This November marks the ten-year anniversary of the inaugural hike of the North Coast Trail. It has been our pleasure to host many wide-eyed campers over the years as they explore our rugged coast.
To celebrate our ten-year anniversary, we’ve put together ten memorable facts about the trail and its visitors from those who built, operate and live for the North Coast Trail. We hope it will remind past hikers of their unique experiences on our wild shores and encourage new ones to come and explore next summer! Here they are:
- 5,239 hikers have hiked the North Coast Trail since it opened to the public in May 2008. Compare that to the average 6,000 people that hike the West Coast Trail each summer and you’ll understand why hikers come to the NCT from far and wide for it’s wild, untouched feel. It’s possible that you’ll have a kilometre of sandy beach all to yourself at the end of the day! Historically, the busiest month has always been August and the quietest June. However, because numbers are so few you never have to make a reservation- a definite plus.
2. A visit to the Cape Scott Lighthouse is generally a triumphant moment for hikers of the trail who want to check off a visit to the most Westerly point of Vancouver Island. It’s keepers, Todd & Harvey, have been manning the station for 17 years!
3. The trail was built by crews who worked long shifts, slept in tents and had very few amenities. Early on the construction crew decided they wanted to build the trail without any electricity, not even generators. So, everyone got very comfortable with chainsaws and candles. One shift a crew decided to live almost exclusively off of mussels and used hand cut cedar shakes for plates. At least they didn’t have to do dishes!
4. Cape Sutil has the glory of calling itself the northernmost point of Vancouver Island. It is a favorite for visitors who love to stop for panoramic view on the trail. It is also the home of the notorious “poo journal.” The book is a record of thoughts, ponderings and illuminating epiphanies that visitors to the outhouse have kept over the years. Worth a stop in the woods for sure- as this is likely the only literature you’ll find on the trail!
5. Harvey, one of the lighthouse keepers at Cape Scott says “When the trail first opened, the majority of hikers were 50 years old plus. There was one lady who was pregnant when she hiked out, who later returned 10 years later with her son that she first carried out in her belly. That was a memorable visit!” The most unusual find he has seen washed up ashore during his time as a lighthouse keeper? A large sunfish on Experiment Bight in 2015 that weighed over 500 pounds!
6. It took over 4 years to build the North Coast Trail, with many delays due to rerouting because of sensitive ecological areas. Species at risk in the area, like the Red-legged frog, also prompted some reimagining of the originally planned route to protect the delicate species. At times there were up to twelve people working on the trail at once, especially close to the March 31st, 2007 funding deadline.
7. About ¾ of the way through construction, funding ran out. Construction crews were disbanded and the team began to lose hope that the project would ever be completed. As a last ditch effort, The Northern Vancouver Island Trails Society (NVITS) managed to secure a meeting with the Minister of Environment, Barry Penner, who had been a park ranger in the past. They put together a delegation that included the mayor of Port Hardy Hank Bood, the President of the NVITS Al Huddlestan, and the Construction Manager Shaun Korman. The three traveled to Victoria and had 20 minutes to convince the minister that they should provide last minute funding. The minister was a tough nut and didn’t seem impressed… so they left the meeting with little hope. Two weeks later they received a letter stating that the Minister had approved the proposal and that the NCT could be completed!
8. Ever wonder how a project like this goes from ideation to a literal path through the woods? Cathy Denham, the project coordinator comments: “The project was sitting on the shelf gathering dust after it was first suggested in 1994. In the early 2000s, the North Island was experiencing a large downturn in the economy. We ran some focus groups to look at the possibilities of how to diversify it. Tourism was really the number one sector that was supported throughout the region. We took that old plan from 1994 off the shelf and reviewed it, then started a volunteer committee to get the project off the ground. As there was such a downturn in the area, there were funds available from the Federal Softwood initiative, some Fishing Downturn money and the Coast Sustainability Trust- plus labour grants to fund the wages of hired workers. Although we were approved for $600,000, at the last minute they changed it to $500,000, which was a big loss. Then, our start date was delayed because of Red-legged frogs! When we finally did get started, it was late fall and a big chunk of the money needed to be spent by March 31st. Needless to say, a lot of the work was done that winter!”
9. Babe and George, the operators of the North Coast Trail Shuttle (NCTS) had lots of great stories to share of the laughs and embarrassments they have witnessed dropping off and picking up guests over the years. One of their favorite questions they’ve ever gotten came from a large group of young campers:
“You ask him”…”No, you ask him!” This coming from a large group of hikers that wondered what kind of weird sea creatures goes “Owoooo…Owoooo” at night around the Cape Sutil and Nahwitti Campsites. HaHa! That would be the “Nahwitti Bar can buoy”. The sound comes from a diaphram that works when it goes up and down on the swell and makes the “Owooo” sound for mariners in the fog.
Probably not the answer the campers were expecting, but glad they asked!
10. On the public opening day of May 10, 2008, NCTS dropped its first North Coast Trailers Jeff Hunt and Bob Wall off at Shushartie Bay at first light. They ran the trail in 11 hours! No one has come close to that time in 10 years. If you’d like to read more about the experience, you can read Jeff Hunt’s blog post.
11. The company that operates the park, 43K Wilderness Solutions is called 43K because its two business partners met while working on the trail, which is 43 kilometers long. We have been proud to operate Cape Scott since 2005, the North Coast Trail since it’s inception, as well as BC’s oldest Provincial Park, Strathcona!
If you have a story or special memory from your hike, we’d love to hear it! It always warms our hearts to hear of another kindred spirit enjoying the trail. Hope to see more of you out next season.