To read the previous entry, Catalina Part 1: Why I Love Catalina, and How I Hiked the Trans Catalina Trail, CLICK HERE.
CW: This entry contains some gross talk about poop
Day One: 11 Miles From Avalon to Black Jack.
The night before starting our hike on the Trans Catalina Trail, Tim and I drove up to my aunt's house in San Clemente in order to stay closer to the ferry dock in Dana Point. In the morning my aunt gave us a ride and we boarded the ferry at 7:45 AM. No matter what time of day it is, I can't resist sitting on the top deck of the ferry while enjoying a "Ferry Mary," as I call them, with the wind in my hair. Ask for no Worcestershire to get the Bloody Mary sans anchovy! Sometimes from the ferry you can see whales or dolphin. There is also a great view of the island as you approach.
The ferry pulled into Avalon, where Tim and I had planned on running a few quick errands before starting our hike. Bathrooms, grocery store, liquor store, and the conservancy office for a trail map. Tim grabbed a quick sandwich from Vons (during this time the island had two miniature Von's grocery stores, but as of now they are building one big/full size one), while I inhaled a Cliff bar. We picked up the last of the things we needed for dinner: single serving cups of guacamole, tortillas, and a shot of liquor each - just for fun. This was in celebration of our one year marriage anniversary, after all.
We stopped into the Conservancy office which had a few basic hiking items for sale, trail maps, and Catalina Island souvenirs. We waited to inquire about maps behind two women asking about the trail. "So are there any villages of farmers who live in the mountains? Can we visit them?" A blond woman asked with a thick accent.
"No. No, there isn't." The woman at the front desk answered back confused. I tried to hold in my laughter. Another woman asked if it was possible to hike the Catalina trail right there and then. With no preparation. The woman working the front desk seemed confused by her question, and didn't really answer back, so the woman turned to us and asked again. "How long is it? Do I need to camp along the way? Does it cost anything? Do I need to make a reservation?" Tim and I looked at each other. Where to even start?
"It takes a few days, you need to camp in specific campgrounds along the way. You do need a reservation for them."
"How far in advance do you make the reservations?"
"We made ours in February [it was now May], and there weren't many spots left then." The woman rolled her eyes and went back to asking the woman at the counter about tours she could do. We left the office figuring we would just use the PDF map on my cell phone, and started to walk out of the miniature town.
We each had about half a bottle of water on us, but figured we could fill up at Hermit Gulch campground before heading up into the hills. It only takes a few minutes to walk through Avalon's little streets of golf carts and adorable beach houses. Past the houses are the little city government buildings and a park with exercise equipment. From here we continued on the slightly uphill road. Past the golf course and a little Mexican restaurant with a patio bar. Next to a fire station and soccer field was a filtered water bottle filler. This was the fanciest thing I had ever seen on a hiking trail (or on the way to one). I felt spoiled. I pulled out an empty Smartwater bottle and filled it up, instantly chugging as much as I could to "camel up." It wasn't cold, but it was so convenient I didn't care. We filled up our water bottles here instead of searching for a faucet at Hermit Gulch campground.
For some reason we had thought the trailhead was off to one side of the Wrigley Memorial, but were lucky enough to spot a small sign for it right before blowing past Hermit Gulch campground. The trail leads through the Westernmost edge of the campground, then right up Hermit Gulch trail for about 1.5 miles of winding switchbacks with gorgeous ocean views.
We were ascending the big hill up the switchbacks when Tim and I spotted a hat on the trail. A nice, new, black Patagonia baseball cap. We both approached the hat, thinking we could bring it up the hill to reunite it with its owner. I reached in, then backed off instantly. "Don't touch it!" I said to Tim.
"Somebody used it as toilet paper!"
