker takes five to seven days to complete the hike, and should be ready for backcountry conditions including slippery, technical terrain and the possibility of encounters with wildlife: the trails and beaches of the WCT are home to black bears, wolves, and cougars.
Hikers on the WCT need to be prepared for all kinds of conditions. According to Parks Canada, the average yearly rainfall for the WCT is 330 centimetres, and downpours can occur at any time. Jonathan Beggs, sales advisor at Atmosphere Kitsilano (an outdoor equipment store in Vancouver), has outfitted many customers for their trek on the WCT. “Be equipped for the rain,” he says. “No matter what time of year, odds are pretty good that you may see some heavy showers.”
Beggs recommends lightweight, breathable rain gear and properly fitted boots as must-haves in terms of apparel. A well-fitted backpack is also a necessity: “A 65–70 litre backpack would be a great volume for your average hiker,” he says, noting that other essentials such as food, cooking gear, a tent, and a sleeping bag take up a lot of space in a pack. If there is room for a few luxuries after packing necessities, Beggs says that customers will often opt for a compact French press or espresso percolator: “There’s nothing like a cup of coffee to go with your morning awakening on a West Coast beach.”
The cost for a single hiker on the WCT is $184, which includes reservation, camping, and ferry crossing fees. Not cheap, but well worth it for those who want a taste of the wild coastline of the Pacific Northwest. It’s not just time spent in the wild that makes the WCT memorable: one of the best parts of Beggs’s job is seeing the transformation that occurs in customers who have completed the trail. For many, Beggs says the personal physical challenge is hugely rewarding: “You see this change in mentality where they go from a beginner to a hiker.”