Last weekend I hiked the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island north of Tofino with my friend Matt. We drove up to Ucluelet on Friday evening after work, took the opportunity to eat at the famous Hanks BBQ restaurant, and then camped in town for an early departure Saturday morning to the island. We had to take a water taxi from Tofino about 12kms north to the island of Flores. While departing from Tofino we got caught in the the annual Whale Festival Parade and it was quite fun marching along with the floats with our gear as we approached the dock.
Day one: Rain
The water taxi ride was a bit wild as we hit some decent swells and had very little visibility from the boat. Our water taxi driver kept us comfortable and safe however, and I got the feeling he had seen much worse conditions on this route. Arriving in the village of Ahousaht we were greeted by the friendly Wild Side Trail custodians and given a quick orientation on the voyage ahead.
Saturday was extremely rainy. We began our day in rain, arched out onto the trail in rain, and it rained right through the day. As we left Ahousaht we had four dogs from the village follow us. We were requested to do our best to send the dogs back to the village as they would be vulnerable to wolf attacks on the trail and remote beaches. We did our best yelling at the dogs and trying to chase them back to the village. We managed to convince all but one dog, who seemed very insistent to join us on our trip. Beyond actually dragging this dog back to the village, we believe we did everything we could to try and get this dog to go back. As weather conditions became worse, with more wind on exposed beaches and horizontal rain, we reduced our efforts and just kept our heads down pushing along the trail.
The Wildside Trail is diverse in that you move from long stretches of beach walking to trail hiking though thick rainforest in the headlands. While hiking through the headlands we encountered massive puddles due to the insistent rain, each one providing an obstacle course to navigate. It became exhausting approaching puddle after puddle, trying to find a way around or through the obstacle, while restricted on each side by the thick forest.
Gradually the rain began to subside and we took stock of our situation: we were soaked thoroughly; we had a dog from Ahousaht with us that we wanted to protect from a wolf attack; and our boots were soaked through from puddle dodging and relentless rain. We opted to head for the emergency shelter that we had heard about along the route. Both Matt and I had paper maps in our pocket which were completely soaked now and completely disintegrated as we tried to see where the shelter was located. We pushed on hopeful that the shelter would be on the trail, fortunately it was and we took refuge here.
After a brief rest we decided to try for Cow Bay, approximately 6km ahead, to take a peek at the beach and gather water in the river in that area. The beaches in this area were amazing, huge and sandy with rocky outcrops and pounding south coast surf. The rain had for the most part subsided now and we enjoyed walking with our canine friend, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself! We encountered another cabin which was the home of a squatter, well equipped with solar panels, rain barrels, greenhouse and pretty nice looking cabin. We explored with caution and kept our distance, as you never know how a squatter on a remote beach on the West Coast of Canada might take to strangers. We had to cross one large headland to get to Cow Bay and this slowed our progress significantly. The puddles here seemed even larger than any we had seen before, and we decided to turn back as we ran short on daylight and were pretty exhausted.
Day two: Ocean swells
On day two we slid our feet back into wet boots and set out again for Cow Bay. The weather had improved significantly and we faced overcast skies with very little rain. Amazingly we noted that the puddles encountered on the first attempt to pass the headlands had shrunk significantly making passage much simpler. Cow Bay was a huge stretch of beach facing west with massive pounding surf. Cow Bay has actually been listed by the Globe and Mail as one of the top beaches in Canada. We walked the length of the 2km beach and witnessed a number of rogue waves sweep the total width of the beach almost taking us down with them! At the north end of the beach we encountered a number of difficult headlands which we attempted to traverse to reach the northern beaches. There was a trail head which lead to the top of Mount Flores which we sought to find, however in the end we could not find it as it began at one of the unreachable northern beaches. This would be easier to do at low tide when one could simply walk around the headlands rather than trying to travel through them.
On the route back we explored a number of headlands and rocky outcrops. As the day closed we got a break as the sun made an appearance. I managed to capture a rainbow on the horizon and then we were treated to an extraordinary West Coast sunset. We found a perch on the headland overlooking the crashing waves and enjoyed a beer! Yes we hauled beer on this trip and they ended up being some of the best tasting beers ever! The sun was actually warm and this was the highlight of the trip for me. Our canine friend found a spot in the grass beside us and soaked up some rays too!
Day three: Blue skies
On our final day we had near perfect weather with only a few spotty clouds in the sky. We had to walk back to the trailhead in Ahousaht and travel back to Tofino then Nanaimo so got an early start on the trail. The tide was low this day meaning we could avoid going through the headlands and managed to cross the beach in a number of spots, saving us a bundle of time.
Since we had more time we took a number of breaks to soak up the sun and enjoy the views. It was a near perfect day and pretty warm for mid March.
At this time I also realized we would soon have to say goodbye to our canine friend, who still did not have a name officially. We batted around the names Cinnamon, Ahousaht, Buddy, Seaweed and Pooch Monster but never settled on one. I had bonded quite a bit with the dog and a small part of me wanted to take him with me. He was a pretty wild guy though and really loved the beach. I tried to teach him to fetch with a stick but he would not play with anything but seaweed. So he would go fetch a piece of seaweed but no sticks 🙂
As we walked back into Ahousaht our buddy joined his other dog friends who also joined us in a huge parade down to the docks. We quickly caught a water taxi and he tried to hop on board with us, was pretty sad to have to push him off. We spoke to a First Nations man on the boat about our adventure with the dog and he remarked that the dog is seen as a protector in their culture. Perhaps the dog had been protecting us on our journey along the Wildside Trail, while we assumed we were protecting him.
I believe the Wildside Trail is one of those must do hikes on Vancouver Island. I hope to do it again in the summer months again.
Flores Island Wildside Trail by Michael Paskevicius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.