Saturday, June 18, 2011

Backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail: Part 2

Things you should know before backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail

Practical Advice on what to pack, how long does it take, where to get supplies, where to camp, how to get permits, where is there water ect. From your Catalina Island Expert!
Ah, the Trans Catalina Trail! Hopefully you read my brief introduction to the wonderful new backpacking trail that transverses the length of California's Catalina Island. This post is a more focused post on logistics of doing all or part of the Trans Catalina Trail. These are common questions I've received over the years of being a part-time Catalina-ian. If you're unfamiliar with the trail, click below for an introduction:

Backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail: Part 1

How long is the Trans Catalina Trail? How long does it take to hike it?

The Trans Catalina Trail is about 37 miles long (60 km), one way. This is somewhat of a deceptive number; the western terminus of the trail is 11 miles away from any real exit point. So If you're planning on hiking it end-to-end, plan on it being a 48 mile (77 km) trek. A full trek will take about 5-6 days depending on how fast you hike.

Starting points: You can start at either Avalon or Two Harbors. Avalon is a small city on the island with all normal amenities (super markets, restaurants ect.) Two Harbors is much smaller but it has a small overpriced general store. The Catalina Express leaves from several locations in Southern California to take you to either location. Most people begin in Avalon and end in Two Harbors and you can buy boat tickets to and from either location.
Commonly Clear Skies on Catalina
Section Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail

Section hiking is possible too. Most people who try and section hike it will do either the East End-Avalon to Two Harbors Section, or the West End Loop. It also possible to take a bus to most major locations between Avalon and Two Harbors if you chose to cut out some distance.
Here's distances of a couple of commonly done section hikes-
  • Avalon to Two Harbors, one way: 26 miles (41 km): 2-3 days
  • Avalon to Two Harbors, one way, Stage Rd. Shortcut: 20 miles (32 km): 2 days (Stage Rd is the main paved road exiting Avalon and cuts off the Eastern Portion of the trip
  • Two Harbors to Starlight Beach, round trip: 22 miles (35 km): 2 days
  • Two Harbors to Parsons Beach, round trip:13 miles (20 km): 2 days
Which is the best section hike? The West End- Two Harbors to Starlight Beach back to Two Harbors will go through the least crowded part of Catalina Island. I think it is strikingly rugged and showcases the best of Catalina's ecology. Starlight beach is also almost always empty as opposed to other campsites on the island which fill up quickly.
Parsons Beach and Arrow Point
Campsites, Water, Resupply Points

There are several campsites on the island and its is important to know that you can ONLY sleep in designated campsites. Catalina is small enough to be easily damaged by human activity so remember to stay in designated sites only. The campsites with their respective mileage differences are listed:
  • Hermit Gulch Campground (Avalon): 1.5 miles from Trans Catalina Trailhead
  • Blackjack Campground: 13.8 miles from Avalon
  • Little Harbor Campground: 7.2 miles from Blackjack Campground, 5 miles from Two Harbors
  • Two Harbors Campground: .5 miles from Traihead
  • Parsons Landing Campground: 6.5 miles from Two Harbors
  • Starlight Beach Campground: 4.6 miles from Parsons Landing
As far as campsite availability, you need advance reservations for most in the Summer. Two Harbors and Hermit Gulch (Avalon) are notorious for filling up weeks in advance (especially during holidays!). Blackjack and Little Harbor are usually not full but they can fill up on weekends. In the summer, the Boy Scouts reserves every site on Parsons Beach for large overnight scouting programs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Starlight Beach is almost always empty, but its worth it to double check before you go.
Airport in the Sky
Water and Resupply Points

