Juan de Fuca Trail: Day 4 (Chin to Sombrio)
We woke up at 6 am on the fourth day of our Juan de Fuca hike to — guess what — rain.
I readily welcomed going back to sleep for a bit, as I was feeling the never-ending soreness from our previous days of trekking.
At 7 am, we got up and ended up leaving camp at 9:30 — two and half hours! We were making progress!!
It looked like the day would see some clear skies, but as soon as we made it down to end of Chin Beach the rain popped by again to say hello.
After a climb up towards the beach exit, we were greeted with a couple of steep uphills to start off our day, as well as one of J’s most memorable moments: a perilous walk across a very long log.
After kilometre 22, we had to descend and ascend some steep rock faces using rope. Better to just toss your hiking poles down and up to get them out of your way. And find some footing in whatever ledges are available.
We stopped for a break around 10:30 at the top of yet another steep ascent, where a Belgium couple we had run into before on Chin caught up to us.
They were also hoping to make it to Little Kuitsche Creek that night. After chatting for a couple of minutes, they took off.
I turned my head for what felt like two seconds and when I turned back in their direction, they were already long gone up the next hill.
I cringed at the realization that we would also be going up that ascent in just a moment. And probably at half the speed.
It was 11 am when it started pouring. It had been steadily drizzling up to this point and I had actually welcomed the shower.
But now, as the rain hit harder, we had to duck under a tree and ponder what our next move should be.
After 10 minutes, we decided to get going. It could rain forever while we waited under that tree. It was time to put our Gortex jackets to the test.
Shortly after, we reached the Loss Creek suspension bridge which is supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip.
It certainly is something, stretching over 100 feet long and hanging at least 100 feet above Loss Creek. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I didn’t get to spend too much time taking in the view and getting my fear of heights rolling, as we had a couple other hikers on our tails.
What I seem to remember about the stretch around kilometres 24 and 25 was that there were a couple of burning steep uphills.
Seeing the next kilometre marker was always a welcome sign, although at some point I just started giving them the evil eye as though they were somehow responsible for my pain.
After kilometre 25 though, we were rewarded with something completely unexpected: “the free kilometre.”
I felt like I had just been transported into another world — a world with no uphills and burning thighs. There was just this long stretch of flat, wide trail that J and I could walk on side by side together. And it just kept going and stretching on through the forest and mist seemingly forever.
How come no one had ever written about this in their trip blog?? I mean, give a sista some hope!
Well, it must have been a good kilometre of this shockingly delightful surprise, but we never ended up seeing the kilometre 26 marker, so we can’t be sure. Just enjoy it while it lasts, people. Because it won’t.
Sure enough, we plunged back into the forest and onto a narrow trail bordered by deep ravines on either side. Tall trees surrounded by mist towered from the ravines.
At that point, all the way up until we arrived at Sombrio Beach, we had to maneuver through a whole crapload of muddy crossings and exposed tree roots.
I had to do a lot of clambering and pulling myself up on steep ascents with my hands, sometimes grabbing onto roots to hoist myself up and not fall backwards. (Make sure that any roots you grab on to are actually anchored to the soil. Or you will be screwed.)
Around kilometre 27, we could finally catch glimpses of Sombrio beach below. It was a beautiful sight even through the gloominess of the day.
This was likely the spot where the blogs and websites had advised that you could fall into the ocean below with one wrong move.
Fortunately, it wasn’t as perilous as my imagination had been dreaming it up to be. A thick fence of salal ran along the cliff’s edge, and the trail was still wide enough to walk comfortably.
Seeing the inviting beach below gave me hope, but just when we thought we were there, we had to keep going … and going. Back into the forest we went, the beach disappearing like a mirage in the desert.
After some more muddiness, we finally reached Sombrio Beach at 2 pm. All of the slow-going had helped in a way, because I wasn’t getting as gassed as usual.
But as we approached the end, the fatigue started to set in and I more than welcomed a break and lunch!
Unfortunately for us, the sun was in a mischievous mood and though initially providing some warmth and reprieve, it started pouring not too long after starting on lunch. So, after a quick eat, we packed up and got the heck out.
We headed across Sombrio Beach and missed the hiking trail that would have taken us to the bridge. We arrived at a wide creek that was quickly rising up with water due to the downpour. We decided to cross it and in the process got our boots fully drenched.
