Birthday Week Recap pt 1 – Catalina Island
I know it’s already Thursday and we got back to town on Sunday afternoon but I can only work with the time I’m given so this post is coming later than I would like. Sorry about the delay but hopefully it will be worth it. I’m going to warn you ahead of time this might get lengthy so grab a beer and I’ll try to keep from using the words awesome, great, incredible, and unbelievable to often but no promises. Also, I’m gonna do a separate post for the Catalina portion of the trip and the Vegas portion.
Carrie and I both turned 30 last week so we decided this was the perfect excuse to take a much needed and long overdue break from work and life in general. We made a plan to hike and camp on Catalina Island from Saturday to Wednesday then head to Vegas from Wednesday to Sunday. 10 days away from San Diego and with no one else but ourselves. This was going to be the longest we had ever spent consecutively in each other’s exclusive company. Time to find out if she made a big mistake back in April!
We got on the road early Saturday morning to drive up to San Pedro. There are closer Ferry Landings to SD for the trip to Catalina but we were going in to Two Harbors, not Avalon so we had to make the longer drive. Fortunately, Carrie is ok with long drives because with my habit of getting very tired when driving, she doesn’t have much choice. Got there, checked in and watched as a downpour dumped on the area. I was a little concerned about what this would do to the trip but in less than a few minutes it had passed and we ended up with a really nice ride out to the island. We saw about 5 to 6 massive pods of dolphins playing along side the boat and in the wake so that helped the ride go by pretty quick.
Once we got to Two Harbors we grabbed breakfast from “The Best Restaurant in Town.” It’s also the ONLY restaurant in town. Who says island folk don’t have a sense of humor? The food was actually pretty good so we scarfed it down before getting our camping/hiking pass and then setting off for Little Harbor.
I would first like to say that I had no idea what I was getting in to when we decided to do this. It was our first time backpacking/camping where we were carrying everything (minus water) that we would need while we were on the island. I had never gone out with a 40# pack before and the island was much hillier that I thought it was going to be. Not to mention the lady at the desk said the hike was 7 miles. Based on the map and
Fortunately, the rest of the trip out to Little Harbor didn’t have any climbs that were as long and steep but there were plenty of ups and downs along beautifully scenic terrain. The trail was a mix of double track and single track that followed a ridge line with the ocean to our right and the island to our left. It was everything I love about being outside and on trails. Every time I see a mountain range I daydream about running along the ridge line following the contours of the mountains as I look out to the horizon in each direction. Something about traveling along the precipice of the series of peaks and dips of a mountain range provides me with endless joy and I couldn’t have picked a better way for this hike to take us to our campsite.
After about 2 hours of hiking and this crazy descent…
…it was time for a break. We probably waited too long to rest but we both have a bad tendency to not want to stop moving when we are making progress and I know I was enjoying the trail and scenery so much I wanted to see what was next.
Once we stopped I realized how much work we had done and we quickly started putting in some calories, drinking water and enjoying the view over the ocean. One of the best parts of this trip was that when we were out on the trails we didn’t see a single person unless we were less than a 1/2 mile from camp. It made for a truly surreal experience of overwhelming calm and quiet. The peacefulness of the hike is something that will stay with me and something I hope to reacquaint myself with on a more regular basis.
At this point we were probably just over 4 miles in to the hike and we still weren’t sure whether we were going another 1-1.5 or 3 more miles so after we felt like we’d taken enough of a break we were back on the trails. Once moving again I noticed that I was feeling better after the break but I was also very aware of how much we had already done. I was silently praying the lady at the check in was wrong about the distance because going another 3 miles wasn’t sounding all that appealing at the time.
It was my lucky day and the trail immediately took on a descending nature, my favorite kind. As we were working our way downhill we noticed a camp that seemed way too close so while I was telling myself it was the right one, Carrie kept reassuring me that Little Harbor was AFTER this camp. (She’s a big fan of making sure it’s the right place before getting her hopes up and then realizing you have 2 more miles to go.) As we got closer the layout looked a lot like the overhead map for the site and I got more excited. Sure enough, in less than 1.5 miles we were entering camp and looking at this:
Our campsite was nearly perfect. It was up above the majority of sites so we were set apart from most of the people that were there (there weren’t many to begin with). We shared a large area with 4 other sites but only two were occupied on our first night there. Even with a few people around we were still able to enjoy some quiet. The only problem was out site seemed to be the only one without a single flat spot to set up the tent.
Overall, we covered just under 5.5 miles and 1800 ft of elevation gain.
It felt incredible to take off the packs and we made quick work of the tent set up. Once everything was in it’s place we headed down to the water to soak our feet and take some time to completely relax. And relax would be a reoccurring theme for the next week of this trip.
Before anyone asks, there are no bears on Catalina. I brought the bear canister after numerous warnings of wild boar that have a nasty habit of tearing through just about anything to get to your food. I wasn’t about to let anything get to my food. Much to my dismay we didn’t get to see any of the “wild piggies” while we were there. Surprisingly, calling out “Here wild piggies!” does NOT work.
After a little while of that we headed back up to the tent site to make dinner. The first night was Asian noodles with tuna and it was surprisingly good. Carrie added an Agave #9 gel for dessert and I was more than jealous that I didn’t think to bring some.
