West Coast Trail day run: Northern half, Nitinat Narrows to Pachena, 32 km

Well, this one took a lot of preparation. But was it ever worth it!

So we are not 100% sure that what we did strictly followed the Park rules. Apparently Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has not been able to keep pace with the “new” sport of trail-running (new???) so they are not able to get their heads around how to permit this. (We did try!). Supposedly you don’t need a permit for day-use (which is what we were). But at the same time, they do not recognize Nitinat Narrows as an official entry point. However, they would have permitted us to do the exact same route in the opposite direction.

But we are experienced runners and experienced wilderness travellers and we take safety issues, especially on a long and remote and challenging route like this, very seriously. We consider going the other direction to be much more risky because:

  • it leaves the rougher part of the trail (mud, roots, ladders) for the end of the day, when you are tired and more likely to fall and injure yourself,
  • it means that you must rush to meet a boat at the exit point (boat is the only way in and out from the Narrows) – so, if we were travelling slowly because of a sprained ankle or whatever, we would miss the boat and be stuck out all night. Whereas, going the other direction, we could still walk out even if it was dark,
  • and that means we would have had to carry a lot of extra camping gear, for that contingency.

So we took the safe decision and went in at Nitinat, even though at the moment Parks do not consider it an official entry point. And, just for the rccord, we are very experienced and safety-conscious – please check the bottom of this post to see all of the precautions that we took to ensure that we travelled safely and did not get into trouble.

By posting our photos here we are by no means trying to say that you should just go and do it. This route is definitely not for everyone, and a lot of preparation, knowledge, and training are required to do it. But let me tell you, all of that training was worth it for us – we had an incredible day. Take a look:

Getting driven in from Nitinat Village (at the head of Nitinat Lake) out to the Narrows.

Here we are being dropped off at the Narrows.

Dave and I invited April Eryou to come with us on this one. Although April is less experienced in the rough stuff,  she is a stronger runner than either of us (a marathoner, ultramarathoner and triathlete). But, just as important, we knew she also had the right attitude and approach to this kind of venture, and that the three of us would work well together as a team – as well as have a lot of fun!

After running through a lot of forest for a good half-hour, we came to our first beautiful view point.

Terrain was extremely varied, occasionally some rough stuff to get over. But for the most part, the trail was in amazing shape, much less mud than usual.

Tough running on the beaches because of the soft sand - but none of those sections was overly long.

More beaches...

Tsusiat Falls, about 5 km in. Dave attempts to strike an Ironman pose.

Mud and gunk on the way to another set of ladders... lots of ladders, up and down.

And some sections of the trail with lots of exposed roots. But all three of us were actually surprised at how good the trail was, at least compared to what we had expected.

A quick stop at 'Hole in the Wall' for photos!

There were a lot of sections of boardwalk or just fairly smooth path that were very runnable.

Here's Dave on the cable car crossing Klanawa River. All three of us piled in together! We figured we probably weighed about as much as a big guy with a heavy hiking pack.

More ladders, more boardwalk. The last 12 km is all through the forest.

Not a pic you see every day?

Safety issues and preparation:

OK, as we noted, this route is not for just anyone. Here are some of the things that we did to prepare and travel safely: to make sure that we did not get into any trouble, and that we were prepared in case things did not go to plan.

1. We are all very fit runners who regularly run 30+ km routes. If you don’t regularly do long and hard runs like this, you should not experiment with them in a remote place like this!

2. Which means we were very picky about who we travelled with. Dave and I decided upon a maximum group size of 4, and it was important to us to know that anyone we invited was not only fit and experienced enough to do it, but was also a team player whose values and expectations of the run were the same as ours (i.e. that we were not racing or trying to show off; rather, people who would just naturally stay with the group because they like to).

3. We each carried enough food and electrolytes to consume about 200 cal/hr for at least 10 hrs.

4. We planned for the “what-if” of an unexpected overnight, e.g. due to injury. We each carried extra clothing, a space blanket, a headlamp, and extra food.

