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West Coast Trail Hiker Preparation Guide

January 7, 2020


[music] [Narrator] The West Coast Trail is a multi-day backcountry hike along the west shoreline of Vancouver Island. the trail lies in the traditional territories of the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht First Nations. These Nations have been here since time immemorial and continue to call Vancouver Island home. Today, through cooperative management, the West Coast Trail Guardians from each of these Nations help maintain the trail, share stories and welcome hikers. This is one of British Columbia’s most challenging hiking routes. It covers extremely difficult terrain and should only be attempted by seasoned backcountry hikers with multi-day trek experience. Before reserving your space, know what you’re signing up for to make sure this hike is for you. Most people will spend between 6 and 8 days in the backcountry, when travelling from end-to-end. There’s also a mid-way entry point at Nitinaht Village, which can shorten your journey by a few days. Strenuous terrain, fast-flowing river crossings, ladders and cable cars, mud and rain are guaranteed challenges. On top of that, you’ll have a heavy backpack and will likely be exhausted. Did you know that if you get injured on the trail, it can take up to 24 hours for help to reach you? Before you decide to take on the trail, ask yourself these questions: First, have you and everyone in your group done a multi-day, overnight backcountry hike before? Remember, an experienced hiker can’t compensate for someone inexperienced. Number two: can you hike long distances over rough terrain with a heavy pack? You’ll be carrying all your supplies on your back. Climbing up ladders and over slippery ground with that extra weight is difficult. Third, are your plans flexible in case of delays? Forging ahead in bad weather, hiking late in the day or rushing to finish often leads to injury. Floodwaters, repairs or an accident on the trail can delay your trip by days. If you can’t be flexible, rethink your plan. Next, are you healthy and injury-free? If you’ve had a recent surgery or concussion, suffer from a heart condition, or struggle with recurring knee, ankle or back injuries, this hike is not for you. Joint injuries are a leading cause of evacuation —even something as small as an aggravated knee should be cleared by your doctor. Finally, is everyone in your group over the age of 12? All hikers must be at least 6 years old to get an overnight permit, though the trail isn’t recommended for anyone under 12. If you have children, it’s best to choose another hike. If you answered YES to all five questions, the West Coast Trail may be a great fit for you. Reserve your spot early, as hiking allocations go quickly! If you answered NO to EVEN ONE of these questions, consider one of many beautiful alternative hikes. Now, it’s time to prepare… The West Coast Trail isn’t a hike you can decide to do on a whim —it’s a challenging trek, requiring careful preparation. The trail is reservable from May to September each year. Summer temperatures average 14°C and the area sees about 330 cm rainfall annually. May and June are particularly wet. Before setting out, there are a few things you need to do: First, put together a training plan. Start a full-body strength and cardio program at least 3 months before your hike with uphill endurance training in mind. Practice hiking with your weighted pack and hiking boots well in advance. Remember, this should not be your first overnight backpacking experience! Before you leave, write out a trip plan and share it with your emergency contact. Include where you’re going, with whom, your nightly itinerary, an anticipated return date and instructions on what to do if you don’t return. Because there are three access points to the trail, these details will be extremely helpful if search and rescue is required. Finally, while you’re on the trail, keep these safety tips in mind: Move with caution, take breaks and set reasonable travel expectations. Accidents happen when people are tired or moving too fast. Always assume terrain is slippery and hike at the pace of your slowest group member. Stay warm and dry. Injury and hypothermia happen more easily in cool, rainy weather, which is common on the trail, even in summer. Keep hydrated and well-fed. It’s easy to become dehydrated and undernourished on the trail. You should be eating plenty of nutritious, high calorie food and drinking enough that you need to make regular pit stops —even on cooler days. Drinking water can be collected from most rivers and creeks —but to be safe, you should always carry enough to get you to the next large fresh water source. Always collect your water upstream and purify before drinking. Treat the structures with respect. Limit the number of hikers at a time on ladders and cable cars and secure your equipment, straps, and clothing in the car before leaving the platform. Let the cable car come to a complete stop before pulling the rope to move yourself to the other side and keep your fingers and hair away from the pulleys! Be prepared to wait for floodwaters to subside at river crossings, which can take days. Don’t cross when water is flowing above the knees, as currents can easily sweep you downstream. Use your tide tables and West Coast Trail map to avoid being trapped or cut off by impassable headlands. Always hang your food and garbage or store them in a wildlife-proof bin at the campsites so you don’t attract wild animals. Lastly, there’s limited cell service on the trail. If you have a safety device like a “SPOT”, “InReach” or satellite phone, learn to use it beforehand and have emergency messages pre-entered, just in case. Now that you’re familiar with the trail, it’s time to start packing. Your experience on the West Coast Trail will be far better if you’re comfortable and well-prepared. The first thing you’ll need is: A well-fitted backpack with a padded hip belt to distribute weight. Your pack should weigh no more than 15-20% of your body weight. Weigh your bag as you pack and keep asking, “Do I really need this?”. Things like electronics, solar panels, and instruments are tempting but downtime on the trail is usually spent cooking, socializing or sleeping. Sharing items like a tent, stove, pots and pans with your group can lighten the load and make everyone’s hike more comfortable! Line your pack with a heavy-duty garbage bag or waterproof liner to protect your gear. You can also seal your sleeping bag and night clothes in an extra garbage or dry bag for added security. All your equipment should fit inside your pack, with heavier items near the bottom. Don’t leave anything swinging off the sides —it could get caught on trees or rocks and throw you off balance. The next thing you need is proper hiking boots. Quality boots with good ankle and arch support are a must. Opt for soft rubber soles for traction on slippery surfaces and break your boots in at least one month before your hike For shelter, a tent with a waterproof fly is necessary. You’ll also need a synthetic-filled sleeping bag and a sleeping pad for proper insulation at night. For meals, pack foods that are high energy, lightweight, and quick cooking, like dehydrated meals you can add water to, energy bars, dried fruit and nuts, and oatmeal. Bring a lightweight stove and fuel and plan your meals before your trip to keep pack weight to a minimum. It’s a good idea to have at least a day’s worth of emergency rations in case you end up on the trail longer than expected. For clothing, bring a waterproof jacket and pants, quick-dry under-layers that will stay warm when wet, like wool, fleece and Polypropylene, as well as proper hiking socks, a warm hat, and gloves. Avoid cotton and jean materials—again, hypothermia is a risk if you get wet, Even in summer, the coast is typically blanketed with fog, meaning cool, damp conditions. so quick-dry clothing is essential. Other important items to remember are a watch to use with tide tables, a first aid kit including prescription medication, 15 metres of rope to hang your food, a water container and purification system, collapsible hiking poles, a waterproof fire starter and, if possible, an emergency signaling device… Remember, your cellphone will be unreliable on the trail. There are a few other items to consider bringing. Download the West Coast Trail Hiker Preparation Guide from the Parks Canada website for the full list. The West Coast Trail is an incredible bucket list experience —one you’ll remember forever. Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to get out there and start training. Happy trails!

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1 Comment

  • Reply K Grant January 6, 2020 at 11:50 pm

    I've done the trail three times, 1974, 77 and 79. The beach hiking is very interesting and the scenery is breath-taking. Hiking in the bush, although beautiful, can get monotonous. If you plan to hike on the beach carry gaiters, the sand will flick up when you walk and get in your boots or your socks. Your ankles will thank you.

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