"What?!" Surrounding the hat was a fresh mountain of diarrhea. Someone had to go bad. This 1.5 mile stretch of trail was used not only by TCT hikers but by day hikers coming up from Avalon as well. We had passed quite a few people in the mile we had done alone. Tim and I stared at each other in awe. How was it someone could blast that out right in the middle of trail on a Saturday without being seen? We had to have been minutes from turning a corner and witnessing the actual act. And I mean, if you gotta go and can't hold it in any longer, you think one could at least step off trail. He didn't even hang his booty over the side. Remember how I mentioned the fancy water bottle filler? This trail was bougie compared to what we were used to. Unless you're having a stomach emergency like this fellow it was extremely easy to poop in one of the many pit toilets, which were not only at the campgrounds but even along some sections of trail. Do we call him brave for this act? Or just a straight up asshole. I'll go with asshole. And yes, by my speculations he gave it one good wipe with the Patagonia hat, tossed it onto the trail, and kept on hiking. I assume his karma was some rough and spicy chafing for that one.
We reached the top of the hill where we could see the ocean on two sides of the island. The trees and shade were now gone, but there was a small shaded area with seating to relax and enjoy the views. We took a second to enjoy the shade and partake in some water and snacks. I pulled out a cold cube of Trader Joe's baked tofu to eat plain, because I'm odd like that. It's one of my traveling in the middle of nowhere guilty pleasures. Two women who were doing the trail the opposite way as us started to head down Hermit Gulch trail as their last decent into Avalon, as a group of three women approached us from another direction. "Are you guys heading to Black Jack as well?" We asked.
"Yes, we just started from Avalon today. Which way did you come up? From this trail here?"
"Yes we took the new way up from Hermit Gulch. I read it was supposed to be a nicer hike than the original way."
"New way? There is a new way?"
"Yes, just this year they changed the trail. You can still hike the old way though, we will be taking the old way out to Starlight beach instead of ending at Parson's Landing, which is where the trail now ends."
"Oh wow, we had no idea. We were planning on ending at Parson's Landing. We just walked six and a half miles of what seemed like a trash dump. We weren't even sure if we were on the right trail, it was just a dirt road."
"I guess I'm glad we skipped it then." Tim and I laughed.
"At least we are hiking the real trail." Another one of the women pipped up.
"Well, technically it isn't anymore." I said with a smile.
"See you at Black Jack!" Tim said as we hiked off, instantly passing a pristine-looking pit toilet.
The sky grew grey as we followed a dirt service road up and down rolling hills, until we reached the gates they keep the dinosaurs in. Er... buffalo. Which was confusing because we spotted our first along the road on the outside of the fencing while we hiked through the inside. Maybe this fenced area was to keep them out. I was enjoying the green plants and flowers lining both sides of the trail until something moving caught the corner of my eye. A small fox was walking along side of us on its own little trail about three feet off of ours. "FOX! Fox!" I tried to yell and whisper at the same time to Tim.
"No way! Where??" He asked.
"To your right! It's right there to your right!"
Tim looked over and was shocked at how close the fox was to him. We stopped and watched it make its way off into the brush. We enjoyed the brief moment we had together instead of reaching for our cameras.
Not long after seeing the fox we approached a small park with a playground. There were more pit toilets and drinking fountains to fill our water bottles with. I broke out the rest of my tofu and ate it in front of begging squirrels. Before hiking on I made a stop into the pit toilet, and came out yelling for Tim. "You'll never believe it." I said. "The pooper strikes again."
"What this time?"
"The pit toilet is immaculately clean inside, except for where someone crapped on the floor! The toilet is right there?! It has to be the pooper again!"
"On the floor??"
"Not only the floor, but somehow there is poop coming out from under the toilet seat. Maybe they lifted the seat to hover but missed? The bathroom is so clean I don't know why you wouldn't just sit down. It was so bad I had to go back out and use the other toilet. Go see if you don't believe me." "That's crazy!" Tim laughed. Before leaving he poked his head in bathroom then shook his head as he came back out. "There really is no excuse for this one."
We followed the trail up and down rolling hills with the sun going back and forth between shining and hiding between clouds. Next to the trail were open, flat spots of dirt just perfect enough for a tent. On the Pacific Crest Trail we call these tent sites. "Buffalo tent site." I said as I walked. Tim shook his head.
"Buffalo what? Sometimes I don't know about you." He laughed. We rounded a bend and a strand of toilet paper was floating in the wind attached to a cactus.
"The pooper!" I mumbled under my breath. "Now he has toilet paper since visiting the pit toilet. He doesn't have to leave his clothes behind anymore."
We reached the bottom of a hill where there was a beautiful pond with a small abandoned boat against it. The rolling high-desert hills were beautiful, as well as the native plants and cacti. We couldn't see the ocean anymore but I was still loving the scenery.
