Pachena Bay Trailhead to Darling River (14km)
What else can you say when the captain of the captain of the whale research vessel you just hitched a ride on asks you to sign his guestbook? (see post title) We started our day at a hotel in Port Renfrew and boarded the vessel sometime just after 6:30. I thought we were just getting a ride to the northern trailhead but it turned out that Brian (captain, my captain) was a whale researcher and halfway up there he got word of some orca and we turned that boat around. We got to see several orca and learned about the different types, how they are identified and how they operate socially – it’s matriarchal with the oldest female (some nearing 100 years old) making all the decisions for the pod. We also saw gray whales (less exciting) and sea lions. Rob offered a kid (maybe 10) who had just finished the trail skittles in exchange for carrying his pack for the old man. From then on out we were calling Rob “Skittles” and thinking of nicknames for everyone else on the trip.
From the town of Bamfield we hopped in a shuttle van to the trailhead, signed some papers and were ready to set off. The first day’s hike went pretty smoothly. We stopped for lunch at Pachena Lighthouse – very near Vulva Mouth Beach on map – , started to lay down a communication routine and began to understand what we were in for. About 12 km in we popped out at Michigan Creek beach camping – a popular spot for the northbounders – and kept on going to Darling River just 2k down the beach. The beach terrain of large rocks and then soft gravel was far different from the dirt and boardwalk of the forest trail we had started on. About 15 minutes into the beach travel we spotted a black bear ahead of us on the beach. We (6) all stopped and waited to see what it would do. It eventually turned and headed into the woods with a seal in its mouth. Half the group (led by Rob) pushed forward after about 2 minutes and even stopped where the bear had been to look around, fix gaiters, etc. Graham, Matt and I waited a bit longer. Eventually we proceeded and once about 100 ft for the spot of the original sighting we noticed a black mass that had re-emerged from the forest. We walked backward, Graham with his poles flying in the air, and sat on the beach for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile a bald eagle flew overhead, someone spotted a whale off the coast and we realized we were in the wilderness.
That night at camp was a little it rough. Everyone was still at the feeling things out phase and everyone had their own routines for camping – dinner, water shelter, etc. – but the group did not have a routine that was held in common yet. The planned meal ended up not happening as we arrived later than expected and instead we got by with readymade dehydrated meals in a bag. The food locker was full before we got ours in and trees to hang from were hard to come by. Our bags were hung just out of human reach and from a tree that was fallen and tilted out over the beach. Also one of our food bags was just a trash bag wrapped in rope like gift for the bears. We were obviously novice but the learning curve is steep. Stay tuned to hear if we turned this ship around (literally).