Flores Island's Wildside Trail — Summer Solstice Trip!

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wildside trail

 Link to GPS route
GPS Route with photographs in location shot

Total distance: 29.8 km
Total Trail Distance: 22 km

The long days of summer are indeed upon us. June 21st marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and on Vancouver Island this means  the elements of light disappear over the horizon close to  even o’clock pm.   To celebrate the solstice four of us journeyed  to a small Island on the West coast of Vancouver Island to get our feet in the sand, spend some time together and enjoy what promised to be several days of incredible weather. Spoiler Alter: This trip turned out remarkably different that my trip to the Wildside Trail in March.

We departed Parksville at noon on Friday, stopping only in Port Alberni for a coffee. The drive from Port Alberni to Tofino is one of the most beautiful on the Island. It reminds me of driving from Vancouver to Edmonton, before the Coquihalla highway was constructed. It twists, wandering between many peaks and on the edge of cliffs. We made good time and arrived early enough to have an oyster burger at the Wildside Grill .

Upon Arriving in Tofino proper, we scooted down to the Government Dock at the end of First Street, arriving around quarter after four. Arriving on the dock we were immediately greeted by a friendly First Nations captain who offered us passage for the standard rate of $25 a head. The trip out to Flores is one of the highlights of the trip. The boat passes between many islands covered with old growth and only a few sections of second growth. The Islands often rise straight up to summits higher than 400 meters! Meares Island offers one such summit known as Lone Cone, it is on my list of future hikes.

Water taxi to Flores Island

Just as the water taxi was about to turn the final corner and approach the Ahousaht dock, the captain cut the engines. As I looked around I could see several whale-watching boats and soon a small pod of Orcas. There were approximately 6. Several small orca, and one very large one! Because the whales intersected the route to Ahousaht the water taxi was close to the black fish, less than 100 meters.  As the black fish swam close to the boat,  we were actually between the tour boats and the pod, I am sure that the whale boat captain was less than thrilled! After about five minutes we carried on our way and arrived at the Ahousaht dock in short order.

When hiking the Wildside Trail I advise contacting the staff with your arrival time. Addition telling the captain of the boat that you are on your way over. If you do this the staff will meet you at the dock and walk you to the office were you pay your trail fees. If you need the assistance, the staff will even walk with you through the town to the first beach of the trip.  Both times the staff have been amazing! This time Travis me us at the boat, dressed in his tie-dyed hoodie labeled “STAFF” across the back in large black letters. The staff are an excellent source of information about the trail. Be sure to ask them about any areas of cultural significance on the trail. Travis was told us how we could shave an hour of our hike by taking a recently cleared path that extends across the river, possibly a tail section of the trail of tears, at the end of the high tide route around the river.

wildside trail
Boardwalk through wild cranberry, leading to the newer part of Ahousaht and the first beach

Our plan for the evening was to walk the beaches and find a suitable place for the four if us to make camp for the night. In the back of my mind I hoped to reach Cow Bay before the sun started to set. My desire for fresh drinking water fueled this desire. A funny thought considering how wet my first experience on this trail was. Though we started out from the Trail Office at 5:30pm, we didn’t make it.

This trip marked my first venture into a different kind of backpacking, ultralight. Though I’m not there yet, I cut a lot of weight from my bag and was walking with a bag that weighed only 21lbs, this includes water and two beverages of the adult variety. My camping partners on the other hand seemed to follow a different philosophy, I don’t know if there is a title for it but I’ll call it maxi camping. This essentially refers to what they pack: 1/2 dozen fresh eggs, glass bottle of olive oil, fresh potatoes, onions, cauliflower, catotts and a 6 pack of coca cola!  In fact the lightest member of the group carried more than fifty percent of her own body weight. As one might imagine their gate was considerably impeded.

wildside trail
My set up, that bag holds about 38 litres  in its current configuration and my tent is simply a tarp and my walking trekking poles. 

wildside trail
some of the large bags

We walked for about 2.5 hours. The tides were flooding so we took the headland trails at every point. We had hoped to cross the river by taking off our boots, this was hopefully going to cut off a hour of walking. Unfortunately the water in the river put the depth at about 3′ at it’s shallowest sections. We took the high tide route up the river. I have to say, it was a pleasant experience, as compared to the giant puddle that subsumed the trail in March. There are many giant cedars and sitka spruces as well as several examples of culturally modified trees trees (CMT). In addition to these wonders Flores Island offers up a feast of it natural beauty, including delicious bights of salmon berry and huckleberry.

wildside trail - walk the wildside
Best shot of the weekend, you can see depth in those trees!

