Yes, it is possible to scuba dive in the middle of a desert. A high desert that is.
As usual I was trying to find a good trip to do on the Memorial Day weekend. One prominent runner-up was to go to Rogue river again. I was also wearily eying the couple of routes in Hells Canyon. After all May is the best time to go there. But that place scares me a little. Luckily, Viyasan posted a nice trip in Trinity Alps and I jumped to it.
Thursday, May 21
Driving to the trailhead after work in the early evening. About after an hour of driving I found that I forgot my camera. Had to ask Rama to pick it up. It took about 2 hours to get to Berkeley from Sunnyvale due to heavy traffic. But then it was all smooth sailing. The road after Redding – CA299 – was very winding. The driving was a bit perilous, especially at night. It was also late and I was tired and sleepy, and my companions were already off. Lame, they didn’t even talk to me. I was also afraid that it would be difficult to find the Douglas City Campground. But luckily the signage was very well done. We arrived there around 1AM. Jenny’s car was already there. I was way too tired from all the driving to set up a tent so I just put my tarp and slept on the ground hoping there won’t be any rain.
Friday, May 22
Lovely morning at the campsite. Nice weather – not too cold, not too hot, cloudy. All members of the group made it to the site, which was good. We packed and headed to the town of Weaverville for the permits and some breakfast.
When I was looking for a campground I was also considering a nice place to get breakfast. Generally a good local bakery and coffee. I did find this Mamma Llama place. On the web site it looked like it had everything needed.
The first order of business was to get permits and inquire about the current conditions in the local Forest Service office. Unlike NPS, the Forest Service people don’t really care what you do in their forests. As long as you don’t do something outrageously stupid, like destroying their valuable timber. I’ve never seen rangers actually giving tickets. There were a couple of places where my permits were checked and that was it. Also there is usually no limit on the number of people. Desolation Wilderness being one notable exception. Even in this case I believe the permit was actually to allow making fires.
One thing to note is that this Weaverville office was staffed by very friendly federal employees. The lady at the front desk was patiently explaining everyone what the rules were, what the current conditions were, what best places to visit, etc. Well, perhaps they didn’t have to fight these hordes of tourists clamoring for few permits (like in GC or a similar place).
My coffee choice was redirected to an even smaller place called Red House Coffee. Our large group made the workers there busy for a while. But they certainly knew how to make good stuff – none of that acidic liquid.
The drive to the Swift Creek trailhead was long and winding. The road was in reasonable shape. The weather was a bit strange – it was actually raining periodically. Good. For some reason I’ve had this fear that this trip would be hot and dry. Well, as long as it doesn’t rain like in Canada, it would be fine. After some trailhead yoga we were off.
We were actually making good progress in these conditions with occasional drizzle. The elevation gain wasn’t too bad. The forest was green with many flowers. There were actually not that many people despite the trailhead parking lot being full (that is there were two more cars). I believe we saw perhaps just one backpacking group. As a result, we had this lovely Granite Lake campground all to ourselves. There was plenty of time to set up good campfire, meditate, and enjoy the outdoors properly.
Saturday, May 23
A beautiful morning. Not a sign of that little drizzle from the day before. Right after breakfast and pack we had a nice climb in front of us to some unnamed pass. The trail up the pass was simple to follow. Not much snow-covered it due to the drought year we are still having here. In fact I was a bit surprised to see this area – Trinity Alps – to be so clear of snow this early in the season. It seemed more like a middle of Summer than late May. On the way to the trailhead we passed a shoulder of the giant Shasta Lake and it was very sad and low.
But we made it to the crest of the pass. It had great views further West to the guts of the Alps. It also had numerous ground squirrels. These little buggers were very well adapted at stealing food from unsuspecting travelers. Or maybe they were just looking for salts from my sweat.
The trip down was uneventful. The trail was very well, how to say it, switchbacked. It didn’t just dive down but went back and forth for good knee-safe descent. I believe the original plan was to do some four lake loop around these mountains covering a couple of high passes today on a day hike. But due to a bit more wet snow and lack of self-arrest training in our group it was scrapped. Good thing I didn’t know what the original plan was otherwise I would be pushing for its completion no matter what. But instead I was happy with what was in store. So we decided to go up Deer Lake and camp there.
There weren’t many people on this trail. However all the flat spots around Deer Lake were taken. And people were just coming and coming via a different trail from Long Canyon trailhead. There was actually a constant stream of people going over the pass and continuing to Diamond lake. We could see them on the side of the mountain navigating the scary looking trail in the snow bank.
The Deer Lake was gorgeous. If it wasn’t so crowded it would be even better. We managed to come early enough to secure a secluded flat two-level spot on the South side. It was early enough in the day to even go for a swim. The water was very refreshing as expected. The problem with swimming in these cold alpine lakes is not getting into the water – the problem is warming up afterwards. But with enough sunshine it is very doable.
The site we had was great. The only problem was the toilet. You can’t really go on the lake side because it is all open and people could see. On the other side of the rocks there was a full view of the valley and thus people there could see. I hope I did a good job doing it properly. But I doubt if everyone around this lake did the same.
In the evening the group went up hanging food to preserve it against bears. Well, I would be more worried about the squirrels we saw earlier rather than bears. Anyway, I tried my sharp skills at throwing rope around tree limbs using rocks. Local granite rocks had very sharp edges cutting well into my rope. Once I threw it, the rocks made one extra loop and ended up the tree. That was the end of it. One idea was to throw the other tail of the rope to release it, but this tail got stuck there as well. Thus my 30 feet of rope still remains on the pine tree next to Deer Lake in Trinity Alps.
Sunday, May 24
Another lovely day. Some of our neighbors were up early. The rowdy group on the other side was still out sleeping. I’m not sure when they were out the night before. We didn’t have a fire last night even though there was enough wood collected. For some reason there was no feeling.