5. We had two First Aid kits with us, and also two fire-starting kits packed in separate packs.

6. We had Dave’s wife Karen waiting for us in Bamfield, who knew when to expect us and what to do if we were late.

7.  We had sussed out contact options in advance, and found out that there was actually limited cell service at some points, so we were able to text Karen along the way so she knew of our progress and timing.

Dave and I love to challenge ourselves and push our limits. But we are not into risking our own safety or having people come and rescue us. So please, if our runs inspire you, please take your own safety (which includes adequate training) seriously and make sure that you do things right.

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  1. #1 by Marcus Johannes on September 2, 2011 - 10:38 pm

    Nicely done!

  2. #2 by Rudy Owens on January 23, 2017 - 3:34 pm

    Bandits. They confuse the managers of parks. I can see why limited numbers matter in sensitive ecosystems, but runners are probably the lowest impact visitors. Last I checked, they haven’t stopped runners from traversing the Grand Canyon. I ran that with a friend. Unlike mules or rafters, we left nothing behind but footprints. This looks like the right way to enjoy this area. And you’re on a beach, for goodness sake. Will add to my list.

    • #3 by Jacqueline Windh on January 23, 2017 - 4:36 pm

      Yeah, well it gets worse….

      So that run – half of the West Coast Trail – was several years ago.

      Last year, Dave and I planned to run the entire West Coast Trail in a day. It’s logistically complex, because the south end of the Trail is across the river from Port Renfrew: so you need to organize boat transport at that end. Therefore it makes sense to start at that end, rather than finish there and have a boat on call until midnight or whenever you show up at the end of the run. It means paying a premium (I think they said it woudl be $250 or $300) to get the operator to get up at 4am or whatever time you want to be on the trail in order to be able to do that challenge 75 or so km in a day.

      So then we looked at permitting. And guess what! They charge day-runners who are doing the whole trail exactly the same as any backpackers, who are using 6 or whatever nights of campsites, toilets, etc. – even though we are using almost nothing of the facilities (maybe one or two outhouse stops at best – but that’s it). I can’t remember how much that was last year – this year it is $127 plus $25 reservation fee plus $30 for the ferry crossing at Nitinat, so a total of $182 each. (I could register for an ultramarathon race, and get a T-shirt and amazing aid station food and on-route support and safety personnel and probably a great post-race meal for less than that!!)

      So, when you count the fees for two people, plus the early-morning boat crossing at premium, plus fuel to geth there and back, plus a night’s accommodation each end, we are talking around $1000 for the two of us to run the trail. Ridiculous. Needless to say, we didn’t do it. Parks Canada really needs to get it together and come up with a fee structure for ultrarunning (aka the world’s fastest-growing sport).

      Anyway, immediately south of there is the Juan de Fuca Trail. It’s a BC Park, no reservations needed, no trail fee (just fees to camp), and it’s every bit as pretty. It’s around 45 km long, and I’ve run it twice – check out my two posts with pics on this site.

      Anyway, thanks for your comment! And congrats on the Grand Canyon run – I’ve hiked the R2R2R in two days (one day each crossing) but have never run it – definitely on my to-do list!

      • #4 by Rudy Owens on January 23, 2017 - 9:09 pm

        I see the answer already. Be a bandit, and donate a fair sum to a worthwhile cause that promotes conservation. No critter or creek will be harmed. What does become problematic are races. I’ve seen people with no respect for nature crap all over, leave toiler paper and trash in wilderness races. That’s another critter altogether. I see their logic, but like all bureaucracies it often becomes my way or the highway with a rule, without applying logic or sense.

  3. #5 by Jacqueline Windh on January 23, 2017 - 10:12 pm

    Hmm – there are always exceptions – but in general I find ultrarunners to usually be really respectful of the wilderness. If anything, cleaning up even MORE than their own stuff, whether on races or out doing their own thing. But yes, there are always exceptions. I hope all people (runners or not) who head out on the trails will try to be as respectful as possible – to the place, to the wild critters, and to other humans out there too.

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