Along the western shore lines of Vancouver Island lies the traditional territories of the Huy-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations. It is upon this stretch of coastline with its rocky bluffs, sandy beaches and ancient forests that my friend Jess and I would attempt to complete a West Coast Trail Fastpack in just one night.
The Iconic West Coast Trail
For centuries the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation territories have occupied the stretch of land across the rugged shores of Vancouver Island from Barkley Sound in the north to Port San Juan in the south. This stretch of ocean along the coastline was rough and treacherous to the maritime trade route. Countless European settlers tried to navigate the region taking many ships and lives as they sailed the waters.
A telegraph route as well as emergency shelters and lighthouses were constructed on this 80km stretch of oceanside route. Over time technology has changed the need for these nautical lifesaving investments but the Lighthouses remain with the stretch of land becoming the Pacific Rim National Park Preserve. The trail remained though and has now developed into the world famous West Coast Trail that backpackers from around the world tackle as a bucket list worthy must do outdoor multi day backpacking trip.
West Coast Trail Fastpack Overnight Hike
Throughout the Spring I was working towards the goal of doing a West Coast Trail fastpack that my friend Jess suggested. Inspired by all the single push trail runs stories I have heard about the trail and most notably friend Jen Segger’s 2016 FKT I wanted to do my own attempt. Along with Jess we started training and preparing for our attempt but knew that a fastpack was more realistic for our conditioning and endurance.
What is Fastpacking?
Fastpacking is the mix of my enjoyment of trail running along with my enjoyment of lightweight backpacking. With the foundation of strength and conditioning that comes long distance trail running you are able to tackle long multi day backpacking trips into often just 1-2 nights when you combine it with ultralight gear. I often do many solo trips like this in alpine routes as it allows me to see more places in less time but I also get to challenge my physical and mental limits along the way.
The very important thing to note is that fastpacking isn’t something that you should just jump into. It takes years of building your fitness as well as backpacking experience. This needs to be combined with time of testing and building out your own ultralight gear kit. Then finally lots of planning and route preparation from conditions to weather and logistics. Please ensure you don’t rush into any new outdoor adventure, plan smart and plan safe.
West Coast Trail ~ Our Fastpack Begins
For our overnight fastpack attempt our reservations (required as well as trail permit and national park pass) we would be starting in Bamfield at the Pachena Bay trailhead. Jess dropped off a car Thursday night in Port Renfrew for our completion and then our friend Shane drove us to Bamfield early the following Friday morning. (Thanks Shane!)
WCT Fastpack Day 1
The park office opened at 9am where we signed in and got our trail permits, park pass, waterproof map and tide tables. Things took longer than expected so we didn’t get onto the trail until almost 10pm. ** It should be noted for the 2021 season due to Covid safety the usual daily orientation is not happening and is done all online. Off we went jogging nearly all of the first very nice and flat 8km to Pachena Point. It was at this point that the fun started, the trail got rougher and the ladders as well as boardwalk began.
We stayed on the inland trails until we were able to drop onto the beach at Michigan Creek and stayed there until reaching Tsocowis Creek. Back on land we worked to Trestle Creek going back to the beach with low tide not slowing our progress. Across the Klanawa cable car and steady inland trail right through to Nitinat Narrows. We passed by and couldn’t stop at Tsusuat Falls due to our tight timeline. (I plan to return here and camp on a slower pace hike) We were smart not stopping as we barely made the last Nitinat water taxi at 4:30pm.
The day marched along and the temperatures got very hot. Thankfully even though it is very rare to find we managed to get a small creel refill between Tsuquadra and Dare beach, a very dry 10km stretch. We passed by Cribs Creek camp with a light foggy mist forming that caused the entire horizon to explode in golden light behind us as sun set. Another 6km was still ahead so we pressed past Dare Beach and detoured up and around Carmanah Lighthouse. A Canadian Coast Guard frigate was just in the distance running supplies up to the lighthouse which was very cool to see.
Just south of the Carmanah Point we finally reached Carmanah Creek camp and dropped our backpacks at roughly 9:25pm. We had just covered nearly 50kms of trail under blue skies, no breeze and hot temperatures. It felt great to get into dry socks and clothes, relax on the sand and enjoy hot supper and some hot chocolate.
Click through the gallery images below for Day 1 to expand them and see the full image.
WCT Fastpack Day 2
I had a wonderful sleep cowboy camping with just my sleep pad and down sleeping bag with a dynema tarp just to keep the morning dew off me as we slept. Our West Coast Trail Fastpack for day 2 began at 5am with the moon still high in the sky. The morning light was bright and we had a cotton candy coloured horizon before us. A quick breakfast and camp tear down we hit the trail at our 6am departure target for the day. We had to make the remaining 30 plus kms to Gordon river for the water taxi by 3:30pm.
The tides for this trip were extremely low and this morning showed a -0.1 tide. All the way from our Carmanah camp past Bonilla Point and Vancouver Point all the way to Walbran Creek we hiked covering 7kms of beach hiking and jogging. Back onto the inland trails at the 53km after crossing Walbran Creek we would stay on land the rest of the fastpack.
We really lucked out with the timing of our trip as it had been dry and hot the whole week prior to our start which dried up many of the worst mud pits that the trail is famous for. The flip side of this is that the heat continued and we were fastpacking in record heat wave temps. The beach was far too hot to travel now and we already were doing our best with water, electrolytes and salt tablets to stay hydrated.
It was a non stop pace with the extreme elevation changes and the massive ladders that this final section of trail presented us. Starting at Culite Creek at 58km all the way to Gordon River at 75km being the hardest portion of our West Coast Trail fastpack was upon us. Many ultra running friends shared how tough this part would be. With the highest part of the trail at only 213m above sea level my mountaineering mind had me thinking it would be no problem.
