Wildness of Cape Scott and the North Coast Trail revealed in new guidebook

Maria Bremner explores the history, culture, and wildlife of the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island

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      Darkness had just fallen at Shuttleworth Bight on the North Coast Trail when Maria I. Bremner detected shadows moving near the campfire.

      The 34-year-old Victoria resident and her hiking partner switched on their headlamps and saw pairs of green eyes staring back at them. They were surrounded by no less than seven wolves.

      “The wolf pack split up, and half of the pack went to one side of the campfire and half went to the other,” Bremner told the Georgia Straight by phone from Camosun College, where she’s the manager of environmental sustainability. “They just sat and watched us for a while. We were obviously quite nervous about what they were going to do, but they were just more curious than anything. Eventually, they petered off into the forest, and we heard them howling a few minutes later.”

      Bremner is the author of the first guidebook about the rugged North Coast Trail, which lies in often-rainy and windy Cape Scott Provincial Park at the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island. Harbour Publishing put out the 256-page Cape Scott and the North Coast Trail this month. Partial proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

      Completed in 2008, the NCT is a challenging, 43-kilometre route usually hiked as part of a backpacking trip covering 58 to 78 kilometres and lasting five to eight days. From its east end at Shushartie Bay, which is accessed by water taxi, the NCT heads west to meet the Cape Scott Trail. Hikers travelling east to west—as Bremner recommends—often take time to explore the Cape Scott area, before concluding their journey at the Cape Scott trailhead and parking lot, 64 kilometres west of Port Hardy.

      Bremner said she hiked the NCT four or five times in as many years while working on the book. She suggests allocating seven or eight days for the NCT and a visit to the Cape Scott lighthouse during the summer.

      “I think if you’re going to go up there—if you’re going to make the effort to make it all the way to the North Island—why not do the whole thing?” Bremner said. “To take it all in, I think, is the best way to experience the whole park and really get to know it. But if your time is limited, there’s definitely ways to sample parts of it and still feel like you’ve got a good sense of the nature there.”

      Cape Scott and the North Coast Trail spans 256 pages.
      Courtesy Harbour Publishing

      Subtitled Hiking Vancouver Island’s Wildest Coast, Bremner’s book is a comprehensive resource featuring trip-planning information and trail descriptions, as well as chapters on the history and culture, plants and animals, and other aspects of the area. There’s maps and plenty of colour photographs.

      “I did put a lot of time and research into describing the First Nations history and the exploration and trade that came to the region,” Bremner said. “A lot of people I spoke with, because of the nature of the region, they do see it as almost an untouched landscape, and it’s far from that. It really does have a very long, rich history.”

      The book includes a handy chart comparing the NCT—which lies in Kwakwaka’wakw territory and is part of the planned route for the Vancouver Island Spine Trail—and the famous, 75-kilometre West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Bremner commented that the NCT is “really its own unique entity”.

      “I think it’s human nature to want to draw comparisons,” Bremner said. “But the North Coast Trail is a lot more remote, more isolated, and because of that lack of human traffic on the trail, you’re much more likely to see wildlife and less garbage. So, in terms of a more rugged backpacking trip, it has it all—without the ladders and all the creek crossings that the West Coast Trail has.”

      Maria Bremner says she hiked the North Coast Trail four or five times while working on the book.
      Courtesy Harbour Publishing

      According to Bremner, the NCT is likely to surprise hikers with the diversity of ecosystems to which it brings them. There’s beaches, bogs, rainforests, and sand dunes. Sightings of bears, eagles, and wolves are common.

      “I think people would also be surprised that nature is so close there,” Bremner said. “There is so much evidence of nature even within the North Island region. You see it when you’re driving up there. It hits you as soon as you leave Campbell River. The highway opens up, and there’s just more trees than houses. As you get closer, the wildlife sightings get more and more frequent.”

      Asked if people should hike the West Coast Trail before attempting the NCT, Bremner said it’s not necessary. However, she maintained that would-be NCT hikers should have some backpacking experience.

      “Because of the nature of its isolation, if you do get into trouble, it’s very difficult to get out,” Bremner said.