May 06, 2013

Photo Essay: Hike to a Ghost Shipwreck

When we first got to the first bits of the Dominator shipwreck, our hike leader said, "Well, there it is. There's some more if you go a little farther, but it's all the same."

We'd hiked three miles on treacherous rocks to get there, and all of our ankles were hurting. "Was it worth the walking on the rocks?" he asked.

"I don't know yet," I grumbled, as I trudged on, waiting to see the rest of the wreck.

We'd met on a residential street in Palos Verdes Estates, not far from where I'd first looked for the Dominator. I knew where the shipwreck was, and had followed its GPS coordinates, which led me to a house on a cliff. I had no idea how to get down there.

It turns out, there's a trail that leads down there... first dusty and sandy...

...and soon, rocky and craggy.

It smelled like the ocean down there.

And unfortunately, in the United States, that smell is not so pleasant.

This is where rock slides make their final tumble to the ground.

This is where the stormwater drains.*

This is where pelicans go to die.

But despite the putrid smell (or maybe because of it), this is also where baby sea lions do push-ups on the rocks...

...and where brightly-colored ornamental flowers dot the beach line.

In New York, this beach would be littered with used condoms, dirty underwear, and drug paraphernalia.

Here, the worst I found - besides the sewer drains graffitied and looming like bunkers - were a few discarded energy drinks, bottles of tea...

...and the occasional plank to walk.

Our first glimpse of the shipwreck was something sticking out from the water - and not one of the scuba divers or illegal harpooners we'd spotted earlier.

We then came upon a smoke stack...

...and some rusted metal sheets.

Our hike leader stopped there...

...claiming that anything beyond was all the same.

I decided to split from the main group and continue... see what else I could find.

I then happened upon the holy grail...

...distinguishable mechanics...

...more stacks or tubes of some sort...

...and a crazy rusted bulldozer.

Was the bulldozer part of the original shipwreck, which occurred more than 50 years ago when the Greek freighter became trapped on the rocks?

Probably not.

Maybe it had been onboard the freighter, but the Dominator had been carrying wheat to deliver to Algiers. It only meant to stop in Long Beach for fuel.

When it got stuck on the rocks - because of low visibility, because of lack of GPS navigation, who knows? - the crew stayed on board for a couple of days, hoping for rescue.

Coast Guard tugboats attempted rescue, but when they failed...

...the crew abandoned ship.

Now the debris is scattered over a half mile...

...much of which is still underwater.

At over 400 feet in length, that's a lot of wreckage.

Nature has taken over the debris, but not as much as you'd think.

The rusted metal still holds strong - enough for you to walk on it.

And rather than being consumed by the beach, the rust seems to have spread far and wide over the rocks, many of which aren't that close to the remaining pieces.

The landscape is other-worldly, and it's hard to imagine its alien terrain being much different in 1961. It is extremely difficult to walk on, even in hiking boots, even with a hiking stick, with every rock wobbling underfoot, and cast aside rusted trapping cages waiting to slice your ankles.

Some of us spent our break time exploring the bulk of the shipwreck, while others stayed beyond to sit atop a rock and have a snack. When I returned to their stopping point, I exclaimed how the hike wouldn't have been worth it unless I'd gone all the way.

"Eh," our hike leader said, "It all looks the same to me."

By the time we were ready to turn back, we were all so tired of walking on rocks, I feeling mentally exhausted from having to carefully plan every single step, so we agreed to take a shortcut back: up the Drainpipe trail.

At first I imagined scooting our way up inside the drainpipe, and then perhaps shimmying atop the drainpipe, but it turns out there's a rough, easily climbable trail alongside it...

...that gives you a break from all the rock-walking, as long as you can survive the steep climb and not look down behind you.

"It was worth it," I proclaimed, "But I'll probably never do it again."

It's easy to say that after a couple of hours of ankle-breaking rock-trekking and a foul sewer stench.

But upon refection, I think I could do it again. At least, to show somebody else. It's not so easy to find on your own.

[*Ed: Not the sewers!]

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Photo Essay: Low Tide at Dead Horse Bay
Photo Essay: Not Your Typical Jersey Shore
The Long Path to Sleep

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