Three Days on the Juan de Fuca trail (with a cat)

The Juan de Fuca trail is a 47km (29 mile) long hiking trail on the southwestern corner of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It runs along the coast between Sooke and Port Renfrew. You can do the entire length of the trail in 4-5 days, but we only had 3 so we came up with a different plan. We decided to start at the Parkinson trailhead (about 15 minutes south of Port Renfrew) and head south.

On the first day of our adventure we left early to ensure we had enough time to make it to our first destination at Sombrio beach. Heading south from the trailhead you start making your way toward the ocean through the dense west coast forest. As you get closer to the water, the dense forest canopy begins to fade and make way for the windswept brush and few tall trees able to brave the strong, unforgiving west coast weather. Although the scenery changed and fluctuated throughout the trek, one thing that remained constant was the mud… Despite reading and hearing numerous first hand accounts detailing the just how muddy the trail is, we were still not fully prepared. Fortunately, we brought our hiking poles (a necessity). Unfortunately, we opted to not bring gaiters (very highly recommended). This resulted in boots thats were very quickly filled with mud, as well as a less than thrilled kitty who decided that riding on the backpack would be his preferred mode of transportation, but more about that later.

We continued down island, past Little Kuitshe campsite (the destination for our second night) and made our way 9 km (5.5 miles) south to Sombrio Beach. Normally there is a trailhead quite close to the beach that allows for a short walk to the Sombrio Beach East campsite, but on the long weekend that we went, the trailhead was closed to deter parties and vandalism that have occurred there in the past. When we arrived at Sombrio East, a few other groups had set up camp on the Sandy beach and we just didn’t find the “perfect” spot for us that evening, so we decided to backtrack a few hundred meters to Sombrio Beach West. Here we found a perfect positioned raised tent pad overlooking the ocean, very close to a creek with abundant fresh water for cooking and cleaning. All of this accompanied by the beautiful weather made this camping spot our little paradise for the night.

One thing that some (most) may find strange, is that we brought our cat… named Fish. Although this might seem crazy, he is part of the family and he comes everywhere. We left our other cat, Chips, at Iain’s parents house to spend the weekend frolicking with his other best cat friend, Wallace. Although Chips is a great little adventure cat, this kind of backpacking isn’t really his thing. Maybe one day he will come along, but for now he seems quite content to stick with trailer camping and day hikes. Fish on the other hand, was in his element. Riding in the backpack, hanging out on the beach and snoozing in our sleeping bags. Living the (Adventure Cat) dream.

Granted Fish is a great little hiking companion, bringing a cat isn’t always easy. It’s not for everyone and I totally understand those that choose to leave their pets at home. I’m sure there will be times when it’s just not practical for us to bring either of them. Backpacking, for example, can be difficult on its own. Ensuring you have enough food and supplies for multiple people for multiple days and carrying everything on your back certainly isn’t your average walk in the park. Add to this making sure you have enough food, water, clothing (yes, clothing) for a kitty and things begin to add up quickly. Fish on his owns weighs around 15 lbs and once you include his gear, that can easily add nearly 20 lbs to a backpack. Now, all that being said, in our eyes, it is absolutely worth that extra work if it means our four legged friend can join our adventure. If we don’t bring him, we don’t get to see him happily sitting by the campfire listening to the ocean lap against the shore, or endlessly chattering at and chasing the blue jays hanging around the campsite. And, if we don’t have our little Fish, that means we don’t get sleeping bag snuggles…There’s really nothing better than sleeping bag snuggles.

On day 2 of our little adventure, we were in no rush to leave our wonderful campsite. Our plan was to spend the next 2 days making our way back to the trailhead we started at. This meant we only had a 5 km hike on day 2 and 4 km more on day 3. After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, dried fruit and some yummy tea, we packed up camp and started to head north. Sections of the trail take you right out onto the beach. We quickly learned that these parts were not Fish’s favourite. He would constantly try to run to the tree-line to find shelter from the ocean breeze. This, combined with a bear that was roaming the beach between us and the trail, meant our day was off to a slower start. Once we were back on the muddy trail however, we made good time and arrived at Little Kuitshe Campsite, our destination for the night.

Once camp was set up, we decided to find a nice spot to enjoy the sun and some lunch. Making our way towards the water, we began climbing down some steeper rocks and before we knew it we had stumbled upon a beautiful little cove that we had all to ourselves. This private little spot was once again, perfect. The rocks all around sheltered us from the wind as the sun radiated off them, making it feel like mid summer. The ocean had created 2 caves that stretched roughly 75 meters under the cliff and trees above. The salt water was rather chilly, but just the right temperature to cool off the feet after a couple days of trekking through the mud. We spent the afternoon there by the water, Fish sprawled out on our packs at our side, soaking up the sun while watching the waves break in front of us. As the sun crept around the hillside behind us and it began to cool down, we decided clamber back up the rocks to our camp. Not long after dinner we laid down and before we knew it the sound of the ocean had put us both to sleep.

The third day was rather uneventful. We woke to find the west coast fog had covered everything with a damp spray. After a quick breakfast we decided it best to pack up camp and make our way back to the car, parked 4 km away. As we hiked, the sun managed to burn off the fog and very quickly it began to feel like summer again. Although we were backtracking on sections of trail we hiked just a few days prior, I find the you always notice different features when approaching from the opposite direction. The rickety wooden stairs and bridges felt both foreign and familiar as we dove back in to the deep green forest. We arrived back at the trailhead just after noon. The parking lot that was near empty when we showed up was now over flowing onto the dirt road leading up to it. People were milling about by their vehicles as we traded our mud soaked boots and socks for sandals and flip flops. Fish was exploring the area around the car (as he does) and attempting to make friends with anyone who passed by. Minutes later, with the packs loaded and Fish curled up comfortably in the air conditioned footwell, we began the winding drive down West Coast Road back to civilization.

Outside Cat Club