There’s an allure of standing beside the open sea, its power stirs a breadth of emotion as the relentless winds clear the clutter of worried thoughts that shape my demeanor.
I speculate what lays below its expansive horizontal simplicity. It’s a perilous world of unimaginable creatures surviving in an unpredictable environment, often with an unforgiving fury.
Here is why I am so humbled by this expansive watery space.
Following the winding West Coast Road northwards, only moments west of Victoria, the terrain all around us swiftly becomes densely treed, as we head towards our favourite sites along the ocean. Our usual overnight rest stop among mature Douglas Fir trees is at Point No Point, a westerly facing resort, with fully equipped cabins that come complete with hot tubs on a deck that overlooks the ocean. The pathway out to the point is protected behind a dense, slanted, wind-blown hedge. This leads out to a headland promontory where the shoreline is broken into several large rock chunks, steeply split apart. The tussling waves rush in and slosh around between each vertical wall, where it plummets into the ocean. Returning to our cabin, I peak out through the tangle of shrubbery looking for an opening in the hedge, where I can venture down to the beach to study the sea’s surface through binoculars and search for marauding seals as they surface for air. At night, even with unyielding winds and turbulent waters outside, we are peaceful and protected inside our comfortable retreat.
Next day we snake along a narrow road to spectacular East Sooke Park. From Pike Point and along past Beechy Head, are numerous moisture rich wilderness trails up to 10 km., with magnificent views facing out onto the Juan de Fuca Strait. Much of the vegetation and undergrowth is enveloped in typical thick draping west coast mosses, perfect habitat for the multitude of species which thrive on plenty of rain. After lunch we splash along the boulder strewn beach, wandering barefoot in the frigid waters, ever aware of the points of land fading into the distance.
A bit warmer today, we visit the year-round accessible, Sooke River Potholes Park, which offers moderate grade pathways up to 4.5 km in length and a limited number of campsites. The trails visit the edge of numerous waterfalls along this river of continuous cascading drops, which are swimmable where its clear waters collect in slower moving depressions. The river’s unique deep freshwater pools were formed by swift currents during the glacial melt of the last ice age. The diversity of scenic vistas and natural wildlife here are what keeps visitors coming back in every season.
North of Jordan River lie two intimate secluded locations, the classic China beach, and imposing giant seafront cliff of Mystic Beach. Both are accessible year-round. China is a 15-minute walk from the car park, and the adjacent Mystic trailhead – signed as part of the Juan de Fuca Trail – is a 45-minute hike to the beach through an enchanted, ancient forest. Where both shorelines angle into the sea and depart Canada, it’s well over 7,000 km until Japan.
Further north, serious hikers will be enthralled to adventure along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail to the Botanical Beach. These areas are remote and require preparation for safety and to prevent disappointment. Before venturing out, check weather updates for changing inclement weather and consult local tide tables, as Low Tide is the only time to access the Botanical Gardens on foot. Along the trails many sections are tricky and technical to manoeuvre for safe footing. There are wet and muddy pockets, with unstable shifting ground at washouts and slippery roots and rocks, especially along the oceanfront. Preparation is worth the effort, as the scenery is strikingly impressive.
Approaching the rock beach, we pass through a densely matted indigenous forest comprised mostly of the salt resistant Sitka Spruce, plus giant Western hemlock. Where the trail meets the ocean’s intertidal zone, it opens onto a spectacular flat terrace, dotted with round edged seawater pools, many of which are more than a meter wide in diameter. The deep holes in the rock contain a fascinating multitude of live marine flora and fauna species, comprising of tentacled anemones, clumps of rounded barnacles, pointed muscles, rubbery fat cucumbers, colorful starfish and spiky sea urchin.
The Botanical Beach is a spectacular geological site, where volcanic, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock are all plainly exposed. Examining shorelines at the Juan de Fuca there are a multitude of shapes (angular, jagged, smooth) brilliant colours (intensities of pink, greys to white, blue, green) and striations (lined, dotted, or conglomerate mineral deposits). In certain places, the contrasting fissures of these shapes and colours leave me in amazement, as I speculate how they evolved and acquired so many curves and contours.
I am fascinated and captivated by the unpredictability of this dynamic environment, with its flexible symbiotic existence for survival. Although there will always be unexpected surprises in life, what lingers is an overwhelming respect for the evolving ocean and its surrounding environment.
Bracing myself in the steadfast wind, when all circumstances are considered, I am in acceptance of my own modifications in life and am tolerant to receive new beginnings, today and into the future.
The weathered geography of Canada’s west coast is comprised of diverse vistas, irregular sparse islands, craggy points of land and broad, deepwater inlets. It’s an extraordinary area to discover our everchanging wilderness.
Written by wilderness writer and photographer Cynthia Percival near where she sited this marauding seal in the surf at Point No Point, Vancouver Island