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Cycle Touring
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Dentalia Shells
These thin, tubular mollusks formed the currency of commerce throughout the Pacific Northwest as long as 3000 years ago. Pre-European civilization is often considered a barter economy, with, for instance, coastal tribes swapping oolichan grease directly for prized Oregon obsidian. Commodity traders, however, could rely on this wampum to close a transaction when interest in the goods was decidedly one-sided. Called hykwa in Chinook jargon, dentalia shells possessed all the necessary attributes of money, being portable, recognizable and durable but rare and desirable enough to foster trade. Being available in a variety of sizes, the tusk-like shells were even divisible into small change. Professional traders are known to have tattooed measuring lines on their forearms as a handy calculator of individual shell values. Only a handful of groups, including the Nuu-chah-nulth in the vicinity of Tofino, possessed dentalia in quantities sufficient enough to make them wealthy. Harvesting the deep water mollusks was no easy undertaking however. From a dugout canoe a long, broom-like apparatus was thrust straight down into the muddy sea bottom then retrieved. With any luck a shell or two would be trapped amongst the stiff twigs at the end of the handle. Dentalia were also ostentatiously displayed as symbols of wealth and power in the form of body adornments. Perhaps most recognizable are the breast plates invariably worn by cheesy Hollywood Indians.
Illustration by Manami Kimura
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Written by Brian Grover   
Tsusiat Falls to Dare Point 13½ km
Even if you didn't camp at Tsusiat Falls [km 25.5] you will want to stop to enjoy the scenery and snap a few pictures. From the falls the beach again affords the best hiking. Tsusiat Point a kilometre away is impassible at tides above 2.7 metres. The Hole-in-the-Wall at the point is another popular photo op. Another kilometre reveals an anchor mired in the beach near a forest access trail. The beach route continues another kilometre before Tsuquadra Point [km 29] forces hikers back into the forest for the last three kilometres before Nitinat Narrows.

Tsuquadra Indian Reserve is now out of bounds since hikers in the past have desecrated important cultural sites hereabouts. The beaches along this section of trail however are very attractive with numerous sea caves revealed at low tide. Trails just before and after the reserve provide access to public portions of the beach. Ring the dinner bell, a giant iron triangle, when you reach Nitinat Narrows [km 32] to call for the ferry across this treacherous waterway. The ferry, operated by members of the Ditidaht Indian Band from early May to early October, costs $12.50 and is the only way to cross this deep tidal river. Keep your Trail Use Permit handy to show the operator when you board. Both ferries along the West Coast Trail must be paid for in advance upon registration. On a hot day it may be possible to purchase an ice cold brew or two from the skipper. Remember, however, if you intend to enjoy your beer at the next campsite you are expected to carry your empties, as with all your garbage, to be properly disposed of at the end of the trail. Water is going to be a problem for the next 10 km so be sure to top up with water once you reach the opposite shore. There is excellent water to the left of the main trail just a few steps from the dock. Due to the ignorance and immaturity of hikers in the past, the Indian villages of Whyac and Clo-oose [km 35] are now off limits. Hikers must remain on the forest the trail for the next 4 km until reaching the Cheewhat River. A number of unique petroglyphs in the vicinity of Clo-oose record the passage of the paddlewheel steamer Beaver and other sailing ships in 1836. These treasures too are now off-limits to hikers. From one of the cliff-top viewpoints between the two villages note the anchor below, all that remains of the Skagit which was shipwrecked in 1906.

Meaning "river of urine," water from the Cheewhat is undrinkable. A small spring to the left of the trail just before the Cheewhat River Bridge is, in spite of the sulphuric tinge, the best water in the area. What may be caustic to humans seems oddly attractive to crabs, however. Sizable dungeness crabs often litter the bottom of the shallow Cheewhat River as it meanders out to sea below the bridge. If equipped with a fishing license you may discover the real reason for carrying that hiking stick day after day. Using the oldest trick in the book, scare the crabs with the stick towards a companion waiting in the shallows. Always grip the crabs from behind, grasping the main shell firmly between thumb and forefingers. Use any other technique and you will no doubt find out how eager indeed the crabs are to end up in a pot of boiling water.

The point of land overlooking the mouth of the Cheewhat River is also Indian Reserve and therefore out of bounds but the sandy beach beyond that and extending for nearly 1½ km to Dare Point would be ideal for camping except for the lack of water. Only one site about 1 km away has an adequate supply. Since you will have already covered 13½ km since Klanawa River setting up camp here might be well-advised.


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