We went down and within an hour or so ended up along the Deer creek at the junction with Bear Basin trail. I guess there were bears here at some point, and deer. There was this constant talk about some day hike somewhere. Good thing I wasn’t leading. So I was just following along with the group making sure things were taking care of.
The junction had a decent campsite – flat, under trees, and next to a river. People were setting up, mostly to prepare the camp but also to dry out the dew. However, there was a change in plans. Someone made a communal decision to continue to the Black Basin and camp there. The trail going there was not the major one, but that usually much more interesting. Generally National Parks have all trails marked and well maintained. National Forests – not so much. There may be some unmaintained trails that could go anywhere or disappear altogether. But that usually means that the destination could be interesting and devoid of inexperienced groups.
The Black Basin was located on a plateau above Deer Creek. Getting there required a steady climb through forest with many down trees. The weather was changing to some rain in places, but nothing came down from above. Yet the moving clouds provided nice change in scenery.
We reached the Black Basin in good time. Finding a decent campsite there was a bit of challenge. There was a nice flat area, but it was swampy. Nothing there really had good views of the Deer Creek valley. There was always some bushes in the way. This basin seemed popular because I found several old campfire pits and lots of unburned trash. Seriously, people – Leave No Trace. In the end we decided on a flat-ish secluded place near a flat rock cliff. It seemed that it was used before.
While the rest of the group stayed at the campsite Kim, Michael, Jenny, Peter, and myself went for a hike to the next unnamed pass. The main goal was to explore its difficulty, and also pass time. If the pass was too difficult we would take a different route. It didn’t take long for our small group to reach this pass. The view from it was spectacular. Even Mt Shasta was visible somewhere in the distance.
At least I thought it was Shasta because there was no other mountain in the vicinity fitting the description.
The rest of the evening was spent discussing planet formations and life issues, and enjoying spectacular sunset. The campsite was facing West. The floating clouds really brought up a lot of colors. There was also this strange lone female deer walking around. People were saying that she lost something, maybe a child. Not sure why she would hang around humans though. Maybe we were scaring mountain lions.
Monday, May 25
The first order of business was to cross the pass that we scouted the day before. Michael went ahead of the main group since he packed his fancy ultralight backpack first. He seemed to be getting slow and wanted to have a head start. We caught up with him right at the crest. I wanted to see Mt Shasta. Perhaps there would be fewer clouds in the morning. But she was still hiding. The descent on the other side was fine, though a bit steep. Then we went down to Mumford Basin trying to follow a very faint trail. Not many people visited this place apparently.
There was a tiny junction at Swift Creek with one trail going up to Horseshoe Lake. The decision was to do a day hike to this lake after lunch. Then continue further down Swift Creek.
The Horseshoe Lake is located at this plateau up in the mountains. A bit of a basin like formation that allowed snowmelt to collect and actually form this lake. However, accessing this basin required a bit of a climb. Nothing difficult, though, without a pack.
We met a couple of groups going down from camping at the lake. It was a gorgeous place to camp. Beautiful secluded semi amphitheater with a clear alpine lake in the middle. Unfortunately, I apparently have no photos of this lake. Perhaps because I was busy swimming and then warming up after. I wasn’t the only one swimming. Michael was the leader in this process. And then under peer pressure Suji, Jenny, Peter, and your truly. V and Rima were supervising it from a rock above.
After the swim and warm up the hike down was just a breeze. Actually the hike with the packs was a breeze too – slow downhill slope. The weather was nice, the trail was good, easy to follow. We followed beautiful green Swift Creek valley. Interestingly, there were several lonely redwoods dispersed among pines. I wonder if they moved into these mountains or were the remains of the old vast redwood forest that covered most of West coast.
We passed remains of some structure indicated on the map as Fosters Cabin. Someone probably tried to homestead this area. They were actually well-preserved ruins. The climate perhaps was too dry and thus preserving the wood well.
We found a very lovely campsite along Swift Creek. It was on a flat bank above the flowing water and a bit off the trail to provide good privacy. It was an established site so we didn’t have to arrange logs around a campfire. There was enough room for all the tents. Also enough wood for a decent fire. It was the last day so we had finished all the food and drinks over interesting conversation. We finished the day early enough that was still time to meditate on the rocks of the Swift Creek.
Tuesday, May 26
Going back was very fast. We only had to do a handful of miles, downhill. Sadly, early in the morning I’ve missed to photograph the morning mist slowly drying in the morning sun. No excuses – my laziness got to me.
On the way back Michael, who have already connected to the wide word , was planning the after trip lunch. The funny thing was that the trail looked very different from 4 days ago. The rain really made the difference in colors. I knew that we came up this way, but the surroundings looked very different. One of the rules of outdoors is to periodically look back at the trail so that you won’t be lost if going back, so that you will recognize the trail, which may look very differently.
After we successfully come out there was a regrouping event at the aforementioned Mamma Llama place. I wasn’t sure why. Some people had drinks there. The place was also selling ice cream, but I wasn’t interested by their flavor selection. Instead I was looking at their comic book posters and checking my emails. Not sure why – nothing really happened while I was gone. The world didn’t even notice my absence.
The best lunch place with steak and vine Michael found in Redding. The driver there, however, took a while. The driver there – the scenic route CA299 – has, apparently, being widened (and getting more boring). It was a substantial construction activity. The machines were moving material from one part to another and thus smoothing the twisty curves. The traffic was only allowed on one lane and there was a pilot car to guide cars. This kind of construction is common in far away forest places. But this one lane closure was a bit long.
The after trip lunch was in the place called Moonstone Bistro. Michael found it. I generally trust his judgement on food places. This bistro looked a bit too upscale for our dusty sweaty crowd. But it was midweek lunch time and it wasn’t busy. The burgers were good, thanks Michael.
