In part 1 of “Island Trek” we left off at “Blackjack” campground. That evening and late in the afternoon the little Catalina Kit foxes made their way into our camp, stealing a few unsecured items sniffing around. My youngest son Jarrod was awoke by a little furry friend sniffing his face, they nearly touching his nose. He awoke in a panic, jumping out of his sleeping bag yelling at the little critter. The fox sat and looked at him; turning slowly as though it had been insulted it walked off at a slow pace. Day 3; the next morning we crammed our gear in our packs and off we went after a cup of coffee and something to eat.
The weather was wonderful, the skies were clear, with a slight breeze and approx. 65f. We headed up the trail toward the airport approx. 5 miles away. It was 9:30 am and the air was heating up fast. A small single narrow trail heads out the campground, up to the road which is designated as the trail with makers indicating its direction and designation. Getting our stride, into the groove we stepped along at a good pace. Following the road it shortly turned onto a cut off and back into a path well marked as the “Trans-Catalina Trail”. Then heading down into a slight valley and losing elevation we dipped into a shallow depression and made our way back up the hill. Focused on the airport several miles away, we could see the white Spanish mission style buildings glistening in the sun. The little airport seemed like a distant mirage beckoning.
The airport originally opened as ”Buffalo Springs Airport” in the late 1930s and was made by leveling off the top of a hill. Scheduled passenger service was briefly provided by United Airlines in DC-3s; long-disused refueling equipment is located in the pavement in front of the terminal building; no fuel currently available. The Wrigley family – who owned Santa Catalina Island for decades – used to keep their DC-3 in the large hangar at the airport.
After a long strenuous tramp we arrived at the entrance to the airport gate watching an arriving plane land as we plodded along. Dumping our packs we entered the little café that was filled with a selection of hot and cold food, coffee and numerous beers on-tap and bottled. I spoke with a young man behind the counter; he was friendly, polite and helpful as well as humorous. He asked; “are you doing the TCT complete?” I responded “but of course!” I corrected myself laughingly; “it seems the trail is doing us at this point” we all laughed. We talked for a while longer discussing the trail and what lay ahead on the journey. We celebrated our small victory with a round of beers and hot sandwiches. It was well worth the wait, and the walk to arrive in this perfect moment. The food was fresh, hot and tasty while being reasonably priced.
Packing up we loaded our beasts of burden on our backs making our way to the path. “Little harbor” lay ahead approx. 7 miles on the west side of the island, opposite to our current location. The trial took us around the airport, onto the north side meandering through the fields past cactus and shrub turning west. The angle was steep and exceeded 8% grade or more down toward the shoreline far below. The trail evolved into a rough dirt road again. This time it was covered with small rock, gravel and loose dirt. It broke away under foot constantly, making traction difficult and staying on your feet difficult. After several more hours we arrived at “Little Harbor”. The site is a scenic little beach; we stayed a hundred yards from or so from the shore line. It’s sparingly covered with palm trees rocks and local fauna, it was beautiful. This campground touted campsites, fire rings (camp fires are authorized) and running water on tap. Arriving late in the afternoon we set camp and rested. Shortly after our arrival a Park Ranger appeared. He was very friendly, professional and polite. He asked where we were headed and how long we had been on the trial. He freely gave us cut firewood from the back of his truck. He then asked if there was anything we would like from the store in two harbors so many miles away? It was unbelievable; we of course responded asking him to pick us up one six pack of beer and a few other items, giving him money off he went. He returned after an hour or so with the requested items. We spent the night, up early and looking forward to an afternoon arrival in “Two harbors” off we went. The trail started out spectacularly, degrading rapidly into a slog. There are very steep grades out of “Little harbor” and steep climbs. It taxed me rapidly taking its toll on our motivation. Digging into mental reserves I was able to reclaim determination, driving on. Soon I was able to get into the rhythm of the pace, the trail and the feel of the surroundings. The views approaching out of little harbor are amazing. You walk atop the back bone of a hill crest overlooking the ocean on the west shoreline of the island, at extremely steep angles.
The vistas are breath taking; from here you see the secluded bay where the 1934 classic “Treasure Island” was filmed, among dozen or more other movies. Interestingly the buffalo here are not an indigenous species. In December 1924, 14 buffalo were turned loose on Catalina Island for use in filming the motion picture, ”The Vanishing American,” early the following spring. After the picture was completed, it was agreed that the buffalo could remain on Catalina and they were again turned loose to live off the land. Up until the mid-90s hunting was allowed of the bison. That has since been restricted and hunting is no longer permitted. There were also wild pigs on the island. These have been removed and eliminated; the pigs were ferial destroying the habitat of the indigenous species. After several hours of strenuous hiking, we made our way to the peaks and surrounding hill tops, and then descended upon “Two Harbors”. The walk into town is an extremely steep grade dropping what seems almost out of the sky. This little seaside village is beautiful, small and picturesque. It has all the amenities, including a market, café, several restaurants and a hotel as well as bed & breakfast. The prices are higher than Avalon. In October every year the town explodes with visitors to par take in the annual “Pirate Days” celebration. It’s a celebration of the pirate lifestyle and thousands attend, sailing from Los Angeles in every type of vessel known to man arriving in-masse.
Once in town we now headed for the east side of the island again. After having lunch, a little rest, off we went! We began our trek to “Parsons Landing”; the trail is steep, hard and wide. The dirt is loose and covered with small rocks. On path we discovered a full gallon of “Shellback rum” hidden on the side of the trial. Not being one to leave a soldier behind, it was retrieved and stuffed in a pack. This walk is strenuous, steep and continuous. “Two Harbors” is sea level, in one and half miles you make your way to nearly 1800 feet, that keeps going up, straight up a fire break road masked as the “Trans-Catalina Trail”. It’s well over 7 miles to “Parsons Landing” on this steep trail. Make no mistake; this is the roughest and toughest part of the trial thus far. Parson’s is located on the eastern shore of the island. It has porta potties and bottled water that is supplied by the park service. Arriving at sunset, we set camp and had a well-deserved respite. That evening again, we were set upon by our little companions the foxes. My oldest sons pack was sacked; several items were missing including a book, clothing and a towel. Yes, a towel! The little critters had spread Lance’s (my oldest son) personal effects around the camp for yards. Lance wasn’t any too happy with the thieves. Day four in the bag, still miles to go before journey end.
Stay tuned for our final and last addition, part three.