Monday, January 21, 2019

The After Action Report

December 24: The trail was over, but we still had to get back home. We slept in late--there was little reason not to!--and our boat wasn't scheduled to leave Two Harbors until something like noon so we had hours to kill.

We split up--I walked to the far harbor to watch (and attempt to film) pelicans diving into the water and the bison that were still in the nearby meadow while Courtney walked backwards on the Trans-Catalina Trail to see some of the viewpoints along the shore. She wasn't doing the whole loop since she didn't have the time or inclination for that, but there were a lot viewpoints to admire.

We got back together about an hour before our boat was scheduled to return and compared notes, twiddled our thumbs, then eventually boarded our boat back to the mainland.

Courtney, I'm happy to report, didn't get motion sickness this time around. I'm not sure what was different this time around--I didn't think the ship was any less bouncy than the ride out, which was pretty gentle in the first place, but yea for her! =)

Goodbye, Catalina!

The real excitement started when Courtney shouted about seeing a bunch of dolphins ahead in the water. I was reading my Kindle and obvious but immediately looked up and started searching for dolphins... then I saw them!

And then I saw more of them. And more.... There were hundreds! Way too many count! Absolutely magical! I whipped out the fancy camera with the zoom lens feeling like an idiot for not being ready, but how was I to know we'd see something like that? The ship didn't stop or slow down and the dolphins were quickly fading into the distance behind us.

But when the next group of dolphins arrived--and there was another group!--I was ready. But I couldn't really get very good photos of them. They were small targets that would jump out of the water for a fraction of a second. I didn't have time to zoom into them for a good photo and wound up just shooting lots and lots of photos hoping I'd get lucky and catch something. At one point, we saw a few dolphins swim just beneath the surface of the water next to the boat--our best view of them by far even if they were under the surface. But even that only lasted for but a second before the boat passed them by and they were off in the distance.

Then, at one point, I looked back behind the ship and saw--I swear it must have been thousands of dolphins. The mass of jumping dolphins stretched seemingly in a line for a mile behind our boat. Where did they all come from? When the boat went through that area, we saw a few dolphins, but it didn't seem like such a massive group! I gasp and pointed it out to Courtney who was looking ahead at the time, but before Courtney turned around, the group submerged under the surface and Courtney accused me of making it up. "I didn't! I swear!"

It was truly one of the best highlights of the trip.

This was the best photo I got of one of the jumping dolphins. So cool!

And moral to this story is.... if you're taking a boat to Catalina, stop reading your stupid Kindle and watch out for dolphins! =)

We finally made it back to the mainland, piled into Courtney's car and started the long drive back. Along the way, we stopped in Camarillo to visit our dad on Christmas Eve where we spent a few hours. It was another little family reunion as another one of my sisters was in town as well, along with my one and nephew who is absolutely adorable. But he's only a year old, so I still expect he'll grow out of it. ;o)

But the trail and the trip was over. It was an awesome trip. *nodding*

Notice the sea lions on the buoy as we neared the mainland?

One of the other passengers on the boat told us this ship is used to actually catch discarded rockets in mid-ocean. There had been rocket launches scheduled from Vandenberg AFB earlier in the week that had been postponed at the last minute. We were hoping to see the rocket launch from Catalina--it should be visible if the weather was clear--but the launch had been delayed until a week after we left. Perhaps it had something to do with that? The passenger also said it was very unusual to see the giant net open because it's usually not.
USS Iowa
About to dock in San Pedro
I noticed this bee on the seat next to me as I stood up to disembark. Did it follow us all the way from Catalina?! It was also officially the last photo I took from this trip. *nodding*

Friday, January 18, 2019

Day 3: The West-End Loop

December 23: During the night, it started raining on me. Which was something of a surprise because rain was not in the forecast... however, condensation turned out to be! I slept outside under an awning, but the awning wasn't very waterproof and the heavy condensation dripped down onto me. I moved closer to tent which provided more protection and made it through the night without anymore trouble. I was surprised the condensation was so heavy. It wasn't very heavy at all the previous night and it wasn't even very cold outside. Didn't it have to be cold for condensation to form?

This was what I called "Harbor #2" since it was on the back side of Two Harbors and away from the main part of the city.

I woke up at around sunrise, ate breakfast and got my day pack in order. I would camp here for two nights so I didn't need any overnight gear. Just a light day pack with snacks, water and my camera.