This first visit to Maui was arranged by Rita. She wanted to visit the islands for a long time. Ok, fine. After the trip to Catalina Island I was a bit spent on the planning front. She found some deal in Costco that included flight tickets and resort – Kā’anapali Beach Hotel. The hotel had breakfast, but not dinner or activities as usual – it wasn’t all inclusive.
Tuesday, March 31
Arrived in the afternoon to a relatively small Maui airport with all the other tourists. Gotten the rental and went to eat lunch at a place that was recommended by a local. It turned out to be a regular greasy food court. At least it wasn’t expensive, by local standards. We spent the rest of the day soaking up the sun on the tiny beach and planning the next week’s activities. However, the ocean was great – warm and peaceful. Too peaceful – as flat. There were a couple of places right close by to our hotel to watch the fish. But it was already evening and late for that.
This is where I’ve gotten my first Hawaii disappointment. Fine, perhaps the greasy Maui food court was an aberration close to the airport, but the food for the tourists should be good, right? No, same thing. There was a little stall right next to the beach selling some rot of cold fruity drinks with optional little fruit balls. Ok, Maui being a tropical island should have the best fresh fruit. No luck! The girl at the stand just poured sole canned syrup to cold water and ice. Seriously? And the little balls were from a can from Thailand.
In the evening we used the hotel-given coupon for their restaurant. It was OK. I was expecting a bit better fish. There was also some sort of “performance”. Hawaiian music to an empty restaurant. But it was a bit far away.
Wednesday, April 1
The hotel has all that guest tourist thing organized very well. At the time of check in they gave us some materials, food coupons, and the invitation to first day breakfast. There was nothing special about that breakfast other than it was in a separate room. All just arrived guests were there. The workers did the Hawaiian welcome thing – one large dude blew a sea shell, then many of them sang and danced. The workers looked Asian, I’d say Thai. I wasn’t sure if there were really native Hawaiian or just simply hired labourers from the same Thailand. Anyways, their white manager explained the conditions and what we should expect on our trip.
The day before in all the touristy materials we found the local Aquarium – Maui Ocean Center. It seemed like an interesting place to visit. The Aquarium was well organized. However, it didn’t have those giant tuna tanks like Monterrey one has. But it had one fairly large shark and ray tank. We managed to see the feeding event. Interestingly, the lady presenter passed around shark jawbone. Damn those teeth were sharp. There was a small native Hawaiian stall at the end of the Aquarium displaying wooden weapons – clubs with shark teeth. Nasty stuff.
There were several tanks with surgeonfishes. They looked cute, many varieties. The information listed that they had some sort of very sharp scalpels on their tail (that’s why is the name). And I kept wondering where it was and how it worked. Finally it dawned on me – there were two protruding horizontal essentially hooks on each side on this neck between the main body and the tail. Nasty. Some of these fishes had two of these hooks on each side. These fishes are slippery, so a bit of a wiggle and they can really cut things. I wonder how they are caught (and taste). The decently sized restaurant in the aquarium served good fish meals. Perhaps it was a bit too big – the size of this restaurant was almost half the size of the main venue. Kind of shows the priorities. I wonder if for some extra money they’ll cook one the fishes from the tanks. 🙂
After the aquarium we went back to the beach stopping on the way at the local ice cream shop. This time I did some snorkeling and there was fish at the bottom. The ocean was so salty and calm that I could just swim anywhere, even far away from the shore.
Dinner was a constant problem in the area. Yes, there were lots of pricey options around, in our hotel and the neighbors. Since we’ve had a car we could drive somewhere else to possibly better choices. Somewhere else was just as crowded and expensive. Rita found some fancy ramen place. By the time we arrived they had about 2 hours wait. At a ramen place? Well, they seem to be popular. So we went to this Lahaina downtown. Parking was a bit of an issue so I’ve let Rita pick a place and went to leave the car very far away. Somehow we quickly picked this place called Kimo’s. It was a large American restaurant. Decent food. By this day I wasn’t expecting excellent fish any more. But they gave us just giant dessert at the end.
Thursday, April 2
Visit to O’o farm. I found their ad in some of the tourist brochures. I was expecting some interesting information about local flora. There have to be some unique plants in this tropical island. But it was mostly regular vegetables. The people there guided us through the farm, which was actually really small. Somehow they managed to grow quite a variety of fruits and vegetables, and coffee. Most of it went to the local restaurants and the tours like ours. The farm owners seemed to be into coffee. There was a drying and roasting house specially built for that. However, the lunch included in the tour was divine. Really – the freshest, tastiest food I’ve had during the whole trip. There was a cook who explained what he was planning to prepare. I kind of lost the train of his plan right after the appetizer. He had a small outdoor brick oven that most likely contributed to the quality of the food. So the lunch was the end of the tour. People were talking digesting all the lavish meal. One couple wisely bought local vine before the tour. And everyone was photographing the cute local chameleon sitting in the tree next to the eating place.
We also visited nearby lavender farm. Then local boutique Ocean vodka farm. They were cooking vodka and rum from sugarcane. We bought a tour of the facilities that included some tasting. I have to say that the vodka was a bit hard on the way down; not very smooth, despite some advanced refining they were doing. Technically, vodka is just pure alcohol and should taste nothing regardless on where it come from. It isn’t vine that depends on the grapes or whiskey that depend on how well the barrels were burned or something. Still, not all vodkas taste the same.
There was also a goat farm nearby. However, due to some permit issue they were not allowed to sell goat milk, which was kind of useless for us. I guess for young kids it would be cute to pet and feed the goats, but I was already out of these activities. To me a goat is a source of milk or meat, not much a companion or a pet.
