Get Nakie Ambassador Kate has been living on the West Coast of Canada for the past two years and revelling in the abundance of natural wonders. A mad keen hiker she recently tested her limits on a gruelling, remote 75km pack-in, pack-out hike on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, known as the West Coast Trail. We asked her to provide her top tips for those who might be tempted to try a similar feat…
If you, like me, are a big fan of the 80s cult hit movie Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray, you may remember the opening scene where Baby and her family arrive at Keller’s mountain retreat for a weeklong vacation. Baby’s sister Lisa watches with horror as another guest unpacks their truck.
“Awww Ma, I should have brought those coral shoes!”
Mrs Hausmann: “but sweetheart you brought ten pairs”
Lisa: (whines) “But the coral shoes match that dress!”
Now if you’re a bit of a ‘Lisa’ you probably already know that a 6 day hike in the remote Canadian coastal wilderness, carrying all your necessities for survival on your back, is not for you.
The problem for me was while I fancied myself as much more like the practical, down-to-earth, ready-to-join-the-Peace Corps star of the show Baby, in reality I have few Lisa tendencies. When people told me to pack ultra light for our trip, I really thought I knew what that meant. But I was wrong.
For clothing ‘all’ I packed was; a pair of shorts, a pair of running tights, three tanks and bras and four pairs of socks for the whole 6 days, plus one warm outfit – a jumper, a vest and a pair of leggings and a beanie and gloves.
Doesn’t sound like much but that, my friends, was waaaay too much.
Proof of my naievity can be seen in this witty text exchange from the night before we left between me and a friend who was travelling with our crew:
Nolan: “Pack ultra lite”
Me: “Great advice but I ain’t giving anything up”
Nolan: “I’m bringing only speedos, a lighter and an axe”
While Nolan later admitted that the axe weight could have been better spent on mickeys of whiskey, I now acknowledge that there was plenty I could have left behind. All you really need for 6 days in the bush is one outfit to sweat in and one dry outfit – something like a down jacket and pair of trackies. Don’t even bother with PJs. I resented my clean clothes every step of the way for every gram of extra weight made a huge difference to my ability to trek. With a heavy pack each step felt like the final stair climb during a hell boot camp or the final uphill in a spin class when you are a 100% spent.
And to be honest, you don’t get much joy out of wearing clean clothes when you are only washing your body minimally in a cold creek. Save your cute, matching, extra outfits for home.
The other silly packing mistake I made was taking too much food.
To borrow a phrase from DD, on our West Coast Trail adventure, I carried a watermelon. Not literally, but given the option, I probably would have packed one.
For our first couple of nights I prepared a fresh dinner of gado gado, complete with boiled eggs, blanched vegetables and peanut satay sauce and, a soba noodle salad, with avocados, snow peas, cucumber and a ginger soy dressing.
Delicious yes, but oh so bloody heavy!
The reason those ready-made, cook-in-the-packet dehydrated meals are all the rage for camping is ’cause they are practical. Light, mess-free and odor free (important if you don’t want to be followed by bears).
One thing I don’t really regret but that I wouldn’t advise for everyone is the 1kg bag of marshmallows I carried. Yes, they probably contributed to my epic blisters and me losing one of my toenails but there’s no better way to make friends at a campsite than sharing your ‘mellows!
We might have had even more fans had we not had to ditch the 3L goon bag of wine at the first campground. One day of overloaded hiking and we decided the wine had to go. Extreme times called for extreme measures! Disappointing as it was to waste quality goon, I’m hopeful that some hikers travelling the opposite way would have found our note and the bag and enjoyed a celebratory drink, cooled in the steam.So there’s my first piece of advice: pack ultra light and know what that means!
And, embrace the technical gear – be it food or equipment. Those camping nerds know what’s up!
On the equipment front, while I’ve done lots of day/overnight hiking, before this trip I had never really done a hardcore hike like the West Coast Trail (and it is hardcore – 5000 people do it a Season and 167 got airlifted out last year) so I sought the advice of anyone I could find who had done it before. Their recommendations included proper waterproof hiking boots (with the thick sole, high ankle support), plus gators and poles.
I managed to get my hands on some really good gortex (waterproof) boots and I was so grateful. Likewise for the gators… which I discovered were these fashion-forward little skirts that you wear under your knee and attach to your boots to keep water or mud from splashing into your boot from above.
And boy was there a lot of mud. On the 80s movie theme, remember the David Bowie classic ‘Labyrinth’? Remember the ‘bog of eternal stench’? Like that. More mud than I could have ever imagined. And there was no way around it. If I didn’t have those waterproof boots it would have been a miserable six days of wet, sore feet for sure. And what’s more, the high ankle support really saved my skin on every dodgy tree root, slippery rock or just plain uneven surface we found ourselves on.
That’s where the poles came in handy too. Or would have, except, of course, I didn’t bring any. Why? Well because I’m an idiot and I had a fantasy of myself as a natural hiker who steps lightly across mud pools using, at most, a found stick or hanging vine and not a hiking nerd with geeky poles but again, I was wrong. It was a mad scramble using everything I could lay my hands on to traverse those muddy bogs and I ended up carrying an awkward piece of driftwood most of the way to help me, while those with fancy, technical, light poles were so much better off; able to test the depth of the mud and balance themselves as they picked their way over the precarious tree roots and rocks.So now we’ve got:
Pack ultra light (one sweaty outfit, one dry)
Leave the axe, bring a flask (Nolan’s contribution)
Embrace technical equipment (dehydrated food, waterproof boots, gators and poles)
Share your marshmallows (or popcorn is fun too! Bring natural kernels – no microwaves here!-pop it over your stove in a little coconut oil – easy to carry in a squeeze tube – and season with salt and pepper!)And just a couple more things:
I tended to be more cautious than some of our group and I hated that I was slowing everyone down. Adrenaline was constantly high as I tried to rush myself over scary parts without pausing. I was constantly thinking about how to gain time and catch up to the rest of the group instead of enjoying my surroundings.
What turned all that around for me is when I started asking for and accepting help. I swallowed my pride and admitted to myself and the group that I wasn’t as fast as I imagined I would be. Once I let go of that idea that I had to be the quickest, most agile little forest nymph on the trail I found I was able to ask for a hand when I needed it and that a hand was offered to me readily. Suddenly rather than racing, we were playing as a team and the whole experience became a lot more joyful.Don’t get the wrong idea from all this talk of ego battles, early mornings, blisters, mud and a lack of wine… The West Coast Trail is a bloody good time.
Its 75km of remote, pristine, coastal wilderness – a nature wonderland.
It’s a physical and emotional challenge, in the best sense of the word.
It’s a friendship affirming, community spirited endeavour.
I was so close to a breaching grey whale I could see his barnacles. I saw two pods of killer whales, a tonne of fur seals and seal lions and I touched a sea urchin. I saw the footprint of a bear in the mud. I hiked for hours and cooled myself under a waterfall. I slept on the beach to the sound of crashing waves. I ate dinner around campfires and played games with gnarly hiking Grandads. I climbed enormous wooden ladders and sailed across rivers on man propelled cable cars. I sunbaked topless on a deserted beach. I sang songs, conquered fears and breathed the freshest air in all the world.
As Baby would say… I had the time of my life.
1. Pack ultra light – and know what that means