Headed for the Mountains
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Interest: Hiking, diving, snowshoeing, kayaking
Tatchu Peninsula August 30 – September 4, 2020
The Tatchu Peninsula is a terrific hike! It has some wonderful beaches and vistas but it is not (IMHO) a walk in the park – a couple of very challenging sections, upslope ledges, volcanic-like outcroppings and rocky shores make for picking your way through for a good third to half of the hike. Tide tables and route choice through the challenging sections are key. The full 34 k is not a trail for new hikers or those whose stamina is limited. The section between Porritt Creek and Rugged Point however would likely be OK for beginning hikers. Very nice places to camp with good water along the entire way.
We rated it behind West Coast Trail and Nootka Trail, but above Hesquiat Peninsula, Juan de Fuca Trail, North Coast Trail and Cape Scott. Rugged beauty!
Off We Go
Tatchu had only recently been on the radar having paddled at its southern border, Nootka Sound and its northern border, Kyuquot Sound in the past three years. A chance email to a hiking friend whose planned hikes in Europe were cancelled because of C-19 resulted in a quick decision to do the hike in what looked like a good window of weather. It took us only a few days to determine our approach. We did not find a lot of current information on the trail. There is a topographical map which was produced by John Baldwin in 2010 and shows where water can be sourced and approximate distances. It does not show specific GPS reference points but these can be figured out from the map or by converting from the UTM grid. Drawing long/lat lines on the map can provide good rough GPS waypoints, and help the reader orient the map.
The trail is described in a book called Coastal Hikes (2007) but a person who had hiked the trail two weeks before we did said the book did not add to the hike so we did not reference it.
Logistics was a factor in deciding a route as we did not want to do an out and back hike but rather go one-way only. The easiest way to do this was by using Air Nootka to drop us off at Port Eliza in the south and pick us up at the beach at Rugged Point. (Alternative approaches are discussed at the end.)
Going south to north allows for the nicer sections to be on the second half of this four day outing.
Tides are a key factor – get the tide tables for the time period you plan to be on the trail. Some streams cannot be safely crossed (waded) until low tide. (Tide Table Kyuquot 8710).
Port Eliza consists of an old logging dock. Just solid enough for the Air Nootka pilot to jump out and secure the plane so that we could unload. Monday is a later flight departure for this mail run, leaving at 2:30 PM vs the normal 12:30 PM on Wednesdays and Fridays. Our arrival at Port Eliza was delayed by having to stop in at a fishing lodge to drop off some supplies that had been left off of an earlier flight. Our planned easy 4 hour walk to the Yellow Bluff Beach was now subject to arriving near sundown. We only took a few minutes to unload and get the packs on but it was not until around 3:45 PM when we started up the old logging road.
My hiking buddy usually sets a fast pace, but with the prospect of a twilight arrival he cracked it up and we were soon motoring along at 3.5 – 4 kms/hour while getting our packs settled in and adjusted after a few years of non-use. The logging road is a pretty easy walk until we came to a washout at about the 8 k to 9 k point forcing us down to the beach. (The washout apparently happened sometime in 2019.) Air Nootka provided us with a good description of where to access a bypass down to the beach. Once past the washout one has to head back up to the road as high cliffs prevent you from continuing alone the shoreline of the bay. Climbing back up to the road on the other side of the washout was a challenge. There is no trail other than what appeared to be a route some folks had taken down to the beach from the north side of the washout. It was a real slug. Hands and knees for the most part, though low dense branches. We figured this detour cost us about 45 minutes of time, and a lot of energy. If there was another route up to the road we clearly missed it.
Back on the road we motored along passing a nice viewpoint overlooking the bay and a little further along came to an obvious spur road cut-off to the beach. We made great time on this gently sloping section down to the beach, as others had done some cleaning of the overgrowing alders. Had others not done so it would have been a time consuming bushwhack. We arrived at the Yellow Bluff Bay beach about 7:30 PM and sundown was starting. Tents went up, a quick bit of food and by 8:30 two hikers were horizontal in their tents. We had done the first 12 km.
The beach is a pretty spot and is the drop-off point for folk wishing to start the trail from here, thereby bypassing the section from Port Eliza. There are some interesting sea caves and good water supply at the north end of the beach.
This was the most challenging day as the terrain is rugged, mostly rock out cropping and ledges, and gravel beaches which give way underfoot and feel like you are snowshoeing.