Friday, April 3
This was our third day in Hawaii. It was time to do something beach relaxing. After the same boring breakfast Rita went to sit by the pool and I went to learn how to surf.
For this we were given fairly large boards and one instructor. Then we went to a small stretch of the beach a bit further South from our hotel. This was pretty much the place for surfing in the area – there were waves. The rest of the wild Pacific around was flat like glass. As a result, all surfing classes from all the hotels in the neighborhood were congregating in this tiny spot.
I sort of got the hang of surfing – paddle with arms while the wave is coming, which turned out to be surprisingly easy, then stand up quickly and properly when the wave is at the top. I just needed more skill to actually stand up on the board correctly and keep the balance. It was like any other skill – initial feel is easy, but mastery really takes time.
Then I went back after this introduction. Part of the equipment was a thin synthetic long sleeve t-shirt to protect against the sun. I’ve also put some sunscreen on my ears and neck. But I completely forgot about back of my legs. Lying on the board waiting for the good wave to come totally cooked my legs. And I had no idea at the time. The real awakening came later.
After the surfing lessons we just stayed on the same narrow beach sunbathing and swimming. Since we came to Maui I was trying to find a place to get some scuba diving. I thought that after my classes in Thailand I had some sort of certification with PADI. It appears that PADI has some sort of global database that has information on all certified divers. It was good since I didn’t have my paper. But in reality I didn’t have anything after that simple class in Thailand. It was just an instructor-led dive. Real certification takes a lot longer. Thus I resigned to do a simple dive right here in Maui off the beach. I found an open spot in a group running in a hotel next door (waiting forever in line of one person to buy the class).
In the evening we picked one widely advertised place that cooked in front of you some Japanese beef – Kobe. It was a show. I was surprised Rita never seen it. It was a lot of fried fresh meet. Fine, just a bit too heavy for this climate.
Saturday, April 4
We were coming back a bit late for lunch, but early for dinner. Stopped at Kula Lodge & Restaurant on the way. I’ve gotten tempted by their advertisement of a brick oven pizza. The view was good, the food and service – not so much. The workers there seem annoyed that we showed up in this odd time. Well, they could have just told us they were closed. We’ve ordered salad, french onion soup, and pizza. Only the salad was edible. The soup was insanely salty, the pizza was undercooked and swimming in cheese. As a result I was compelled to leave a ‘good’ review for this place.
Sunday, April 5
Today was Easter. The hotel was planning several events for that. There was some sort of preaching area. A local priest came in the morning brainwashing the willing participants. The priest was kind of cute Hawaiian type, on a pickup truck. I bet he’s also a surfer too. Whatever works, dude, to sell your wares. Hm, that would be interesting to organize a church of surfing with meetings conducted in the open ocean. Anyway, to avoid all this religious madness we decided to head to the famous Road to Hana. Well, I decided and Rita agreed.
Road to Hana is this local the must-see thing. It’s a very windy narrow highway in the jungle going essentially abound the entire island. It is paved most of the way, but not always. It appears that getting a well working road in a tropical island isn’t that easy. Or maybe this Hana place wasn’t that high priority on the tourist conglomerates hit list. Anyways, there were these consistent scare tactics about the dangers of this road and unfriendliness of the locals. All designed to nudge people to buying a packaged tour. Air Conditioned limo, lunch, experienced drivers, etc. I would have bought the tour just because I want someone to explain to me that was happening. But due to Rita’s condition and rough driving we had to opt out into driving ourselves. The sad part about it was that I, personally, would have no clue what I was seeing around, which would be sad. A bit after we arrived to Maui and were planning what to do I was thinking that it would be nice to find a podcast or something about Road to Hana. I was also thinking that the phone would have all the needed location data to explain exactly what was around. Rita suggested to search Google App Store (or maybe she just wanted to get rid of my annoyances). And I did find this very useful GyPSy Guide App on the Road to Hana. It had all the info I was looking for and it would work in offline mode (no reception in that side of Maui). It was a bit large, but totally worth it. So armed with the guide App we headed out to Hana not in the early morning.
It seems that the density of people on the Road goes down with distance from the tamed part of Maui. Initially there were many more tourists trying to navigate the tight turns. Or maybe we were just late and the majority of tourists, especially on guided trips, have already passed. First we stopped at the Hana Maui Botanical Gardens. It had beautiful lush display of trees and even some weird fruits. Well, as before, it would be nice if they had some walking tours explaining what was there. A bit later we stopped at a small town right on the shore of the Ocean. There was some a story about it with one of the Beatles staying or living there. There the Pacific was the real deal – windy, stormy, strong and moving. Not that indoor pool that we had on our side of Maui. I was really thinking that we should have stayed in one of these small cities instead. The vacation would have been very relaxing. Just had to bring a lot of books. We stopped at one of the state parks on the way checking out the lava caves they had. Small ones. It was actually raining for a bit when we were there. Some of the Road tourists were swimming in the ocean. I didn’t dare going into those waves. No lifeguard – one wrong move and no one would be looking for you. I suppose this shore would make for excellent surfing. Still, with rugged lava shore it would be quite dangerous.
We finished the road at the other entrance to the Haleakala national park. The park goes from the top of the Haleakalā volcano all the way to the ocean. There is actually a route people do from top to bottom. This is some serious elevation change. But in this place, just manage the precipitation and due to warm weather one can go really light. Anyways, there were some interesting trees to see and water pools formed by the cascading river. Due to fairly consistent rain on this side of Maui the water was fairly constant.
On the drive back the app was keeping up informed about the colorful history of Hawaiian Islands. We barely finished the most iffy part of the road before the dark. For this day Rita found some ordinary Chinese ramen shop in some strip mall. The price was good. The food was ok.
