June 29, 2011

Photo Essay: Up and Into Catalina's Wild Interior

"I need to find some hills in New York," I heard Edith gasping from behind me. I was leaving her behind in my dust on the Hermit Gulch Loop trail on Catalina Island because it's easier for me to sprint the steep slopes and then take a moment to rest in the shade, rather than take them slow and steady.

"Yeah, the thing is," I said, "pretty much every trail in LA is an up-and-down."

This is particularly and literally true on Catalina Island, which was formed when tectonic plates went crashing into one another, forming a mountainous outcropping off the shore of Southern California in the Pacific Ocean, which you can see from the Santa Monica Mountains on a clear day.

About a mile and a half from town, a trailhead appears off the Hermit Gulch Campground, and quickly, you are in the wild.

In fact, most of the interior of the island is off-limits to vehicles or the golf carts that threaten pedestrians in the port town of Avalon, save for the occasional tour bus or open-air tour jeep crowded with sedentary tourists eager to catch a glimpse of the rare wildlife and flora, much of which is unique to the island.

But we, adventurous as we are, or perhaps naive, decided to walk. All the way in, and all the way up.

The steep, narrow, overgrown path that greeted us for the first half of the trail soon gave way to expansive views of the mountains that surrounded us (and the fire breaks that recent wildfires had necessitated)...

...and, of course, the ocean.

Our hearts were pounding in our heads as the ocean breeze cooled our sweat-soaked faces, and reminded us of how wet our backs had become. We heard neither waves nor crowds nor cars, only our own chests heaving, and the flap of predatory birds encircling above.

"We're almost there," I reassured myself, since I was probably too far ahead for Edith to hear me and receive any comfort. "It can't keep going up. At some point, it has to go down."

And soon, though perhaps not soon enough, we spotted the ocean on the other side of the island, and we knew we could go no farther...except down.

The return path is a wide, gently graded fire road, which we guessed most people would choose as the beginning of their loop.

"We chose the steep way to go up," Edith surmised.

"Yeah, but it's better that way," I said. "I'd rather go up steep than go down steep."

And as we looked around at our surroundings, though our pace had quickened, our heart rates lowered and our breathing softened, we said, "It would have been really boring to go up this way."

Dangling from a Wire

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  1. Sandi, this is Pat here (with the Conservancy), your blog is wonderful and the pictures are fantastic! Thanks so much for hiking Catalina.

  2. Great Blog post and photos are awesome! Hope you enjoyed your Catalina Island Adventure!