The Lone Cone (Lone Smile) Suffer Fest

Is there a tone in that title!? You betcha, baby. A grumpy, hard done-by, still-smarting-from-it, tone. 

There’s something really, really neat about doing a hard thing. Doing something that is physically demanding, incredibly challenging and limit-pushing.I know… I know!!  I‘ve said that before, but today I take it all back! Ha! (What’s that out-dated saying that rots my daughter’s socks? “It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind?“)

This Meares Island hike up Lone Cone Mountain should really be named the Lone Smile Hike… as my hubby was the only one smiling through the absolute suffer-fest that this hike became…. what we endured made the surprise of the water taxi driver, when we announced where we wanted to go, understandable. And once we got to the island, the native man who met us and took our trail fee ($10/person) and said, “it might be a bit muddy,” with a rather concerned look on his face… let’s just say that THAT was the understatement of the year!

Tofino is a town, located on a narrow stretch of rocky, inhospitable land, north of the Pacific Rim National Park, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s located in a wild landscape of rough rock, wicked storms and spectacular rainforest.

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The town of Tofino’s harbour, with Meares Island in the background, across the sound.

Tofino is well known to many storm watchers and surfers, who brave the frigid waters in search of great winter wave action on its long, sandy beaches. Because there isn’t much real land there to speak of, with Tofino being isolated on its narrow, rocky peninsula, the hikes in the area tend to be short ones that showcase the spectacular ocean views with their crashing surf, their rocky shores or their long, sandy beaches, or they are ones that feature the incredible beauty of the temperate rainforest, with towering, ancient cedars and thickly fern’d and forested inland slopes.

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Tofino lies on the peninsula of land opposite Meares Island on this Map, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Lone Cone is on Meares Island. The blue line on this map is the watershed…. in other words, all the land that has water that drains into the famous, and highly protected, Clayoquot Sound.

Tofino lies at the entrances to Clayoquot Sound (pronounced “clay-kwot”)… a spectacular underwater treasure trove for scuba divers full of fish, soft corals, sea lions, whales, sponges, starfish and barnacles. A sound is an ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and wider than a fjord. Tofino’s sound, a protected biosphere, is home to a great number of marine mammals, birds and fish and its calm, deep waters protect much of the wildlife that lives there.

Knowing that many of the hikes in the Tofino area are short, we decided to branch out and expand our horizons, taking on a hike that many of the locals here do up Lone Cone Mountain on Meares Island. Meares Island, itself, was the hot spot for an intense dispute with loggers, not so long ago, in the early 90’s, focussed on preventing clear cut logging there, and in so doing, protecting the sound’s natural landscape and its biosphere wonders.

Our water taxi backs out of the small, sheltered cove, leaving us to our hike on the island.

The hike began with hitching a ride to Meares Island by the local water taxi ($40 each, return). The woman who ran the water taxi wanted us there early, as she had a girl to get to a travelling orthodontist… such is the life of a small town! So we grabbed sandwiches at a local coffee shop and raced down to the dock, then set out in her little boat, across the sound to Meares Island, 6km (15 minutes or so, by boat) away. [And I have to admit that taking a water taxi was particularly fun! I’ve never done that to a trailhead before!]

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Ready to take on the challenge at the trailhead. Little did we know what was in store for us!

The hike is about 6.6km but… and here’s the BIG but… it has an elevation gain of 730m over the short course of 1.5km…. so its grade is probably the toughest, steepest, most torturous & punishing that we’d ever done. Then there’s the issue of hiking in the rain, on sodden trails, over, around and through slick roots and fallen trees and negotiating a lot of muddy bogs. We had really NO idea the extent of the adventure we were in for when this photo was taken!

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The hike began with a relatively flat meander through a pine forest.
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In no time the slog-fest began! There was no doubt… we were most definitely in a rainforest!
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We kept following that flagging tape you see on the tree…. we’d see it across a bog and go, “Really!!? We have to reach that across this!?” and yet somehow we’d find our way through, balancing on sticks that were floating through the “trail.”
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At times a fallen log would save us from getting mucky in a bog.

Being winter, in Tofino…. and being very much a rainforest hike, albeit a steep one, there was a LOT of water that wreaked havoc with our (my) enjoyment…. tree roots were slick and slippery, any flat areas were bogs with boot-engulfing, quicksand-like peat in them, our trail was a stream at times…. and to top it all off, the top of the very, very steep mountain was covered in snow (even though it was only at 730m above sea level) and totally enshrouded in cloud.

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Our trail was a stream at times and the tree roots quite slick.
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But we were going through some spectacular forest! Do you see how incredibly GREEN everything is!?
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Some of the obstacles we encountered made the blow down areas of our mountains look like matchsticks! I look at this in hindsight and think, “Wow! WOW!
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Sometimes, where a gigantic cedar had fallen down, we had to go through it! Not over it or under it… well, maybe all three in some cases.
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And yet still, Mr. Smiley Pants was grinning away…. he loved the challenge of it! All I could think of was how much harder it would be on the way down!
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What you can’t get from this photo is a sense of perspective. That broken chunk of tree (the lighter, reddish, cedar wood) is the size of a car!
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Sometimes we ducked under fallen logs that were the size of railway cars. Walking beneath them was like entering a dark cave.
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After quite awhile of exhausting trudging, we reached this rather discouraging sign. We still had a l-o-n-g way to go!
And then the trail got steep!!
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It was hard, wet work. But we stepped carefully, placing our feet in the spaces between the roots and using the root systems like staircases.
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Some of those staircases (like the one leading up to where Bill is standing here) were spectacular! And the trees…. they were so very, very tall!
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The gigantic cedars are really … both then and in hindsight (!), spectacular.
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At one point, we got a glimpse of the views we’d see eventually above… little rocky & forested islands in the protected sound, and the sound’s entrance, even further away…. and ultimately, glimpses of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, disappearing into the horizon.
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200m…. and still way, way more up to endure!
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And yet the forest remained a beauty! Just look at the carpet of tall ferns on its slopes! (Our trail is the little bare bit on the left).
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Yup… we came up many sections just like this, always watching for that flagging tape (pink in this photo) to guide our route. And by this point we were testing the limits of our rain gear… sweating a lot inside our coats & pants, AND getting rained on, on the outside! Even the camera was soggy (as you can tell from the blurry edges of this pic).
Some parts were like root ladders that we had to climb.