Wow was I wrong, the heat and very technical undulating terrain did its best to stop us. I was running hot and my feet were getting very sore by this point. With about 3kms left I had to put the hammer down and pushed myself harder than I have ever done on a trail. With only 5 minutes to spare I made it to the Gordon River water taxi where Butch our driver thankfully was gracious enough top wait while Jess finally made it to the beach. A short ride across and we were in Port Renfrew checking out from the trail at the Parks Canada Office. Today was a total of just under 34kms covered with some solid elevation gain and loss under very hot conditions.
Click through the gallery images below for Day 2 to expand them and see the full image.
Successfully Achieving our Fastpack Goal on the West Coast Trail
We completed our goal of just one night for our West Coast Trail fastpack in a total time of 29.5 hours on the trail. My Strava stats for the trip was a total of 83.71 kms and as for my elevation I have tried filtering the data but it comes out above 2000m. There are endless variations of route options between trail and beach but the elevation should be closer to 1600-1700m so I will go with that. The 75km distance applies to staying 100% on all inland trails with no detours and straight lines. For the majority of GPX data you will see distances all over 80kms.
I just again want to give a hats off and WOW to my friend Jen Segger who holds the FKT on the WCT. This record time means even more now that I have completed the trail myself. Her supported time was 13 hours 48 minutes on July 3, 2016. Just for facts and more amazement at the human body is Matt Cecill’s mens FKT of 9 hours 32 minutes.
Here are my Strava segments for each day;
My Gear Selection for Fastpacking
As with most fast packers I was dressed in my usual trail running gear. The big change though was trying out a new pair of shoes, I planned to test out the new On Cloud Running Cloudventure trail runner. I am happy to say they performed exceptionally well. I wore my RVCA shorts, Saxx underwear and shirt, Stance socks and then used my Black Diamond Distance FLZ Trekking poles.
For my pack I planned to try a Ultimate Direction Fastpack40 similar to the Fastpack35 Jess was using but the one I got my hands on was too small for me. Jess’s pack performed awesome for her. I decided to use my LiteAF Curve X35L ultra light pack. I have used it on several alpine trips and wasn’t sure how it would be fastpacking. Well it was awesome, handled my 17 pound total kit perfectly and the thick padded shoulder straps were very comfortable on the running sections. What I found extremely valuable and useful was the fanny pack option that LiteAF has to replace the hip belt. I kept my cell phone here as well as my Nuun tabs, Gu Gels and energy bars.
Even though we planned to do this in one night I took enough food to get me through an extra night as a safety contingency. Big thanks to Grynd Energy and Naak Bars (use my 15% off promo code “Chris”) for supporting me with great trail energy nutrition. I went with minimal shelter just with a sleep pad, sleeping bag and a tarp. I carried my normal 10 essentials plus sleep clothes and warmer layers.
My gear used is pretty much all the same in my recent post linked here below.
West Coast Trail Fastpack Final Tips and Advice
Having thought about all the logistics of our trip, what I carried and what should I have brought here is a quick roundup. My advice isn’t about doing it faster than 29 hours but more about making each day more enjoyable and less rushed for a single overnight fastpack.
First off I think I would 100% recommend starting at at Port Renfrew instead to get the tough climbing of the first 5km out of the way. I would get all the permits, paperwork and orientation at the Parks Canada office out of the way the day before and then enjoy a nice car camp at Pachedaht Campground. The next morning you could maybe arrange a friend with a boat to take you across early or catch the first water taxi at 9:30am.
Even with the 9:30am start time you can easily make great distance on Day 1. Making Nitinaht Narrows water taxi just isn’t going to happen. I suggest planning for Carmanah Creek (29km in) or Cribs Creek (33km in) as your camp spot for the night. Don’t push any harder than you have to as regardless where you stay the next day you can’t cross on the water taxi until 9:30am anyhow. ** If the tide is too high you will have to camp at Walbran Creek on Day 1 as there is no inland trail between there and Carmanah Creek.
Once across on the Nitinat water taxi on day 2 at the 32km marker you have very easy terrain ahead if you and the final 8km push will be an easy jog into Pachena Bay in Bamfield to end your day. Plan ahead and make reservations to spend a relaxing night at the Pachena Bay campground and head home the next day.
For gear I was really happy with everything I packed. Sure I could have left the Rab zip fleece and Mountain Hardwear raincoat at home but I prefer safety. Same foes with what extra pound of food, but what if something happened. That small weight savings isn’t worth the risk.
Our water refills were fast, safe and efficient using the Katadyne BeFree flask. You will notice in the one image above I am refilling direct from a waterfall. These squeeze filters work great and are perfect when you need water, want it to be safe but don’t want to slow down your pace while on the move. Salomon also makes a great filter just like the Katadyne. Neither Jess nor myself use bladders either, I don’t like that i can’t monitor my water levels on big distances which is important on the trail like the 10km section of the WCT that is often completely dry. Ultra Runner Jeff Pelletier did a great job video reviewing the filters and also made a video on why he doesn’t use a bladder, check them out.
The biggest advice and what I am planning for sure next time is 2x more socks. I brought a pair for each day but my feet got very sore and slight blisters & macerated by the end. Stopping at the mid point of each day to completely dry my feet, change my socks and clean out my shoes would have most likely prevented my big toe damage. I’m also going to look into foot butter for big distances. I did keep emptying rocks and sand from my shoes but will do it even more.
Thanks for taking the time to read through my trip report and basic fastpack overview of doing the West Coast Trail in one night. Be sure to leave a comment below and ask any questions you might have.
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