Past the creek, we climbed up an embankment to get back on the trail. We hiked down the trail and returned to the beach, heading to the west end where the rocks were getting bigger and bigger, and more and more slippery.
There was a huge, slimy log blockading the path and we had to carefully haul ourselves over it. At this point, the tide was making its way inland and the waves further out in the ocean were crashing about furiously.
On the beach, we ran into the Belgium couple who we had spoken with that morning. Curiously, they were heading back in our direction.
Apparently, they had gotten to the end of the beach and had to climb a rope up a steep, slippery, and muddy hill. They did manage to reach the top, but decided to come back down. It wasn’t worth going on to Little Kuitsche if the rest of the trail was going to be like this.
So, we decided that we would abort our own plan to trek to Little Kuitsche, and camp on Sombrio Beach instead. If the Belgium Super Hikers didn’t think they could make it, there was no way in hell that we were going to attempt it.
We walked back to the first tent pad at the same time a guy from Newfoundland came by. He had hiked over from Botanical Beach, in the reverse direction, and admitted that he was completely unprepared for this trip. He definitely had not brought the proper gear for the torrential downpour.
Speaking of the rain, it was just coming down even harder. When I didn’t think it could possibly rain more than it already was, it did.
It was no longer just pouring. It was descending from the heavens as a relentless sheet of water. I had never experienced rain like this, and never would again.
J and I thought about what we should do. Every inch of our being was soaked. We knew our tent would be completely drenched before we even got inside it. And the next day we would have 18 kilometres of hiking given our slow progress today.
It was 4:30 pm. The next and last shuttle bus pick-up at the Sombrio Beach exit was 5:20 pm. If we were going to abort, we had to make a move right now.
We decided to haul out. Newfie joined us for the hike to the parking lot. It was indeed a trek up a seemingly never-ending gravel road to Highway 14. It was so bloody long and a continuously steady ascent. At this point, I was just dragging myself along as J and Newfie disappeared from view.
Feet aching, I asked myself: “Why do we do this?” Then I reminded myself that we do it because it’s a good reminder of everything that we are so blessed and privileged to have.
And that I would rather endure mud and rain in the outdoors than believe that all I had was the concrete jungle to experience every day for the rest of my life.
We finally got to the road and Newfie decided to hitch hike as he didn’t have enough money for the shuttle bus. Just a few minutes later, the bus arrived and we hopped on board.
Dripping wet from the rain, our boots covered in mud, we walked down the aisle past the other passengers who were relaxing in their cardigans and Birkenstocks.
There were three empty seats left at the back of the bus, and we gratefully sat down and rested our tired feet.
J and I ended up chatting with some of the passengers sitting nearby for the whole ride. There were two couples that had just completed the West Coast Trail — it was amazingly the fourth time doing the WCT for one of them.
I just kept thinking in awe about how they must have been at least in their 50’s and they were still going strong. It was very inspiring.
Finally, the bus dropped us off at China Beach where this whole adventure had begun. I started walking down the road towards the China Beach parking lot, but my knee felt like it was going to give way and my feet were in incredible pain.
My legs were shaking and I also had a blister of serious magnitude on my toe. So, we dropped our stuff by the side of the road and J went to get the car while I stood guard.
After J picked me up, we drove back to the parking lot to change and use the washroom. We spotted the Belgium couple and said our goodbyes. It felt weird to be at the beginning again after what we had been through.
Not too long after, we were driving down the highway, the radio on, hiking boots most definitely off. It was surreal knowing that just a few hours before, we had been walking on those huge, slippery rocks on Sombrio beach, watching the waves crash while the rain poured down relentlessly. It’s an image I would never forget.
But it wasn’t over yet. Juan de Fuca hadn’t seen the last of us.
Day 4 Recap
Day 4 Total = 8 km (7 hours)
The seven hours we were hiking (including breaks and trying to survive the rain) probably wasn’t reflective of how long it might take someone to hike from Chin to Sombrio Beach.
But it just goes to show you that any number of things in the backcountry can thwart your plans (or hopes) for a smooth hike from one campsite to the next.
That’s all part of the adventure, and it sure makes for some of the best stories to tell!
>> Read the next post in the Juan de Fuca adventure series: Juan de Fuca Revisited (Botanical)