Monday, April 6
Another all day at the beach. All the week I wanted to get up early and go swimming. Didn’t make it this day either. But I did it after breakfast. It was very easy to swim in this warm salty ocean due to fairly decent buoyancy. I did go snorkeling to The Rock next to our hotel to see some animals before they would retire for the afternoon.
After lunch was the time for my scuba diving. The little shop in the hotel next door was run by a father+son team. Out of all people it was me and a woman with her son (10 or 11 years old). They did dive before as well. As a result all the short diving refresh was done fairly quickly.
The whole dive thing was just walk off the beach under water. I was a bit skeptical about the quality of marine life that could be observed like this, as opposed to open ocean diving. But it was fairly good. I saw all manners of weird marine creatures. living right off the very busy beach. My issue was always keeping neutral buoyancy – I was either sinking to the bottom r raising to the surface. The main old diving guide was more concerned about the mother+son pair so I was essentially left to my own devices. One interesting feature was some old anchor at the bottom. Allegedly it was some sort of pirate ship anchor. But it was nicely covered with all sorts of life forms. I kind of regretted not buying a cheap waterproof camera.
For this last supper we went to the same restaurant we went on the first day – Kimo’s. They’ve also given us a coupon for some insanely large dessert. At least the food and service there was a known quantity and for some reason there wasn’t a two hour line. The restaurant probably had a very nice ocean view, but it was too dark by the time we went there.
Tuesday, April 7
Last day. All we had to do is pack up, return the car and fly out. However, the hotel people had special “see off” procedure for the guests. They collected all the people leaving this day in the lobby. There was a group that sang something and every person has gotten a wreath of macadamia nuts. They used to use flowers, but the guy said they would deteriorate too quickly. Macadamia nuts, on the other hand, were quite durable. It was a nice marketing touch. Now people would bring these useless wreaths home and they would remind them about the nice Hawaiian vacation and perhaps nudge to come back.
After that we went to the airport and flew back to SFO. The long 6 hour flight, plus the time change brought us back at SFO squarely at midnight. Just the right time to be in real pain to get back to Sunnyvale. CalTrain was no longer running well and taxies were insanely expensive (and all this taxi business always seemed strange to me – I never knew exactly how much it would cost). So to reduce the pain I’ve decided to try Uber. I’ve told it the destination and start and it gave me the price and the name of the poor soul who would be driving us. It turned out to be some immigrant (of course) from Pakistan or whereabouts driving a prius. The price was about $70 from SFO to Sunnyvale. Not too bad, except he was falling asleep periodically on the highway.
That was the end of the first trip to Hawaii. I can’t say I was too blown away by these islands. Well, the islands themselves were very beautiful, but they seem too developed and Americanized. Perhaps we didn’t choose the best time and place to visit. So we might go there again, but it wouldn’t be our first choice.
I’ve heard about this trail from one of the Bay Area backpacking Meetups. It sounded like an interesting place to visit, sometime in the future. One of those trips to be added to the ever-growing bucket list. However, relatively simple logistics for this trail made it very attractive. The Trans Catalina Trail is a relatively new trail. There is one organization that basically manages the whole of Santa Catalina Island – Catalina Conservancy, and it perhaps wanted to bring more visitors. It was created by the original ‘owner’ of the island – William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate, as a deed to manage the island as a one giant park, excluding lucrative Avalon, of course. Campsite permits, which could only be obtained through Catalina Conservancy, are a bit expensive by American forest standards – $22 per person per day, as opposed to $20 per camp site (or free). However, a camp site usually includes a source of drinking water, which is not readily available on Catalina. Firewood need to be purchased separately.
I would have probably never visited this island in the foreseeable future if not for my oldest nephew. He wanted some backpacking trip for his spring break (good man, much better than going to Cancun or something and get drunk). I floated an idea of Death Valley or Grand Canyon. But they seemed scary to him. Catalina, on the other hand felt close and easy. It is true that logistically backpacking in Catalina is easy. However, the Trans Catalina Trail itself was far from easy. But he didn’t know that. Neither did I. He did manage to convince a couple of his ultimate buddies to come along. In the end we had a nice 6 people crew. I was a bit worried that I would be lagging behind all those spring chickens, but it didn’t actually happen.
Sunday, March 22
I was really worried about the trip, as usual. I even had a weird dream that there was a foot of fresh snow in Catalina. Sweet, but I just desired to leave half of my tent behind. A half of tent could be a bit wet. Anyway, I got up and headed to San Pedro port to catch ferry to Catalina, courtesy of my sister who gave us a lift. All the crew showed up on time. I just had to get the read boat tickets based on my online reservation. The first bomb was dropped by the ticket lady. She said that we can’t bring anything flammable on board. The coastguard may rummage through the backpacks to check and then levy a significant fine. And we could buy fuel on the island. This could possible be due to all the terrorist scare or Catalina people just want to restrict access to their island like the movie theaters not allowing people to bring food. I tried to call the shore in Avalon but it was closed. Being a bit suspicions of the threat and the possibility that the aforementioned store would have the right fuel cans, I just decided to risk it. It would be safer to pay fine that end up without the right fuel.
The boat ride was uneventful. Most of the people were vacationers, but there were a couple of backpacking parties. One on the shore I had to perform a wild goose chance to find out the place where my permits could be registered. People were just sending me all over the place. With late boat arrival and all this permit stuff we gotten seriously delayed.
Finally on the trail, or so I thought. Technically the trail starts somewhere on the end of the island, which is a bit away from the main town of Avalon. The builders and promoters of the Trans Catalina Trail failed to add signs in the town to direct people to the trailhead. Added to it the lack of good maps made for interesting first hour or so. I’ve tried to find a good shortcut route through the vacation homes. Eventually we managed to find the proper road that was skirting around the island and leading to our trailhead.
