My best friend, Paul came up with the idea of backpacking Catalina Island a couple of years ago, after a High Sierra trip backpacking he hatched the plan. The “Trans-Catalina trail” is approx. 51 miles in length (including the walk back to the closet shuttle boat at two harbors) and cuts through the length of the Island. My annual goal is to do at least two lengthy 1-2 week backpacking trips per year and several smaller short trips. This fit perfectly and I was intrigued by the prospect of trekking this location.
Catalina is located off the coast of California, approx. 25 miles from Los Angeles. Daily the “Catalina Express” ferry embarks and shuttles visitors at regular hours throughout the day, seven days a week.
Paul was unable to make this trip. Instead my two sons and I decided to pull the trigger do the Island. As a teacher my oldest son travels overseas for lengthy periods of time, since he’s in the states and home for a short period of time this was particularly convenient. My youngest son works full time as a chemist and has a very demanding schedule. It’s unusual for all of us be in the same place at the same time for any extended period of time. I planned the trip and embarked on organizing this adventure. It was the first week in June 2014, the three of us set out this Sunday morning. Departing San Pedro Ca. at the Catalina Express docks and landed shortly thereafter in Avalon bay (the trip takes approx. 1 ½ hour).
We planned for a maximum of six days. The Island is 22 miles long, eight miles wide at its widest point, the Trans-Catalina trail zig-zags across the length and breadth of the Island. The temperatures are moderate and generally pleasant this time of year on the Island. Arriving late in the afternoon the goal was to make it out of the city to the mountain top to sleep along the trial. We picked up some last minute supplies and a sandwich at the local “Vons” grocery store. The prices are low and reasonable matching those of the mainland. The city was crowded with tourists and visitors. We grabbed a bottle of rum and some snacks, packed up and off we went. Starting out we off loaded the ferry and walked around the village taking in the local fare. We began our walk through the city of Avalon making our way to the outskirts above the clutter of humanity. Following the trail around the south end of the Island and snaking up the heights of the mountain range located in the center of the Island. The walk is strenuous, continuous and progressively steeper as you trek to the skylines. This portion of the trail takes the form of a dirt road, walking along the shoulder you make your way along the “Trans-Catalina” trail. Making it approx. six miles up the mountain looking down upon the city of Avalon we stopped for the night.
Catalina is a rocky arid and dry Island; the most common native plant communities are chaparral, coastal sage scrub, island oak-ironwood woodland and grassland. Eucalyptus trees are the most common introduced plant. After setting camp bedding down for the evening we were invaded by several representatives of the “Catalina kit fox” clan. The little foxes continually showed themselves throughout the trip every evening without fail. Generally harmless to people, they are more of a nuisance than a hazard or physical threat. Make sure to put your gear near you and secure all closures. They are bold and will get into your pack at a moment’s notice, even in day light…which they did on several occasions.
We woke just after sunrise; after a hot cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal on the trail we went! The goal for today’s trek was “Black jack” camp ground located in the center of the Island. Note: carry plenty of water, what you need for two days. There’s water in the camp grounds but none along the trail / road. The trail / road make its way to a fence line and a gate. Inside this large area of the Island there are buffalo, the gate must be secured behind you to prevent the animals from wondering into others areas of the Island. The road turns into a narrow single hiking trail and makes its way through the hills and mountain sides of the interior of the island. The trail is well marked and easy to follow. The grades are steep and the hiking determined at times. The entire trip so far we had seen six other hikers making their way along the trial. Seeing very few people or groups as we walked along the relative solitude was wonderful. Not to mention the company of likeminded folks occasionally enjoying conversation with those making their way along the path. I’m told by the park officials the low amount of hikers is typical and very normal. Late in the afternoon we arrived at “Black Jack” campground. I hung my hammock and we set camp. This campground is centrally located in the interior of the island. This camp ground is equipped with porta potties, an exterior non-private shower, running water and fire rings. There are also lockers located at this site for wood that you can arraign to have dropped. You go to the business pick up the key for the locker in Avalon before heading out. The group secures the cut wood in the locker for a small fee. Shortly several “Catalina Kit foxes” made their way into our campground and began their festivities. Discovering chopped wood at the campground left behind by other hikers we enjoyed a fire and discussed the day’s events.
Stay tuned for “part two” as we discuss the next leg of our journey. In our ensuing submission we make our way to the “Catalina airport”, “Little Harbor” and the isthmus “Two harbors”. As well taking in the iconic sites from above where Hollywood in the early days made its mark on the Island of Catalina.