The Sunshine Coast Trail [SCT] is a no cost 180km back-country hut to hut hiking trail found on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast accessible by two short ferry hops from Vancouver.  The trail endpoints are at Sarah Point on the North Westerly tip and Saltry Bay on the South Easterly end and is more commonly hiked from Sarah Point to Saltry Bay.  The trail is extremely well marked with orange square markers every few meters and km markers throughout, the trail maintainers who volunteer to keep this trail open have truely done a magnificent job.

The trail transverses through young & old growth evergreen forest, over mountains, through valleys, along coastal shorelines, crossing creeks and streams with many beautiful secluded lakes along the way with water perfect for a dip.  This truly is a wilderness trail, at points along the way you can find yourself over thirty kilometers deep in the woods and wildlife with no signs of civilization other then the lightly trodden trail that reassuringly guides you through the forest innards and onto the next evenings camping destination.

My friend Bryan & I started yapping about hiking this trail a few months back as something to do for a week after I quit working the nine to five giving me the opportunity explore some other fun living without the constraints of three weeks vacation and two free days per week that the nine to five staples to your back.  We set the date for my first free week and straight up I can say it’s going to be a very difficult week to top, it was a brilliant experience!

We devoted seven days to hiking a one hundred kilometer leg of the trail from Mowat Bay to Lang Bay, exiting the trail at Lois Lake where we ditched the motorbike on a quiet residential street before taking a $65 taxi ride to Mowat Bay to jump on our start of the trail.

Preparation

Hands up… Neither of us have ever done a multi day wilderness hike like this before and with multiple other activities going on in the periphery of the lead up to this hike we did not do as much research as we could have to prepare for the trip but as it turns out, it was enough for the trail conditions at the time.

Foodwise we needed to start the hike with all the calories for consumption during the trip since there are no calorie for cash exchange services along the way.  A quick mental calculation of the average adult male calorie requirement of 2,500 per day plus an arbitrary 500 since we’ll be anting heavy packs through the forest for five plus hours per day gets us to 18,000 calories each to comfortably sustain ourselves throughout the week.  Once you roughly know how many calories you’re gonna need it’s simply a calorie counting exercise of dehydrated food, trail mix, instant noodles, kraft dinner, jerky, powdered potato, serial bars and the obligatory 375ml of Captain Morgans Spiced Rum [that’s 725 Calories 😉]

We entered the trail with exactly no water but we did have a Platypus Gravity Works water filter for straining lake and creek water voiding it of any biological contaminants and saving us from strapping 20 litres of water each to our packs.

I love you Platypus Gravity Filter, Moah Moah Moah…


Day One – Mowat Bay to Tony’s Point – 3km

Leaving Vancouver at 11am with Bryan, myself, all our motorcycle gear, hiking packs & camping gear loaded on my motorbike, yup, it was tight, we headed for Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry to Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast, from here we drove to Earl’s Cove to catch a second ferry to Saltry Bay.  Once at Saltry Bay we scouted around to try and find a place to ditch the motorbike and riding gear, load our packs and grab a $65 taxi ride taking us from Lang Bay to Mowat Bay arriving for 6pm.

After a short hour of hiking we hit upon Tony’s Point on the edge of Powell Lake, this looked like the perfect place for swimming and camping so we abandoned any idea of knocking out some more kilometers on our first day and set up camp for the evening, it didn’t take long before all the clothes were also abandoned and we were in the lake thrilled with our camp for the evening.

Our high spirits were crushed upon getting dinner going when I couldn’t find my pot to boil water that we needed to prepare all of the dry food we had with us for the week, pulling my bag apart and rifling through the contents multiple times the realisation was soaring, we had no pot (at least not the metal kind), and with no pot there was no food, and with no food there was no hike, I think I needed a nap at this point to come to terms with this new state of consciousness & mentally reconcile the fuckup.  Our most prominent option was a $130 round trip taxi fare to the motorbike and half a day lost to reunite us with a seemingly insignificant piece of metal that would enable us to eat for the week.

