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  • Brian Johnson

Catalina Island: Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail - Part 1


It’s the middle of another dull, cold, snowy winter in Ohio, which means it must be time for another adventure. Ben and I are off to California to hike the Trans Catalina Trek, a 38.5 mile hike that crosses Santa Catalina Island. We flew into Long Beach, where we caught a taxi to the ferry terminal at San Pedro, and from there took the Catalina Island Express for a pleasant hour and fifteen minute cruise under sunny skies out to Two Harbors, which is about a half mile from our camp site right on the beach.

After hiking out to our site and setting up camp, and having a happy hour beer, we walked back to the ferry landing and had dinner in the little bar. It’s off season here so there’s a different vibe and not many people, and not much is open. It was a warm, cozy little bar with good beer on tap,  and we watched the Rams make it to the Super Bowl with a group of Rams fans. The old fashioned jukebox was playing The Eagles. It was kind of like what I imagine a bar in heaven is like.

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I slept cowboy last night and fell asleep to the sound of the surf, which was more a loud whisper than roar. The only disturbance were the darn sea lions. One of their number had expired on the beach, and apparently they came across the carcass in the middle of the night and set to making an awful racket.

After coffee and a pastry at the general store we set off up the Silver Peak trail. Two Harbors sits on a narrow isthmus of land connecting the two sides of the island, with a little harbor on each side of the isthmus. As we climbed we could look back and see both harbors from above and the views were lovely. Sailboats floated gently in both harbors, out of sight of each other, but we could see the whole grand spectacle.

We climbed something like 1800 feet, passing the junction to the Silver Peak summit before starting down the other side. Catalina Island is apparently unfamiliar with switchbacks and the trail climbed steeply up. I had trouble keeping up with Ben, but eventually made the crest only a little way behind him. Then came the hard part.

I think the way down was the steepest descent I have ever made. Normally going down is easier because gravity is your friend, but not this time. The path was all loose rock and gravel and very treacherous. Ben fell once but hurt nothing but his confidence. It was slow going but we eventually rolled into our camp on the beach at Parsons Landing. Or limped in might be more accurate. We had only hiked a little over six miles, but with full packs it had taken us almost four and a half hours.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we were the only ones there and had the whole beach to ourselves. It was a grand spot, with a nice little beach ringed by high cliffs. I took a walk down the beach to stretch my aching legs, had some medicinal tequila, to numb my aching legs, boiled water for supper, and made a campfire. By eight o’clock we were both ready for bed. Another sleeping cowboy night for me, as I lay here writing this in my thankfully warm down sleeping bag looking out over the ocean.

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Today was a planned layover day, with an optional nine mile hike down to Starlight Beach and back. The early morning sun peaked over the surrounding cliffs, flooding the little beach with welcome warmth and promising a good day. The high temperature ended up being around 60, with partly cloudy skies. It was a perfect day for a nice day hike without any of yesterday’s elevation gain. It was also a good day to lounge on the beach, listen to some tunes, rest my aching feet for tomorrow’s eight miles, play Ben some Acey Deucey, take a dip in the ocean, and finish our flasks. Which do you think won out?

Sometimes, you just have to give in to temptation.

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The day broke clear and warm, which was nice because I had a cold night of sleeping cowboy. A fine layer of sea mist and dew had soaked the outer layer of my sleeping bag, which didn’t help. After coffee and oatmeal we lounged in camp for a couple of hours enjoying the warmth and peaceful surroundings under a clear blue sky.

On the way here from Two Harbors  we took the six mile route over the mountains. On the way back we continued the loop by hiking the eight mile coastal trail, trading the extra two miles for 1500 feet less elevation gain. The trail was spectacular. It was like walking a dirt country road, but next to an ocean. We made good time, when we weren’t stopping to gawk at the views and take pictures. The trail meandered along the coast, following the curves of each inlet, and around every bend a new view of surf and cliffs presented itself. We had the whole place to ourselves, as had been the case since we left Two Harbors. Over the entire 14 mile hike we had seen a grand total of two people.

We rolled into Two Harbors at 3 pm, after a really pleasant four hour hike that included a couple of packs off breaks. While having a snack and a beer on the patio outside the general store we chatted with a young lady waiting for the evening ferry. It turned out that she was one of the two people we had seen from our camp, at a distance. She’s a traveling contract nurse between contracts and had decided to spend a few days, by herself, hiking the Trans Catalina Trail like us, although in the opposite direction. Good on her.

After walking the half mile to camp and dropping our packs we walked back to the harbor and settled ourselves into the bar. We spent the next several hours having cocktails and beer, burgers and fish and chips, and playing some pool. We’re both pretty bad, but we had fun. It was a fun day all around, and we were in our happy place walking back to camp, although Ben posited that maybe we should have set up the tent before we went for dinner, instead of doing it in the dark, while feeling so…happy. be continued in Part 2

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