After a hot breakfast, a couple of life giving coffees, and a small morning campfire we were off about 9:30 AM. Fog had rolled in overnight and in addition to making it a darker early morning everything outside was wet. Between km 13 and km 14 we came to a Sandstone Cliff (below First Nation Tachu IR 13A). Baldwin’s description reads that “Cliffs passable at tides below 2 metres”. We had missed the low but with the sea surge and incoming waves the bypass was questionable anyway. After a survey of the watery bypass route we elected to scramble the cliffs. Thankfully there were a couple of ropes which we could use. Without them we would have had a serious dilemma. Trying to do the first part of ascending the cliff face with a pack on was a recipe for disaster so my buddy went up first using the ropes and gripping the rock face. Hand and foot holds for the initial section were minimal. After getting part way along and a reasonable shelf to stand on I tossed a third rope (one I carry) up to him and he was able to haul the packs up which I had carried down to below his position on the ledge. I then joined him on the safe ledge. Doing this in the rain would have been potentially disastrous and would have left only the low tide alternative. We placed the ropes back where others could use them; put our packs went on and we were off again.
The Surge Channel before Sandstone Point is apparently a passable rock scramble at low tide but with the sea surge and the slippery terrain we made the decision to take the “Bear Trail over Headland” noted on the Baldwin map. This was far from an easy alternative. Between trees, salal and questionable footing this was a tough section. On a couple of occasions we went right through the turf into air, i.e. what we thought was solid wasn’t. Without tree roots and branches and salal to hold to keep close to the vertical terrain this could have been dangerous.
We kept on the over headland trail only as long as we could find a route back down to the sandstone ledges on the shore.
Back on the shoreline we continued to motor along past the unique rocks and fossils of Jurassic Point and got to Tatchu Creek. The creek was quite easy to wade. Rather than bother removing our boots we just plowed ahead as we had decided to make the north side of the creek Camp 2.
This rocky beach was a mix of mostly baseball-size rocks and smaller pebbles, but comfortable to sleep on with a thermarest under you. The sun was finally starting to come out as the forecast NW winds were kicking in and by the time it was to hit the horizontal and count Z’s our socks and boots were pretty well dry by the sun and our evening fire.
The morning sun burned up most of the fog fairly quickly and we had a good day making up a lot of the time we lost navigating the sandstone cliff and the surge channel bypass. We were to have sunny skies for the rest of the trip.
From here the shoreline is a mix of pocket beaches, horizontally sloping outcrop ledges, and rocks jumbles. Footing is very good and one can make reasonable time and still enjoy the fine views.
As we were rounding Gregoire Point a lone wolf appeared over a ridge of beach gravel coming toward us. Upon seeing us it stopped, had a good look and was off into the forest. About two hundred meters further along we came across the tracks of at least another 8-10 wolves which appeared to also change direction and head into the forest. And then the howling started - it was eerie. The wolves were either saying: “Hide! Humans on the beach” or “The buffet is open” – we did not hang around.
The second surge channel between km 21 and km 22 was relatively easy to get through but it did require a bit of butt sliding and crab-like approaches to get good footing on the slippery down slope surface. It is more of a rock scramble but at higher tides, strong wave action and/or wet weather it would be a lot more challenging.
Our planned stop for Camp 3 was Porritt Creek which would leave us an easy 8 kms on day 4 to get to Rugged Point. It had been sunny for most of the day so there was less slipperiness and we made good time over the rocks. We got to the creek in the mid afternoon and enjoyed a relaxing dip in the “water hole” and washed up some clothes once the brackish tide water had flowed out. Walking barefoot in the smooth marble-sized rocks along the beach was like a foot massage. The pebbles almost made for a nice surface to pitch a tent on.
The shoreline from Porritt Creek to Mushroom Point is a mix of readily travelled ledges, larger pocket beaches, and short, easy vegetation covered overland sections which took only minutes to cross. Further along, as one approaches Brecciated Point the beach sands become finer and firmer to walk on. One can really move along these sections.
At Kapoose Point there is a large lodge above the beach which has been under development for a few years. There was no activity when we went by and we were told that the owner now has plans to subdivide the property and sell building lots. I wouldn’t hold my breath at this being a successful venture.
Kapoose Creek, the southern boundary of Rugged Point Provincial Park, has a small bridge over it so there is no need to wade it. There is also what looks like some kind of ticket booth structure being built right next to the creek.
It was at this point that we encountered another human, the owner/operator of a water taxi service from Walker’s Cove that had just dropped off a group of surfers at the park. He kindly pointed out a nice freshwater creek further up the beach which was still flowing fresh while Kapoose had already been overwhelmed by the incoming tide. We carried on almost a kilometer to the end of this section of gorgeous white sand beach to the water source and then settled in for an hour or so – drying off anything damp in the hot sun. We topped all our water containers as there are no obvious water sources at Rugged Point. We subsequently learned that this creek is the only reliable source of freshwater in the park.