Alongside this mental anguish, my brain was eyeing one of our two primus stove gas canisters strewn on the bench among the contents of my pack and was plotting a way to sacrifice and repurpose it into a pot, wondering if the one gas stove remaining would take us through the week.  I had a wood saw & an axe with me and figured we could boil water on the campfire where we could to save on gas so it seemed like a plausible solution from most angles.  The biggest hurdle to this option was we had no sharp knife to try and work off the top of the steel gas canister since the best cutty knife we had was also in the pot, locked in a box, back on the motorbike in Lang Bay.

Advancing this notion further I picked up a twig and used it to drain the gas out of the full canister, freezing fingers and hands in the process. Once empty I tried grinding the top off on a nearby rock but this was much effort without any sign of speedy progress so I abandoned it and picked up the axe to try and lever off the top closure of the canister.  After an hour of determination it was off and boiling our first half litre of water by the campfire which I threw out just incase there was any nasty chemical residue inside.  Bryan had found some wire nearby that made a pretty good pot handle and we were back in business munching on rehydrated Shephard’s Pie out of a bag by the campfire slowly recovering from the trauma, happy that we didn’t have to go back to the motorbike and could move onwards in the morning with the rest of the hike.

We were laughing at what people might think if they hiked past us while we were heating a gas canister (out pot) on our stove or in the campfire, for added effect we could run away while covering our heads if any guests showed up 😛 .  Before crawling into the sleeping bags for the night we were treated with a full moon rising over the mountain shimmering on the water and softly lighting up the lake.


 

Day Two – Tony’s Point to Confederation Lake – 23km

After an Elysian Coffee (yeah baby!) and granola bar breakfast we packed up our shit and set out with no real intent on destination since we were still unsure how far we could comfortably hike with the heavy packs.  We made our way from Tony’s Point on to Lost lake where we stopped a while to look at the Bull Frogs and other winged wildlife floating over the lake and surrounding forest.  From here we made our way onto Inland Lake which is large and paved with compacted stone chips all around its 13km circumference so that wheelchair bound folk can access and navigate their way around the lake.  There were lots of Garter Snakes and Bull Frog tadpoles swimming in the lake, the later stages of Bull Frog Tadpoles are huge, like mouse sized but longer.

After hiking around the lake we came to Anthony’s Island which is separated a stones throw from the mainland by the lake with a bridge crossing onto the Island we found our first rudimentary trail hut and a sandy beach at the back end of the tiny island, the weather was sunny, they water was warm and the dip was welcome.

We met a fellow trail hiker, Nanci Lee at the communal bench by the hut preparing food who we joined for lunch after our swim.  Nanci was easy company to be in and was fun to exchange stories with, she had some misfortune on the trail when the sole of her hiking boot separated so she came off trail and stayed with a friend living nearby while she got setup with a new set of soles.  Getting back on the trail she realised that all her cheese was back in her friends fridge, knowing she would not have enough calories she had to abandon the trail and was spending her last night on the Island, writing & enjoying the peaceful surroundings.

We shared our pot misfortune story and she offered us her pot for the remainder of our trip since she wouldn’t need it anymore, we just had to mail it back once we got off the trail.  Bryan rolled a nice thank you donation in exchange for the pot generosity before we parted company and made our way up the 500 meter altitude ascent into Confederation Lake were we met the one and only rain shower of the week just as we arrived at the hut.  We got a fire going and used Nanci’s pot to get dinner going, we were pretty beat by the end of this 23km hike, not being used to the uphill hiking or the weight on our backs.  There was only one other hiker using the hut that night and we camped out in the tent by the lake.


 

Day Three – Confederation Lake to Tin Hat Mountain – 15km

Today was a big climby day with a 1km ascent and 15km lateral hike to get us stomping atop Tin Hat Mountain and enjoying the 360° panoramic views of the surrounding lakes, mountains & valleys.  Tin Hat makes people a little nervous since it’s a dry mountain, no water access up there so you need to carry all the water you need to see you through your stay.  Unsure where the water access was between Fiddlehead Landing and the top of Tin Hat we dropped our packs and made a 2km detour to fill up with as much water as we could carry at Fiddlehead, this consisted of a litre each in our bellies, 2 litres in my clean bag, 2 litres in my dirty bag to be filtered & 1.5 litres in Bryan’s platypus bag and another litre in one if his used food bags for a total of 8.5 litres & the same additional weight in Kg, walking away from the lake to get us through 24 hours of cooking and drinking.

