Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 5

I woke up just before dawn. I grabbed my phone and snapped some photos of the glorious colors of the morning sky. My heart and soul were full. I made breakfast and broke camp for the last time. Some were staying two nights, adding in the hike to StarLight Beach, the old end of the TCT, while others were like me and returning to Two Harbors and back to the mainland. I left my fuel and my remaining water for one of the others. 

With a much lighter pack, I retraced my route from yesterday. The only difference was I did need to make it back in town by 11:15. The miles flew by, and I could still feel the day warming up again. One of the campers had a thermometer, and said the low at Parsons was 71! I passed a few folks, one on a gravel bike, a couple of runners getting their miles in, and one fellow heading out to see a buddy who worked at one of the camps. 

I decided to follow the formal route into town and did not take the shortcut, plus I got to see a little bit more of Two Harbors. Once at the pier I got my ferry ticket, cleaned up a bit, bought a couple of cold drinks, and last but not least, 2 patches to add to my collection. As I boarded a ferry, I knew this adventure had come to a close. Soon Anita would be standing on the dock waiting to greet me. I am proud of this journey and what it gave me. When all is said and done, I hiked 39.7 miles over the five days. I logged 19 hours of actual hiking time and measured 6,998 feet of elevation gain.

Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 4

I woke to foggy skies, my rainfly was damp, as was the rain cover on my pack. I made my breakfast and broke camp. I enjoyed my breakfast and strolled into Two Harbors at 8 and double-checked the supply drop. With confirmation, I set off toward Parsons. I really wanted to take the other route and cross Silver Peak off the list but I knew better. Plus it’s easy enough for me to get back here, and maybe next time with some friends. The road out to Parsons traces the contours of the island. Meaning it goes in and around steep and deep ravines. Usually tucked in the bottoms of these ravines were various camps. The heat was really bearing down on me. I hoped those coming up and over had enough fluids.

I crested the final hill and saw Parsons before me. Seeing the campsite, moved me. While I knew I still had to hike back to Two Harbors, reaching Parsons meant I had effectively trekked the entirety of the TCT. I hung out at the shelter, as there was not a lot of shade to be found. The water had not yet been delivered, so I took some from the containers that had been left to quench my thirst. After a while, I went down to my campsite on the actual beach and began to set up. Since my rain fly was still wet, I put it out to dry but I hoped I might not need it. Once I finished, I put on my bathing suit and enjoyed the cool Pacific waters again. I did find some shade beneath a large rock and had a nice nap. Later I wandered back to the shelter and the lockers. Many of the hikers I’d been traveling with were here as well. A lone bald eagle was spotted in the distance. We chatted about things for a while, then we departed with our water and firewood back down to our respective camps. 

Each campsite has a rock windbreak and a firepit. The sun began to set behind the hills and I started to feel a bit of a breeze begin to pick up, so I added an extra rock to each tent stake to hold them down.

The sound of the crashing waves and the glow of the sunset were making this a memorable evening. I reflected on this journey and on other things. My campfire danced in the pit and off to the distance the lights in LA shone. The breeze became stronger and I could see my tent begin to sway. I debated removing the rainfly since it was just acting as a sail but realized if I did I would be hard-pressed to put it back on if needed. The real problem was the direction of the wind, as that nicely constructed rock wall was on the wrong side. I crawled into the tent knowing my weight was helping keep the tent in place. I tied a part of the rain fly back to allow me to look out into the evening sky. If the wind was going to keep me awake, at least let me have a view. I did drift off to sleep, and those winds did eventually calm down.

Day 5: Parsons Landing to Two Harbors

Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 3

I awoke just before sunrise, after a fairly good sleep under the stars. I had gotten a little damp overnight, but nothing too troublesome. Today was going to be a warm one, as the forecasts for the rest of the week was going to be unseasonably hot. So I wanted to get an early start to get the climb out of Little Harbor done before it was too warm. I made a cup of coffee and ate a breakfast bar while I broke camp. I still had a coke that I had bought the day before, so I drank it down for some extra “go” juice. I waved goodbye to the woman at the next site, as she was just starting her day. My plasma lighter had trouble last night igniting the tinder, so I borrowed her traditional lighter, and that coupled with the bag my oatmeal-raisin cookie came in let me enjoy my campfire.

