OK prepare to settle in for a bit of a read and alot of photos.
This is my first ever beach hike as traditionally I'm more of the alpine destination persuasion, but the opening of a new multi-day trail always intrigues me, so when we heard of the opening of the NCT last year, we figured it was a good time for a coastal hike.
There were 6 of us in our group; myself, Exy, Piika and 3 others; two of which we hiked with in the Tombstones back in 2006. Our faithful chocolate lab Krista also accompanied us on this journey.
Back in April of this year, we secured reservations from North Coast Water Taxi for the boat ride into the Shushartie Bay trailhead and also made reservations with the North coast Trail Shuttle for the ride out at the San Josef TH on the west end. Both services are highly recommended and were a pleasure to deal with.
On the night before our trip, we all convened as a group and spent the night at the Pioneer Inn just outside of Port Hardy, which is basically a no-frills but quite reasonably priced place to spend the night. This time of year is very popular with ocean fishermen, so if you plan on spending a night in Port Hardy this time of year, be sure to book early.
After having a lovely breakfast at the Quarterdeck, we met up with Jim Witton for the boatride out to Shushartie Bay.
Group shot at the Trailhead sign:
Admittedly it was a bit of a weird feeling watching the boat drive away and leaving us there to now hike for the next 7 nights to San Josef.
Day 1: Shushartie Bay to Skinner Creek: 7 hours
Now this trail at Shushartie Bay is rough and steep as soon as you start it; no easing into this sucker:
This is where gloves really come in handy since on numerous occassions you have to use the thick rope to help haul yourself up the trail. I used a pair of leather/ nylon mesh gloves that worked well for me.
This trail is also a work in progress with some boardwalks and steps in place. As time, finances and manpower allow, more development will take place. As has been mentioned before on previous TR's, the steps that have been sawed into fallen trees are meant for those with a 36" inseam or longer. I found this fact to be one of the more physically draining aspects of the first 3 days of trail; taking giant steps up and down logs with a heavy pack. I'll also mention that the estimated hiking times that the map gives are much less than actual times. Add an extra 50% and you're more in the right ballpark.
Now once the initial uphill from Shusharite bay has been accomplished, it levels out for the most part and you get to hike on alot of boardwalk as much of this area is quite boggy.
Still plenty of muddy sections though:
The other side as you descend to Skinner creek fortunately isn't nearly as steep as the Shushartie side. Skinner creek is an excellent water source and at low tide has a great little pool for washing up and soothing tired feet. Good camping is available on either side of the creek which was handy as there was another group who'd taken the opposite side. Firewood here is a bit difficult to find.
The evening was warm and sunny, but unfortunately the fine weather was not meant to remain.
Day 2: Skinner Creek to Cape Sutil: 8 hrs
Turns out that fog is quite common in August for the area. It looked like it was trying to burn off later in the morning, but it never really did. On the positive side however it made for great hiking weather. Today's stretch was supposed to be one of the more difficult ones due to steep beach headwalls and just plain rough trail. At least the whole route for today was intersperced with pocket beaches.
Another bit of variety for the day involved a cablecar crossing across the Nahwitti River which is a bit inland and also a place to filter yourself some water here if you need to (easier access to the river on the west side)
Piika loved the cable car:
After the cable car crossing, there's a bit of a lengthy inland trail before hitting the pocket beaches once again. Personally I rather detested this stretch as there were many of those giant steps over logs and generally rough trail as well as the additional taunting of getting close enough to the ocean that you can hear it, then turning away back into the forest. The forest itself though was for the most part quite lovely.
I pushed myself fairly hard on this stretch and was quite physically exhausted by the time I got down those stairs and the first pocket beach. If you hit this particular pocket beach at low tide like we did, there's alot of cool tidal pools here to explore.
Now between here and Cape Sutil are a series of pocket beaches with some steep and nasty overland routes in between them. If you want good water before hitting Cape Sutil, watch out for a small stream in one of these pocket beaches where there's a little waterfall and a lovely little pool to draw water from. We got our water here, but the disadvantage though were heavier packs for the remaining nasty inland trails between pocket beaches.
The camping area at Cape Sutil does have a small brackish stream that you can filter from, but the water we got from the previous stream was better.