This is a desert-like island and therefore water should be your top concern. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Catalina, water sources are few and far between. It also should be noted that the trail through the interior of the island is notoriously hot and humid. I would recommend carrying no less than 3 liters of water a day and carrying 4-5 liters in the "waterless" areas. Here's the run-down on water sources:
  • Avalon: This is your last chance to stock up on water and supplies for 14 miles. Seriously, I would recommend taking 4-5 liters for the section between Avalon and Blackjack Campground
  • Blackjack Campground: This is the first campsite on the trek and it has water.
  • Airport in the Sky: 2 miles past Blackjack campground, the Airport has water and a small variety of supplies. Get yourself a Buffalo Burger!
  • Little Harbor: 5 miles past the Airport, this is a standard campsite with water
  • Two Harbors: 5 miles past Little Harbor; the town has water and a general store
  • Parsons Beach: 6.5 miles past Two Harbors; there isn't running water at this site, but the Conservancy provides 2.5 gallons of water with each purchased campsite. DON'T expect there to be water unless you've purchased a campsite
So, stock up on that water on the Avalon to Blackjack leg of the trip and the Starlight portion of the trip! Dehydration is common with Catalina hiking!
Mt Blackjack Summit, Catalina Island
Fees, Permits, Red-Tape

Hiking permits on Catalina Island are free. You can obtain a permit from the Catalina Island Conservancy here. Of course, while the hiking permits are free, the campsites are not. Campsites can fill up and advanced reservations are needed. Here's the run-down:
  • Hermit Gulch (Avalon): $19 weekday/$21 weekend. Fills up quickly
  • Blackjack Campground: $14 weekday/$16 weekend. Usually open.
  • Little Harbor Campground: :$14 weekday/$16 weekend. Can fill up on weekends.
  • Two Harbors: $15 weekday/$17 weekend per person. Fills up quickly.
  • Parsons Landing Campground:$14 weekday/$16 weekend. Can fill up on weekends. Not open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the summer.
  • Starlight Beach Campground: Free. Almost always open.
Also, keep in mind that you will have to pay for a ticket out to Catalina by boat. Here are the several locations that you can leave from and return to. Unfortunately, fares are about $70.00 for a round trip ticket. Bleach!

Try and make sure you get all your supplies before arriving on Catalina Island. Everything is literally 3-4 times more expensive.
Sunset on the West End of Catalina
Well, that just about covers it! I would also like to add that there are several side trails and mountains that can be climbed while doing this trail! Silver Peak, Mt Blackjack, and East Peak are all within a short distance of the Trans Catalina Trail. Enjoy the wonderful wilderness that has been preserved for you!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail: Part 1

A Comprehensive Guide on the New and Famous Trans Catalina Trail.

Everything you need to know about packing, planning, weather, sights, campsites, things to see, and other fun adventures on the 37 mile backpacking trail.  
Perhaps the country's only backpacking trail with GUARANTEED good weather!
I don't mean to brag, but I seriously doubt there's a man on this Earth who knows Catalina Island better than I do. The last time I tried to count, I've traveled well over 1,500 mile along the hundreds of trails that cross the island. I've circumnavigated the island twice and crossed it by mountain bike more times than I can count. All I'm trying to say is that you've got an expert talking when it comes to anything Catalina!

The Trans Catalina Backpacking Trail

The Trans Catalina Trail is a relatively new Backpacking-friendly Hiking Trail build in 2008. Its a 37 mile trail running from Avalon on Catalina's East End, to the remote Starlight Beach on the the West End. Catalina Island is a wonderfully preserved island 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles with a temperate Mediterranean climate and desert-like features. It is perhaps the most accessible and well-preserved islands of California's Channel Islands and is a true natural gem. Interestingly enough, most people from Los Angeles have never heard of it!

The major benefit of the Trans Catalina Trail is that it takes the hiker through the several major features of the island- the coast, the dense southern interior, the high peaks, the town of Two Harbors and the cliffy, rugged West End. Here is a map. Although it never travels above 2,000ft, it is an intense roller coaster of elevation changes! The trail is both challenging and rewarding!