The trail doesn’t waste any time and starts climbing directly from the campground. Why the trail builders did not use switchbacks, I will never know. While it was steep, it was not too awful.  I did remember to stop and turn back toward Little Harbor for a few more photos. As I continued climbing, the views of the coast to my left were stunning. After about 2 miles, a shade shelter came into view, which indicated that the summit was almost there. I paused and shared with another hiker that I’d been “chasing” for much of the climb, but the draw of the General Store in Two Harbors was strong, so I said my goodbyes and continued down the trail. I had another almost 2.5 miles to go, but I did make a very short side trip to the top of Banning House Mountain. The extreme heat forecasted for the next day meant that it was highly unlikely I was actually going to try and summit Silver Peak if I took the high route out to Parsons Landing.

The descent was pleasant and seeing Cat Harbor was a welcome sight. I dropped my pack near the General Store and grabbed some cool drinks. After that, I made the ¼ mile walk over to the campsite. This time I’d be right next to the water. Once I was set up, I headed back into town for lunch and exploration. Between the campground and town, there’s a small hill that you go up and over. I had my lunch and then inquired about the locker key for Parsons Landing. Instead of putting my water and firewood in the locker, it would be marked for me placed next to one. I strolled back to the campsite and then went down to the beach below me to find a spot to relax. I also took some time to rinse my clothes and grab a simple shower. While you can pay for a warm one in town, the warm day made this cold one feel very refreshing. Since the store closes at 5, I made my way back over to grab a beer and hopefully some Fritos to go with dinner Sadly there were no Fritos to accompany my chili mac. I also opted to grab a Detour IPA from the excellent beer selection. It seemed appropriate since I was making a detour on the TCT.

Some of the other hikers I had met along the way were also in town waiting until the restaurant opened. They invited me for dinner, but I really wanted to eat and enjoy the view from my campsite. So I compromised and had a cup of chowder with them instead. I was hoping to sleep again without the rain fly and enjoy the night sky. However, the fog started to roll in, so on it went. I also brought the rain cover for my backpack and slipped it on as well. Once again I enjoyed another fire as evening fell. 

While I did debate an early start to try to take the high route, I knew that the additional 2 miles to also climb Silver Peak might be too much in this heat. Even so, I still wanted an early start to go to Parsons Landing. While the road route was mostly flat, it was still nearly 8 miles. One downside of the Two Harbors campground is it can be quite noisy in the evenings. And true to those warnings, we had some campers making a bit of a racket into the evening. Thankfully they did quiet down before I got too grumpy.

Day 4: Two Harbors to Parsons Landing

Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 2

One of the tests for this trip was changing my sleep setup. Given I mostly sleep on my side, I decided to switch to a quilt instead of a traditional sleeping bag. It works so well! No longer was I fighting with my sleeping bag during the night. I was able to also solve my pillow height issue as well. For sleeping in a tent, I did fairly well. 

Today’s route was really one of two parts; the first is a short 2.1-mile jaunt to the airport and the second is 6+ miles of mostly downhill into Little Harbor. I wanted to arrive at the airport closer to lunchtime, so I took my time enjoying my coffee and oatmeal. Once done with breakfast, I loaded my pack and headed out.

When I saw the airport the previous night when I tried to climb Mt. Orizban, it did not look too far away. Like many things on Catalina, however, nothing is a straight line.

I had some water in my internal bladder, but my side bottles were empty to save a little weight for a while. The route took me down a ravine before climbing back up again. Since I was in no hurry, I took a leisurely pace. I actually had a small water crossing. It had rained the week before and some of the water was still around. As I made my way up, I spotted 3 hikers heading toward me. It was a bit early for anyone coming from Little Harbor. It turned out they work for the conservancy and they were out counting snakes. I happily informed them that I had neither seen nor heard any today.

Once at the airport, I dropped my pack, found some shade, and enjoyed a cold soda. While the TCT is quite challenging, it intersects with civilization quite often. The airport was one of those intersections. After that cold drink, I ordered my bison burger with fries and another soda. I was here before when the twins and I had flown over with my friend Susan Bell for the same lunch. I let lunch settle a bit before starting to head out. Little Harbor is said to be a fantastic campsite so I wanted some time there. I filled my side bottles and bought two more sodas and an oatmeal raisin cookie for later. With mostly a descent ahead of me, the extra weight was fine.

A modest portion of this section of the TCT is on the road, so I encountered some actual traffic. First, a SoCal Edison truck passed me, and then an LA County Sheriff. Both slowed so as not to kick up any road dust. About 10 minutes later a paramedic and another sheriff’s jeep were headed toward the airport. Since they did not slow down, one could only assume someone was being transported. The day was warm and there was almost no shade. As I left the road and back onto a traditional trail I looked at my map and saw there was a shade shelter somewhere around mile 17. I could see it down below me and was looking forward to dropping my pack and sitting a spell. When I got there, however, surrounding it was a herd of 20+ bison! Some were standing, while others lay down all across the trail. Since I did not think they would be moving anytime soon I began figuring out plan B. I could just wait and hope they move one but the surrounding terrain looked fine and I took off cross-country around them.

