“It might be a little muddy,” our server said enthusiastically, “But you can get around it!”
That would turn out to be the understatement of the year, as my friend and I would discover several exhausting hours into our hike the next day. But at the time, it solidified our plans. Armed with directions and a vote of confidence from a local with experience on the trail, we were determined to find the crash site of a downed World War II Canso plane near Tofino. The bomber had apparently crashed in 1945 during a terrible winter storm, with the crew surviving (I would not have agreed had there been potential for angry ghost vibes). The trail promised views of not only the crashed plane, but also a large pond next to it, created by bombs that were detonated shortly before impact.
While unmarked, the trailhead was supposed to be easy to find. A simple walk from Radar Hill parking lot about a kilometre south, with a marked pole signalling the entrance to a decommissioned road which was now the trail. Easy!
Not easy. We drove up and down the highway trying to spot that stupid entrance, with no luck. Finally, we settled upon parking at Schooner Cove with the intent of finding the trailhead on foot, thinking it would be more visible. Walking along a busy highway was a challenge. Spotting a path that may have once been a road was a bit of a gong show. We finally came to a clearing that looked promising and Kevin forged ahead to investigate, before I heard a loud holler. He came crashing back out of the bush in a mad dash – not only was this not the trail, but he had also unfortunately stepped on a half-dead critter, and suspected that its attempted killer was waiting in the bush ready to pounce. We moved on quickly.
After almost six kilometres with no trail in sight, I finally admitted defeat and pulled out my phone to Google better directions (sidenote: bring a phone, or GPS for this trail) and discovered that the telephone poles had recently been replaced along this stretch of road, which explained our wandering with no avail. The trailhead now has a small airplane drawn on it for reference, and is about 15 poles from the Radar Hill parking lot.
I almost cried when I saw the plane, for two reasons:
1. We were already exhausted and hadn’t started the trail
2. I was convinced we were going to get attacked by a bear, and that it would laugh at my whistle before absolutely owning me
Kevin, on the other hand, was like a kid on Christmas morning and pumped to do the trail! So off we went.
The initial track was well-marked and easy to follow. Once the sounds of the highway had faded off into the distance our minds simultaneously began to wonder about what (or who) might live in the forest (hello bears!!), and we spent the next few minutes stomping loudly and yelling “LOUD NOISES!” to scare off any would-be predators. Thankfully (and perhaps eerily), we encountered nothing. Not even a bird. Just dead silence apart from our winded selves and aforementioned shoes kicking rocks and dirt.
After about 20 minutes, we came across the first indications that we were on the right track – a sign from Parks Canada informing that this wasn’t a maintained trail, and this:
Then the real fun started. The open space disappeared and we began pushing ourselves through low-hanging branches, vines and down steep hills. Then we hit the swamp. “A little muddy” was in reality knee-deep mud and sludge (perhaps more) that went on and on. Someone had been kind enough to string up a rope which we clung to as we inched along tree roots and fallen limbs. Navigating became next to impossible as every direction looked the same – impassible.
And that was when we came to the sad realization that we were stuck. Kevin, bless him, tried to find alternative routes around the massive sink hole of mud surrounding us but it was no use. The trees we had climbed along had gotten higher and harder to access, and the recent rain had left everything moist and extra slippery.
At this point, I realized my legs were itchy and glanced down to notice that I was wearing pants made of mosquitos. Like a cool carnival dude with a beard made of bees, except this wasn’t badass at all. This was INSANELY ITCHY, and involved balancing on fallen tree limbs whilst trying not to focus on the fact that my legs were on fire. As I wobbled along, dropping a lot of curse words, my legs covered in all of the mosquitos in the Pacific Northwest, I wanted out. And we sadly realized we had to abandon the hike so close to the end.
The trek back along the highway to the car was a true walk of shame, with our limbs and spirits utterly crushed. I had to stop every few steps to madly scratch my legs – passing cars no doubt thought I’d rolled through the poison ivy I’d spied in the ditch. Kevin narrowly avoided death thanks to a van that hugged the curve of the highway a wee bit too close – once our heart rates had returned to normal we quickened our pace back to the car, so kudos to that driver for that unexpected shot of energy. When we finally stumbled into the parking lot I had never been so happy to see our junky Corolla rental waiting just where we’d left her, and we went and ate tacos to turn the day back around.
Takeaways from the experience:
- The importance of getting directions from a second person to compare – obviously our server had not done the trail recently, and wouldn’t have known the markers had changed.
- Bring bug spray. Dear God. Or maybe just wear a beekeeper’s suit.
- Along the same lines, hip waders probably wouldn’t have been the worst things in the world!
Have you attempted this hike?