Exploring San Josef Bay

There are many areas of Vancouver Island that I’ve explored, but far more that I haven’t, yet.  Most of my exploration has been near the southern end of the island, but my trip to San Josef Bay, in Cape Scott Provincial Park, took me to the far northern end and was quite an adventure.

menacing dark grey clouds and misty rain over the treed slopes of Cape Scott Provincial Park
Angry clouds hang over San Josef Bay beach

Despite having grown up in British Columbia and having spent over a decade on the Island, I had never been to the northern end of it, and had been wanting to make the trip for some time.  Cape Scott Provincial Park is pretty much the furthest point I could go and still be on the Island.  The park itself is quite large (22,294 ha or 55,090 acres) and has a number of trails, including a short one to San Josef Bay, at the south end of the park, which is an easy 2.5 km from the only road access to the park.

large rocks on the sandy beach at San Josef Bay
Rocks rising from the sand seem to mimic the shape of the hills behind them

The trip underwent a couple of revisions in the planning stages.  First, I had intended on doing the much longer, but well maintained, hike to the Cape Scott Light house, over several days.  I had booked plenty of time off and a friend from my local photo club who had made the trip before was going to accompany me.  Due to a nagging injury, my friend informed me several weeks before the planned trip that he would not be able to go.  Not having been on a multi-day hiking trip before (although I had been on many multi-day “hiking” and “camping” trips during my previous military career… this was not the same kind of thing), I did not think it wise to do this alone, in unfamiliar bear/cougar/wolf country. I spoke with my father-in-law, who is in his 70’s, and he agreed to accompany me on the shorter overnight trip to San Josef Bay.  I picked some dates that would work well for us and all was set; or so I thought.  As the dates got closer, the weather forecast changed from clear and sunny, to mixed clouds & rain the first day and some clouds the second day.  No problem, a little rain is fine by me and could add some nice atmosphere for photography.  Slowly over the coming days the weather outlook got a little worse, but not too bad, yet.  Then, just over a week before our trip, I found a notice that the only road in would be closed for bridge work four days a week, for the week before and week of our trip.  The first day of the final closure was on the last day of our planned trip, which would have meant that we would have to stay four nights instead of one.  The easiest solution was to start our trip one day earlier, which we ended up doing, but this meant that we would be in for rain on both days.

pouring rain in Cape Scott Provincial Park
Heavy rain washes over the sea stacks at San Josef Bay

The first five and a half hours of the drive up was through alternating periods of light and heavy rain, then, as we got close to the end of the paved road, we started to see some light in the sky and the rain briefly disappeared.  The last 65 km of the drive was on gravel roads… poorly maintained gravel roads, which took close to two hours to travel.  During this time the weather slowly looked better, until just as we were reaching the Cape Scott Provincial Park parking lot, when things began to get darker and the sky started to shed a few drops.  The hike to the beach was easy, on a very well maintained trail.  We picked a spot in the tree line for our tent, so that we had some shelter from the wind, which was blowing the very fine sand in our faces, and rain which had sprinkled a little.

a wet day on the beach
More sea stacks in the rain

The further we walked from our camp site, the harder the rain came down, so we’d briefly seek shelter in the woods until it subsided a couple minutes later, then continue towards the sea stacks, until the next wave hit us.  I had a decent hat and good rain jacket  and waterproof hiking shoes on, but my pants were totally soaked through, by the time we had spent a few minutes at the sea stacks, we retreated to our campsite for the night.  With all the blowing sand (at first) and rain, I was glad that my camera had good weather sealing.  While I had bought a lot of new camping/hiking gear recently, we used an older tent, which I had reservations about.  The wind gusts were so strong, and the rain so heavy that night, that water infiltrated the tent and a number of times the side of the tent flattened down on top of me.  Somehow I managed to get some sleep and stayed dry (unlike some of our gear on the floor), but my father-in-law’s sleeping bag got quite wet and made for an uncomfortable night for him.  Finally, by morning the wind had eased a bit and the rain had let up, so we were able to get back out with our cameras.barnacle encrusted rocks on the beachThe morning was much nicer than the previous evening, but we had to pack up and leave by noon, as it was a long drive back.  Our timing regarding the weather was much better, as the rain held off until we were less than 200 meters from my truck.  On the drive back to the south end of Vancouver Island, we saw rainbows in seven separate locations, four of which were double rainbows! Since we were driving at highway speeds, I didn’t get a chance to photograph any, though.  While the trip was wet and windy, it left me eager to return some time in the future, as there is so much more to explore in the area.

sea stacks erupt from the sand
San Josef Bay sea stacks on a cloudy day

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