Courtney decided to take the day off and sleep in then explore Two Harbors. She was awake when I left and wished me a good hike. I had to complete about 13 miles and figured I'd probably be back before 3:00pm, but I'd try to keep her up-to-date on my progress if I could get a cell phone signal and was running late.

I hiked across Two Harbors to the other harbor, keeping an eye on three bison grazing in a nearby meadow. The trail through town was flat, but it climbed steeply as it left and easily surpassed a thousand feet. The morning started cool, but it didn't take long before I was sweating hard.

An hour or two into the hike, I caught up with a couple of other hikers who I recognized from the restaurant at Airport In the Sky and they asked me about my sister, Courtney. "She took the day off," I informed them. I hadn't really talked to them at the time except for the cursory greetings so I was surprised when they already knew that Courtney was my sister. Obviously, Courtney had more of a conversation with them while I was walking around exploring the natural and airport historical displays.

They introduced themselves as Mark and Jessie. I think his name was Mark. I'm writing this blog about three weeks later and I never wrote a journal so I'm depending on my memory. I remember her name was definitely Jessie, though, because it reminded me of Jessie's Girl, but Jessie was a boy in the song. I didn't have a clever way to remember his name, but I think it was Mark. I'll feel bad if I'm wrong and they read this, though. (I did tell them about this blog.)

We walked together for a bit, chatting about trails we've done and wanted to do and I enjoyed their company. They seemed content with me joining the group and we continued on for the next several miles together.

After the steep climb, the trail descended rapidly back to sea level at Parsons Landing. It was, perhaps, the steepest section of the entire trail, and we carefully and slowly waddled down the trail with tiny steps.

Parsons Landing is a beautiful, beach campsite. I had wanted to camp here when I first tried making reservations, but it was the one campsite on the island that was completely booked full. It had no running water, but apparently the powers-that-be will provide 2.5 gallons of clean water in large water bottles which you can access from lockers after picking up a key in Two Harbors. Day hikers like me would have no water, but that was okay. I was prepared for it and carried plenty to get me through the whole day.

Mark and Jessie did have a reservation for Parsons Landing, however, so this was where our trails would split. They worked on setting up camp and I sat down on a nearby bench for a short break. I ate some snacks, drank some water, admired the views, and pulled out my camera with the zoom lens and took lots and lots of photos of birds. I took photos of them flying, waddling across the beach, and just going for action shots in general. I wasn't in a rush.

Mark and Jessie pose at Parsons Landing. I was a little jealous that they'd be camping at such a beautiful campsite on the beach! I wanted to camp there too!

Just before leaving, the father and son pair that Courtney and I met yesterday reached the campground. They too had reservations for the campsite. I was envious. Were Courtney and I the only people on this island that couldn't get reservations here?! There were only 8 campsites, though, so supply was severely limited. All the other campsites on the island looked like they could support a hundred people if necessary, and those were the ones that were more than half empty.

I chatted with them for a few minutes before they went off to set up camp and I continued down the trail.

The rest of the trail to Two Harbors was completely and utterly flat and followed a dirt road along the coast with many beautiful views along the way. I passed numerous camps along the way, and they all looked closed for the season. Probably used as summer camps or something. They all had signs in front telling hikers on the road that the camps were off limits to everyone else. Well fine.... *rolling eyes* I didn't want to visit their stupid camps anyhow.

Well, maybe they shipwreck playground at the Boy Scout camp....  ;o)
This is the 'shipwreck' I referred to at the Boy Scout camp.

Although I followed a dirt road, only one vehicle drove by the few hours it took to walk back to Two Harbors. Glad I didn't have to hitch a ride. The one vehicle that did pass me was going the wrong way!

About a mile outside of Two Harbors, I got a cell phone signal and texted Courtney about my impending arrival, and she said she'd walk out to meet me and that's what we did.

We met up just outside of town and walked to the backside of Two Harbors, to the far harbor. Two of the bison were still grazing there and Courtney had seen pelicans diving into the water for fish but they had appeared to be done by the time I arrived.

We ended up watching the sunset from there where I filmed a series of videos for about an hour to create a timelapse. It was quite dark by the time we finished and headed back to camp where I started up the campfire.

We ate snacks out of our packs for dinner, and I told Courtney all four of the poems I had memorized--an epic feat of staying awake for her part, but she had insisted. It was our last night on the island and there wouldn't be anymore opportunities to hear them.

Courtney eventually went to sleep and I stayed up a bit longer minding the campfire before eventually settling off to sleep myself. I camped outside under the awning again, but closer to the tent so the condensation on the awning wouldn't rain down on me again during the night.

