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Backpacker Magazine – September 2001

HIking British Columbia's Savage Coast

Hike a rugged, historically rich trail for 21 miles along a nearly deserted island off British Columbia's coast.

by: John Harlin


EXPEDITION PLANNER: Nootka Island, British Columbia

Getting there: Nootka Island can be reached only by boat or floatplane. Use any of the various ferries to reach Vancouver Island from Vancouver, Seattle, or the Olympic Peninsula. The cost is roughly $25 for car and driver and $5 for each passenger, depending on the ferry chosen. Reservations are not required, but arrive early. Contact: BC Ferries, (250) 386-3431; http://www.bcferries.com. Depending on which ferry you take, drive 150 to 200 miles to the town of Gold River. Fly to Louie Bay with Air Nootka (250-283-2255; http://www.airnootka.com). Fares are based on the type of plane used, not the number of passengers, and range from $185 for a two-passenger plane to $360 for an eight-passenger. Return from Friendly Cove via floatplane or boat. Returning by boat is more popular and cheaper: $15 per person on the Uchuck III, a minesweeper converted into a passenger vessel. The Uchuck III stops in Friendly Cove Wednesday and Saturday afternoons during the summer only, then returns to Gold River. Contact: Nootka Sound Service, (250) 283-2325; http://www.mvuchuck.com.

Seasons: July through September is the most popular hiking time, with often dry and generally warm conditions. March through June is typically wet and mild. October and November usually bring the first taste of winter's cold, wet conditions.

The trail: Because more hikers follow this route each year (about 140 last year), it's growing easier to piece together the inland passages of this roughly 21-mile coastal path. On this, as on all Northwestern coastal hikes, watch for fishing floats hanging from tree branches to mark the start of an inland trail. Allow 4 to 7 days.

Guides: The 1:50,000-scale topo Nootka 92E/10 is available from various sources, including Federal Maps, (888) 545-8111; http://www.fedmaps.com. Approximate prices: $7 for paper, $9 for Tyvek, plus $10 shipping. No guidebook covers the Nootka Trail. White Slaves of Maquinna: John R. Jewitt's Narrative of Capture and Confinement at Nootka, by John R. Jewitt (Heritage House, 800-665-3302; /bookstore; $16.95), is a recent edition of White Slaves of the Nootka, which is out of print, but available from used-book dealers such as http://www.bookfinder.com.

Special cautions: Cross streams at low tide. Beware "rogue" or "sneaker" waves that are visibly larger and more powerful than the prevailing pattern. These have been known to pull people to their deaths on other coastal trails. Don't let yourself be caught by rising tides in exposed situations. Check the tide tables at the Air Nootka terminal before flying to the island.

Guide services: If remote and sometimes brushy wilderness stretches your boundaries, consider using a guide service. Sea to Sky Expeditions (800-990-8735; http://www.canadianexpeditions.com) offers several Nootka Trail outings lasting 8 days each for $765, all inclusive from Vancouver. (Note: All prices are in U.S. dollars and are subject to currency fluctuations.)




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