Hiking in the Mist

Peace on Bear Beach
By Brian Payton
  |  Gorp.com

Out here, tranquillity can be a temporary circumstance. The British Columbia Parks brochure warns of black bears, cougars, the oft-dangerous sea. "Occasionally an extra-powerful rogue wave will hit a beach," it explains. "These waves are capable of pulling visitors into the water."

As we walk, the trail skirts a cliff overlooking the sometimes-deadly sea. Since a British sealing expedition lost two ships off the coast of Vancouver Island in 1786, hundreds of ships—from three-masted schooners, to seiners and brigs—have disappeared off this island's western shore. The worst area, up at the end of the trail near Port Renfrew, has claimed so many vessels it has earned the epithet,"Graveyard of the Pacific." Names like Orpheus, Island Brave and Three Sons III are written tragically, forever, somewhere in the deep.

Four miles from Mystic, Bear Beach is boulder strewn with the odd drift of sand. Despite its name, there is neither bear nor human, here to greet us. In a small cove at the end of the beach we make our day camp and collect wood for a fire. One could live forever here and not run out of driftwood for the fire. The beach is scattered with bits of driftwood—some small and round like stones, others, enormous aged trees—all bleached bone white with a slightly pinkish hue. Although the fog has retreated about 500 yards off shore, Washington state's Olympic peninsula, on the other side of the strait, is still blocked from sight.

We take a minute to peel off our soggy shirts and absorb the sun. An unusual sea stack dominates our tiny cove. Sitting on its narrow pedestal in the slack tide, it seems a mishappened piece of reality; more at home in a Dali painting than our gravity restricted world. Curtis-Ray tries to nail it with a stone and scores on his third attempt. I try eight times with no luck. A harbor seal bobs in the seaweed, wide-eyed and wondering just what we think we're doing.

After lunch we meet a couple who warn us of the rough road ahead. They've seen east-bound hikers arrive here absolutely spent. We unfold the trail map and consider our immediate future. The various sections of the trail are rated from "easy" to "most difficult." Just past this cove are five miles that comprise the most difficult parts. Bravado gets the best of us. Cakewalk, we say: Bring it on.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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