Catalina Day 4: The High Road

January 13, 2016
Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors
Miles: 8

I roll over and poke my head out of the tent just in time to see the sky glow pink with sunrise. I am relieved to see that the ocean has stayed mostly in its place through the night. No need to test the limits of the crumbling seam tape on my aging tent’s bathtub floor. Still in my sleeping bag, I lean out a little further and boil water for breakfast in bed. I decide to relieve Hanie of some freeze dried yakisoba she’s carried all this way but left untouched. It’s terrible. Note to self: bring real food on short trips.DSC06055Hanie has decided to take the road back to town, content with seeing what we’ve seen, still feeling a bit under the weather. I think she also wants to test out solo hiking before hitting the Camino de Santiago later this spring. I will be looping back to town on the high route, climbing back up to the ridges for another dose of stunning views.

I wander lost a bit looking for the right trail since I’ve decided to skip the last out and back to Starlight Beach, the true end of the Trans-Catalina Trail. I’ve heard it’s anti-climactic, not nearly as nice as Parson’s Landing. I find the correct path, and am soon suffering the consequences. The ridge looms 1750 feet above the beach, and most of this elevation is gained in a single mile of trail. I tackle what is rumored to be an exceptionally steep – even by Catalina standards –  fence line trail in reverse, each step barely in front of the last. There are several stretches where I could have easily used my hands if they weren’t holding trekking poles. Hanie would have hated this, I muse, as I attempt to giggle while gasping for oxygen and instead choke on my own laughter.  It’s always impossible to really show how steep the grade is, but with that in mind consider the following:DSC06065

DSC06075After a few demoralizing false summits, I am back up in the sky. And, as always, on this captivating island, the views are so worth it. The ochre earth, saturated with recent rains, so bright against the deep blue seas. And finally, I have found a bit of island devoid of tire tracks. A sign reminds me that Starlight Beach is only 3.5 miles away. But it’s not really in my plans. I stop to reconsider, but do not want to tease the ferry – it’s Wednesday and the next boat doesn’t leave Two Harbors until Friday. No need to create a stressful day by power hiking an extra 7 miles with a deadline. Besides, I have nothing to prove (I lie to myself) so this is a good challenge in choosing fun over miles [Update: a year later I regret not doing those last miles. Darn purist ethics or ego or both].DSC06078After a few hours of ups and downs, the trail weaves its way back down to sea level, passing through a public works yard and back to town. I find Hanie at the beach. She seems surprised to see me, assuming I would have caved and added those extra miles instead of coming straight back. Hanie ended up walking with the dude from the beach.  His GPS conforming that the distance by road is closer to 8 miles, the same as by trail. The many signs and mile markers, while reassuring do not feel particularly accurate here.DSC06084 Though the trail is officially 37 miles end to end, we’ve manage to log 43 miles without even tagging the far shore of the island. I nap on the beach in the winter sun, rolled up in the tent against the ocean breeze, food bag and ziplocks strewn about. “That was very hikertrash” declares Hanie when I wake. 

On the ferry ride back to Long Beach, a friendly long-time local answers forty miles of accumulated questions, topped off with bonus stories aplenty. Hanie’s veterinary background makes for easy conversation with a live-off-the-land local. We learn that the many fences were built to assist in managing (read: culling) an out of control population of wild goats and pigs. The first attempt, you see, at machine guns slaughter via helicopter was not entirely successful. So they divided the island into quadrants, which were then meticulously  walked by teams that shot everything in sight. Oh, island life. It’s so gentle and peaceful. Less distressingly, we also learn that the bison are, ironically, one the the genetically purest populations. The original prairie herds where they originated  have since mixed with cattle. So now there’s an exchange program, whereby SoCal bison are deposited into South Dakota winter, and left to puzzle the mystery of the cold white stuff on the ground.

The ferry makes a stop in Avalon, and the sun sets as beautifully as it rose four days ago. A fitting end to a pretty trip with eventful skies.DSC06094

2002 Finding Friends at Camp

I try to sleep in after hiking so many evening miles, but town excitement means I am wide awake by 5:30, though I refuse to leave my sleeping bag until 6am. We’ve heard nothing but the best about Big Lake Youth Camp and are so excited for proper meals and showers and laundry.

The ten miles to camp are uneventful; downhill and then flat through yet more burn but the trail is clear and the tread soft. I pass the 2000 mile mark, though not even sticks are arranged in its honor. I am some eighty miles short at the moment anyway, because of skipping around. Still I use the landmark to dream up trail magic, imagining a cooler of beer and box of silly hats for a party like it’s 1999 cache.

Big Lake Youth Camp is the perfect picture of a summer camp; villages of tidy A-frame cabins, shiny-happy camp staff and legions of grade school kids marching off to swim, play soccer and ride horses. Unfortunately, the power is off for the day because of repairs so no showers or laundry or charging or wifi until this evening. With chatting and resupply and eating from a bountiful hiker box, time flies anyway. Around noon, and who cruises in? It’s SPEED! I get a hug and then a barrage of questions about trail conditions north. Speed waits anxiously for lunch (paper bag style today but with fresh baked bread, cookies, carrots and fruit), I manage to snap a picture of us before he rushes on. IMG_7342

The power returns ahead of schedule, and with it come showers and laundry (done for us!). Paul and Laurie arrive, the last people to see me before I ‘quit’ at Crater Lake, with word that Shuffles and Dribbles should make it here by dinner time. And they do! I run across camp to surprise them with a big hug and silly smile. A short but sweet trail family reunion today! I can’t believe we get to share meals and camp together instead passing on trail and having to immediately hike on our separate ways.

Dinner is mac and cheese, but with vegan and gluten-free pasta and sauce options too. Did I mention that all the food is veggie here? This is really my happy place! There’s fresh salad, and green beans, and invitations for seconds. All of this on a by donation basis that is not pushed at all, and neither is religion. The camp is even building a hiker hut where we will have our own showers and laundry. And there’s an entire staff member, Noah, dedicated to taking care of us and all our mountains of packages and stinky clothes. I don’t think anyone wants to leave, and I am grateful that spending time with S&D gives me an excuse to linger over for breakfast in the morning.

Ever so content, we camp lakeside, a baker’s dozen of tiny hiker tents tucked all close together on a sandy spit along the lake. We watch the best sunset of the hike this year, retreat to our little homes, and fall asleep listening to the crickets chirping, the ducks laugh-quacking and hikers snoring, a little wild chorus in the dark.IMG_7352July 20, 2016
Miles: 9 + 1
Trip: 505
PCT: 1921