The search for freedom, freedom to perceive, without obsessions, all that’s humanly possible.”
Don Juan Matus answering Carlos Castaneda
Our plan is to run, hike, snowshoe part of the Kudlahk Trail, which is 48 kilometers long and runs parallel to the Juan de Fuca Trail about 2,500 feet above it along the San Juan Ridge. Kudlahk means home of the elk in Nuu-chah-nulth and we’ll be traveling on the land of the Pacheedaht peoples. The Kudlahk Outdoors Club (KOC) provides great resources for hikers and members work countless hours to maintain the trail. I’d emailed the director of KOC a few days prior for some beta. He’d warned me that the route would be covered in deep snow, hard to find and that conditions up there change fast at this time of year. Unfortunately, I’d ran out of time to press him for more details. Being somewhat in the dark as to what to expect, we came prepared for anything, meaning slightly heavier packs and with no expectations as to how far we’d get along the trail. We were simply feeling content to go poke around the woods for a few days and open to the experience.
We start up an old logging road working our way through an all too common scene of pillagery. Acres of stumps and skeletal dead trees fill our line of sight with saplings fighting their way back out of the tangled invasive mess. Before long, we reach a cairn that appears to lead us right into the undergrowth. We follow a faint game trail into the forest. The path becomes more defined with orange and pink ribbons confirming that we are on the right track. The forest is so dense and gloomy that we could easily click on our headlamps despite it being mid-morning. The feel is quite different from the nearby Juan de Fuca Trail. It’s almost jungle like in here with shale and a clayey floor mixed in with the usual web of roots, ferns and moss. Early on we’d been questioning the utility of lugging our snowshoes along, but as we rapidly gain elevation on the ridge, we soon find ourselves postholing in knee deep snow. I tend to dislike snowshoes, generally finding them awkward and slow. I prefer punching through a little and doing away with the bulk or bringing skis if running simply isn’t an option. In the right conditions though, snowshoes are a truly remarkable tool. Tight, technical, winding trail with some fresh, powdery snow and we have just the right amount of floatation to move efficiently up the ridge. The trail is extremely well marked, better than most races I’ve done, so it’s easy to find our way following the colored ribbons. We only stop occasionally to get situated, arriving at the first hut at Tent Lake in a little over three hours. KOC has built five cabins along the Kudlahk, open to hikers for day use and to club members as cosy overnighters.
We spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in the cabin, drying clothes above the wood stove and bathing in enough smoke in the small space to grow some natty dreadlocks. The evening is occupied with the long process of water boiling on my dying stove. We cook up the usual overnight fare of ramen and sardines, accompanied by green chili burritos, which are a poor choice in shared cramped quarters. After a couple rounds of gin rummy we retreat to our tent set up out back for the night. Not being KOC members and having planned for snow camping, we don’t want to overstay our welcome. I drift off to Castaneda’s The Art of Dreaming and something about the second attention. Exhaustion and fresh air are perfect ingredients for activating the subconscious. The night is surprisingly warm and we wake to a light rain shower. Retracing our steps back down the ridge we’re amazed to see how much climbing we actually did the day before. The decent is fast and fun and we’re back at the car in just under two hours, timing it perfectly for some poutine and a dark ale lunch stop at the pub on our way home.
The Kudlahk Trail left a strong impression on both of us and would be an exciting place to revisit for a longer outing in the summer months.