I strolled into camp and found my site. I booked one further back in part for the quiet. I set up camp and then went exploring the campground. What a beautiful spot! I can see why folks would camp here multiple nights. I took off my shoes and let the cool Pacific Ocean wash over my feet. Then I headed back to my campsite and chatted with the woman in the next site over. I made my dinner, then headed to a nice spot to watch the sunset. No green flash this evening, but it was still lovely. I decided not to put up my rainfly and just stare at the stars from in my tent. The moon would be setting soon, so I could enjoy them as I listened to an audiobook before drifting to sleep.

Day 3: Little Harbor to Two Harbors

Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 1

The alarm went off at 6 am just like a regular workday. I took my time getting ready. Since I stayed in town I could also enjoy a nice hot breakfast before heading out. Pancakes, two eggs, and black coffee hit the spot. I went back to the room and gathered my gear. The hotel gave me a $20 voucher which I used at their Bistro to get another coffee and their “All-Day” lunch kit. I repacked it into my pack and set off. My TCT hike had begun!

For now, the skies were overcast and it was very muggy as well. My shirt was quickly becoming damp but I would take that over a blazing sun any day. I passed through Hermit Gulch and began the first climb of the day. While the Trans-Catalina Trail is only 40 miles long, you have to climb over 9,000 feet along the way. The first climb would take me basically from sea level up to to just over 1,500 feet in 3 miles. 

Along the way, I would stop and turn around and enjoy the view of Avalon and the cruise ship that arrived. As I neared the end of the climb, the sun was starting to burn through the marine layer. At one of the shade shelters along the TCT, I switched into my sunglasses and had a good drink, and continued on. The trail would rise and fall as I kept working my way toward Blackjack campground.

As I approached the small reservoir, a large male bison was working its way down the trail I needed to take. I stopped a safe distance away and grabbed some photos. I then waited, hoping he was heading down to the water for a drink. Thankfully he was, and then I hustled up a section in case he changed his mind.

The TCT would flip flop from single-track to some road walking. I saw some traffic at times, none passed me while I was on the road. At each bench, I stopped and took a well-earned break, knowing I had over a 10-mile day with a full pack. I grabbed a snack and a good drink, saving my “All-day” lunch for when I arrived at the campground.

At mile 9, I took an extended break at the shade shelter. There was one more descent, then the final push into the campground. I plodded up the trail, praying for a switchback. Alas, it was just a straight-up assault on my legs. When I spied the campground in the distance a little spring came back into my step. I found my spot and sat down at the picnic table, and slowly ate my lunch. Once I had some energy, I set up camp. Afterward, I spent some time chatting with a couple from the next spot over. I grabbed a short nap in my tent, and then I decided to see if I might be able to hike out to Mount Orizaba, the high point on the island, but the road to the summit was gated and locked, and I did not feel proper hopping over the barbed wire fence. Off to the north, I could see the “Airport in the Sky”, the first stop for tomorrow, but more importantly, bison burgers! Once back at camp, I made my dinner and turned in. There are no campfires allowed here, so it was an early evening.

Day 2: Blackjack Campground to Little Harbor

Trans-Catalina Trail: Day 0

My lovely bride dropped me off at the Catalina Express terminal in Dana Point after having lunch together. Thankfully the ferry was not too full so I did not have to store my backpack with the other passengers’ luggage. The boat ride over was fairly smooth, so I took a small nap. As we approached the dock at Avalon, it was still occupied, so the captain took us on a short cruise up the coast to kill some time. After disembarking, I grabbed my photo of the Catalina sign and headed over to one of the two spots to buy camping fuel. I later learned I picked the right store as Chet’s Hardware had run out. I checked into the Hotel Atwater. While many might camp at Hermit Gulch or plan for early arrival on the island, I treated myself to a real bed. When I booked the trip I had hoped one of my hiking friends might be able to join me. Unfortunately, no one could.

I wandered around the heart of Avalon and took a stroll to see the old casino. This is the iconic building you see in almost every photograph of Avalon. I skipped shopping in the various stores as I was not about to haul some knick-knack for 40-plus miles. I found a Mexican place for dinner and relaxed. Afterward, I grabbed some ice cream and watched the light fade over the ocean. Since I planned for an early start, I did not plan to go hit any of the bars, and turned in for the evening.

Day 1: Avalon to Blackjack Campground