Woss to Port McNeill
Englewood Rail Grade
From Woss, a route follows the rail bed of the former Englewood Logging Railway. Cessation of operations followed a tragic fatal derailment in April 2017 marking the end of the era of railway logging. The 90-km line from Vernon Lake through Woss to Beaver Cove operated for 100 years. These videos give a good sense of the past railway operations – Canfor RR 1997 – Bing video and Dynamic-braked SW1200RSs on Canfor Englewood Logging Railway Nimpkish June 1997 – YouTube. Two locomotives, the steam-powered #113 and the diesel-electric #301, along with other railway equipment can be seen at the Woss Heritage Park.
Tracks, ties and associated infrastructure are now all removed, leaving a 3-metre gravel surface apart from widened sections that were once shared by both trains and trucks, still used by logging trucks. Bridges and trestles remain in place, and several continue to convey trucks. Hikers must know and follow safe procedures on any of these active sections – see “Safety on the Trail”.
The VIT route follows the rail grade for 55 km. Much of it is rather unremarkable through a ‘tunnel’ of young forest, but with periodic openings affording views across the Nimpkish valley and Nimpkish Lake. Several of the high bridges are of interest and provide dramatic views of the creeks below. However, getting drinking water from these creeks is virtually impossible, at least very difficult, hence this long stretch should be assumed to be dry from late Spring to the first major Fall-Winter rainstorms.
In the long-term, VITA would like to see the old rail-grade developed as a ‘rail-trail’ similar to several elsewhere in B.C. However, this idea awaits the unfolding of the reconciliation process with indigenous peoples. In the short-medium term, the ‘Namgis Nation is understandably unable to consider such an idea, perhaps until such time as their land claim is resolved and several other of their initiatives are in-hand? VITA respects the wishes of the ‘Namgis and consequently, don’t expect to see any maintenance, route signage or marking in Section 6.
Railway to Port McNeill
Fifty-five km from Woss, the VIT route veers away from the Englewood rail-grade to follow a series of logging roads into Port McNeill.
Hikers should leave the rail-grade where Nimpkish Main intersects to follow Branch NO-2100 that starts just past the intersection of the rail grade with Nimpkish Main. Follow NO-2100 for 1.1 km first through a recent cutblock and then over partly revegetated road (note the road is surveyed [flagged] and will likely be re-built before long). After the road goes downhill for awhile, the hiker leaves it to cut across a short section situated between NO-2100 and the KP-2000 road system. This involves an easy 150-metre bushwhack through a section of forest with a ‘clean’ understory/forest floor (this may well be logged soon – it is laid-out). After a short, steep climb up to a rocky ridge, locate and follow 450 m of a well-revegetated grade (indistinct in places). Initially through immature forest, it breaks into an opening with thick regeneration and brush almost completely obscuring the old grade (often brushed-in). This intersects KP-2210 which after merging with KP-2000 takes the hiker 3.2 km to the Island Highway. The KP roads are mostly open through rocky limestone terrain apart from patches of red alder and Sitka alder in wetter sections, much more so towards the south end. The road affords good views over Nimpkish Lake (‘Namgis Lake) and to the Karmutsen Range in the west.
Directly across the highway, an old road, brushy in places, leads towards Nimpkish Lake and Nimpkish River. The old road intersects Kilpala Main that switchbacks down a hill on the last stretch leading to the bridge over the river as it flows out of Nimpkish Lake.
Caution! – the Nimpkish River bridge is long and narrow – do not linger on the bridge. Off-highway logging trucks that use Kilpala Main have 14-16-foot-wide loads (twice those of highway-legal logging trucks). You do not want to get caught on this bridge!
Beach camping is available at the north end of Nimpkish Lake. From the Nimpkish River bridge to Port McNeill, after a short section on the active Kilpala Main and Cabin Hook-up Road, the route again follows old, often grown-in logging roads including sections developed for mountain biking known locally as the “Bear Hill Trail”. The last part of the route is along the active East Main to the Island Highway #19 on the edge of Port McNeill.
Camping is available at the Broughton Straight Campsite not far from the commercial centre of Port McNeill, which is the re-supply point for those heading either north or south on the VIT.
If you want to take a day off from hiking while in Port McNeill, take a day-trip by ferry to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island and visit the U’Mista Cultural Centre to learn about ‘Namgis culture and history – https://www.umista.ca/.