Caroline Bishop braves the Canadian bears for a challenging climb with an incredible reward.
We feel a bit ridiculous singing ‘If you go down to the woods today’, particularly given hiking up a steep trail in the middle of a humid, mosquito-ridden forest on Canada’s west coast is proving no teddy bear’s picnic. But it feels appropriate. Bears could be lurking in these woods, cougars are rumoured, and then there’s the sasquatch – the bigfoot of local legend, known as buc miis by the Ahousaht people who’ve lived on this island for thousands of years. We’re not taking any chances, so we sing as we walk, hoping our tuneless caterwauling will scare the beasts away.
Most people come to Tofino on Vancouver Island to surf, whale-watch and eat fish tacos and salmon burgers from the restaurants and food trucks that are putting this small hippy town on Canada’s gastronomic map. We intend to do all those things too, but the conical peak of Lone Cone on Meares Island, a short boat ride from Tofino, lures us first. Though a well-known hike, Lone Cone isn’t on every tourist’s to-do list because it’s a tough, rough three-kilometre scramble from sea level to the 730m summit over fallen trees and muddy roots. But the reward is a view we just can’t pass up.
We cross Clayoquot Sound to Meares Island on a water taxi helmed by Dennis, a typically laid-back and garrulous local. At the trailhead we pay our park fee to a young Ahousaht woman, part of the community that runs the new campground and hostel that opened in June 2015. The site of a former boarding school where First Nations children were often sent against their will, it has a dark past but is now an idyllic place for a campground, with pitches set next to a swatch of sandy beach I’ll later relish beneath my throbbing feet.
The campsite may attract more hikers to Lone Cone in time, but today I only see a dozen names in the trail book. We scribble ours down as the woman tells us a 13-year-old girl got lost on the trail the summer before. She was found alive and well, thankfully, but only after spending a night in the woods alone with the cougars and sasquatch.
I try not to think about it as we set off, scouring the trees for the faded pink ribbons that mark the trail. The forest thickens quickly, the sky blocked by an intimidating canopy of immense cedars, some over 800 years old. It’s tough going and I stop frequently to glug water, douse myself in bug spray and let my racing pulse slow. Finally, after nearly three hours of relentless ascent, we emerge from the foliage to a picture that would have taken my breath away – if I had any left. Far below, the densely forested islands of Clayoquot Sound fringe the Pacific Ocean, which meets a luminous sky on the horizon. Lone Cone certainly doesn’t give up its summit easily, but this is one view worth sweating for.
Published on Countrybycountry.com, 29 April 2016