I wake up a couple days before our trip with a sore throat and stuffed up nose. Crap. The summer weather had suddenly shifted into fall and we had nothing but rain and chilly weather to welcome us to the new change of season and onslaught of the annual flu everyone here suffers from. We planned to hike Juan De Fuca for three days in the last week of September, and the thought of being on the muddy trail cold and sick wasn’t super enticing.
But stubborn I am, and I figure if I can survive 10 days on the Sunshine Coast Trail hiking 180km, I can survive 3 days hiking 47km on this trail with waaayyy more food to eat since it was a shorter trip and there were 4 of us to carry gear and supplies. Mentally, I knew this trip would be easier for me compared to the SCT trip, so I had some comfort there.
For the next few days until our trip, I had followed a regimen of popping vitamin C like candy, zinc, gargling Uncle Harry’s Tooth and Gum elixir in hopes that it would kill all that icky bacteria in my throat, and squirting silver hydrosol up my nose. The latter being unpleasant but I’d take the discomfort over getting more sick. Does all this stuff actually work? Who knows, but I can say that I didn’t get worse beyond the slight sore throat and runny nose. By the time it came to catch the ferry on Sunday, my nose was still runny as hell but at least I didn’t have a cough and physically I felt fine.
We catch the 5.45pm ferry Sunday evening and turned out to be the last 2 cars allowed on this sailing – whew! I think the luck on this trip is strong, otherwise we would’ve had to wait two hours for the next 8pm sailing. After arriving in Nanaimo, we grab a bite to eat at Nori which has fantastic vegan bibimbap bowl that was super tasty and filling. We then head out towards China Beach trailhead (I recommend you have this GPS point saved on your phone because there’s no cell service in that area) and arrive at the campsite past 11pm.
Note: There is no cell reception on the trail – you may catch a signal here and there but I wasn’t able to send any messages
Day 1 – Botanical Beach to Sombrio Beach, 18km, 450m Elevation, 8.5hrs
The tent we were sleeping in was palatial, like staying in the Bellagio in Vegas camping style. I’m used to my humble 2 person MEC tent I’ve had for years. I could actually stand up straight in this tent, and have a dance off. The main issue I find with larger tents with a higher clearance is that this space gets cold, and I could feel cold air circulating above my head. If you think a bigger tent would be more comfortable, I don’t recommend it especially in the backcountry since you don’t get as warm and snuggly and the extra weight isn’t worth lugging around.
After breakfast and packing up, we leave one car at the day use parking area and bundle into the other car to drive to Botanical Beach which takes 45 minutes. Then we’re off on our three day hike!
We’re less than an hour into the hike and already come across our first of many large patches of mud! I really can only imagine what it’s like to do this hike in the rain, the mud was already tricky to navigate in our ideal weather conditions. Though you probably just give up trying to avoid the mud after a point and slog on through.
This 18km section of trail had a couple of rotting wood staircases, and some parts with boardwalks looked in rough shape and in need of repair. The trail is undergoing improvements that will continue into the coming year 2020. We appreciated the new trail improvements on day 2 and 3 as we made our way towards China Beach, but it seems like this section of the trail near Botanical will be improved later.
After 8 hours of hiking (short lunch break included) we reach Sombrio beach. I get all excited because I think this is it! But actually, we needed to make our way to Eastern Sombrio Beach. If you were hiking from China Beach towards Botanical then you’d reach the campsite first, but since we were going in the opposite direction we needed to hike a little further…. on the beach. While the views were beautiful, hiking over uneven rocks and sand after hours of hiking with a heavy pack were starting to wear us out.
We reach a point along the beach where the tide was still too high to continue crossing; reading our tide tables and seeing that the tide will recede eventually we wait and take a breather.
Note: Make sure you have the tide tables to reference as certain sections of the trail are only crossable in low tide.
We finally see the orange ball near the end of the beach to signal the exit from Sombrio Beach to get back on the trail. We set up camp near the exit so that it’ll be easy to get on the trail the next morning. There is water here from a nearby creek, and a bear cache in front of the pit toilet that is stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It’s all still very civilized. After boiling water for our dehydrated meals, we eat and call it a night.