We made lunch on the trail along the way and ate many of the wild Salmon Berries that peppered the trail edges while hoping we wouldn’t encounter any Momma Bears with the same culinary ideas on our path.  The 1km uphill battle to Tin Hat was a sweaty hot mess of a climb requiring many mini pit stops along the way.  My pack was starting to massage sores into my lower back so I used Bryan’s Air pillow (Thanks Bryan 😉 ) as a cushion between my pack and sweaty back to shift the pressure points and it worked great.

We hit the top of Tin Hat for 6pm and had the place entirely to ourselves for a few hours until one more hiking couple rolled in just before sundown.  The summit of the mountain is marked with a green rocket shaped fiberglass structure that may be a weather station which has been semi-tastefully defaced (biased viewpoint here) with the painting of an Irish Leprechaun (Nice Work Boys!).  The evening wound down with many fluffy cumulus clouds passing just barely out of reach while altering through various shades of orange induced by the setting sun, subsiding to the glow of our hilltop campfire, not long after we slept in the hut which we had to ourselves for the night.


 

Day Four – Tin Hat Mountain to Lewis Lake – 10km

Today we decided on an easy peasy little baby hike down Tin Hat Mountain to Lewis Lake where by 3pm we had set up residence.  There was a small camping plot and a bench made from a tree, hmmm, more like, made from logs,  just looking out over the lake.  This seemed like a good place to wash the forest and sweat out of my clothing, thanks to the lake, and set up a clothes line to let them dry in the afternoon sun.

I chopped some deadwood for an evening campfire while Bryan took a nap after which it seemed like the appropriate time & place to consume some Psilocybe Cubensis that Someone just happened to have so we did just that while getting the fire and dinner in a bag going.  The lake took on a surreal vibe through the smoke of the fire, and the atmosphere over the lake took on a liquid like affect, with the light warping heat rising from the fire, distorting my image of the lake like it was itself swirling in something else.

There was a poor tree nearby, pissing it’s sap all over the place like it was a forest fire, its bark up high looked like it was damaged somehow and it was loosing its life juice, dribbling it all down its trunk, the drips looked like they eternally slowed down time, sap ready to drop but fixed in time & space relative to mine, just hanging there suspended, a perfectly clear upside down globe of the lakeside in front of me, crisply focusing the light on the back of my eye, through the drop, the mushrooms appreciated this.

We hung out by the fire into the late evening watching all the animal activity around, at one point there was what looked to be a Beaver, making a trail across the lake water with its head just above the surface, cutting the water like a knife, leaving a V of ripples in its wake with the peak emanating from its head.


 

Day Five – Lewis Lake to Elk Lake – 15km

It’s hard to have a favourite on this trail but there was something about Elk Lake that made the stay particularly enjoyable, maybe it was the the best swimming, or the beautiful sunny views, or the 5am moonset, or the morning mist rising off the lake, I could spend a whole week here doing nothing at all, being entertained by the occasional hiker that stops by with the same positive attitudes that day after day on the trail helps induce.

After an easy 10am start out of Lewis Lake we hiked for a couple of hours bringing us to March Lake which is less than an hour from Elk Lake, our destination for the night.  We arrived at March Lake for 1.38pm (thank you image timestamp) and stopped for lunch, usually an hour long affair but this one ended up extending closer to 4 hours, where we consumed Bryan’s Mickey of Captain Morgans which packs the same alcohol quantity as eight beers in a conveniently portable package, perfect for hiking.  There was no table or seats here but we manoeuvred a large log to use as a table and found some longer logs to use as seats, there was a stump sitting there that looked like it had been gnawed by a beaver.

We sat and watched the Eagles soar over the forest for minutes on end without even the hint of a flap to sustain their altitude in the air, we also met a German couple who stopped in to have a look at the lake, also having Elk Lake as their destination, these two traveled from Germany especially to hike the Sunshine Coast Trail.

After four hours of total lushlike behaviour we erected our bones again and used them to stumble ourselves through the forest for another hour before arriving at Elk Lake.  The final stretch is a 250 meter uphill climb leading over a ridge and into Elk Lake which has a hut & a diving pier made out of logs which greatly assists with overcoming the temperature shock when transitioning the body from air to water.  The swimming here was my favourite, after the first minute of getting used to the water temperature it was warm enough to stay in for half an hour, it was deep enough at the diving point to never experience the bottom and there was a wood ladder to help us out at the end.