Camping at Cape Sutil. Firewood is a bit scare but findable.
Day 3: Cape Sutil to Shuttleworth Bight: 8 hrs
Still foggy out, but at least it isn't rain. The trail today is still rough but not as nasty as the two previous days. A brief beachwalk is then followed by an inland route across the peninsula. Once the peninsula is crossed and if you hit the tides right, there's a beach route you can take, otherwise there's a inland route, which was unfortunately what we ended up taking.
Inland route trailheads from beaches are always marked with boueys hanging from the surrounding trees.
We stopped for lunch at one pocket beach for around 90 minutes:
Now I should mention one particular place along the way that you'll want to hit during low tide, which is called "Trombolo" on the NCT map. There's an awful lot of starfish, mussels and all kinds of cool stuff to see in these tidal pools. I'd say it's the place place along the NCT for exploring at low tide.
Starfish making a summit bid:
Ocean Spray and ocean spray. Incredible amount of plastic water bottles that float in from who knows where.
We saw a few bears while on trail, but ultimately they just ran away.
At Shuttleworth Bight there's tent pads, but there was another group there and only two tendpads available, so we camped on the beach. This however was a potential problem since a 4.0 metre high tide was supposed to crest at 01:00. Firewood here is plentiful so we had ourselves a nice fire and watched the tide come up closer and closer to our tents. All of us were camped past vegetation so we figured we'd be safe, but the waves were getting eerily close to our tents, so we all keep vigil until around 02:00 just in case we had to quickly pick up and move to higher ground. Turns out we were all ok, but it was a close one.
Day 4: Shuttleworth Bight to Laura Creek: 7 hrs
Yeah the tide came pretty close to our tent
Most of the campsites have piles of flotsam collected. Perhaps there should be a 21st century version of "The Beachcombers" where Nick and Relic are out collecting bottles for returns.
Back off get your own beach!
Today involves more beach walking than inland trails. At lowtide you can walk more along hard-packed sand, but otherwise there's a high tide route along the beach but it's alot like traversing a pile of gravel. The fog finally lifted today and we had much nicer weather.
Shuttleworth Bight Beach just before the short inland route:
Another cable car crossing on the Stranby River.:
I'll add that this cablecar is a tougher one to move from end to end as the pulley and rope is further away from the cage at either end where you pull on the rope than the Nahwitti crossing; making it somewhat more awkward to pull on the rope. Would be nice if they put the pulley on a swivel so the rope can be brought closer or they just moved the pulley 6" closer.
After this land crossing, you're now for the most part beach walking to Laura Creek:
Laura Creek reflection:
Laura Creek is highlighted by a decent water source, a flipped over aluminum boat and a freezer turned on it's side that is suitable to use for cooking. Our group was alone at this campsite which was a good thing since there weren't alot of tentpads and the tide was still high so we weren't camping on the beach. If there are 4.0 metre high tides, you won't be able to camp at Laura Creek on the beach and Shuttleworth is pretty tight as you can see from our experience.
There were also a couple of small creeks further along the beach about one km down that can also be used for water sources.
Numerous Bald Eagles around in this area:
Lots of firewood here too.
Day 5: Laura Creek to Nels Bight: 7 hrs
This stretch is for the most part quite easy and straight-forward. The one big inland section to Nissan Bight is a bit rough, but not nearly the level of roughness that was encountered earlier in the traverse. Nice weather once again this day. One pretty big set of stairs to go up on the initial uphill climb on the inland stretch.
Personally I'd recommend from Laura Creek heading over to Nel's Bight for the next night's camp instead of Nissan Bight as the trail guide suggests. Laura to Nissan is 4 hrs if you take your time an Nel's is only another 2.5 hrs with much nicer beach camping options and also puts you in an excellent position for exploring Cape Scott if that's on your agenda which it should be because Cape Scott and it's beaches are definitely worth the dayhike to explore.
Morning fog making way for sunshine:
Old corduroy road near Laughing Loon Lake:
Laughing loon Lake:
After about 4 hours we got to Nissan Bight where we encountered one of the few rain showers on the trip.
We found the food cache at Nissan Bight kind of strange:
From here it's now pretty much all trail highway and the forested walk to Nel's Bight is quite easy with pockets of mud thrown in for fun.