It was a good day!

The problem with photos is that you can't really appreciate just how steep the trail was here. You can kinda see Mark crab walking down because it's so steep, but the photo doesn't actually look very steep.

Restrooms at Parsons Landing
What a beautiful campground! The campsites are actually located on the beach!

Lots and lots of camps along this road. This one at Emerald Bay was definitely for the Boy Scouts. *nodding*

Lots of great views along the road walk! And look at how empty the bay was! Just one boat out of hundreds of places they could park! I bet in the summer months this place is packed with bumper-to-bumper boats!

It's an old mine shaft!

And back in Two Harbors! Or at least a viewpoint overlooking the town.


Courtney falls asleep at the campfire.

Here's part of the timelapse I took of the sunset! =)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Day 2: Enough is enough!

December 22: Courtney and I woke up bright and early. I slept well, and the morning was chilly but not cold. We cowboy camped and there was a slight film of condensation on us, but nothing serious. Venus shined brightly over the horizon ahead just before sunrise.

Courtney looks excited to start a new day! =) (Actually, I think she was still sleep-walking in this photo.)

I was anxious to get a move on. We had about 13 miles to our next campsite in Two Harbors. We'd get an earlier start on the trail today than we did yesterday since we didn't have to wait for a boat, but we also had a longer distance to go today. If today was as rugged as yesterday, I knew Courtney would struggle.

Courtney, for her part, reported feeling pretty well. A good night's sleep could do that, but I also knew that once the morning bounce wore off, she'd be dragging again.

I mentioned that I'd like to leave camp within an hour, and Courtney seemed to think that was a generous amount of time, but it was nearly two hours later when she realized the time and seemed shocked that so much time had passed! It's easy to get sucked into camp life. *nodding* We were among the last of the campers to leave. Not the very last, but definitely among the last.

Out of camp, the trail followed a road up a hill then reached a junction that wasn't labeled and Courtney and I stood there for a bit trying to figure out which direction to go. The trail was generally well-marked, but we didn't see any markers at the junction. There were people to the left, but were they hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail or doing something else?


Two of them--a father and son pair--passed by our campsite a half-hour earlier in the morning. They  weren't sure where the trail left camp, and we pointed them up the road. Not because we had seen markers leading in that direction, but because everyone else in camp was leaving in that direction and--more importantly--none of them had come back lost and confused. Of course, there had been a small possibility that everyone who walked in that direction was abducted by aliens or disappeared under 'mysterious circumstances,' but it seemed more likely that they were just following the trail.

"The trail is that way," we had them confidently at the time. Now we weren't so sure.

As we stood at the junction figuring out our next move, they approached us from the left. They reported that they had come to a very locked fence and they pulled out their map so we could get a better look. We had a map ourselves, but I printed them on a single sheet of standard 8.5x11 paper and it was way too small for much detail. Their map was a much larger, foldout map with text large enough to read.

And, at first glance, it did appear that the trail veered left at this junction--but there was no indication of a locked fence or closure ahead. The father and son planned to walk around the far side of the Airport In the Sky. It was an option, but not one I was keen to take. It was longer and I was still worried if Courtney could make it to camp before dark.

But then I noticed a tiny detail on the map and took a closure look at it, orienting the map with the ground and I realized that we were all misreading it. In fact, we were supposed to turn right at this junction--but only for a very short distance before we turned left onto another road. This intersection was so small on the map--even the bigger detailed map the father and son carried--it was very easy to miss without a very close examination.

I pointed out the extra intersection and confidently concluded that the correct direction was to the right--but practically a stone's throw away should be another intersection where we turn left onto another road. We couldn't see it from where we stood--it was probably just over a slight rise in the road--but I bet it was less than a 5 minute walk away. Then we'd follow the second road for maybe a quarter-mile to where the trail would leave the road to the right.

We were still on the right path. We didn't have to detour around the airport. Life was good!

About a minute after leaving the intersection, we saw a trail sign confirming that we were, in fact, going in the right direction.

The trail descended to a dry creekbed before rising again toward the Airport In the Sky. We were only an hour into the day's hike and Courtney was already lagging. It wasn't a good sign.

Hikers welcome? How could we say no?!

Late in the morning, we arrived at the Airport In the Sky. It is, as its name suggests, an airport. Located at about 1600 feet above sea level, it's not "sky high"--not in my opinion, at least--but considering the fact that high point of the island was a little over 2,000 feet, it was certainly high by Catalina standards.