Sections of the Trans Catalina Trail

1. The East End: Begining at the rather touristy Pepply Beach, the trail immediately begins ascending the eastern mountains of the island as you follow the jeep trail. Fortunantely your ascending is rewarded with stunning views of Avalon and the East End. A side trail will take you to the 1,536ft East Peak, the highest on this part of the island. This part has wonderful views, but is very exposed. Eventually you will loop back around to the road out of Avalon.

2. Central Highlands: This part of the trail will take you through the interior and highest part of the south portion of the island. This is a shrubbier and more dense section with pleanty of elevation gain! Although you don't see the ocean as much, you will crest at Blackjack Camp. This is an excellent place to stay for the night and it has water! It is possible to trek partially up the 2,000ft Mt Blackjack. You also have a high possiblity of seeing bison in this section!

3. Airport in the Sky and Little Harbor: This part of the trail is perhaps the highlight of the Eastern Portion. Airport in the Sky is only a mile and a half past Blackjack where you can order a legitimate Buffalo Burger! From here, you have a long decent into Little Harbor with a view of the seldom visted ocean side of the island. It is picturesque and a slice of paradise. After several days in the interior, you'll be happy to bask in the shade of the palm trees and take a swim!

4. Little Harbor to Two Harbors: This part of the trail also continues along the ruggest ocean facing side of Catalina Island and, in my opinion, is the best place to see the bison. Two Harbors is also an excellet place for a layover day. I've always considered Two Harbors to be the Margarittaville of the West! From here, you can also get a ride back to the mainland if you would like to cut it short.

5. The West End: We have a saying for this part of the island- "The West End's The Best End!" Its true, this is by far the most scenic and empty part of the island. Hardly any tourists, only tall cliffs and 50 mile views in every direction. Parson's Beach and finally Starlight Beach are true wilderness solitude. If you chose to section hike the Trans Catalina Trail, this is the one section you shouldn't miss!

I hope this has given you the gist of what's offered on the Trans Catalina Trail. Each section has a different flavor and hiking the whole trail will give you a wonderful understanding of Catalina's unique environment. From end to end, the trail is 37 miles but the western terminous is still far (11 miles) from any exit point. So in reality, if you would like to hike the whole thing, its a trip closer to 50 miles.
The seldom visited Starlight Beach, Catalina Island
Hopefully this has piqued your curiosity in hiking or backpacking the Trans Catalina Trail! Stay tuned for further posts on the logistical side and suggestions for hiking the trail! If you would like to do this trail, click the link below for planning, logistics, mileages and advice.

Backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail: Part 2

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Keeping a 10 Year Journal

My most valuable possession; I'd run into a burning building to save this!
On my 6th year of daily journaling
Today marks a special day in the year for me; the day I decided to start keeping a daily journal. On June 10th, 2006, I was given the journal above as a graduation gift from my parents. I've been writing in it every day since then and have a record of everything I've done for the last 5 years. I can't tell you how much of a joy it is to make new entries and look back over what's been done in the last 5 years.

I decided to blog about this, because since starting it I've known others who have done the same and found a similar joy in daily journaling! Adventurous people always tend to keep journals and its a great daily hobby.

Lets get one thing straight right of the bat- this ain't an emotional journal. Other than a few exclamation points, my journal is about as emotional as a police report. I simply record activities and accomplishments which vary from year to year.
My well-worn, well-traveled, well-filled journal
I like this type of journal because its a simpler way of journaling. Basically, you have 366 pages for each date in a year. For each page, you have 10 years of the dates from top to bottom. So for say, the date August 21st, you would have a list of August 21st, 2011, 2012, 2013 ect. For each date, you just write a couple of sentences or bullet points about what you did that day. Sometimes this ends up being rather mundane- Finished up a work project, went for a bike ride, studied for finals, ect. However you also can record big events where you wouldn't normally remember the date i.e. First day at new job!, Drove across country! Ran first 5k!, Epic night in Vegas! and things such as that.
Just write 4 sentences every day
After you do it for a while, it become like a "time capsule" of your life and you can remember both the remarkable and normal events that have happened over the years. Even the somewhat "boring" events become somewhat memorable when you look back over 4 or 5 years. Its interested to see how your daily life changes over time.

