Monday, 5 November 2012

Juan de Fuca Trail

This past June, Allison and Ramsey (the two fastest physios in Vancouver), myself, and Katie did the Juan de Fuca trail in a day. The Juan de Fuca trail is a 47k trail from China Beach to Port Renfrew with approximately 2000m of net elevation gain.
after-work drinks
We arrived in Port Renfrew on Friday night just as it got dark. The rain had fully committed. As we would be spending most of our time on the trail, we had opted for the most basic accomodation possible: Hiker's Huts. These came with four walls, a light switch, many many coat hooks, and bunk beds. The bathrooms were out in another building. There was no reason to linger in the huts, or on the front porches (watching the rain). Instead, we went to the Coastal Cafe - a restaurant right across the road. This was owned by Hanna's highschool friend and her husband. Inside was wood floors, a big board with the menu written on it, sofas - exactly the kind of cozy place that makes you want to call this whole run idea off and spend a lazy weekend day reading and drinking coffee.

Since it was Friday night, Katie and I immediately grabbed drinks. Ramsey joined us. Allison had a coffee instead. Somehow, between the four of us, one of the huge chocolate chip cookies was purchased and immediately disappeared.

As did the second drink that Katie and I ordered.

base training
I had done several hikes that lasted 8-10 hours. I had done exactly one 5-hr kneeknacker training run the week before. During this run, I managed to wipe out badly enough to take a decent amount of skin off my left hip, and roll my left ankle - twice. I was definitely ready to do a 47k long run on wet, rooty trails.

start strong
Hanna drove us to China Beach early on the Saturday morning. Low grey clouds hugged the coast. We were all very quiet on the car ride. Ramsey brought his camera and Katie brought her iphone to take pictures with. Although the forecast called for heavy rain, Katie decided not to use one of the 10 ziploc bags I brought to put our gear in.

The trail is divided up into sections: moderate, most difficult, difficult and (finally, at the end) moderate.

The first 2k on the trail were great: everything was (relatively) dry, and we took a nice downhill to break into our first ocean views. We had a drink of water. We took a lot of pictures.

Then the rain started, and the climbs started. Juan de Fuca is different than the North Shore trails, or the trails around Whistler - the climbs on Juan de Fuca are a lot shorter, but there are a hell of a lot more of them. It's not about getting into a steady uphill rythmn, but more about powering up to the top of the hill then dodging roots on the next downhill. As the rain increased, the downhill sections got muddier and muddier.

beach break
The trail had sections where we had to go along the beach, following buoys hung from trees along the shore. In warm, sunny weather, I can see these sections being a highlight. In the steady rain, we slipped over large rocks, steadying ourselves on huge logs, always a bit anxious to make sure we didn;t miss the small opening in the trees when the trail climbed back into forest.

moderate section
At some point, the uphills stopped being runnable. They stopped being walk-able, or even hike-able. Instead, we would pull ourselves up using roots and tree stumps that we hoped would hold our weight. The trail had markers every kilometer, and was well-signed (at least compared to the trails I had been running on the north shore). However, there was me and my ability to get lost in pretty much any situation - this must have been a bit contagious.

At one point, we were struggling up a nearly-vertical slope, covered in slick clay mud. We had to pull ourselves up an overhanging cliff using an especially dubious root system. After hauling himself up, Ramsey commented: "this is the moderate portion of the trail."

The comment would have been funnier if, at the top, we once again saw the trail. Instead, we saw trees, and bushes, and glimpes of ocean. No marker, no trails. Back down the clay, hugging the cliffside, and a decent backtrack to find the trail.

chafing break
Hanna arranged to meet us at the Sombrio beach parking lot, about 29k into the trail. The parking lot where we would meet was at the end of a long beach crossing. By the time we reached the crossing, we had been running in the rain for almost 6 hours. Katie's shorts weren't dealing well with being soaking wet, and she was feeling a lot of chafing. To combat this, she had pulled up the shorts as far as they could go. From a couple feet away, she appeared to be running in a slightly baggy, bikini bottom.

While making our way across the beach, Katie met a woman, and was able to chat while holding up her shorts with one hand.

lost (again)
The Sombrio beach section was the busiest part of the trail. Backpackers were hunkered down under tarps, waiting out the rain. Day hikers in slickers were meandering along the beach. A normal person would have easily spotted the signs to the parking lot. However, having 4 run/hike-stupid people meant getting lost several times. We attempted to get directions from some campers, but they were too distracted by Katie's shorts / underwear look that we ended up going in the opposite direction.

Finally, we stumbled out into the parking lot, to find Hanna and her friend waiting with an umbrella, changes of clothing, mocha and a lot of boiled potatoes and trail mix. Between getting lost and being slow, we were well past the planned meeting time. They had started to ask people in the parking lot if anybody had seen four runners - and one woman had! She was worried: "one of tem had really bad chafing, too."

The new clothing we put on stayed dry for about 3 minutes - the time we needed to return to the trailhead. To keep morale up, we thought about people who were backpacking the trail over several days: at least we had food, beds, and dry clothing at the end of the trail - a mere 18km away. The last section of the trail was supposed to be moderate. I think, in dryer conditions, it would have been. We splashed through ankle deep water - in the good sections. In the final couple kilometers of the trail, we came across two stream crossings. Or what would be streams in the summer. We couldn't see through the milky brown water to the bottom. We decided to risk it - by sending Ramsey to scout the conditions. Once he had a secure footing, and moderate hypothermia, he helped the rest of us across. It was sort of a pre-shower to help get all of the mud and dirt off.

best sister ever
The final 1km of the trail was marked easy. By this time, we had been running well over ten hours. When I saw a woman standing by the 46km marker with an umbrella, I wondered who was crazy enough to voluntarily be out in this weather. It was Hanna, Ramsey's sister and our amazing crew member. She ran the last part with us, in gumboots, while holding an umbrella to shelter us from getting any wetter.

There aren't many pictures on this post. Ramsey's camera had a low battery sign about 15 minutes into the run. Katie's iPhone lasted a bit longer - we think. The waterproof case didn't live up to its name. The screen went dark, although a lone green light on the side was still on. Even after a lot of time in the rice jar, the phone never came back to life. My white compression socks are still several shades darker.

shoes - 47k later

the morning after: run hangover, recovery wine hangover

The next day, we woke up to a light, misty rain. As we drove back to the ferry, the sun came out.

postscript #2
One of my friends did the Juan de Fuca trail in early September. He complained that there was too much dust on the trail, since everything was so dry. That is like complaining to me there is too much delicious in a piece of cheese. To make me feel better, his group also took over ten hours to complete it: not due to rain, or lack of fitness, or poor navigation. They had run into a bear cub. They then ran into the mother of the bear club. Over an hour later, their beach "short-cut" got cliffed out, and they had to scramble to return to the trail (but at least they were dry!).

some stats
total time: 10.5hrs
finger pruny-ness - extreme
gels consumed - 9
cliff bars - 3
times katie complained about having to take the gels / cliff bars out of my bag when I was too lazy to take it off myself - 0
sea shanties sung by Katie - 2
times going "exploring" on "scenic detours" - 4

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