Monday, May 27, 2013

Camping on Catalina

Top of the hill at Two Harbors, Catalina Island

I have this mental list on my head of things I want to do and/or have never done.  Despite being born and raised in Southern California, I have never been over to Catalina Island.  (I have also never been to see or hike to the Hollywood sign but that is for another day.)  I was talking with a friend and shared how I had always wanted to go to Catalina and heard that camping there overnight was fun.  Fast forward a couple months and I get a text from her saying, "Still interested in camping on Catalina? May work for you?"  Don't you just love friends who listen to you and are up for an adventure? (Luckily I have two sisters like that too.)  So my friend Lindsey booked the ferry and campsite and I picked up some rental gear from REI.

Here is how our campout went...

Pick Lindsey up at the Santa Ana Train Station, drive over to the San Pedro station for the ferry to Two Harbors.  (We originally were going to take the ferry out of Dana Point Harbor but they only did drop offs at Avalon.  Make sure you check ahead before booking your trip otherwise you would have a nice 15 mile hike over to Two Harbors.)

The ferry was at 9am and GPS directions to get there took us to a dead-end   Luckily I had plugged into my phone that the ferry was at berth 95 so we were able to follows signs that lead us to the station.  We loaded up our bikes and gear and set sail for 26 miles across the sea to our destination   Getting there was a bit rough as we were "riding the troughs" but the waves settled down before we arrived so all ends well.  The boat arrived at Avalon and let off the first set of passengers and then scooted over to Two Harbors.  For the short trip the captain invited my friend and I to sit in the captains quarters for a better view.  It is the little things that make the trip better and pointed out caves along the way that would be fun to kayak to on the next trip.
Avalon, Santa Catalina Island

Arriving in Two Harbors we got off and immediately went to get our campsite permits.  (Book ahead as sites book out quickly especially during the summer.)  We had not been in the office but a mere 30 seconds before a huge black bird soared down and started going after a small baguette my friend had sticking out of her pack.  We rushed out and we able to save most of the baguette but not before cursing the bird.  I, not being a fan of birds, was ready to chalk it up to a stupid fat crow but were told there were no crows on the island, but instead there were Ravens.  Large, shinier  and more cunning than crows, I had to admire the birds especially given that my favorite poem in none other than The Raven written by Edgar Allan Poe.

After tucking away the remaining baguette we went and split a buffalo burger from the cafe across the way.  (We learned later in the trip that the island does not have buffalo but bison instead.  Most Americans call bison buffalo when in fact the buffalo is a water buffalo found in Africa.  The things you learn while traveling.)

With fuel in out belly we were ready to get started.  We mounted our bikes and headed off for the 7.5 mile bike ride to Parson's Landing on the North-West side of the island.  (Word of advice, you need a  bike permit to have a bike on the island and can get a permit at Avalon for about $5/day.  If you want to get a permit at Two Harbors it will run you $35-$65 as they only sell the annual passes.  You can always chance not having a pass, but that is your own call.)  We also picked up a locker key for about $14 which at our destination had 4 large pieces of firewood and a gallon of water.  Much better than carry that on our bikes.
Trans Catalina Trail turnoff for Parson's Landing

The ride was a really easy ride as you are on a fire road almost the entire way with slight inclines.  We took our time stopping to admire the view and to adjust our packs as riding with gear is different from just mountain biking.  I had not been able to find a bike rack for the back of my bike as I have 29" wheels and needed to special order the rack.  Lindsey was kind enough to carry my tent on her rack which pretty much makes her awesome as balancing with that weight is not easy.
Approaching Parson's Landing

We arrived a little after an hour (like I said, easy ride with stops).  Upon approaching the site we stopped to smell the copious bunches of fennel growing wild on the island.  There are 8 campsites at Parson's Landing and we booked site number 1 which I think was the best choice as it is a little more off the beach and protects a little better from the wind.  A couple was staying at the site next to ours and we spoke with them a bit about their trip.  They had done a 5-day camping trip taking the Trans-Catalina trail and were leaving the next day as this was the last stop on their trip.  They gave us advice on some places to hike and places that would take a little bit longer for some other time.  Don't you just love how friendly campers are?
Wild fennel by Parson's Landing
We headed over to our campsite and set up our tents.  We each wanted to have a tent and they were up in less than 5 minutes.  We walked back to the lockers and where the chemical toilets (outhouses) were located.  On our way back we say yet another raven flying away from our campsite with a Cliff Bar in his beak.  Not only did he take one Cliff Bar, but upon further investigation we found he beaked both Cliff Bars which were to be our lunch the next night.  After that the food was left in out tents. How that bird wrangled those bars out of Lindsey's bag will remain a mystery.  Again, such cunning birds.  After securing our backs and tents we headed off down the beach to explore.  We met a few more people who were also camping at Parson's including some teachers that lived on the island and taught at an Environmental School as well a a couple who kayaked over from Two Harbors.  As the day was winding up we sat on the beach and watched the sunset and let the care of our everyday lives melt away.  Nothing like going to an island with no cell service and just the backs on your backs to make you take inventory of your life.  
Sunset at Parson's Landing

Parson's Landing Campsite #1

Lindsey had brought dinner for us that night which was New York steaks and veggie kabobs.  Gourmet.  And of course smores for desert.  We talked and played cards by lantern light before calling it a night and turing in.  

The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn, literally, and went for a walk down the beach.  I sat and watched the sunrise and waited for Lindsey to get up.  We had to clear out of the campsite by 11am but wanted to head off earlier to bike, hike, and explore.  We were packed and on our way by 10am.  Running into a bit of a snag on one of the trails we opted to abandon our bikes and packs and head out on foot to explore.  From a cliff we looked back at our packs and there was that lovely raven again checking them out.  We found a Cliff Bar wrapper coincidentally in the same flavor that we had packed that was nabbed the previous day by said raven so we picked up the wrapper as evidence of the crime.  When we returned to our packs saw that the bird had torn part of my pack to get at an orange I had intended to have for lunch.  This Machiavellian bird would not quit.  Being striped of all food now we decided to head back to Two Harbors, grab a bite to eat, and explore the town.  Needless to say when we got to Two Harbors we did not split a burger this time but instead each ate our own.  Hiking and biking can stir up a healthy appetite.
Bison at Two Harbors, Catalina Island

West side of Two Harbors

Two Harbors is the isthmus of the island and we walked over to the other side of the island to see the second harbor.  On our short jaunt to the other side I finally saw the bison that inhabit the island.  Not just one but three of them, traveling together down a hill over to a watering spot.  We gave them a wide berth and watched them dwarf a large picnic table and take command of the landscape.  They appeared majestic and were much larger than I expected.  I was just glad to check bison siting off my list.  

We headed back to Two Harbors and ended up meeting up with the couple that had camped next to us and talking with them the remainder of the evening until our 8pm ferry arrived.  

Looking back at the island I knew I was coming back.  My appetite was whetted and I wanted more.  Anther trip to Catalina is definitely in my future.
Avalon at night