Nel's Bight is the most beautiful of all the camping beaches, but the water source there is a skanky brownish water that made short order of our water filter. We camped here for two nights since we were planning on dayhiking into Cape Scott from here. Fortunately we were able to collect a fair bit of rainwater from our Siltarp from periodic showers, so we filtered that instead.
(Ok now this is a bit of a secret but I'll share it with you anyway. At the Cape Scott Lighthouse it's possible to get filtered tap water from behind one of the resident's houses. Just be sure to ask the Lighthouse keeper for permission before you help yourself. We brought all our water containers to Cape Scott and filled up there.)
Nels Bight images:
Nels Bight Camp:
This beach is very popular with campers, so firewood as you can expect is scarce unless you walk about 1 km up the beach past all the tents and there's alot to be had up there. I just emptied out my backpack and went over there to load up. Lots of cleared beach areas high above the tide line for camping. If you prefer, there's also some camp spots slightly inland within the forest which could be handy in stormy situations.
Day 6: Cape Scott dayhike
Cape Scott and it's surrounding beaches are definitely worth spending a day exploring. Nels Bight to the Lighthouse is 7km with plenty of beaches to explore in between. It was raining for most of our hike to the lighthouse, but we had clearing and awesome light on the way back.
Cape Scott has one of the few lighthouses in BC that are still manned by a lighthouse keeper. We'd heard rumours that the keeper had snacks for sale, which turned out to be true. We bought pop and chocolate bars from him at 1.50 each. Snack availability will be very dependant upon supply. We pretty much cleaned him out when we were there.
On the way back, we stopped to check out the seastacks at Cape Scott since the tide was now heading out:
Definitely check out the seastacks if the tide is receding. You'll find an unmarked rough and a bit muddy old sideroad about 10 minutes from the lighthouse that heads over to the beach where you will find them. I've never seen so many sand fleas though as I saw there. Big suckers too.
The old WW2 road:
We also spent some time at "The Sand Neck" which is between Guise Bay and Experiment bight. It's a very cool area with alot of history both for First Nations as well as the early Danish settlers.
The sand neck and the trail that heads across to Experiment Bight from Guise Bay should also be a high priority on your Cape Scott dayhike list. Numerous washed up squid at Experiment Bight.
Now there's a story behind this shot:
We're at Experiment Bight walking along the beach and we see a starfish upside down and still alive. We felt some pity on the poor creature, so Marc from our group took it, walked up to the water and tossed it back in.
With the low tide at Experiment Bight, we were able to check out alot of pocket beaches on our way back to Nel's. There's some real hidden gems here.
Looking back at Cape Scott:
Back at Nel's Bight:
Day 7: Nel's Bight to San Josef Bay: 7 hrs
We were originally thinking about hiking out from Nel's to the San Jo Trailhead, but with it being 16.5km and a 1:00PM pick-up, we figured it better to hike out from Nel's to San Josef Bay, spend the night there and then make it an easy 45 minute walk out for our 1:00 pickup the next day. The trail from Nel's to San Jo is pretty level interspersed with corduroy log trail and the odd mudpits.
If you are getting picked up at the same time we did by shuttle, I'd recommend walking out the day before and camping at San Josef Bay; especially if there's anyone in your group who tends to be a bit slow. Usually a 16.5km level hike isn't a big deal, but you'd be surprised how tired you can get when all the previous days of hiking catches up with you by Fisherman's River (another possible place to camp on the way out, but San Jo Bay is so much nicer).
Some history along the trail:
More trail shots:
Day 8: The hike out: 45 min
Since I already spent 2 nights at San Jo bay, I didn't really take any shots there. On our day to hike out it was raining steadily, so we were quite glad we only had the 45 minute easy hike out. When we were at San Jo earlier, we stashed a 6-pack of beer in the bush for when we got off the NCT, so we each had a nice beer while we awaited pickup.
But the real surprise came when the Trail Shuttle arrived to pick us up. It seems that Ed, who did the NCT a week earlier had arranged for the shuttle to bring us a bunch of ice-cold beer in a cooler for us. Well Ed, there's a number of people who've never met you but they love you!
So that concludes our journey. I'd recommend the 7 night stint similar to what we did as it was a nice balance between hiking and exploration.