It was Sunday. People were having relaxing weekend exploring Catalina. This involved renting all sorts of vehicles and driving on the island’s roads. After we turned inland at the aforementioned trailhead the number of people in golf carts went down to zero. However, there were a number of these big buggies allegedly organizing back-country tours in Catalina that passed us. Aside from creating a lot of dust they also were a bit depressing because they indicate that this wasn’t wilderness at all. Sad. Well, what was I expecting? We could still see the town of Avalon and the cell phone reception was strong.
The trail was relentless! We started a bit late, right in the middle of the most heat. The ocean breeze didn’t really make things easier. There was obviously no shade. To top this off there were no switchbacks. This was not a trail per se – it was a road. Roads generally don’t need switchback because you (whomever is transiting it) are not doing to walking. By the time we reached the second ridge of the day everyone was out of fuel. There was a little gazebo that provided some shade and rest relief. But there was no water.
After this point the trail/road had become a bit more interesting. It became more choppy elevation-wise. We saw our first Catalina buffalo enjoying dirt bath right next to a busy road.
The interesting thing was that vintage 60s bus transporting tourists somewhere. The road/trail sometimes would disappear into a strange unused area. A bit further down there was this old playground with picnic area. It didn’t look like it was used much. Perhaps no one really wanted to get a bus ride here to have a BBQ picnic in the middle of the island with remote ocean views while a better location was available, and no bus ride. At least it had a water source. The kids had some fun on the swings and seesaw and continue the deathmarch.
The group has becoming more and more unhappy. There were some knee and ankle issues. The mental state was getting thin because the damn trail just wouldn’t end. It was getting dark and we still had a couple of miles of a not flat trail. But no one was really complaining. Finally, right before the Black Mountain campground it became a real trail. It was narrow and properly went around the last hill.
The campground was busy. Where d’hell these people came from? We haven’t seen any backpackers all day. Our proper camp site has been occupied by some student couple so we took theirs. Apparently they came earlier because they took the Stage Road shortcut. Wussies. Other than that the campground had all the amenities, wood boxes that could be used to store food, fire pit, table, even a shower (the shower was old style – a water pipe under a tree. Who cares that there is no cover – after all that heat any cold water would be fine). There was a brief, but tasty dinner, and everyone passed out at about 10PM. It was a long day.
Monday, March 23
Part of the night someone large an unhappy was walking around the campsite. This organism was stamping and snoring loudly. I suspected it was a local buffalo. We’ve seen a couple the day before. I was a bit afraid that it would just trump the tent. But it should see well enough to walk around in the dark. Otherwise the evolution would remove any desire from these species to be out at night.
At this side the trail was more like a trail rather than a road. It was snaking through some bushes and dry creek until reaching the Catalina Airport. A bit before the airport there were a couple of native American artifacts. Some soapstone formations used by them to make goods that could be traded.
The Airport was deserted. At least no flying planes were visible while we were there. One must be really lazy to hike a plane to get here (or maybe own a plane). There was, after a all a shuttle from Avalon. It may be intersting to hire a shuttle and then bike back. It would be all downhill. The airport had a shop and eatery located in a cute vintage building. You can almost feel to be on some remote island in 1960s. There was a large mural display explaining the history of Catalina.
After the airport the now road continued on the plateau before diving down to Little Harbor. It was a lovely walk. It wasn’t yet hot or difficult. The guys were cracking jokes. If I was more talkative the mood would probably be better.
Little Harbor was nice secluded campground. It had all the amenities, especially fresh water (I wonder where they’ve gotten it from). The best part was that it was possible to hike some shuttle to drive you there avoiding two very strenuous hikes either from Avalon or Two Harbors. We spend quite a long lunch at Little Harbor. Even enough to swim in the ocean. There was a group of college students on a break from some spring break volunteer thing. Nice place to spend a spring break.
The climb after Little Harbor was … regular Catalina – steep. The guys separated by their abilities or stamina. In reality, I timed one scary looking climb and it only took about 20 minutes. The views of the Western ocean very spectacular. There was also wind blowing from the West, but it didn’t help much. A climb is a climb. As a consullation the Catalina people put a nice gazebo at the top of the hill.
The road down was nice if knee busting. It was just the end of a very long day and, at least myself, was ready for a finish. However, we still had to wonder around the town of Two Harbors in the desperate search of our campground. The map wasn’t detailed enough and signage, again, was no where to be found. But after a couple of failed attempts we located it.
I’ve pick a campsite close to ocean which wasn’t the best. It was on some road and for some reason was lacking bear box. Not against bears, of course, but local squirrels. The funny thing was in this rather large campground almost only 3 camping sites were occupied. And they were all located around us. The other people were all involved with scuba diving activity. There was one single dude with all the diving equipment and large straw hat. The other was a family from Minnesota (if I remember right). The matriarch of this family, it seems, was teaching the next generation scuba diving. Interesting. Both of these groups were set in the site for a couple of days already, it seems.
There was pretty much one restaurant in town. We gotten our fix of fresh food from it. They cooked good fresh fish. I’ve gotten my tuna there with some cider. The cold cider went down well. I was still severely dehydrated from the hike.
This day I did order wood. However, the location and general tiredness of people wasn’t conducive for folks to sit around the campfire for a long time. The moonlit view of the Isthmus Cove was spectacular, however.
Tuesday, March 24
I couldn’t sleep well again. Not sure why. I should have been sleeping like a log after all that climbing. Maybe I’m just too dehydrated. So I got up early to take shower before everyone, including the neighbors, were up. The shower, like in Black Jack, was just a shower head next to toilet structure. Whatever, if someone doesn’t like what they see they can look away.
