My summer plan this year has been all about mini-adventures. A trip to Hornby, a wedding, a hiking trip, some kayaking, another wedding. I’m about halfway through the summer itinerary now, this last week being spent on Flores – launched by water taxi out of Tofino to land in the small community of Ahousat. This is where the the “Walk the Wildside” trail begins. Although I had read a handful of resources about this trail, I wasn’t sure what to expect or whether the slightly epic adventure of getting out there (6 hours of driving, water taxi etc.) would be worth it in the end. I am glad to report that it was, and gloriously so! Brian and I spent four days on pristine white sand beaches, scrambled through much overgrowth and enjoyed daily creek-bathing in total seclusion at the Cow Bay end of the trail. I would highly recommend this trip to novice and experienced hikers alike and have included some tips below for those of you interested in taking it on.
Getting there: Although we heard rumours of multiple water taxis, we only found one with regular service. This is the Ahousat Pride which is run twice a day and leaves from the First Street dock in Tofino. It’s $20 per person each way and leaves at 10:30 and 4:30 heading to the island. If you are leaving a car in Tofino, park in the municipal yard across from the RCMP station at a rate of $10 per day or $40 per week. It’s four blocks away from the dock, a five minute walk.
The Village: Once you get dropped at the government dock in Ahousat, head up the hill and take a right at the top to reach the band office. The Ahousat First Nation requests a $20 fee per person to hike the Wildside trail, which helps to support their role as first responders in the event of any emergency on the trail. This is a very friendly community and pretty much everyone you pass will ask you whether you are hiking the trail. Do not expect to find anything in the way of supplies in Ahousat, though there is a small restaurant overlooking the bay if you’ve got a hankering for a last-minute grilled cheese sandwich.
The Hike to Cow Bay: The Wildside trail is a combination of long sandy beaches and boardwalked headland scrambles – so if you have any control over the timing, go at low tide! This seriously cuts down on the number of headlands to hike up and over. In either case, the first several km of the trail is quite easy and the beaches are just incredible – camping is permitted along any of them though you won’t get a good water source until 7 kilometres.
At kilometre seven you will be confronted by a choice of fording the creek or taking a trail up the creek 700 metres, crossing a bridge, and then hiking back down to the beach to continue the trail. Should you choose the trail option you will discover two things: 1) This is the roughest section of the “trail” and there are parts of it that were never cleared in the first place, and 2) Some stunning old growth, not to mention an important first nations historic site (watch for the lookout post in the burned out tree). It took us almost an hour to traverse this 1.2 km section which had its frustrations (I had to take my pack off four times to scramble over fallen logs) but was worth it in terms of both natural and cultural history. This would be much more enjoyable without a pack so my suggestion would be to ford the creek, drop your pack, and then cross back over and check out this section of the trail if you are so inclined. The creek can only be forded at mid-tide or lower. Past this point the trail gets rougher than the first patch, but only goes on for another 2.5 kilometres before you reach Cow Bay which is the major campsite with a pit toilet and fresh water source.
Camping: Although there are plenty of beautiful camping spots along the way, I recommend pushing on to Cow Bay (10.5 km from your start point) and making base camp there. It has pretty much everything you want in a west coast spot: a choice between forest or beach camping, a fresh water supply, a good food hanging tree, and an amazing view from a protected cove. Not to mention it’s been spruced up by other campers along the way who have used beach debris to create tables, benches etc. Lucky for us we were in there before the fire ban and so scavenged driftwood daily to have evening fires on the beach.
Definitely plan to hang your food at this camp spot! Although we were not bothered by the wolves, we saw plenty of evidence of their existence during our time on the beaches – footprints by the dozen, and we even heard one let out a startled bark not too far away from our camp one evening. We also saw cougar prints in the mud around the watering hole on our way out. Practicing animal aware camping greatly lessens the chances that harm will come to either party in the long run – which means cooking away from your tent, washing up and dumping grey water in the ocean, and hanging all food and garbage high up and out of the way.
More Hiking: Once you’ve set up camp at Cow Bay, there is lots of exploring to do further on. Follow the beach to the end and if the tide is out you can explore the tide pools around the rocky headland and then follow the beach around. If the tide is in, head up through the narrow rock grotto – a historic trapline that once belonged to a First Nations elder and will take you through to another pristine beach. At the creek outflow here you will find another trail which supposedly takes you to the peak of Mount Flores, but we only made it about a kilometre and a half in before we were blocked by some serious deadfall. The trail has not been maintained and should only be attempted by those who have strong navigation skills and are very fit. Just before the deadfall we found a trail flagged with pink tape leading out to Siwash Cove with a couple squatter cabins and Cow Creek flowing into the bay there. Be warned that these trails are poorly marked, barely maintained and quite rugged. This is real ungroomed oldgrowth which is truly amazing and rare to find, but also incredibly easy to get lost in. You will want to bring in your own flagging tape and a compass if you wish to do any real exploring here.
Heading out: We hiked out at low tide which cut about 1.5 km off the total trail and made for a lot less scrambling. The Ahousat Pride will pick up at either of the docks and leaves at 8:00 and 1:00 – so if you have time you can stop for an end of trail snack at Cathy’s restaurant. We were intrigued by the halibut special, but since it was only 11:30 in the morning we each opted for grilled cheese and fries. Good fries!
In all we spent four days out there – one heading in, two full days doing day hikes and laying on the beach, and one heading out – and saw almost no one the entire time. Three nights at Cow Bay and we didn’t have to share the campsite with a single other group, we chanced upon two hikers on day 3 and otherwise didn’t run into the “hordes” until our hike out when we passed by the campsites of kayak groups on other beaches. While I’m sure that Flores is busy on summer weekends, we had timed our trip for Monday-Thursday which provided the most idyllic conditions one could hope for. I suspect that after the labour day long weekend this trail would be virtually empty and quite beautiful during that interval before winter storms start rolling in.
This ranks as my favourite coastal hike to date, if you have any interest in doing it let me know and I’ll happily share the guidebook resources that I have for it. All trip photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/redcedar/sets/72157621689921129/