What's perhaps the most interesting and nostalgic aspect of this type of journaling is when I happen to record non-events that ended up becoming hugely significant. For example, I happened to record the very day I met my would-be-girlfriend of the last 4 years. It wasn't a glamorous event- just happened to run into each other at a social function at the local pizza joint. 5 years later, that even is a lot more significant! I also recorded the day I looked at a job in Maine in 2010. It was before I graduated UCI. This led to an eventual job in Sebago which, a year later, ended up being part of the reason why I did graduate school here!

You just never know when the little things become major events!

So this is a really good way to keep track of changes in life for people who don't have time to write long entries every day. For me, its become a daily joy and something that's become my most valuable possession.

Next blog, back to more adventures!

(oh here's the website for the 10-year journal)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Geographic Center of the United States, South Dakota: Directions and Information

Everything you need to know about reaching the true Geographic Center of the United States, the actual marker, and corresponding monument in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Specific driving directions included!
South Dakota... its in the middle!
South Dakota has to be the most adventurous state in the American Midwest. The state is well known for its rock climbing and hiking in the Black Hills, endless wandering opportunites in the Badlands, and of course, Mt Rushmore! There's one other lesser known point of interest that has attracted road trippers and tourists alike; the Geographic Center of the United States!

What is the geographic center of the United States mean? It is the point that has been measured by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as being the middle of all 50 states. To put it another way, "it is the point that the United States could be balanced on if the US was a uniform thickness" (paraphrased from the Lebanon, Kansas marker). Interestingly enough, this point has migrated westwards over the years!
The Park and Granite Monument for the Center
A Brief History in the Determination of the Geographic Center of America

The history of the center begins with the admitance of Arizona to the Union in 1912. This marked the last contiguous state to be added to the United States forming the present day map of the country. In 1918 an actual geographic assesment was done and determined a point just outside Lebanon, Kansas to first have the title of Geographic Center. Not long afterwards, the town adopted the moniker "Center of America".

This point lasted for about 47 years until January 3rd, 1959 when Alaska entered statehood. This significantly moved the geographic center to South Dakota. Later that year, Hawaii became the 50th state. Another survey was done which placed the geographic center about 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, South Dakota. This is a full 430 miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas!
Belle Fourche's Monument
The site, located on an empty prairie, was dedicated and unceremoniously marked with a concrete slab and pole. Nothing much has changed since then! However, the town of Belle Fourche recently christened a park near the Tri-State museaum to commemorate their location. Although it is not the true center, the park itself is a more fitting marker for the center; it has all 50 flags and a large granite monument.

Specific Directions and Map to the Geographic Center of America

The center has no formal address and can be difficult to find. Therefore it is very important that you set your odometer to find this place. Exact distances are given because the roads are very poorly marked. The good news is, you can reach the geographic center by sedan; its a gravel road that is accessible. I don't think any car would have trouble with that road.

You're looking for these!
The exact directions are as follows:

     - From the corner of US Route 212 and US Route 85...
     - Head North on Highway 85 exactly 13.4 miles to Old Highway 85
     - There should be a sign for "Geographic Center of America" (as of May 2011)
     - Slight Left on Old Highway 85 (dirt/gravel road)
     - Drive North for 7.0 miles until you see a LARGE GREEN BARN on the left
     - You should see the signs and marker on the RIGHT side of the road.

(I was able to navigate there at night, these directions are reliable!)

As of May 2011, the Geographic Center is marked by a very large rock cairn and the metal sign pictured above. The actual center and USGS marker is just about 50 yards away in the field. There is a conspicuous trail which leads out to the marker. Although I didn't see a flag, the large orange pole still stands as well as the block of concrete. Not much to see considering its significance!
The concrete that marks the center!
Well I hope this guide has provided some clairty on traveling to the true and monumental centers of America! I wrote this because there is a lot of conflicting and vague information on the directions and true location. Although it is not a destination in itself, I do hope that you are able to see the many other adventures that the Dakotas have to offer. Although the Geographic Center is in the middle of a featureless field, Western North Dakota and the Black Hills of South Dakota are reason enough to visit this part of the country.