A sign on the trail welcome hikers to the "DC-3 Gifts & Grill." It was actually located a few minutes off from the actual trail, but close enough that we felt we had to stop. There would be clean water, restrooms, food and a gift shop. How could we not?!

Courtney wanted to order a late breakfast/early lunch, but I took a pass on the food. I was carrying way too much of it myself already and preferred eating that to lighten my load. And anyhow, I'd only been on the trail for a day. I wasn't sick of my trail food. Not yet, at least!

Instead, I wandered around the airport where they had a small display about the natural history of the island as well as the history of this airport and old photos of when this airport had regularly scheduled flights. Now it only serves private planes. Both were interesting and I was glad I stopped for a look.

After exploring the airport grounds, I rejoined Courtney at the restaurant patio which turned out to be a great place for wildlife viewing. Hummingbirds were engorging themselves on the abundant flowers nearby and a ground squirrel made a quick appearance. The squirrel, I thought, looked like any other squirrel and normally I wouldn't have thought twice about it except the display with the natural history of the island explained that Catalina was the only Channel Island with squirrels and it was a unique sub-species located only on this island. I couldn't tell just by looking, but I pulled out my fancy camera with the zoom lens to get some photos. There was literally nowhere else in the world I could get a photo of this particular sub-species of creature! Even if it didn't look special, I still needed the photo. *nodding*

This is the Catalina squirrel--endemic to just Catalina Island and can be found nowhere else in the world! To my untrained eye, though, he looks like a pretty normal squirrel. (Well, he does look like he just did something bad and is wondering if he got away with it....)
A woman working at the restaurant came out to check up on things and we chatted for a couple of minutes, and I complained about how heavy my pack was and she told me a story about a woman who had hiked through and was carrying four bottles of wine. Four!

"Well," I replied, "That's a woman who either has a drinking problem or solved a drinking problem. I'm not sure which, though...." I'd have liked to seen it...just so I could tell the story about the woman carrying four bottles of wine into the backcountry.

Courtney eventually finished her meal and I told her to go on ahead without me. I wanted to work on some more photos of the hummingbirds and squirrel. "Don't worry," I told her. "I'll catch up!"

So Courtney headed back to the trail and I followed after her maybe five minutes later.

We met up again soon and I passed her by, waiting for her to catch up whenever I reached a small partly-shaded bench to sit down and rest.

A nice place for me to wait for Courtney to catch up.

The trail was rough. Up and down, up and down. It was well-graded, but nothing was flat, and each time I waited for Courtney, the longer she seemed to take to catch up again. I felt a little bad for her but wasn't sure what else I could do to help. I was already carrying her sleeping bag and a bottle of water and I didn't really have room in my pack to stuff more of her stuff.

Later in the afternoon, I stopped for over a half hour at another hiker rest area waiting for Courtney, and when she finally did she asked how long I had been waiting.

"I'm not sure," I told her, "but the sun set and rose again so I think it's been awhile."

She didn't laugh. Not even a little. She was past that stage.

"I don't think I can make to Two Harbors," she told me. I'm not sure that she couldn't make it, but at the pace she was currently going, she definitely wouldn't be able to make it before dark.

But Little Harbor was another mile or so up the trail. Maybe we could get her a ride the last 4.5 miles from there to Two Harbors, so that's what we decided to work on.

There's Little Harbor in the distance!

I continued ahead and reached the campground at Little Harbor. I thought there would be at least a little civilization there, but it was basically just a large, mostly-empty campground. I set my pack down for a rest at the bus stop, then checked the bus schedule on a nearby information board. The one and only bus that passes by each day had left about an hour earlier. The bus was not an option. She'd have to hitchhike to Two Harbors.

Courtney at first waited by a road that she felt most traffic would go by, but I preferred hanging out at the road by the bus stop. I had a nice place to sit, a little shade, and I wasn't at all convinced that waiting at one road was better than another.

It seemed like a long while before a vehicle finally passed, but it turned out to be deer hunters who were returning to their campsite only to pack up and drive back to Avalon--the wrong direction.

I was getting a little anxious to continue onward so I could reach Two Harbors before dark and we finally came up with a plan. I'd leave Courtney at Little Harbor with her sleeping bag and she'd continue trying to hitchhike the rest of the way into town. We felt pretty confident that she'd get there... eventually, but just in case she couldn't get a ride and was stranded in Little Harbor all night, at least she'd have her sleeping bag. And--win win! I wouldn't have to carry it anymore. =) Sleeping at Little Harbor wouldn't be a problem--there was a giant, mostly empty campground here already. She might wind up camping illegally, but she'd be fine.

