Our last big hurrah: April and Jackie run the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail

LP1020180Well, it won’t be our last big trip forever – but it will be our last big trip together for a while. I am very sad to say that April moved away from Vancouver Island today, to pursue new and exciting things in and around Toronto. But April does not do things in a small way. She and I had talked for about two years about running the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. So, a few weeks ago, she said “Let’s do it before I go.”

We set aside a window of three days, October 2nd, 3rd and 4th, since the weather is iffy this time of year, with the idea of picking the exact date a couple of days before. It dumped rain the entire week LP1020179before, and we started thinking about a Plan B, something closer to Port Alberni. (The Juan de Fuca Trail is a 4hr drive from here – we’d have to drive down the night before and camp, then run and drive back the next day). But by two days later, things started looking better for Thursday the 4th. So Wednesday afternoon, we loaded up the car and drove down.

The whole trail is 47 km long, and it is rough going, so slow running – especially for us in October, knowing that the trail would be very wet. (April had done it a few years earlier). So we decided to enter around LIMG_0343Kilometre 30, Sombrio Beach, and run back to the Zero mark at China Beach. We had logistical things to take care of that morning (stashing bikes in the bushes etc., more about that later!), so by the time we got started from the Sombrio parking lot, it was 9:15am – the sun still fairly low over the trees behind us, and the air still very chilly. We have so many beautiful photos of the whole run that from here on I will not write much, will let the photos tell the story:

This is our first view of Sombrio Beach (the photo I was taking in April's photo, above). Our progress was REALLY slow for the first three hours, partly because it was the roughest and wettest section of the trail, but mainly because the views were so breath-taking - we were stopping all the time to take photos!

This is our first view of Sombrio Beach (the photo I was taking in April’s photo, above). Our progress was REALLY slow for the first three hours, partly because it was the roughest and wettest section of the trail, but mainly because the views were so breath-taking – we were stopping all the time to take photos!

Our progress was also slowed because of the amazing geology, such as this amazingly well exposed unconformity!

Our progress was also slowed because of the amazing geology, such as this amazingly well exposed unconformity!

This is an amazing outcrop! An unconformity is a surface representing a time gap between two different types of rocks: basically, a former land surface. The greenish rock at the very bottom of the photo belongs to the Leech Rive Complex: rock that was deposited as sandstone and mudstone offshore of the continent about 135 million years ago (around the peak of the dinosaur age – imagine, when these rocks were deposited, there were dinosaurs swimming in the sea above them!) About 80 million years ago, tectonic processes here near the plate margin pushed these rocks down and northwestward, towards the continent. This movement folded and metamorphosed the sedimentry rocks so they turned into schists, really pretty rocks with gleaming bands of mica all through them.

These rocks gradually eroded down. By 25 million years ago, they had eroded to the level we see here, the top of that green bedrock. Check it out, you can see the layer of boulders that were sitting on top of that old land surface, below where I am sitting and where I am pointing. Meanwhile, the rocks that had been pushed up on land started eroding, and washing down as sand on top of this surface – see, from where my feet are and the shaded outcrops beside me, it is all layered sandstone (Sooke Formation) sitting on top of that bedrock schist.

So this unconformity represents a time gap of 100 million years – a gap in the geological record between 135 million years ago, when the older sediments were deposited, and 25 million years ago when the Sooke Formation sandstones were deposited on top. Reading rocks is like reading books – you just need to know how to do it. Pretty cool, eh? (OK, back to running…)

2 km into our adventure, leaving Sombrio Beach for the trail inland.

2 km into our adventure, leaving Sombrio Beach for the trail inland.

So many pretty views. And lots of water coming down, from the previous week of rain.

So many pretty views. And lots of water coming down, from the previous week of rain.

I had no idea how scenic this trail is - so much of it right along the coast.

I had no idea how scenic this trail is – so much of it right along the coast.

LP1020195The trail was mostly in really great shape (other than muddy in some sections) – a few recent tree-falls across it, but for the most part really well done, with lots of good bridges, ropes along cliff-edges or to cross streams with, and short sections of boardwalk. This stairway was cut into an incredibly long log – it goes up way farther than you can see in this photo.

LP1020198

It was SO pretty - I have to admit, we ended up hiking much more of it than we actually ran.

It was SO pretty – I have to admit, we ended up hiking much more of it than we actually ran.

And a really nice balance of being on the coast and then going inland. (And some very big trees, too - this is a cedar).

And a really nice balance of being on the coast and then going inland. (And some very big trees, too – this is a cedar).

Some of thie inland sections were actually really fast for running.

Some of the inland sections were actually really fast for running.

But most of those inland sections were really hilly (they are the parts that bypass the rocky headlands).

But most of those inland sections were really hilly (they are the parts that bypass the rocky headlands).

I didn't realize just how big this stump was until I looked at the photo!

I didn’t realize just how big this stump was until I looked at the photo!

Then we came across the very impressive suspension bridge - super high, and with great views out to sea.

Then we came across the very impressive suspension bridge – super high, and with great views out to sea.

View from the suspension bridge.

View from the suspension bridge.

Then we descended via well-placed ropes (it wasn't anything technical, just ropes to help you get down the slippery rocks).

Then we descended via well-placed ropes (nothing technical, just ropes to help you get down the slippery rocks).

