...And Just like that... I found myself back in Catalina to hike the west side of the island.
I have been off the grid for some time, and majority of my silence is related primarily to work. After 7 years and 4 months at my previous job, I decided to accept a position at a new company. Hooray for me, but means I have been completely off of the grid.
As part of my departing gift to myself, I decided I would take a few days to hike the west side of Catalina and spend a few nights sleeping on the beach, looking at stars, and listening the waves break just feet from my tent.
Now... I didn't go at this trip alone. Normally I would spend time like this out on the trail in solitude. I do this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, this allows me to have time to myself, gather my thoughts, and really focus in on... well...Me. The other reason I like to solo hike is I am forced to make friends when I am ready to chat with people. All too often we find ourselves not talking to other people because we have people around us we already know, or because technology has pushed folks to crawl deep into their shell and not have to interact. Let's face it... We are just out of the woods, and part of me is hanging onto the traditions of the past that force us to interact, tell stories, and really get to know one another. With that... Here's a brief summary of my hike...
As I rounded out my last day of work on October 3rd, I had one thing in my immediate sights...Catalina! I had originally planned to hike the entire Trans-Catalina trail with a buddy, but after some consideration, we decided we'd camp each night on the beach, and skip the portions through Day 1 and Day 2 of the suggested nodes.
Shortly after booking our campsites, I realized they have officially re-routed day one of the Trans Catalina Trail. My biggest gripe about the trail in general was about the node on day one that took you from Avalon to Blackjack Campground. The version of the hike I did was a grueling 17 mile day 1. Everything I saw showed much less on day one, but they don't factor in the 1.5 miles you have to hike before you ever reach the trail. Luckily, this has changed! The trail now takes you from Avalon to Hermit Gulch, and up to Blackjack Campground, which saves you about 5 miles. But, I didn't do that route, so I digress...
We took the earliest morning ferry from the San Pedro port, and made our way over to Two Harbors. The morning ferry makes a brief stop in Avalon to drop off a majority of the passengers, before making it way over to Two Harbors. Upon arrival, I checked us in at the two harbor visitor center to verify our camping spots, and pick up the keys for locker that houses water and firewood. After that I made one final stop by the market for some campsite hydration (2 - 22 oz Budlights. Trying to hike Ultralight, hence the BudLights), then headed out on the trail with Parsons Landing as our stopping point for the evening.
There are two routes you can take to get to get to Parsons Landing... The easy way, and the hard way! If you are taking they easy route, your are still hiking around 7 miles, but you stick to West End road rather than climbing over the ridge. West End Road follows the coast line the whole way over, and offers beautiful views of beaches, that are only accessible by boat, as make your way over to the camp ground.
(View looking back as you leaving Two Harbors)
The other route takes you along the Trans Catalina Trail, and has a pretty long climb between miles 2-4 (If not longer). This is a long, steep, steady climb that will definitely burn out your quads, calves, and glutes... so get ready!!
(Buddy Matt on initial climb... complained the whole way)
(Climbing for days!)
As you hike the trail, you have two options to make it down to Parson's Landing. First route (and easier route) is to hang a right at Boushay Canyon Road. From what I hear, this is not at steep as Fenceline Road, and a little more manageable if folks in your group are a little slower.
(Boushay Road turn off)
Your other option is to take Fenceline Road. This is a straighter route down, but it is pretty steep. Don't expect to hike fast here as the descent can be slippery at times, which will certainly slow you down. I recommend poles for just about all hiking on Catalina as the hills can sneak up on you if you aren't hiking the main road.
While you are hiking down Fenceline Road, you will see Parson's Landing in the distance. This often appears far closer than it actually is, but stick to a steady pace and you'll be there in no time.
(We made it! Parson's Landing facilities... Pro tip... use the middle toilets! They are usually cleaner.)
Parson's landing is a truly special campsite! There are about 10 campsites once you actually get there, and each campsite sits right on the water. We stayed at campsite 2 which is one of my favorite spots. Campsite 1 is also pretty nice because it will make you feel completely secluded, but can also be chilly since is has shade a good portion of the day. One thing new this year at the campsites is the addition of fox containers. The conservatory has added steel containers at each of the campsites to keep the foxes, squirrels, and other critters from munching on your snacks while you are away from camp (Which probably has saved some tents and packs as well).
(Camp setup and view from my tent door)
Once we got to camp and started cooking dinner, I was quickly reminded that I forgot to bring my cup as well as my plate. I fashioned a quick cup using my knife and the bottom half of my beer can, and my buddy and I were off to the re-hydrated smorgasbord!
