California Hike Travel

My First Birthday Backpacking Trip at Trans-Catalina Trail

Ahhh…the nostalgia…I remember my 5th grade field trip to Catalina Island. From snorkeling to dissecting a squid to roasting marshmallows with my classmates, I knew I had to revisit the island at some point.

Before, I didn’t know that the Catalina Express ferry ride is FREE on your birthday until one of my friends told me.

Plus, I heard Catalina Island has a backpacking trail called the Trans-Catalina Trail, a 37.2 mile trek from the west island (Avalon) to the east island (Starlight Beach).

On November 2, 2016, my friend, Evon (aka Big Nugget), and I were gonna do just that for five days.

To start off, you need to take the ferry from one of the three locations:

1. Long Beach-320 Golden Shore, Long Beach, CA 90802 (we took this one since it takes us to Avalon and was the closest location)

2. San Pedro-Berth 95, 95 Berth, San Pedro, CA 90731

3. Dana Point-34675 Golden Lantern St. Dana Point, CA 92629

First Day: Avalon to Hermit Gulch

After an hour and half of the ferry ride, we made it to Avalon at around 3:30 pm.

We walked to the Catalina Island Conservancy to buy a map and get our hiking permits. Turns out, our camping reservations are the hiking permits which we printed at the nearby hotel.

Photo Credit: Evon Tomoda

Evon and I ate a late lunch at Buffalo Nickel. Afterwards, we attempted our trek, but failed since we arrived late.

Thankfully, we met Fireman Dave who took us to Hermit Gulch to camp out for the night. He even told us he can give us a lift to the start of the Trans-Catalina Trail as long as we get up at 4:30 in the morning.

SWEEET!!!!

With the mindset that Evon and I are going to be trekking 15 miles the next day seemed very daunting. But, I was confident that me and Evon can both do it!!!

Second Day: Avalon to Blackjack Campground

We woke up at 4 in the morning, ate our breakfast, packed our stuff, and met up with Fireman Dave who gave us a ride to the start of the trail.

The morning started off very cool. There was not a single soul on the trail which meant Evon and I enjoyed the scenery to ourselves.

Of course, the trail was completely uphill (which we didn’t mind). Soon enough, we could see Avalon from WAAYYY UP HERE!

We kept walking uphills and downhills until we were just behind the island. The scenery was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!

About 7 miles, we made it to a rest area near a junction which connected to Hermit Gulch Campground. We took a 10 minute break, ate some granola bars, and rehydrated ourselves.

The rest area next to the junction.

After all, we had another 8 miles to go before reaching our campsite…

Somewhere around mile marker 8, there was a gate we had to go through. Keep in mind to keep the doors shut as you don’t want bisons to enter through the gate.

Around 12:30 pm, we made it to mile marker 10 which was Haywood Reservoir. There are a few picnic tables where you can sit and rest. Keep in mind that this is where people have a hard time finding water.

There is a spigot about a yard away just past the playground area. That’s where people can refill their water bottles/hydration pack.

There is the water spigot next to the sink and barbeque pit.

After a hearty meal, Evon and I pushed ourselves to get to the campground before dark.

We saw three bisons on the side of the ditch as we passed Haywood Reservoir.


FUN FACT: 14 bisons were brought to the island in 1924 to shoot a film and were left on the island. Today, there are over 100 bisons on the island.


A ranger stopped us and asked if we lost a headlamp. Evon and I were confused at first, but Evon recognized the headlamp as hers. We thanked the ranger and continued our trek.

There are three agonizing hills that will kick your butt before you make it to Blackjack Campground. I mean these hills were NOT EASY! They were a constant uphill and downhill with no switchbacks.

Along those hills, we met up with a TCT thru-hiker who told us he has no water left. We tried to offer him some water, but he instead told us he’ll powerwalk all the way to Blackjack Campground. We wished him luck and parted ways.

We found a recycled, old TCT sign made into a  bench.

Plus, we took shelter under the cool shade.

After seeing the second satellite tower, we were almost at Blackjack campground.

Evon practically powerwalked all the way to Blackjack Campground, leaving me in the dust. I was pretty drained from the heat and exhaustion. About thirty minutes passed and we finally made it to Blackjack Campground!