Ugh. Ugh. Double ugh. I’m usually a glass half full kind of person, but when we reached the 300m mark, I wanted to quit and I got grumpier and grumpier, despite the beautiful scenery around me!

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But those forests were not always my nemesis… at times they were tranquil & serene (in hindsight… always in hindsight!)
By 500m, I was seriously ready to quit. I was so wet.

The trail disappeared above this 500m sign into dense, soaking wet foliage. And there had been no views for the longest time. I was getting really tired, and I was starting to get clumsy… not a good thing when I knew that we had to come back down…. and that the careful footing that would require would be an intense drain on my energy, concentration & resources. But we talked it through… and decided to push on.

600m and well over half way… we couldn’t turn back now… we were “so close,” as the lone smiley guy said….
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And then we hit the snow.

Still steep here, the footing was surprisingly good. Perhaps it’s something about the wet snow gripping the treads of your boots, coupled with a healthy dose fierce determination, and an overwhelming sense that the end is close at hand. Here, the beauty of the incredibly white snow on the light green of the delicate cedar fronds was spectacular. But I was getting cold. Wet inside and out, and blanketed by the vapour of a cloud, I was saving my last dry layer for the way down.

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700m. Almost there.
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The push up the last 30m, I was very glad of my poles! But oh no… it was clear we were hiking in a cloud!
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And then we were there.

At long last, we were there! What a journey up it had been, pushing the limits of my determination, emotional strength and fitness. The views were there for only a split second as the cloud vapour that covered the top of the mountain parted and we caught a glimpse of the sound, far below. I was disappointed, to be sure… but there was still something very, very satisfying and inspiring about being up in the swirling mists of a cloud.

Apparently, early pioneers to the area believed that cloud enshrouding the peak of lone cone brought with it the promise of good weather…. I quickly swapped a layer, bundled into my last dry pair of mitts, and we headed back down, as it was far too cold up there to eat our lunch, and I was rapidly chilling. [As an aside… sure enough, the next day’s weather did have moments of greatness!]

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The forest near the peak was so beautiful on our way down.
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Soon we were below the snow and we stopped for our lunch amongst the ferns.

Watch the video below, a time-lapse…. this is the pace I wish we could have climbed down that mountainside! The reality was far, far slower, with us needing to very carefully place our feet (look at just how many footsteps Bill takes to come down this little stretch!), making sure we didn’t slip & twist an ankle or get hurt.

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Planting poles in the mud, leaning over and stepping carefully was the method of choice to negotiate this terrain on the way down Lone Cone.
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And then we were back down to the flats with its swampy, boggy areas. Thank goodness it was so cold! There wasn’t a biting insect in sight!
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And still HE was smiling!
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Reaching sections like this, toward the end of the never-ending-hike, I was starting to lose hope.
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On the way out, I just hunkered down and put one foot in front of the next, and eventually, eventually, through all the rain and muck and bogs and slippery, squelchy, swampy areas, we made it to the trailhead once again.
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And then we were finally back down at the rocky shore.

With a phone call placed at the island store for the water taxi to come back and get us (there’s no cell service), we waited in this picturesque spot, resting, drinking tea & taking the enormity of the experience…. anchoring me back into the reality of the beauty of the landscape & the dawning understanding of the enormity of the feat we’d accomplished, together.

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One last glimpse of Lone Cone, as we pulled away in the water taxi. We were up there in that cloud. Wow!
Then it was back to the “Seashack” for a hot bath, a wood fire, a local brew & delicious spicy clam chowder from Sobo, to warm us inside and out.

For more experiences of our 2017 Trip to Tofino, go here….  And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

9 Comments on “The Lone Cone (Lone Smile) Suffer Fest

  1. Oh my. What a hike. Sorry for the bad weather and treacherous trail. Your facial expression at the 200 meters sign said it all. I admire Bill for being so positive through it. At the end I’m glad everyone was safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Keng. It was something. But those experiences that push us, make us stronger. And the beauty and inspiration was still there, even if most of it came in hindsight! Ha. There are three types of fun… Type 1 (fun while doing it), Type 2 (not so fun while doing it but fun in retrospect) and Type 3 (not fun while doing it or in hindsight). This was a Type 2 fun day. 😬

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Under Cover of Darkness – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

  3. I’d much prefer a bright, sunny and dry day. Any recommendations? Ha… I know, you get what you get! But those wet rocks, roots, downed trees (that you sometimes walked along, or tried to crawl/walk under, puddles, then snow, rain… yikes! I bet you were glad you had your hiking poles along on that one! Great post and wonderful pictures. Thanks, Sheri.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sure was a neat hike. It’s not often we get to explore a rainforest, even if it’s only a temperate rainforest. It’s such a different world, compared to the one we usually adventure in on the dry side of the Rocky Mountains. The Tofino area is, hands down, one of my favourite places… all wild and rugged, and yet cultured too.

      Liked by 1 person

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