In the early am we both got out briefly at different times and experienced the moon setting over the lake just before the sunrise, the lake was covered in mist slowly moving across its surface, it was memorizing sitting on the pier drifting in the fog.  After our final morning swim of the week we got on the trail again with Walt Hill as our destination.


 

Day Six – Elk Lake to Walt Hill – 16km

Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, the same day my parents wed, our final full day on the trail before hitting Lang Bay tomorrow.  This trail was a good way to fully appreciate all those hours of daylight.

Walt Hill was another beauty of a location with amazing views overlooking the mountains from the top of another mountain.  In the late evening after sunset, standing on a ledge over a cliff you fade into the black mountain on which you stand, you become just an eye interpreting the faint light from the shadows of the opposing mountains, discernible only against the dimly lit sky from the faintly scattered sunlight of a sun that’s now beckoning on Europe’s door as the same faint but rising light.

I have a pair of hiking boots that I never use so I decided not to bring them on the trail since I knew this would entail a week full of blistered feet.  I chose comfort over practicality and took along my running shoes instead, which were already sitting at 1,000km’s of pavement trashing from my weekly runs.  After day six my runners began to melt into the forest and I had to take actions to prevent myself from succumbing to the same foul faith as our trail friend Nanci.  The sole on one side had separated up to the midpoint of the sole so I had to tie up the front to stop the separation from growing thought to the heel before losing the sole completely.  This action kept the sole in place as far as Lang Bay after which they were deposited at the Saltry Bay Ferry Terminal recycling bins.

We spent the evening by the campfire on Walt Hill sharing the mountain with the German couple we met at March Lake and Jimmy, a British guy who we previously met at Elk Lake.


 

Day Seven – Walt Hill to Lang Bay – 18km

This morning our alarm clocks rose us at 4:30am to take the sleeping bags out to the viewing platform and watch the sunrise, unfortunately the beginning of the sunrise was obscured by clouds and after an hour of rising drowsy the draw of the tent won out and I didn’t wake again until 10am.  I had intended in getting up and out much earlier since we had a big day of hiking to get back to the motorbike followed by many kilometers of road and two ferries to get us back to Vancouver.  I found Bryan still on the platform doing Yoga, the amazing views now obscured by clouds that crept in while I was sleeping.

We were the last to leave the hut, no sign of the Germans or Jimmy, we were back on the trail just before noon.  The 18km hike to the bike was all downhill making it a pretty easy day now that our bodies were accustomed to hiking every day and our bags lighter now that all but one remaining meal had been deposited throughout the forest.

As we got closer to Lang Bay there were the first definite signs of our return to civilisation with increased air traffic activity, evidence of human activity on the trails and mountain bikers.  We exited the trail at the 135km marker beside Lois Lake and we walked the Forestry Service Road back towards Lang Bay where we finished with a swim for Bryan & a feet wetting for me in the Pacific Ocean.  We made it to the end of the trail in the time we had given ourselves and we had finished all our food except for the one remaining Kraft Dinner.  My motorbike was still on the same street and I had a Powell River Police Department voicemail enquiring about the bikes abandonment on the street by the beach access to Lang Bay.  Everything worked out swimmingly!


 

Thanks to Bryan for helping make this a week to remember forever, for anyone interested or considering this trail I can’t endorse it enough, there are lots of online resources to help with your planning.  Get out there and do it!

Tony…

 

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Comments
  1. Gerry says:

    This is a terrific journal. Certainly great descriptions…almost like being on the trail. I will reread it..glad you and Bryan had a wonderful time. A lifetime memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicolas says:

    Indeed it’s going to be difficult to top this! Great pictures and your text is wonderful, lots of anecdotes. We like the Primus/pot and how you saved the day. Can’t believe you guys came all the way from Vancouver on one motorbike! … and left it on the street for a week. Thanks for sharing your memories, we are definitely adding the SCT to our list of things to do in the near future.
    Can’t wait to read your South American posts.
    We’re missing you at work, you can come back anytime.

    Liked by 1 person

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