Check out other adventures of South Dakota and North Dakota!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Climbing Old Speck and Mt Baldpate in a Day, Grafton Notch State Park, Maine

"...just can't wait to get on the road again"
Mt Baldpate from Old Speck
I am proud of myself- I lasted a full 2 weeks staying in one place. That has to be a record for me. Somehow, I have asphalt running through my veins and I just couldn't resist taking a long study break and bagging a couple summits on my New England list. Memorial Day is a perfect day for enjoying out great outdoors. Its just one wonderful part of the long list of American treasures which have been preserved by servicemen and women. I can't think of a better way to celebrate freedom!

I love living in Gorham, Maine. I'm only an hour away from the White Mountains and only 2 hours away from Grafton Notch State Park. This state park preserves the mountain pass that separates two of Maine's most prominent mountains. This is a geologically fascinating area and its full of waterfalls, rivers and cliffs. The great Appalachian Trail bisects the park and takes the hiker up both Baldpate Mountain and Old Speck. Both mountains are part of the Mahoosuc Range of Maine which is known as one of the more difficult parts of the AT.
Atop Old Speck
I arrived at the trailhead at 930ish and hit the rather empty trail. Right from the start is ascends the flanks of Old Speck and takes you across several stream crossings. I'd recommend wearing some hardcore boots and gators, especially in the spring. The Appalachian Trail was actually the Appalachian River on Memorial Day. It was the first nice day up in the mountains in weeks. I met more than one backpacker who had taken the weekend to enjoy 2 days of awful weather only to end their hike on a gorgeous, 70 degree day!

The trail up Old Speck mountain is about 4 miles, one way and it mostly wanders through the dense forests of Maine. There are a few points where the trail goes through a clearing and the hiker can enjoy views of Baldpate Mountain. But really, its a destination-based trail. The woods are serene, but if you're looking for sweeping views, you'll have to wait until you reach the top!

Fortunantely, some kind souls decided to provide a fire tower at the top of Old Speck which offers a full 360 degree panorama. This is surely one of the most scenic mountains in Maine. From the top, you can see for 50 miles in almost every direction- all the way to Mt Washington! You will also have the satisfaction of knowing that you've climbed Maine's 4th highest mountain and #13 on New England's 50 finest mountains.

After chatting it up with a couple other peak-baggers, I made my way down the trail, river and onward to Baldpate Mountain. Doing them both in a day is a pretty difficult affair as it involves 16 miles of steep hiking and about 5,000ft of elevation gain. I figured this challenge was worthy of a western peakbagger like me! I was able to hit the trail up Baldpate at mid afternoon.
Mt Baldplate from West Baldpate
Baldpate is shorter than Old Speck, but man is that trail steep. The higher you climb, the steeper it gets! There are several sections towards the top that require some hands and feet climbing. The Appalachian Trail is also tough on the ankles and joints; most of it is on smaller rocks and uneven terrain so be prepared! The trail crests at the west summit of Baldpate which is NOT the high point. Its a bit discouraging because you have to descend another couple hundred feet which you quickly regain on the final approach to the true summit. Your struggles will be rewarded though! Baldpate's summit, unlike Old Speck, is completely clear of obstructions! If you climb mountains for the view, I'd fully recommend Baldpate!
View of Old Speck from Baldpate Mountain
It was just about sunset when I started my way down. It wasn't too bad to be hiking in the dusk; the insects calmed down and the trail is easy to follow. Although it was tiring, I was glad to be back out on a trail with mountains to climb. Moving from California to Maine is somewhat of a culture-shock, but at least there are still some challenging mountains to climb!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!