The trail into Black Jack campground weaved between trees, cacti, and more buffalo tent sites. Some rusted car parts were strewn in a ditch and taken over by plants. Who knows how they got there. We found our campsite, pitched the tent, and started making diner just as the sun started to set. The campsite seemed secluded, we never even saw a ranger during the time we were there. I wandered the brush around the campground and found the rest of the rusted car in another ditch. Well that answers some of my questions.
Black Jack also had clean pit toilets with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Unfortunately the pooper, again, had gotten to them before me. A hand print. A literal adult hand print of poop was smeared on the side of the toilet. As if they were sitting on the seat and holding on for dear life after somehow making a mess on themselves. I didn't understand. I was starting to think someone was having a really bad day.
While attempting a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike Tim and I carried a cooking pot, lighter, MSR Pocket Rocket stove and a can of fuel to use each night for dinner. To make things easier and lighter we decided to try out no-cook for this hike. Diner at Black Jack consisted of soaked and seasoned TVP, ready-to-eat single bags of Uncle Ben's pinto beans and rice, single serving cups of guacamole, and single serving packets of Tapatio and Cholula hot sauces wrapped in a cold tortilla. For uncooked food, it was great. We each had a shot of liquor to sip on and a can of Kalik beer from the Bahamas to split. We had saved it from our Honeymoon the previous November/December for the occasion. I will write about the Bahamas in one of my upcoming entries! All cooking gear had to go in a big metal bear box (fox box in this case) throughout the night. We didn't see any foxes at Black Jack but found plenty of their poop surrounding our tent in the morning.
Day Two: 13 Miles From Black Jack to Two Harbors.
Usually Tim and I lagged in the mornings, but we were up and out of camp before any of the other hikers. "I bet this means we will get to see some buffalo up close!" I said, excited. "They will probably still be on trail before our class comes through to scare them off." Our class. Yes I had decided the other TCT hikers who had left Avalon on the same day as us were now part of "our class." On the Pacific Crest Trail hikers have to hike within the specific hiking season to beat the heat of the desert and the snow in the Sierras/Pacific Northwest. It would be deadly or impossible to hike certain sections otherwise. That means each hiker season has its own yearly class of thru-hikers. We were Northbound 2015'ers. I had decided the other hikers we were seeing daily were now our class of the TCT. Yes, I am a dork. At least I didn't try to give anyone a trail name (unless The Pooper counts).
We started walking up the first small hill of the day, when Tim had to stop and wait for me as I ran back to camp to get my hiking poles. I was already out of breath from running back and forth without even completing the first mile of trail. We reached the top of a small hill and could see a large herd of buffalo in the not so far distance. "Yes! I knew it! Hopefully we get to see them a bit closer up." The buffalo were on the other side of metal fencing, which the trail followed for a few yards. It led closer and closer to the herd, until leading right into a metal gate we were supposed to pass through. On the other side of the gate was the entire herd of at least twenty. A male stood right next to the metal bars watching us curiously. Now I wished we were not the first to leave camp.
Tim and I banged our hiking poles together, making as much noise as we could while keeping a large distance between us and the buffalo. We still had not even approached the fence. "Its working!" They got the hint that we wanted through, yet they would only move a few feet at a time before going back to grazing. We too moved a few feet at a time until we were inside of the fence with the buffalo slowly moving their way up onto a small hill. There were still too many of them on a section of the trail beside it. "Maybe we could go around them." Tim said while starting to wander his way into a field.
"We might have to." I answered back. We walked through a field of dry grass avoiding buffalo pies until we could see the trail below us. Eventually we caught back up with it and were on our way.
We had less than two miles to walk before reaching the little restaurant at Airport in the Sky for breakfast and coffee. I told you this trail was spoiling us! Normally we weren't even used to running water while hiking, let alone restaurants on trail. The restaurant was great and had plenty of veggie options. I got a breakfast burrito and coffee which I poured my own Soylent into as creamer. Almost all of the other hikers from camp slowly trickled into the restaurant for food. The store also sold to go snacks, beer, and souvenirs. I found a Catalina Trail card to send my mom for Mother's Day. We packed up and got ready to hike on, watching another hiker try to stuff a twenty-two ounce bottle of beer into his pack. "I wasn't sure what was at Two Harbors, so I got this for the end of the day just in case." He said.
"There is actually a full bar there!"
"Oh great, I guess I'll have to drink this for lunch then." He laughed.
The trail continued winding though rolling hills, turning into a dirt road which again intersected a herd of buffalo. We had to walk the road and they were right against it, way too close to pass. We made noise again but they weren't budging. We were going to have to bushwhack past buffalo once more, this time through cliffside cactus. A helicopter leaving Airport in the Sky flew overhead and circled a few times, probably trying to see how we were going to handle the situation. This herd was much smaller than the first. Only four buffalo. In a big herd buffalo feel protected, but if you approach one alone, especially a male, there is more of a chance they will feel the need to protect themselves. I wasn't sure about four.
Our only option was to walk toward the buffalo, staying a few yards away, but on the opposite side of the road between the road and a steep hillside of cacti. Even this was a little too close for comfort. A male was in front and wouldn't keep his eyes off of us. It was eerie. I tried to not make eye contact, and to move quick, showing them we were just passing through. It was hard to avoid cacti, which made me even more nervous and on edge. I really didn't want to get hurt. And if a buffalo for some reason started charging I would pretty much have to jump into the thorns. I didn't know this at the time, but we were way closer than the minimum advisory for how close you should get to the buffalo on Catalina. The herd watched closely, but didn't budge at all. I waved thank you to them once we were further down the trail, and we continued on toward Little Harbor. The circling helicopter flew off as well.
The trail went up and down rolling hills again. It was a very pleasant day, and easy hike. We walked off of the dirt road and back onto the skinny trail along the side of a hill. The trail winded between trees and brush, so we could not see up ahead. One buffalo poo, two buffalo poo, this was nothing new, but they were fresh. Very fresh. In fact, the more we walked the fresher they were getting. "We should make noise, or else we might round a bend and run right into one." Tim and I started banging our hiking poles as we walked. "Bang Your Sticks!" We sang to the tune of Quiet Riot's Bang Your Head. "There it is!" I said. "It's right there!"
"Where?!" Tim asked, stopping dead in his tracks. The trail in front of us went up a slight hill, and at the very top of that hill was a solo male bison, standing right in the middle of the trail. We continued to bang our sticks, because we were stuck. If we went back we would be off course with no place to go, we couldn't go off to either side. The buffalo got the hint and continued to move further up the trail. I was terrified. I already felt like we were too close. The buffalo went over the small hill on the trail so we couldn't see it anymore. If we continued up and over it could be right there. The trail also intersected another trail at this point so we had no idea which way it even went. It had been a few minutes so Tim decided he was going to continue walking to scope it out, and told me to stay. I decided to start walking off trail to get even further away as I could. I started walking through bushes on the edge of the hill and stayed there until Tim assured me the coast was clear. "You can come up here now, he's moved on down the trail." Tim yelled. I ran through bushes, back onto the trail and up to Tim. The buffalo had moved on, but onto the trail ahead of us. He was far enough away we felt safe, but he wasn't moving. Just watching us.
We continued to bang our sticks while waiting out the standoff, but he wasn't budging. It became apparent he was waiting for us to move too. I looked on the map to see if the trail we were intersecting could lead us on a detour, but it was unlikely. "We have to go around." Tim said as he started walking up a steep hill towering over us on our left side.
"You're crazy." I said. "It's too steep."
"We have no choice." I shrugged and followed up the hill until we reached an open dirt area, a buffalo tent site, to throw our bags down and wait once more. We were now right over the buffalo with him staring up from below us. In front of us was a cliff, so this was as far as we could go without going back down to the trail. We waited and waited, banging our sticks here and there. The buffalo was free to move on now, but he still didn't want to take his eyes off of us. Feeling hopeless, Tim sat down on a log. The minute his butt hit the log the buffalo was off. He now felt comfortable enough to turn his back on us and continue down the trail in the direction we had come from.
"I feel really bad for any hikers coming up that trail." I said to Tim. "At least the buffalo here seem courteous. We were both just trying to pass without approaching one another."
We spent so much time between breakfast and the buffalo standoffs, that the day was passing by with us having hiked only half of our mileage goal. From the top of a hill we could see Little Harbor below and booked it down to the little oasis. I wanted badly to chug a bottle of water with an added flavored electrolyte tab in the shade, and dip my feet in the ocean. Of course it was at this time my knee started acting up (I have full blown tendonitis from my hip to the arch of my foot in one leg. Read more about it in my Introduction post). I took it slow down the hill as Tim went on ahead. He took a seat with other hikers we had met the day before, while I wandered through the campground following a fox.
I went to the table to relax in the shade with Tim and the other hikers. "They didn't have any issues with buffalo." He said as I sat down.
"No way! Just us then?"
"I guess so."
"The three men are still hiking behind us. They were still at Airport in the Sky when we left breakfast, unless they were stopping there."
"No I heard someone say they were camping here tonight."Not long after, the three men walked down the trail and into the campsite. "Did you see any buffalo?" We asked.
"Just a few off in the distance."
"Wow, I guess it was just us who had a run in."
The men were the last of "our class" to make it to Little Harbor. They seemed very unprepared for the hike, and I had a great suspicion one of them was the pooper. Two of them had hats while the third didn't, and the hatless man walked with a bit of a waddle (as if he was chafing). They had been ahead of us the entire first day, but today, a day with no poop, they were behind us. They had planned to stay in Little Harbor for the night then leave from Two Harbors in the morning. We were going straight to Two Harbors for the night and, thankfully, never witnessed the pooper's wrath again.
Our diner for the night was going to be at the Two Harbor's restaurant, so we had to get going to make it before they stopped serving food. We used the porto potties, ate snacks, walked the beach, then put our backpacks back on to climb the mountain. One of the two steepest climbs on the Catalina Trail. I knew my knee was having issues, but I was pumped to make it up and over this mountain. It was only five miles until we would be relaxing at the bar on the ocean, and half of that was downhill. We hiked in the sun, there were no trees or shade, but there was a nice breeze. The ocean views were absolutely beautiful.
The higher we climbed, the more beautiful it was. Sometimes we had to just stop to peer over the cliff to watch the waves crash into the island. Every time we thought we had reached the peak, another peak lay right behind it. Each one becoming steeper and steeper. By the time we were approaching the top it was so steep I was feeling a bit of vertigo. I was at a crawling pace, hoping the wind wasn't going to blow me off of the mountain. At the very top was a picnic bench with the most beautiful views of Catalina I could imagine. The sun was low in the sky so unfortunately after a quick rest we had to move on.
When I'm struggling with tendonitis uphill hiking can be manageable, but downhill just destroys me. I was terrified coming down the mountain would be as steep as coming up. If it was it could take me hours to get down. The trail flattened out and I could feel the throbbing and resorted to limping. We had so much longer to go and weren't even at a decent yet. My spirits were at an all time low. Tim could tell something was wrong even though I was trying to hide how bad my situation was. "What's wrong?" He asked.
"It's my knee. My whole leg. I'm screwed."
"It's alright, we'll just go slow."
"We're never going to make it in time to get dinner and drinks. I can barely walk, this is so frustrating." I wobbled with a limp the whole way back to Two Harbors. Thankfully the trail down was a winding service road instead of a steep rocky trail. Tim walked on ahead, stopping every now and then for me to catch up. A bald eagle circled overhead just as we walked into Two Harbors with the sun setting.
We had spent quite a bit of time in Two Harbors within the past few years. Because of this it became my favorite place on the island. We had never been to the campground though, and barely knew where the entrance to it was. It was up a hill out of the "town" a ways. Our top priority was getting dinner. Instead of going to set up camp we went straight to the restaurant. Two Harbors has one small store for groceries, camping supplies, souvenirs, etc (it also has an ice cream window), a deli which is only open for breakfast and lunch, a daytime outside beach bar, and a restaurant that opens for lunch and dinner. Besides that there is an info booth and a few other small amenities like showers. Behind the stores are employee housing and a few quaint beach houses owned by some really lucky strangers. That's it. That's the whole "town," or, harbor. Oh yeah, and as of this year there are now VIP beach palapas to make the place look fancy. At the back of the nice restaurant is a full on dive bar. At least that's what it feels like. We took a seat at the bar, ordered food, and the bartender even gave me some ice for my knee/foot/ankle. We ordered a few drinks and charged our phones. I rinsed my face in the bathroom. It was so good to feel like hiker trash again.
We stayed at the bar late, discussing our situation and plans for the next day. Our next section of trail was supposed to be the worst day on the TCT. The biggest, steepest mountain. So steep it's supposed to be pretty sketchy going up and down. No switch backs, just straight up and straight down, walking on crumbling rocks. Other hikers told us it's one of those things you do just to say you did it, not to actually enjoy. There was no way my leg was going to let me down something like that. Probably not up, either, due to swelling. Fortunately, the next section was a loop. It was seven miles from Two Harbors up the mountain and over to Parson's Landing, and then a seven mile flat road walk along ocean cliffs coming back (the trail ends in Parson's Landing or Starlight Beach, but you have to get back to the ferry). I told Tim he should go hike the mountain while I did the road walk, we would probably make it to camp around the same time. I thought he was going to be unhappy with us splitting up, but he thought it was a good idea. He was worried I couldn't go on at all.
We left the bar and attempted to find our campground in the dark. We walked past tall reeds and could see the glowing eyes of deer reflecting in the dark. Our campsite was quite hidden and hard to find. We had to walk through another campsite to find it. A fuel canister was left on the picnic table and a strand of toilet paper decorated a bush. Walking a few yards to the porto potty is hard, I guess (sarcasm). I think some people assume shitting in nature is just part of the camping experience, something you should do. But it's not. Stop hauling everything you own out camping, leaving your popcorn trash or whatever else all over the place, and stop decorating nature with toilet paper. Just don't do it. You think it's socially acceptable, but it isn't. Ever. To be clear, the toilet paper in the campground had not been used for poop, I just went on a tangent. And I'm not sorry :)
We set up our tent and went to sleep to the sound of barking seals. This was my favorite day on trail due to the varying landscapes, animals, and views we got to see. It was also the scariest and most frustrating. Even with the buffalo and steep mountain I would recommend this section over and over again.
Day Three: 7 Miles From Two Harbors to Parson's Landing.
We took our sweet ass time before hitting the trail since we only had seven miles to hike. We wanted to get coffee and breakfast, and had to wait for the store to open to pick up a few supplies. I drank coffee with Soylent as creamer, a banana chocolate Cliff bar, and the deli made me breakfast potatoes with veggies and a side of fruit. If you're wondering why I never mention lunch, it's because we always snack for lunch while hiking. Breakfast is usually a bar, snacks throughout the day, then a real meal for dinner. This day's lunch snacks consisted of olives, vegan jerky, hummus and tortillas, Swedish fish, and Sour Patch Watermelons. We also carried Pretzel chips, Takis, peanut butter pretzels, Nutter Butters, sunflower seeds, and so on.
I washed my face, made a phone call, sent off postcards (yes, like I said, I'm a nerd), then Tim and I said our goodbyes and hit our separate trails. I started walking up the dirt road, which was a slight incline but mostly flat. Within the first 2.5 miles was a pit toilet backed by ocean views.
My knee felt sore as I wobbled, and every now and then I could feel a sharp pinch in my ankle. Because of this I went slow, feeling out how to continue moving in a way that hurt the least. Even with tendonitis I was having a good day, the sun was shining and the ocean was a clear emerald blue. Every now and then a car or truck headed to or from one of the private campgrounds (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc) lining the ocean cliffs. This made me feel better, since if things got too bad for me I could always hitchhike out (yes yes yes I know, hitchhiking is not allowed on Catalina Island. I never have tried there, but you know if you were injured and couldn't walk you would too).
It was exciting walking into Parson's Landing. I passed the Boy Scout camp and followed the trail up a hill, with cacti and brush on either side. I could see the ocean from a new side of the island, and across a large field from me on another trail below a mountain was Tim. We had made it at the exact same time. I banged my sticks together and called for him, but he was heading straight to camp and couldn't hear me. I made it just a minute or two after he did, then took my shoes off to walk the beach and attempt to soak my leg and gross feet in the cold ocean water. My version of a seaweed wrap, exfoliating, salt water spa soak.
Here are notes from Tim's experience hiking the mountain:
Walked to the end of cat harbor and through junk yard, began climb, straight up, very steep. Service road. Most of the climb had no good views. Levels out and goes up and down at the top. Wind was insane. Walked along ridge line. Going down will make you miss going up. Slipped a few times. Loose dirt, very steep. Sure footed people only. Very rewarding at the bottom.
We set up camp and started making dinner. Soaked instant mashed potatoes with olive oil, fake meat chunks, and some pepper packets I took from the deli. We watched the sunset drinking a plastic flask of wine Tim carried over the mountain for the occasion. We had, mostly, finished the trail. Our campsite came with jugs of water and firewood (which we were required to pay extra for). Our tent was pitched right on the beach. We relaxed, finishing our wine by the fire.
Day Four: 9.24 Miles From Parson's Landing to Starlight Beach and Back.
I woke up limping bad. It hurt to just walk through the campground. For some reason I was still determined to get to Starlight Beach. I thought maybe if I could leave all my stuff at camp I would have an easier time hiking. A few of the campers surrounding us were part of "our class," the rest had just hiked in from Two Harbors to camp for a few days (if you would like to experience Catalina without hiking the whole trail, I would really recommend doing this). A couple next to us had a small bear canister for their food (the campground provided large metal fox boxes, but maybe they didn't know that) and an entire cooking set of pots and pans. I was confused. There is a service where you can pay more for the island conservancy to haul your gear to each campground in a truck for you, but we saw them walk in with towering backpacks. I think they carried all of that stuff. There was another camper we were referring to as Steve Climber. If you don't get the reference, please, do yourself a favor.... YouTube link. I'm sure I sound a bit judgmental here, but all I'm trying to say is less is sometimes more! Our gear is also way cheaper than these people, so it's not like I'm saying you're only doing it right if you have fancy ultralight equipment. They could all probably out hike me anyway. Even with thirty pounds of cooking gear.
Before leaving we ate a breakfast of instant coffee and hummus wraps with sriracha while watching two bald eagles soar over us in circles. A few smaller birds were chasing them. The campground was right in the middle of constructing nice pit toilets like most of the other campgrounds had. For now it was a row of porto potties. Someone decorated the inside of each porto potty with a poster. Decorative posters, musicians, and one had a poster of two women making out. It was kind of odd. Besides that they were filthy. We emptied our backpacks except for a few valuables and necessities. We packed a lunch of vegan jerky, Luna bars, olives, and nuts.
We set off toward Starlight beach. The trail was fairly easy but I was having a rough time. I couldn't go very fast. At one point the trail split into two before meeting up again and we weren't sure which way to go. Our map showed them being equal distance, but we didn't know anything about the varying elevations. The trail to the left went high, and the one to the right went low, almost down to the water. We figured the lower trail would have less climbs. And we were so wrong. The trail toward the ocean had treacherous climbs and descents on what seemed like an abandoned washed out service road. It seemed to go on forever, in the sun with no shade. I was having the worst time. This had officially become my first did it just to say I did, not because I enjoyed it hike. And I hate the thought of doing that.
The two trails became one again, and we looked back on the higher trail to see a perfectly flat shaded trail. "We're definitely taking that one back." Said Tim. We could see Starlight beach in the distance but still had another mile or so of steep downhill service road to walk before reaching it. A man was hiking up from Starlight Beach and stopped to say hi as we passed. He had come from a side trail off of the big mountain Tim did the previous day, and was now making his way to Parson's Landing. "Take the trail on the right back, not the left! It was steep and horrible, not really a trail at all. We accidentally went that way." Tim warned.
"Ah someone else warned me about that too. Well, you guys did it, and you're okay." He turned away and started walking down the shitty steep dirt road. My jaw dropped. He would rather show off his "skills" to strangers than have a good hike. I shook my head and limped on.