As we approached Chin Beach, about 9 km into our run, we came across an information sign warning us that some parts of the beach were impassable at high tide. It gave maximum tide heights for all parts of the trail. We weren’t worried about the other sections, because we knew we’d be there when the tide was lower – but we were at Chin Beach pretty much right on high tide, at 12:15pm, and the high tide that day was 9.2′. The signs warned that both the east and west ends of the beach may not be passable at tides of over 9.0′. (Not to mention the surf was up). We decided to just go and take a look – if we couldn’t pass either section, we’d go to Plan B (which we had not yet come up with).

April sprints around the cliff between sets at the west end of Chin Beach.

April sprints around the cliff between sets at the west end of Chin Beach.

Well that was fun! We sat on the rocks above the breaking surf, watching the sets (I’m a sea kayaker, so I’ve done this before for the purpose of launching in surf). There were two points to get around at the west end of the beach, with a little bit of dry rock at the base of a cliff between them where we waited out the next set. April got washed by a wave up to her knees, but we made it through. Turns out the one at the east end of the beach was fine to get around. Yay, we were still on Plan A! (Although realizing that, between muddy and slippery trail conditions and lots of photo stops, our average speed so far was about 3 km/hr. But that was the hardest section of the trail – we counted on picking up the pace over the remaining 20+ km, so we could get out before dark).

Chin Beach was beautiful - and we were just so thrilled with how the weather had turned out, after such an ominous forecast.

Chin Beach was beautiful. We were just so thrilled with how the weather had turned out, after such an ominous forecast.

LIMG_0356It was really cool being on the coast at this time, early October. It is on the Pacific Flyway, one of the world’s great bird migration routes. We didn’t see much in the way of mammal wildlife, but we saw some very interesting birds, including brown pelicans, Heerman’s gulls (grey with a bright orange beak), and Savannah sparrows feeding all along the beaches. LP1020219Those little sparrows fly for thousands of kilometres across the open Pacific, in a straight line from the Aleutian Islands (between Alaska and Russia) to stop here to fuel up on their way south.

Chin Beach. I look wierd because I am running with my camera out.

Chin Beach. I look wierd because I am running with my camera out.

Back up in the hills again - we're having fun!

Back up in the hills again – we’re having fun!

Lots of sections through the forest, trails mostly cleared from years of big trees falling!

Lots of sections through the forest, trails mostly cleared from years of big trees falling!

Every bridge had an amazing view. I really like having Washington's Olympic Mountains as the backdrop to the ocean views, too - a real change from the open ocean views I am used to.

Every bridge had an amazing view. I really like having Washington’s Olympic Mountains as the backdrop to the ocean views, too – a real change from the open ocean views I am used to.

Arriving at Bear Beach, around kilometre 18.

Arriving at Bear Beach, around kilometre 18.

Descending to Bear Beach, this was one of the three creeks that we had to fully wade across along our route.

Descending to Bear Beach, this was one of the three creeks that we had to fully wade across along our route.

No one to take pictures of us - had to set the camera up on the logs. All together, we saw 5 hikers all day.

No one to take pictures of us – had to set the camera up on the logs. All together, we saw 5 hikers all day.

The beaches were slow going, mostly boulder beaches, not much sand at all.

The beaches were slow going, mostly boulder beaches, not much sand at all.

Oh, more cool geology! Layers of crushed shell fossils (25 million years old) mixed in with the sandstone.

Oh, more cool geology! Layers of crushed shell fossils (25 million years old) mixed in with the sandstone.

A pretty little waterfall as we leave Bear Beach. It reminded me of Tsusiat Falls on the West Coast Trail, where we took a picture of April and Dave and me when we ran that one two years ago.

A pretty little waterfall as we leave Bear Beach. It reminded me of Tsusiat Falls on the West Coast Trail, where we took a picture of April and Dave and me when we ran that one two years ago.

Back inland - now on another huge and high bridge, this one made of a single big log that they've added solid railings to.

Back inland – now on another huge and high bridge, this one made of a single big log that they’ve added solid railings to.

More big trees. The trail was much faster for these last 10 km, mostly very runnable.

More big trees. The trail was much faster for these last 10 km, mostly very runnable.

We were starting to lose our light. We had hoped to finish up at China Beach before 5pm, and at very latest by 6pm, because April had a crazy part of this plan...

We were starting to lose our light. We had hoped to finish up at China Beach before 5pm, and at very latest by 6pm, because April had a crazy part of this plan…

...since the trail shuttle was closed for the season. So in the morning, we stashed our mountain bikes at the China Creek end.

…since the trail shuttle was closed for the season. So that morning, we stashed mountain bikes at the China Creek end.

We arrived at the China Beach parking lot at 5:45. By the time we visited the loo, pulled the bikes out of the bushes, and re-organized gear for cycling, it was just after 6pm when we got on the bikes. We rode like hell (April is an Ironman, it was easy for her – I have barely been on my bike all summer, so I was hurting!) to make the 30k back to where the car was at Sombrio, arriving pretty much right on dark. What an amazing amazing day! Thanks April!

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  1. #1 by Rob Chan on April 15, 2017 - 12:45 am

    Incredible, love the geology lesson throughout, hiked it last year, will come back to run it maybe this year…

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