The group slowly gotten ready by 10AM. Late. I should have kicked their butts better. Not that were were in the hurry, but it would be nice to beat of the heat as much as possible. The local squirrels got into food. For some reason this glorious campground didn’t have neither storage boxes, no places to hang stuff (or I just didn’t find our camping spot). So we organized our food on a BBQ pit. Didn’t help. Some creter found a way to a bag of pistachios.
I had to stop by the ranger station, which doubled as an activity center right next to the ferry docking, to pick up keys for water/wood lockers. This was actually important since there was no fresh water at Parson’s Landing.
The climb this day was not easier than the two before. The bloody road was just going straight up the hill. And the weather was warm. I was trying to go slow and steady. The other spring chickens were constantly running ahead. There was no much shade. There were just scattered trees here and there and we clinged to their small shade to have a bit of rest. But eventually we made it to the top. It felt good and views were spectacular. I thought the fight was over, but not quite.
After the climb the road down was steep, very steep. It was so steep that we were sometimes sliding. The progress was very slow and frankly dangerous. Whomever had their knee issues, which most of my crew who like to play Ultimate did, were having hard time. I just percued the same slow and steady approach of small steps. Hiking poles were helping quite a bit as well.
Parson’s landing campsite was essentially a secluded beach with some amenities. The amenities included good toilets and lockers. The lockers had water and wood that had to purchased extra. You get one key at the ranger station in Two Harbors. The other key belong to the rangers. If you open the locker you pay for its contents.
We picked one of the camping spots. It wasn’t exactly the assigned one, but it looked good. People seemed to have spent a lot of time on this beach because there were structures all over. All sorts of rock walls shielding tent spots or campfire pits. Someone even made sitting chairs. Our more adventurous group went further to Starlight Beach – the real ending of the Trans Catalina Trail. I decided to skip this march and just relax on the beach. I didn’t really want to swim due to serious waves and lack of fresh water to wash after.
The advanced guys came back a bit after dark, tired and thirsty. We sup up fire. The guys eat all their supplies since this was the last night. It was nice to sit by the fire and watch ocean and the distant lights of LA. I didn’t set the tent to just sleep under the stars. Tomorrow would be early rise.
Wednesday, March 25
Again I didn’t sleep well. Not sure why. Maybe the waves didn’t lull me to sleep as they should. Maybe I was just concerned about something. So basically I was just lying there waiting for the sun to rise. Once that happened we all got up, packed, ate, and moved on. This day the road would be flat. Just very annoying.
Right out of the camp the road led to some other fairly full boy scout or something camp in Emerald Bay. The problem was signage again. We wandered into this place with some old frames from probably canvas tents. Some dude on a golf cart seriously told us that were were on the wrong trail. Perhaps he was scared of liability of six strange man walking into his children camp. After that scolding the road went to the right direction.
It was flat, but it hugged all the nooks and crannies on the coast. This meant that sometimes we would have to go quite significantly inland to make it what seemed like just a bit of distance as a crow flies.
Catalina on this side was quite busy. We passed several different camps of various levels of comfort. They all had access to the water and it seemed supplied numerous ocean activities. Even from far above it was obvious that the water was quite clear. It would be interesting to come back here and do some scuba diving. Living in LA I always thought that the Pacific is completely polluted in this area, but it might be true to only the areas close to the main shore.
We made it to the Two Harbors on time. It appears that there were several backpacking groups. I’m not sure where they stayed because there were no other groups on the road coming back from Parson’s Landing.Finally this brutal trail was over. I wasn’t sure what was more difficult – heat or elevation.
Getting back from San Pedro port was quite a hassle. There were a whole bunch of taxi drivers, but they were asking for way more than I was willing to pay. And at that time I didn’t have Uber set up. So half the group took a taxi to go back to UCLA. Myself and two others walked to the bus station to go to the subway.
The city of San Pedro, it seems, was trying to develop this area around the port. There was this weird dancing fountain. Weird becuase there was no one to see its performance. There also some nice signs and notices. Well, at least they are trying.
At the downtown Long Beach we found some sort of hip burger joint to get the deserved after trip meal.After that we had a very long subway ride back to Hollywood. It was actually interesting so see the parts of LA we were passing through.
Generally I try to do a couple of winter trips. Real ones – with camping in the snow. This year’s winter trips were either rainy or too warm. The trip a couple of weeks prior to Ludlow Hut was very wet with cold rain pretty much dominating the weather. However, by this time (early March) the weather became quite warm – almost as warm as in late spring. Yosemite would be a good place to go, however, the regular Yosemite winter route – Badger Pass to Glacier Point – was outright closed, let alone plowed. Lassen NP could be a good choice. But it is a bit far.
My friend Girish had a childcare-free weekend so, mostly, he had to come up with something to backpack on a short notice. As a result, Yosemite worked fine. In fact we could have done some very nice summer routes without the hassles of crowds and permits (the permit was self-issue at the entrance). The planning for this trip was a bit last minute. I actually had to pack on Friday evening a hour before start. It was a bit more stressful for me than usual, but I managed.
Friday, March 6, 2015
Driving was through Fremont where my team member leaves. It was on the way and since he would be driving I was obligated to go there. It wasn’t too bad and we made it to Yosemite by about midnight. The air was clear and crisp, but there was no sign of snow. However, there was enough light to make some night photos. We picked a site in one of the walk-in campgrounds and settled for the night. Again, this would have been an impossible feat to do in Summer.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Beautiful weather in the morning. Very early morning. Since we arrived to Lower Pines campground a bit late the only empty site we could find was on the way to the toilet. As a result the other residents, who probably went to bed earlier, started using it very early in the morning. Then those giant Yosemite ravens started most probably looking for food and discussing something with each other. Regular campground life. We broke the camp and headed to Curry Village for some food and campground payment.
We reached the designated 4 mile trail at about 11AM. A bit late, but doable. Left the car just on the side of the road with the full view of Yosemite falls and headed up. Nice. I fish this park was like that in Summer.