Day 2 – East Sombrio Beach Campsite to Bear Beach, 20km, 650m elevation, 9hrs
It’s Day 2 and we’re all wondering what the “difficult” and “most difficult” sections of the trail will be like. Mentally preparing for the day ahead, I’m very grateful I had a pretty good sleep last night and my symptoms are getting better. The early autumn sun and forest must be a healing place for me 🙂
Yesterday we met two hikers that told us they found bears along the beach at Sombrio looking for some breakfast crabs. While it would have been amazing to see, I’m also glad our trip was bear free in a good way!
The first 4 hours of the hike we found a nice rhythm and it didn’t feel too bad. Lulled into this false sense of security, we proceeded to get our butts kicked in the next section. This was the “most difficult” part according to the map, it was a constant slog of going up and down, up and down… it wasn’t crazy steep or scary scrambling (where you’re also using your hands to help you along steep terrain), it was just a long day of uphill and downhill hiking. And the biggest sections of mud we had to gingerly pick our way through.
We get to Bear beach after about 9 hours of hiking, to discover that a very large group of 8th graders have set up camp. Not ideal for those wanting a sweet and peaceful escape in the wilderness, but I’m actually glad it happened because we may not have found the really nice private camp spots tucked away that was recommended to us by the teachers leading the school group. We needed to cross the creek back and forth between our camp site in order to access the bear cache and pit toilet, but we were glad for the privacy and things quieted down in the evening.
We’re excited to be done with the day and survived the difficult parts of the trail! Another night in our tent and we’ll be completing our Juan De Fuca trip tomorrow.
Day 3 – Bear Beach to China Beach, 9km, 400m elevation, 3hrs
I was hoping to get the same quality of peaceful sleep I got the night before, but it was filled with tossing, turning and the symphony of nylon fabrics rustling throughout the night. The nice thing was that it was really warm that night, so temperature wise we were comfortable.
After having breakfast and packing everything up, we walked to the end (or start depending on which way you’re going) of Bear Beach and found the entrance to get back on the trail. The last day of a trip is always exciting in the beginning – you know it’s coming to an end and you get to get back into your car, have a hot shower, and eat all the food you’ve been craving while on the trail. This also means you’re mental game isn’t as strong – susceptible to the “I just wanna finish alreaddddyyyy why oh why are there more hills” emotional roller coaster that tends to match the actual elevation of the trail.
So here’s the truth bomb for this trail, the last day was physically the hardest for me! My humble opinion. You’re suckered into thinking the hard parts are over and done with, the map says “moderate” and there’s only 9km left for this section so we can just roll on out. I think also this applies to either direction whether you’re starting at Botanical Beach or Chin Beach. Be warned, there’s still 400m of elevation gain which doesn’t sound like much but it’s still all uphill / downhill for most of this section.
We cross the final suspension bridge of the trip (there’s four in total along the whole trail), some uphill climbing up a lot of wooden stairs and the trail mostly evens out. The skies look a little grey at this point and we think we hear some thunder (but it didn’t end up raining so maybe that was something else) which encourages us to pick up the pace to the finish. After 3 hours on the trail we see the parking lot and our car, we made it!
The Juan De Fuca Marine Trail is a really beautiful and scenic trail from start to finish. Walking along the shoreline you’re always catching glimpses of the water, crossing creeks and suspension bridges for incredible views. This trail is a great way to dip the toes into backpacking waters for trips longer than a night, and with multiple entry/exit points along the trail it’s a reassuring one to do. The terrain is always variable which keeps it interesting, and while camping on the beach was fun – hiking over slippery rock and sand can be challenging. Also, let’s not forget the mud! Overall a fantastic hike, I’d definitely do it again.
This is Part 2 of the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail Series that covers our 3 day journey over 47kms.
Part 1 contains all the fun information on how to get there, what to bring, etc.
Disclaimer: Everything written here is based on my experience and is my opinion. While I’ve provided all the information to try and be helpful, it doesn’t replace you doing your own research and making smart decisions based on your overall levels of experience and fitness. Stay safe and have fun out there!
If you enjoyed this post and found it informative and helpful, show some love & feel free to: