Trans Catalina Trail – A trek across Santa Catalina Island – Part 1 of 2

The beginning of the Trans Catalina Trail

April 13 - 18 2014

In April of this year, I flew to LA and took a shuttle to San Pedro where I caught a boat out to Santa Catalina Island for a five day trip to hike the Trans Catalina Trail and explore the island. The trip would be one night at Hermit Gulch Camp near Avalon. One night at Black Jack Camp near the center of the island. One night at Two Harbors Camp. One night at Parson's Landing, followed by a bus ride back to Avalon and another night at Hermit Gulch. As many things in life sometimes happen, this hike too did not quite go as planned, but it was still an enjoyable trip that I won't soon forget. This blog post and the post (part 2 of the trip) that will soon follow, document my time on the island and some of the things I saw and did while I was there.

After the flight down, the shuttle and subsequent boat ride across to the island, I found myself in the town of Avalon. The first thing I did was go to the men's restroom and change into my hiking clothes and pulled my overnight pack out of my very large suitcase that I brought. Why did I pack this way? Well I brought my camera and gopro and other valuables on a carry-on on the plane and I just didn't feel like trying to bring a very large backpack on as a carry-on so I checked it in the suitcase. Traveling this way required a way to secure the now empty suitcase for five days while I hiked. Luckily, there is a baggage service right there at the dock and they held my bags for me while I hiked, for a fee of course.

I had already secured my camp permits and required hiking permit but I still needed to go to the conservancy office to find out about firewood and water options at the campgrounds. I also wanted to find out if it was feasible to hike half of the first section that evening and drop down to Hermit Gulch rather than camp at Hermit before starting the journey in the morning. I was very anxious to get on the trail after being in a plane and traveling all day long.

The guy at the Conservancy office warned me that it would be practically impossible to do what I wanted to do before dark. He said it would take 5 hours to hike that distance and being 3:30 in the afternoon already, it would be dark well before I could get that far. I didn't like his answer but I took it with a grain of salt knowing that a lot of times these ranger types often err on the side of caution and sometimes have no idea what they are talking about. I asked about the firewood and water situation and he responded that I would need to go to the Hotel Atwater to inquire about those. Why they can't have a one stop shop for all this stuff is beyond me. So off to the Atwater I went.

Once I got to the hotel Atwater, they confirmed that all my permits were in order and they up-sold me on firewood for the Black Jack camp and gave me a locker key so I could retrieve the firewood. After this, I went to the Vons grocery store and purchase a couple liter bottles of water and looked for something for fuel for my alcohol stove. All they had was 70% pure Iso alcohol. Not the best for stoves. I wasn't sure I could even light it but that was all they had. I decided to try to find the local hardware store. In researching my trip, I knew there was a hardware store called Chets. I thought they might have a better selection and maybe even some Heet or better yet, denatured alcohol. I asked a sheriff in town where the hardware store was and he informed me of where it was but that it being Sunday would be closed. So back to Vons I went for the 70% stuff. Keep in mind that I have my overnight pack on doing all this running around town.

So now it is 4:30 in the afternoon. What to do? Go to camp at the other end of Avalon or get on the trail? To the trail I went. Once I started walking, all the stress of the day slowly started melting away as I started concentrating on my my breathing, my footing, the views. Up to this point it was just an idea but now it was real. I was actually hiking in SoCal on an island, on an obscure trail that no one I know has ever heard of.

As always, click the images for a larger view with captions. Use left and right arrows on your keyboard to navigate or click the left/right arrows on either side of the image.

The beginning of the Trans Catalina Trail

Before we get too far into the hike, lets take a step back and watch some footage of leaving San Pedro on the Catalina Express and hiking up out of Avalon shall we?

Catalina mariposa lily
That way to Avalon

So the hike was fairly uneventful from here. I made pretty good time on the trail which at this point is actually an old road called the Renton Mine Rd. Soon enough I was on the ridge above Avalon. I caught something out of the corner of my eye on the road in front of me. There was a little Catalina Fox standing there just looking at me. I was enjoying the scenery with the cactus and ocean views all around. Still being spring, there were lots of flowers still. A lot more than I expected for drought plagued Southern California.

The wild endemic Catalina Island Fox
The cactus grows all over the island.
Avalon from above
Setting sun

The hiking was smooth once I was high on the ridgeline. I made really good time. Much better than the conservancy guy estimated, but still, the sun was setting and it would be dark soon. I eventually came to an intersection in the road and there was a sign pointing to Avalon. The Hermit Gulch Camp would be that direction so thats the way I went. I felt bad that I gained all that altitude just lose it to go to camp but I had to get down there. I would have to make up the elevation again the next day.

Avalon! (and Hermit Gulch camp)
Moonrise and setting sun

Along this road going down to Avalon, you pass the Wrigley memorial before you get to camp. Since it was getting dark, I didn't look around too much but I did pause for a couple pictures. Since I was coming in to the memorial the back way, I had to climb over a turnstile to get out of the memorial. I guess they don't see too many people coming in from this direction.

Stone Gargoyle on the Wrigley Memorial. Again, I was coming in the back way. I had to climb over a turnstile to get out of the memorial. I guess they don't see too many people coming in from this direction.
Wrigley Memorial
Day One - A little over 9 miles
A group of Catalina Quail walked through my camp site.
Beginning of the Hermit Gulch Trail back up to the ridge
Looking down at Avalon from the Hermit Gulch Trail
This wonderful shade awaited me at the top of the Hermit Gulch Trail
Final look down at Avalon as I continued the journey

Some whiney footage from day two.

First bison sighting
Wildlife fence. Not sure which wildlife this is for since I saw bison on both sides of this fence.
Looking down at the Haypress Reservoir. There was a film crew here. I stayed at the park for about 45 minutes and took a siesta on one of the picnic tables that was in the shade before moving on. There was also a water faucet here where I filled up before heading out.
Getting back on the TCT from the Reservoir
Nice little herd of bison
Just me and my shadow with a little help from my Chrome Dome.
I didn't actually see any foxes all day. Camp for the night was at Blackjack Campground which is just to the left of Black Jack Mountain which is the tall peak in the distance.
Nice section of single track here.
This section was pretty miserable
But there was still an occasional nice view
Flowers and cactus
Black Jack Mountain and the final little stretch to camp.
My home for the night. It was hard to figure out which sites were which. I finally figured the site numbers were painted on the fire pits. I had to evict a couple young guys that claimed my spot as their own. They said they didn't see any site numbers so they just grabbed a spot. Well they grabbed my reserved spot which just happened to be about the best spot in the camp ground. They had their own reservation for a less choice spot that was not in the shade. I really didn't have any sympathy and asked them to move. Not my fault they didn't try harder to figure out which sites were which.

Once I got to camp, it was hard to figure out which sites were which. I finally found out that the site numbers were painted on the fire pits. I had to evict a couple young guys that claimed my spot as their own. They said they didn't see any site numbers so they just grabbed a spot. Well they grabbed my reserved spot which just happened to be about the best spot in the camp ground. They had their own reservation for a less choice spot that was not in the shade. I really didn't have any sympathy and asked them to move. Not my fault they didn't try harder to figure out which sites were which.

There was supposed to be an awesome blood moon due to some sort of eclipse going on. I was too tired to stay up for it so I settled on this shot.
Day Two - 9.55 miles

Panorama of Avalon

 

Panorama from the Ridge above Avalon and Hermit Gulch

 

Panorama from the TCT. I believe this was from just past the Haypress Reservoir.

 

Click on the images below for larger sizes with captions. Use left and right arrows on your keyboard to navigate or click the left/right arrows on either side of the image.

Click here for part 2 of my TCT adventure

 

Some useful links.

http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/ Santa Catalina Island Company's website. Lots of useful things about Catalina Island on this site. Go here to book the safari bus, zip line tours, and to get camp permits for each camp spot. Many links to hotels, restaraunts, activities and rentals.

http://www.catalinaconservancy.org/index.php You will need to visit this site to get your hiking permit. Skip the conservancy's phone app. It's kind of lame if you are planning on using it for the TCT as most of the trail doesn't even show up on it. Instead, get the All-Trails app and load SoCal Hiker's guide into it. Much better.

The Catalina Conservancy also has a map you can download in PDF form. http://www.catalinaconservancy.org/userfiles/files/maps/TCT.pdf You can also purchase the physical paper map at the Conservancy Explore Store in Avalon, Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, Nature Center at Avalon Canyon and Airport in the Sky.

http://www.catalinaexpress.com/

http://www.catalinainfo.com/

http://www.islandexpress.com/

http://www.avalonbaggageclaim.com/

I saw this video while writing this blog post. This was filmed the month before I was down there. Great video representing the TCT and nice to know I wasn't the only one who suffered hiking it.

Be sure to check out the Motion web page for all of Greg Aiello's videos. He has some amazing adventures to share.

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