Exploring Vancouver Island's Shrouded Shores and Frigid Waters
Less an actual measure, “island time” is more of a mentality, one where each day, encounter, and moment is approached with its own unique respect and sometimes painful contemplation. Island time allows plans to adjust, fail, and reform with a certain fleeting fluidity that’s reflected in the winter sun as it makes its brief journey across the northern sky.
This mentality had informed our day since watching the sun rise aboard a ferry bringing us from the mainland of British Columbia to Vancouver Island’s rugged shores. It pulled us from major highways to barely formed pavement. Docked at the wrong terminal, we found ourselves winding through impossibly steep woodland mountains en route to our coastal destination. Guided by island time, we arrived at a remote section of coastline north of the Juan De Fuca Provincial Park. Our plan was to take advantage of the low-tide and collect mussels for dinner off the briefly exposed rocks.
Finally we were bounding down the winding trail to Sombrio Beach in the dying light of the Pacific winter sunset. A final few muddied live-in vans and trucks with more rust than paint filtered out of the dirt lot behind us as we stepped out from the dense forest and onto the cobblestone beach. We then discovered that we would be the area’s sole-inhabitants for the night.
The “Graveyard of the Pacific,” an affectionate title given to the Strait of Juan De Fuca that that divides the Washington Peninsula and Vancouver Island, sits a mere dozen feet from our tents. The name refers to the 137 shipping tragedies that occurred in the area from 1830 to 1925, where even the moist soil of the West Coast Trail just north of us was carved along the Pacific side of the island to save shipwrecked sailors. Now one of Canada’s most popular hiking trails, it speaks to that island time adaptation that has also recognized these hazardous seas as home to some of the best—albeit fickle— surfing in the Northwest.
Waves crashed a few feet away in the dead of night, but we could only listen as our fire only stretched far enough to cook our fresh mussels in a broth of seawater, white wine, and butter. Our five-star meal to counter our backwoods surroundings was quickly brought back to reality when our only cast iron skillet made room for the pasta. An empty beer-box held our shucked mussel shells until it was torn into impromptu plates for the meal.
With no alarms set, the rising tide and sunrise light served as a more than ample substitute to nudge us out of our sleeping bags in the misty morning light. Breakfast was cooked with a side of waiting for high-tide and bigger swell as we decided to hike to a pristine waterfall down the beach. Once aware of our plans, Guiry put them to rest by informing us that a far less frequented waterfall was just beside our campsite. The only catch? A mile-long swim upstream through frigid rapids, under-water tunnels, and climbing a few extra waterfalls along the way. Game on.
An hour later, content, exhausted, and freezing we found ourselves floating back downstream through the deep amber river water that had been stained an impossible whiskey-red by the red cedar trees that flanked the riverbanks.
Effortlessly, the Sombrio River pushed us back out into the Pacific Ocean. Right back beside our campsite where few and barely ridable waves greeted us. Clear that the south-swell we had been promised was being blocked by the Olympic Peninsula, we decided to pack up and head north to more favorable conditions. Skunked, but far from discontent, we packed up camp and let island time float us along.
Up Next: More exploring Vancouver Island, British Columbia
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Read all the “Exploring the Cold Coast” dispatches.
The Adventurists blog series “Exploring the Cold Coast” is sponsored by Sperry, which provided footwear and apparel for this adventure.
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