Then, the next day, if she couldn't get a ride in the morning, she could take the shuttle bus to Two Harbors. Or even just walk there. After another good-night's rest, she could probably walk the 5 miles to town easily enough. It would all work out regardless. Hopefully she'd be able to hitch a ride this afternoon and already be in camp before I arrived, though. We both got cell phone service at Little Harbor, so she would text me with updates of her progress and let me know when she got a ride or decided to camp right there. I might not get cell phone coverage over parts of the trail, but I'd almost certainly get it by the time I arrived in Two Harbors.

With that settled, I continued along the trail alone. The trail climbed steeply and quickly--it was as steep and brutal as the first climb up out of Avalon and I was glad Courtney decided to call it quits at Little Harbor. I knew she'd be struggling horribly. Less than a half hour later, I received a text from her saying that a ranger was going to give her a ride into town, but he had to do a few chores first. Awesome! She should definitely make it into camp before me. =)

The views past Little Harbor were awesome! Even if fog did obscure some of it.... You can also really see how rugged this landscape is!

The rest of my hike was uneventful. At the higher elevations, a cold wind blew through so I didn't stop to enjoy the views. Anyhow, the low-hanging clouds were obscuring the views from the highest elevations.

Descending into Two Harbors, I could see how the town got it's name. It had--surprise!--two harbors. Each harbor came in from both sides of the island leaving only a small gap between the two where the town is located. I hoofed into town just before dusk.

I sat down on a bench by the waterfront and texted Courtney asking where she was. In town? In camp? She replied that she was in camp but wanted to go into town. The campsite was a quarter-mile outside of town and I had no interest in walking to camp, back to town, then back to camp again so I said I'd wait for her to arrive.

I expected Courtney would show up 10 minutes later, but it seemed like it took more than a half hour. It turned out she followed the road out of the campground (which she was familiar with because the ranger drove her to the camp) rather than the shorter trail from the campground (which she didn't know even existed).

In any case, we were finally reunited! We checked out the local market then decided to eat lunch at the Harbor Reef Restaurant where we both ordered delicious hamburgers.

Our delicious dinner at the Harbor Reef Restaurant! =)

Afterwards, we headed back to camp. Courtney had gotten an upgrade for us. We were planning to cowboy camp but when the ranger found out, he said it was much too cold for that and let her stay in a large tent for campers who didn't bring tents.

It was a cozy location, but I actually preferred sleeping outside and decided to sleep on the porch of the site instead. Courtney would sleep on a cot inside.

She also had bought some firewood from the ranger, but I was pretty tired and didn't feel like staying up enjoying a fire. I was ready for sleep! We could burn the wood tomorrow, though. We had this campsite for two nights because the Trans-Catalina Trail makes a loop through the west-end of Catalina before returning to Two Harbors again. So the wood could wait until tomorrow night....

The bright light in the sky is Venus.

Black Jack camp, just before we headed out for the day's hike! Although there aren't bears on the island, there are bear boxes. It keeps smaller rodents (like squirrels and foxes) out of your food.

This was the only cactus that I actually saw blooming. December is a bit early for blooming cactus, but I bet in spring time they're absolutely gorgeous!
Airport In the Sky

I guess this is the control tower for the airport?

There are rattlesnakes on Catalina, but this was the only one I saw on the whole trail! December really isn't a good month to see rattlesnakes. They prefer coming out during warmer weather.
Security was very strict at the airport. This sign stopped me from walking out onto the runway. *nodding*
Hummingbirds loved these flowers!

The one-eyed owl, I think, is also endemic to Catalina. ;o)

This bison would not lift its head so I could get a good photo of it!

This is the bus stop at Little Harbor.

Looking back down at Little Harbor.

My first view of Two Harbors! (The other harbor is off the photo on the left.)
Bison prints in the mud!
Two Harbors second harbor....
This gets my vote for the winner of the "it's good enough award." On a small, isolated island, they must have figured it was easier to "fix" this utility pole rather than replace i, so they attached it to the nearby fence post. And I imagine the person who did it, after it was done, stood there and said, "Yeah, that's good enough." =)
Christmas decorations at the Harbor Reef Restaurant
Moonrise over the waterfront at Two Harbors.

I just couldn't hold my camera steady enough to get sharp photos of the stars!