(I think that was Pad Thai in the BudLight bowl... it was pretty terrible actually)
Day 2 we had a relatively short day planned... Head out to Starlight Beach, then make our way back to camp. As we set off on the hike, we walked right up on a buffalo, who was sitting in the dirt enjoying a view of the beach. He didn't care about us much until my buddy shouted at the top of his lungs, "STOP!!" This sprung the buffalo to his feet, and he was now staring right at us from about 15 yards away. There was no way around him without getting way too close for comfort, so we had to hike off trail, and straight up the side of a hill, to make our around the big guy.
(yeah...I see you big guy! And I will not be testing you today!)
From there... we were off!! The trail over to Parson's is what I call "Rollers" (My buddy hated that I used that term). Just like any other part of the island, there are ascents and descents the whole way over. If you want a little easier trek, you can split off at some point and head up Old West End Road, which has a little less climbing, and is a nice short single track trail.
(Turn off for Starlight Beach and Starlight Beach)
After a short visit to Starlight Beach, we headed back to camp, went for a dip, re-hydrated some dinner and called it a night.
(View coming back into Parson's Landing)
Day 3 was a long hot hike. We decided we'd walk West End Road back to Two Harbors, then follow the Trans Catalina Trail over to Shark Harbor.
(Pretty cove on the way back to town)
Quick thing to note here; When I initially booked this trip I had originally intended to stay in Two Harbors for one night, but was detoured by what they called "Buccaneer Days" in Two Harbors which requires a 3 day minimum stay. Truth be told, I thought "Buccaneer Days" was a kids event... It's not! Buccaneer days is a huge draw for adults who like dressing up like pirates, speaking like pirates, and getting hammered. I hindsight, I wish we would have hung out here for a night, but my ultralight setup wouldn't permit eye liner and mascara in my pack.
As we made our way back to town, I was excited to get a single meal that was not out of a bag, and put down a pretty tasty buffalo burger with fires, and about 6 fountain Cokes while we sat.
Before heading out to Shark Harbor, I packed two more 22oz BudLights in my pack, and started the hike over to Shark Harbor.
The trek over to Shark Harbor starts with a long steady climb! The first few miles are straight climbing with no real relief along the way. After a good amount of climbing, you will see a gazebo in the distance. I have always used this as a marker to signify the end of my climb, and I take every opportunity to rest here for a bit, get a little nutrition in, and enjoy the picturesque views of this side of the island. From here you have a steep descent down to Little Harbor and Shark Harbor.
(Gazebo marker... Matt pooped here)
You will pass through Little Harbor first, which, at times, can seem like a total party. Keep in mind, the safari bus drops off loads of people here, and it's not uncommon to find a group of dudes with a cooler and music bumping. I've never actually stayed at Little Harbor, and usually just head to Shark Harbor since there are only 3 campsites here, and they are right on the beach.
(You can't see it here, but this big guy was taking a pull of a water spigot)
Shark Harbor usually draws in a few locals. The area is low key, and has a great little beach. When we arrived, I instantly prepped for a dip! It was hot outside, the water was warm-ish, and I had two cold-ish beers waiting for me at our campsite. After I cooled off a bit, it was time to setup camp and start thinking about the hike back the next day.
(Shark Harbor campsite)
I have to say, I am torn between which campsite I like more. I like Parson's Landing because it is a bit more off the beaten path. However, I do like that there are only 3 campsites at Shark Harbor and they are rarely all taken since the website says they are "primitive". Come on guys... it's camping!! The only real down side to Shark Harbor is that it is accessible by car, so there is the rare chance a group of bros gets dropped off by some outfit on the island, and you are left with a mini bro-rave at the campsite next to you. This happened on this trip, but thankfully they were far enough away that it didn't both us much (besides the solar powered lamp that stayed on all night...perhaps to ward off the buffalo? I don't know)
(Photo of camp at night. Super bright full moon)
As the next day came around, we packed up camp and started back on the road to Two Harbors. We had to make the earlier ferry back, and I really wanted a proper shower before hopping on the boat, so we double timed it as we winded through West End Road to make it back to town.
Once back, we were greeted by a swarm of the most haggered looking pirates you had ever seen! each waiting with their breakfast ticket to get a breakfast buffet, and each half attempting fake piracy for at least another couple hours. I overheard one guy say to a passing lady, "ahoy there lady!" to which she responded with a brisk power walk to a source of electrolytes.
I opted out of the breakfast buffet, since it was the only thing being served at the cafe, and headed straight to the market for 2, 22oz beers and pack of deli meat. Fully hydrated and satiated, it was time to make my way back to the boat and back to the mainland.
Until next time Catalina!
If you have any questions about hiking Catalina, please feel free to drop me a line! Until then... Eat well, hike lots, and for fucks sake have a couple beers!!
One last thing... Tried the Backpacker's Pantry Biscuits and Gravy this trip. Actually really good! Give it a whirl with the scramble!)