Our breakfast while we were there was oats with some nuts and raisins mixed in and it served as a great source of fuel before our hikes.
Day two was a day to explore the area around the campsite and some more of the Trans Catalina Trail. Our biggest goal of the day was to see a buffalo. Catalina is famous for the buffalo (bison) that roam the island. They were brought there by movie producers in the 1920s and then were left after the filming wrapped up. This became a mission because Carrie ran a marathon on the island and didn’t get to see a single buffalo, however everyone we talk to that has raced or been on the island has seen one. Needless to say, Carrie isn’t happy about that and wanted to see one for herself.
After a two mile trek around the coastline we headed east across the island on the TCT following endless buffalo and wild boar tracks. Again there was a long uphill to leave the campground which was considerably easier with our Ultimate Direction packs vs. our Osprey backpacking packs. We made it to a peak that overlooked the ocean to the east and could see California. Just over the next ridge was Catalina’s “airport in the sky.” We sat and enjoyed some snacks and more wonderful peace and quiet. All told, we tallied another 8 miles, 1900 ft of climbing and not a single buffalo sighting. I’m starting to think that these massive beasts are skillful masters of deception.
Dinner that night was couscous and chicken. Not bad but the couscous didn’t cook long enough. The night before we found a great stone bench overlooking the harbor so we headed over to our new favorite spot for dinner and a gorgeous sunset.
The next morning was going to be the big day. The goal was to hike from Little Harbor, back to Two Harbors, then out to Parsons Landing. It would have been about a 12-13 mile day and the section from Two Harbors to Parsons is rated as a tougher section that what we had already done. As you can tell I’m talking like this isn’t what ended up happening, and you are right. As we started to descend the long climb back in to Two Harbors Carrie started to not feel well. I knew from the look on her face earlier on that something was wrong but this was the first time she said anything. For her to say something, I knew it wasn’t good. We slowly made our way down the hill and I was quietly thinking about how tired I was and the fact that we were heading back to the place where the ferry is to go back and how it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if this was the end of our Catalina trip.
After we covered the 5.5 miles back to Two Harbors and the 1875 ft of climbing we sat down for brunch and realized we were pretty beat. We looked at the map to Parsons and at the mountain that was looming over us with the TCT going straight up the face of it. After some hemming and hawing we both finally said out loud what the other was thinking. This has been an awesome trip with three fantastic days of hiking and camping. We could either force ourselves up and over the mountain to Parsons Landing and be exhausted and potentially sick for the rest of the trip, or we could get on the ferry and head to Vegas for two extra days of complete and total relaxation.
A lot of the time I would have said no, we’re doing the rest of the trip like we had planned and I want to push through this and do the hike. But this time, no way. This was a vacation that I had full intentions of enjoying. Carrie and I haven’t been able to spend much time together let alone without the stresses of work for this long since we’ve been married. The decision was a no brainer. It was made even easier when they gave us full refunds for the campsite and a free ticket transfer for the ferry. When Carrie questioned the full refund the response was, “We want you to be happy and come back and see us.” Well Catalina, don’t worry about that, we’ll be back…and soon!
We finished out lunch and sat around while we double and triple checked with each other that we were OK with leaving early, we both were and it was definitely the right decision. As the ferry headed out of the harbor everyone was looking around for dolphins, whale spouts and at the view of the island from the water when Carrie heard someone say “Buffalo.” She jumped up and I thought she was gonna tackle the guy asking “Where?!” Sure enough, on the hillside was a huge buffalo just chilling in the sun and enjoying the breeze off the water. I’m convinced he came out to say goodbye to Carrie. The ride back was made even better with more dolphins and two pods of whales. They were too far off to see but the spouts that shot up were huge. It was my first time seeing whale spouts and it was really cool knowing these huge animals were out there.
Being our first real excursion in to the backpacking/hiking world I was happy with the way things went but we definitely learned a few things. I would say the biggest thing we learned from this trip was food related. It was our first time having to take food with us in our packs so we needed to take meals that wouldn’t spoil and would be easy to make on the burner stove. The oats were a great breakfast but we definitely put too much in each bag and not enough dried fruit. As for the dinners, the rice noodles were money so I will definitely be doing that again. The under-cooked couscous wreaked havoc on our stomachs for the next couple days so I would avoid that in the future. Just takes too long to cook and not worth the trouble of eating if it’s under-cooked. The packaged tuna and chicken were surprisingly good and a great way to get protein in the meals.
The other major point of emphasis coming away from the trip is planning. We were lucky we had the out at Two Harbors. Next time we need to do a better job of knowing what we are getting in to. The exact distances, profiles, etc. It’ll help now that we have one trip with the packs under our belts and know what it’s like to carry the added weight, but we still need to be better prepared for the actual hike itself. As for gear we were perfectly prepared and I was happy we were able to avoid bringing any extra, unnecessary stuff. The one thing I need to invest in are some good pants that I can take in case of rain.
If you want to see any more pictures, here’s a link to all the shots I took on the trip: http://adventuresofcarrieandpaul.shutterfly.com/pictures/8
I’ll hopefully get “part 2- Vegas” up tomorrow or this weekend. Until then, I can’t recommend highly enough a visit to Catalina. Especially after summer is over and most of the people are gone. What an amazing/incredible/beautiful/unbelievable (did I get them all?) trip!