Wayne Ranney Experiences Life on the Edge: Hiking Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail

Posted on July 20, 2016


By Wayne Ranney


It is with delight – and a truly great sense of envy – that I want to introduce you to one of the great travel writers, author, and world traveler extraordinaire, Wayne Ranney.  We met – well, closer to home – as each of us can be found whitewater rafting the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River for more years than we care to mention.  But it is his life, his stories of his travels to the faraway places – places that are dreams to most – that simply blow me away.  He obviously fears nothing – as, in words and wonderful photos, he takes us with him on a hike – with heavy pack, of course – up more precipitous ladders, log bridges, slippery ocean boulders, and obstacle courses in tree roots, than has ever been considered “hiking” before.  It is not to be missed.

– Joan Larsen


 In July, I travelled up to Canada, eh, embarking on an invitation to hike British Columbia’s West Coast Trail.  This famous 75km long (47 miles) track is world famous for its ladders, swinging bridges, cable car river crossings, slippery log bridges, and tree-root-infested mud.  It was awesome!!  Totally different from what I am used to in hiking.

A man-eating trifecta of bears, wolves, and cougars call the woods around this trail home.  Yet adventurers come from all over the world to hike this trail – a trail which was built decades ago as a seaside trail to aid troubled ships that came in from the fickle Pacific waters offshore.

It was time to hit the trail.  Right out of the gate, there is this nice ladder complex. I say “nice” because I loved the ladders on this trail and I think if t-shirts were made for the West Coast Trail, they would contain images of hikers on a ladder. Most guidebooks talk about the mud. But to me the ladders were the highlight.


At least there are intervening platforms on the way up!


I started taking pictures of the km signs to show what the various portions of the trail looked like.


The boardwalks were interesting. In some places they were newly constructed. In most places the ravages of too much rain showed its toll. I’d be curious to know how long it takes for a boardwalk to attain this condition? My guess is 15 years.


Then there were the cable cars, an interesting way to cross a river with a backpack. They were fun.


This one was across the Klenawa River at km 23


Look closely and you’ll see a backpacker near the top of the tree in the background. These things are HUGE and to think that they were uprooted, washed from the river to the sea, then thrown back onshore during a tremendous winter storms is a powerful image. We saw some logs whose outer portions were shredded by the sea wave agitation.


Morning rush hour at km 21.


I hung out here at this ladder and platform, and admired the symmetry of the ladder and green ferns. It was such a Buddha moment!


They do green like we do red.


For a diversion, here is Southwest red!


Northwest green


Every camp had a food locker to protect the food from bears. We saw fresh bear scat in this area near the Darling River.


Every camp also had its own toilet. This one at Darling River was especially unique and keeping with the theme of “ladders”.


Our final camp on night 6, along the Darling River. We camped on the beach every night on this trip.


The home stretch is fairly flat and easy to walk.


But we kept anticipating the end of the trail and so – it never seemed to arrive. After six hours and 14 km, we arrived at Pachena Bay, the north end of the West Coast Trail.

The experience?  Unforgettable.  A vast variety of scenery around every turn tends to make you want to stop to explore the tidal pools, the misty forest cathedrals, the magical waterfalls and the storm-chiseled caves.  More.  The list seems never-ending.

But I must say that the West Coast Trail is an extremely rugged trail that challenges even the most experienced of hikers.  In essence, it necessitates extremely high fitness levels, a lack of fear of heights, and hiking skills that turn out to be — well — far out of the ordinary.  If your hiking skills are in the extraordinary range, know that this is one of the top hiking trails in the world . . . and it is there for you.



Ranney Blogger PortraitWAYNE RANNEY:  Explorations, Words, and Landscapes

With a lifelong interest in the natural world, I became interested in travel and earth history while working as a backcountry ranger at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. After receiving Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Northern Arizona University, I began working as a geologic lecturer on shipboard expeditions around the world to places like Antarctica, Africa, the Amazon, Greenland, Siberia, and the North and South Poles are just some of the great places I have been fortunate to visit.  

I am now retired from the high seas but continue to work as a river and trail guide in the Grand Canyon, an award-winning author of  nine books and articles on my blog, Earthly-Musings, and I serve as a lecturer for Smithsonian Journeys around the world. Geology has been very good to me and Flagstaff is situated near many of our planet’s most stunning landscapes, making it a perfect home for my unusual career of sharing earth history with people of many different backgrounds.