From this creek one passes through a couple of lovely small beaches with connecting overland sections until coming to a nice boardwalk which leads right into the Rugged Point beach and camp shelter. The sand here is a very fine grey colour and guaranteed to get into everything. The beach is nicely sheltered from southeaster winds and ugly weather and is a popular destination and base camp for kayakers exploring Kyuquot Sound. It is also usually the best place to land a float plane. There we met 6 kayakers and had a nice visit with them.
We camped on the beach as high tide was still a good 30 meters from our tents. The difference between sleeping on smooth marble-sized rocks which contoured to the body and hard packed fine sand was huge. The hard sand seemed not that much different from concrete. We did see a couple of tent platforms but gather that the park is not maintaining them. Hammocks might be in order at different times of the year when tides are higher.
We had scheduled a pick-up for 9:00 AM but the strong NW winds meant a small delay in arrival. Some of the kayakers we met at Rugged Point thought it was neat that we “had a plane coming” to pick us up. They were quite helpful in steadying the plane in knee deep water so that we could get in and take off safely without drifting on to the beach and rocks. The pilot circled the area and gave them a wing waggle to say “thanks”.
Air Nootka was terrific as ever. The Pilot (Scott) took us over the route we had just hiked rather than going straight back to base. The route sure looks a lot easier from the air in some places but also confirmed how precarious the large surge channel and one of the headland crossings were and the very slow and cautious approach we took to cross them.
Our air costs were $340 ($170 x 2) on the mail run to Port Eliza and $900 to charter the Cessna to pick the two of us at Rugged Point – and worth every penny. This was the 4th return trip to somewhere each of us has done with Air Nootka.
In addition to the lone wolf we came across two medium sized bars, maybe 250-300 lbs or so. One went into the woods right away and the other surveyed us for a while and then grudging left the beach as we passed. Animal sign (particularly bear) is everywhere and would seem to indicate that they are well fed.
We found no human garbage or food remains on the route – hikers have been conscientious.
Logistics of Getting to the Trailhead
In past years (before C-19) one could take the Uchuck III coastal freighter from Gold River to Port Eliza and then charter Air Nootka back to achieve a nice 4-5 day one-way Tatchu hike from south to north. Currently the Uchuck III is not taking passengers. This leaves only Air Nootka as the only practical way to get to both ends of the trail from a single starting point i.e. Gold River, and going one-way without doubling back on any part of the route.
If a person wanted to do just the upper portion and bypass the section from Port Eliza to Yellow Bluff there are two ways to do this.
One can drive to Fair Harbour via Zeballos and take Leo Jack’s Voyager Water Taxi service to Rugged Point, hike south to Yellow Bluff (or further) and return to Rugged Point for pick-up and return to Fair Harbour. One way for the boat is $300 for up to five passengers and I believe there is a small fuel surcharge of $20 for additional passengers. (I have been on Voyager before for a kayak trip and Mr. Jack runs a good operation.) The only potential problem with this approach is that the Ehattesaht Chinehkint First Nation has a gate along the access road to Fair Harbour and will not allow non-BC -plated vehicles through – period. Word has it that some BC-plated vehicles have also been turned back. The Ehattesaht band office did not respond to my inquiries.
Alternatively Voyager can pick up passengers at the Artlish River boat launch. However getting there could still a problem as the following warning is posted for folks wanting to use Artlish to access Rugged Point:
“BC Parks is advising potential visitors to this park that local First Nations are in a continued state of emergency due to COVID-19. Visitors may find access to these locations restricted due to roadblocks on lands managed by local First Nations. Most services in these communities remain closed and visitors are being refused entry.
(This may well apply to all non-First Nations vehicles now – not just out-of-province vehicles. For example, where we live the We Wai Kai Nation has large signs posted at their boundaries saying “Local residents only”.)
The alternative to Voyager out of Fair Harbour is to take Shorebird Expeditions water taxi service from Tahsis to Yellow Bluff – hike north to Rugged Point and then return to Yellow Bluff for pick-up and return to Tahsis. However it would also require doing the most difficult sections of the hike twice. Cost of this boat is $500 one way.
The Tahsis water taxi would have cost $1,000 return. Air Nootka was $1,295.50 return. Not much difference of only $150 each and no need to drive a 65 km gravel road up and back from Gold River. Have there been three of us the difference would have only been $100/each.
It might have been great to water taxi to Yellow Bluff and then get picked up at Rugged Point by float plane for a nice 4 day hike. Only problem there is that the water taxi and Air Nootka bases are 65 kms apart via a gravel logging road. And that gravel road crosses Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations territory – access to which was not researched.
In Gold River you can find a great burger at the Ridge Pub and the breakfast at the Uptown Cappuccino Café is outstanding.