The trail was reasonably crowded. We met one group of “campers” going down (they really stayed at the hut). The rest were just day-hikers. Since we started a bit late most of the people were already going down. We, on the other hand, were slowly progressing upward. We had to carry quite a bit of weight, especially all the water for two days.
We reached Glacier Point at reasonable time – still light and sooner than I expected. There were still some people walking around. It was a bit strange looking for a place to put our tent. Generally this area is used as a viewpoint in Summer. Essentially it is a parking lot. In normal Winter it is covered by snow so it doesn’t look like a parking lot and have no people. Now – it was like camping at a vista point in a national park. Doable but weird. Eventually we picked the little hut designated as a Geology Hut. Luxurious, with even better view. There was just a little problem which we would find later.
Closer to sunset the day-hikers disappeared. There were a couple more people staying overnight. However, there was no-one in the Ski Hut. In fact it was open so we could have just stayed there. But then it wouldn’t be camping.
We did a lot of different night photography after dusk (memory is cheap), before full moon came up and flooded everything with light. It was nice and not cold at all.
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Camping at the Geology Hut turned out to be not that much fun. It had very nice springy wooden floor that transferred any movements everywhere. As a result, I could really feel any Girish’s movements and especially his walking. He got up early to get some dawn photos that I’m yet to see.
After simple breakfast we slowly started down. There was no rush – just 4 miles all downhill. We saw the first person right below the rim of Glacier Point. It was kind of early. But it turned out that this day was the time change. We saw some people climbing uphill while enjoying easy hike down. We made it to the car by 1PM or so. It was still there on the side of the rad without any ticket.
It was a nice trip. The sad part was that this nice trip was made possible by almost complete lack of snow this season.
Once again the California drought, exacerbated by the climate change, is messing up our snow supply. Not only did we have only a couple of real storms, but the snow also fell as rain. People here were watching, longingly, at the feet of beautiful snow that inundated the North-East.
Somehow I managed to get in touch with one of the Sierra Club leaders. In particular a leader who primarily leads winter trips. I’ve asked him about some trip requirements what looked quite technical. After that he asked me if I want to come on this trip. The weather reports promised nasty cold rain, which is actually much worse than snow, but I didn’t want to say no. We were also not camping, but staying in Ludlow Hut, which could somewhat mitigate the bad weather. In the end there were only three people in the group, mostly due to the incoming rain.
Friday, February 5, 2015
Starting the regular driving. The leader graciously agreed to drive his Subaru in the rainy weather, which would behave much better than my Prius. Not only that, he also let us stay at his parents’ cabin in Truckee area (and thus he probably knows the area much better making for efficient drive). We stopped at Dairy Queen for some supper. I never knew they sell sandwiches. The name Dairy Queen generally brings up images of ice-cream or milk shakes.
By the time we reached Tahoe the heavy rain turned into wet snow. Highway 80 was slowly moving. The CHP blocked the parallel streets to all traffic except the local access. Our leader had to tell them that he lived locally. We were wondering why CHP did that. One idea was that Google maps was probably rerouting people around the main blocked area. However, there was still danger in driving on new snow without chains and CHP was trying to enforce this.
The leader’s family had a simple mountain hut – an A-frame but with all the amenities. Lovely place to stay during Summer or Winter. Just have to mind increasingly smart neighborhood bears.
Saturday, February 6, 2015
The morning weather looked fine. At least nothing was coming down. After a simple breakfast and release signage we headed to the trailhead – McKinney-Rubicon trail, which is apparently world famous. By the time we found a place to park it was actually sunny! Lovely. That would have been a very nice weather.
We parked a bit away from the main trail head. It was, however, occupied by the smelly 4-wheelers. The main trail was more like a road. It was expected – a similar forest road was leading to other huts. I gather it was also needed for the 4-wheelers. They probably could hammer through the forest, but that would eventually create a road anyway. Yesterday’s snow added a lot of water all over. We have to almost do a couple of river crossings. The weather slowly turned by the time we reached the hut. It was actually snowed very well.
I was happy to settle in the hut and watch the snow falling. It had everything needed, except solar lights. However, the other members wanted to hike up some local mountain (Lost Corner Mountain) and I had to go with them. I didn’t want to look weak even though the weather looked more and more nasty.
We reached the peak fine – hiking up a snowy mountain on snow shoes isn’t that hard. But there was nothing to see except very thick fog. Oh well. By the time we reached the hut everything was wet. At least there was a decent stove with some ability to dry things out.
We spent the rest of the day in the hut burning one of the stoves and drying the equipment. Wet snow was falling periodically with more or less rain. Somehow Sierra Club has this tradition that a trip leader would actually bring and cook the dinner for the group. Very nice. I’m a bit lazy with my trips. But probably the difficulty comes from negotiating what people want to eat. If everyone was no picky with food it would have been a lot easier, but that generally isn’t the case.
Sunday, February 7, 2015
Morning was semi-clear – cloudy, but nothing was falling down. Again the team wanted to do a dayhike.The view was better this time, but it was clear that a change in weather was coming. By the time we reached the Hut it was snowing again.
The slog back to the car was nasty. It really started coming down mostly rain. I suppose dry cold snow would have been fine, but that wasn’t the case. I was drenched, completely. Even my socks were wet. Somehow I managed to keep the insides of my pack dry. Thankfully the leader wasn’t particularly picky about getting his Subaru wet. I brought some change of clothes, but not that much. Also, changing outside under rain would make new closes also wet.
It was sad that the weather wasn’t really wintery. But other than that it was a nice trip. And I also located one more of the Sierra Club Huts. It could be useful for future visits. Ans I med a cool Sierra Club snow trip leader. Perhaps we can do more trips in the future.