I felt like a sore, rotting meat stump carcass by the time we reached the beach. All I wanted was to submerge myself in the water and then lay out in the sun. We (I mean, I) had taken so long to reach the end, it was getting too late in the day to spend the afternoon by the water. It was also nearly impossible. It was a lookin' beach, not a swimmin' beach. Starlight was surrounded by cliffs and jagged boulders. It would be possible to go down to the beach, but it wouldn't be fun. Especially in my situation. The water also seemed rough and choppy, and as if there might be giant sharp boulders under the surf. A fishing boat sat anchored inside the little bay. I wished they could take me back to camp. The beach was nice to look at but I was uncomfortable and at this point just wanted to head straight back. We sluggishly made our way back to camp, taking the nice trail which ended up being pristine and beautiful. Easy with amazing ocean views.
We reached camp just before sunset. I sat in the tent to relax and take some ibuprofen to help with swelling. Tim started dinner while talking to an older couple who came out to camp. By now all of "our class" was gone. Dinner was cold-soaked Pad Thai inspired Top Ramen, with dried veggies in seasoning, soy sauce, peanut butter, olive oil, sriracha, and crushed cashews. We enjoyed another night by the fire looking at stars and trying to figure out what lights in the distance were on the mainland (yes, Catalina-people call L.A. the mainland).
Day Five: 7 Miles From Parson's Landing to Two Harbors.
I woke up and wandered animal trails into the bushes while drinking coffee. Fox poop, but no foxes. A buffalo tent site or two. We walked the road back to Two Harbors, talking about each beach and private campground along the way. The walk was beautiful and we even saw a large deer walking the road ahead of us. We snacked on candy, chili mangos, cracker jacks, and cliff bars. When we reached the pit toilet 2.5 miles from Two Harbors, I noticed a small trail behind it leading to an opening with a memorial bench over the water surrounded by plants. It was a great little shady spot to stop for a break, if it wasn't for the toilet paper. I had never hiked anywhere where there were both available clean restrooms and toilet paper scattered as if someone was toilet papering a house.
We walked our way back to Two Harbors and it was party time! We had this night and the next booked at the campground just to relax and swim. I also hadn't had a shower yet, so that was first on my list. Well, after smelling up the outside beach bar with a pack of ice on my food and a beer in my hand.
We found an ATM and a change machine in the small laundromat, which gave us $20 worth of quarters. We probably didn't need that much, but at this point we didn't want to deal with making change, we just wanted showers. Long, hot showers. It was $2 to start the showers, and then you could insert a quarter here and there to keep the water going. Tim and I split up the change and went into the separate bathrooms. While fumbling with my things, I dropped all $10 in quarters on the floor. They took off bouncing all over the place as I tried to scoop them back up again. At this point I even just started putting some into the shower machine to get them off the floor. Of course the shower starts, so I’m in a race to get my clothes off and get in. Not just like shorts and a T-shirt, but hat, shoes, socks, cell phone, jacket, everything. I had bought a $7 "shower bomb" from the gift shop just to make my shower extra nice. You put it on the shower floor under the water and it fills the steam with eucalyptus and other fancy oils. While fumbling to get undressed and into the shower, I tripped and threw my shower bomb onto the floor where it broke in a million peaces. I then had to try to grab crumbs and throw them into the shower, as it was still going. Right at the time I was ready to get in, the shower stops. I got the rest of the bomb in, cranked some tunes on my phone since no one was around, and enjoyed the rest of my $6 shower ($13 if you count the shower bomb).
We went to set up camp in the same exact site we had reserved a few days before, and the toilet paper and fuel can still awaited us. I cleaned up, since no one else was, then Tim and I sat on the beach for a while before going back to the bar for dinner and drinks. This time I got the hummus plate instead of a side salad topped with fries #veganproblems. It was fresh restaurant food though, I couldn't complain. The night was filled with herds of screaming children, both in the bar and the campground, but our extra time in Two Harbors was still nice, especially getting to swim in the ocean and lay out in the sun the following day.
Hiking the Trans Catalina trail sometimes felt a little more touristy and regulated than some of the trails we were used to hiking, but the landscape and feel of the island is something you can only experience in Catalina (or at least in the Channel Islands). If you like backpacking and are near Southern California it is not to be missed, as long as you don't mind the extensive and expensive logistics that come with booking. There are also epic day hikes that would be easy to do on a weekend trip (again, book early).
Thanks for reading! Again, if you would like information on how to logistically hike the Trans Catalina Trail, please check out Part One here. Follow along through this website or my Facebook page for more travel stories and tips. Feel free to comment with any questions!