Thanks to Travis we were able to find the recently cleared tail section of the the Trail of Tears, from the bridge to the next beach, only about 500 meters. This route likely shaved 45 minutes off the hike, though it did bypass Don Macdonald’s Cabin (The Emergency Shelter.  We arrived on this beach, the final beach before Cow Bay around 7:45 PM. By this time the man with the heaviest backpack was sweating profusely. It was a warm day, in the low 20’s, the sweat was telling of the labour involved with moving his gigantic bag the nine kilometers. We discussed a plan and decided that we would carry on to Cow Bay, likely another 35 minutes of hiking.

wildside trail - walk the wildside
This section of the trail was A-typical for the headlands, Which are mostly dry and on old boardwalk

We only made it another five minutes down the beach before the two hikers with the heaviest bags expressed concern over the dwindling light and the desire to have camp organized and possibly have a fire lit by the time the sun set. The lady friend in the group had a minor crisis when one of her drinks burst in the top of her bag and filtered down through all of her clothing and down sleeping bag. She was hoping to have a little time to air her gear in the late evening sun. We caucused and came to a consensus quickly. We camped! The location had a beautiful view, not quite full west but good non the less and somewhat sheltered from the winds.  The only drawback to this location, no bear cash and no water source.

The first night got a little raucous. We stayed up late into the evening, by midnight I was ready for bed but my comrades were still going strong and discussion began about going for a night swim with the bioluminescence. I was contemplating bed as the other three headed into surf  just after midnight. Upon their return to the fire I was serenaded to sleep by the sweet sweet sounds of the three singing at the campfire. Or as best they could manage, I don’t think that between the three of them they could remember the lyrics to even one song. By three in the morning all the campers were snug in their tents.

wildside trail - walk the wildside

The next day we packed up and hiked toward Cow Bay. As expected the trip was only about 30 minutes. For a little bit of a surreal experience as we hit the beach we passed by Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, Anna & Kristina and one of the  Bare Naked Ladies. We selected a campsite on the beach and collected the small amount of wood available on the beach and then wandered off down the beach, taking advantage of low tide. We walked a good four kilometers down the beach, passing multiple headlands. Michael and I discussed the possibility of doing the entirety of Flores Island Provincial Park. The trail does not extend the length of the Island but I think it would be possible to hike most of the coast at low tide, likely with some bush waking to make it over the headlands that may otherwise be impassible.

wildside trail - walk the wildside

We arrived back at camp with many hours left in the day. The sun was high and the temperature in the mid to high twenties, perfect temperature for swimming! We hit the water… some may remember my rave reviews of the waters at Tapaltos Bay, this water was not the same! The water was cold. Terribly cold. By the time I walked into the water up to my waist the skin of my shins was singing out in pain. Not all the areas of the bay were this cold but the main portion of the beach is fully exposed to the Pacific Ocean, bringing with it all its frigidity!

We built a fire and sat close enjoying its warmth and the coziness that comes with shared experiences, until late into the evening. When I retired for the day I was content with the day’s adventure, I was left wanting nothing but the comfort of my sleeping bag.

wildside trail - walk the wildside

Morning brought pure sunshine. Because I don’t use a watch it was difficult to know if it was still early morning or if I had overslept. So I emerged from the cocoon of my sleeping bag and set about packing up my equipment, today we were going home.

Though the tide was high on our return trip, it was a very low high tide, this afforded us the ability to use a few of the beach routes, as opposed to the forest trails that provide the headland crossings. We did more exploring, revisiting Don MacDonald’s cabin (the emergency cabin) were I stopped in to see if I could find a water bag that I lost on my first trip to the island. Though I could not find my water bag, I am happy to report that the cabin continues to be in good repair and the last occupants left it in good condition. We closed the door to the cabin and meandered our way along the trail toward the river.

wildside trail - walk the wildside
one of the beautiful headland crossings

To ford the river barring our way home we removed our boots and waded through, the water almost to my groin.  Although, one member of the party is vertically challenged and needed piggyback assistance, the crossing was made easily and before long we continued on our way. We ventured round a few of the rocky points, which required some finesse to maneuver the tiny ledges of large rocks. Regardless, we all made it to our destination easily.

The sun continued to shine throughout the day and we made the 11km back to Ahousaht in only 3 hours, including snacks and rest time. As we walked onto the dock we were greeted by a different captain who offered us immediate passage to Tofino. We took him up on his offer.

All in all the trip was a resounding success and reaffirmed my love for the small island hikes in British Columbia.

wildside trail - walk the wildside

wildside trail - walk the wildside

wildside trail - walk the wildside

wildside trail - walk the wildside

wildside trail - walk the wildside

wildside trail - walk the wildside

wildside trail - walk the wildside

old baldy up in the limbs

we are not alone, mouse tracks

wildside trail - walk the wildside
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