We met up with the same TCT thru-hiker from earlier. Evon and I called him Speedy (not his real name) since he hiked faster than Evon and me. After a brief talk with Speedy, Evon and I set up our tent, put our meals/snacks in the food locker, and ate dinner.

Since we felt so drained from our long trek, we passed out after dinner…

Third Day: Blackjack Campground to Little Harbor

Next day, Evon and I woke up and ate breakfast. As I unlocked the locker to get my pack, I noticed there were ants all over my upper pack.

CRAP!!! This was not happening.

I found the culprit which were my sesame crisps. Of course, I threw them away immediately.

My tummy was sad and I have an army of ants to get rid of.

I got rid of most of the ants or at least tried to. There were a few left, but I’m sure they got crushed by the weight of my heavy pack.

MUAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! 😈

So, Evon and I headed off to Little Harbor. It was a 7-mile trek to get there so this was an easy day for us.

We got lost trying to find the trailhead, but found the trail through the thick bushes.

We were out of the shade and into the open field. As I walked up the hill in front of Evon, a bison (literally 5 ft. in front of me) came out of the bushes and ran across the field on the other side of the hill. This freaked us out considering how close we were to getting charged at by this bison.

Once we arrived to Airport in the Sky, we both decided whether we should eat lunch or not. We decided not to and went about our ways.

Airport in the Sky.

We made it to the main road and took a small break. We ran into a ranger who gave us a warning about a particular hill that’s known to be very exposed to heat. We thanked him and he drove off.

We saw him waiting on top of a very huge hill which  I thought that was strange. But we continued our way and once we arrived at the hill, the ranger drove off. I guess he didn’t want us to get lost or anything.

Anyways, the hill wasn’t too steep, but getting down was a challenge since the trail was a loose dirt road. As we made our way down, an Edison truck passed us by.

To our left, there was a vineyard which I thought was pretty cool. Wonder if Catalina Island has their own wine company.

As we were getting closer to Little Harbor, Evon and I spotted an island fox. Sadly, I wasn’t quick enough to snap a photo as it ran off into the distance never to be seen again.

Little Harbor from afar!

As we approached our campground, we both spotted a bison just chilling near one of the campgrounds.

Evon, then, pointed out a bison behind me.

WHAT???!!! I sh*t you not I was excited, but freaking out since I didn’t want them to charge at us.

Luckily, the bison was about 20 feet behind me, hiding behind a thick bush.

PHEW!!!!

We finally made it to our campsite and Speedy caught up to us really quick. I even met two new TCT hikers who are from Newport Beach. Sadly, I didn’t know their names so let’s just call them A and B.

Little Harbor was by far the best campsite to stay since we were literally by the beach! We sunbathed for what felt like hours, relaxing and talking about our adventures.

Did I mention they have the most amazing sunset ever???!!!

Fourth Day: Little Harbor to Two Harbors

Waking up to the beautiful sunrise, Evon and I felt rejuvenated to start our trek to Two Harbors. We ate breakfast, packed our stuff, and went along our way.

I must that this trail was very difficult.The steep hills were endless as we put one foot over the other. I don’t remember how many times we stopped in order to catch our breath.

The views were ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT though!

As we kept walking uphill, we saw a bison standing on another hill.

The trail then becomes narrower and steeper as you climb up a knife-like ridge.

Can’t beat the amazing views of the ocean!

Once we climbed up the ridge, the trails started to level out. Soon enough, there was a picnic table under a huge shade where we met other fellow TCT hikers (I don’t recall their names). Let’s call them C and D.

Speedy arrived no more than 10 minutes after.

We took a long break at the picnic table and refueled before moving on towards our next destination.

There’s a huge satellite tower which I believe was the highest point of the hike today.

We finally descended the hills, but our knees and foot started to get sore.

Alas, we can see Two Harbors from a mile away!

Once we reached Two Harbors, we stopped around town and found our TCT buddies (Speedy, A, B, C, and D). C and D’s plan was to spend the night at Parson’s Landing and head back to Two Harbors the next day. So, C and D splitted from there and wished them the best of luck.

Evon and I stopped by at Harbor Reef restaurant and got some grub! I ordered veggie burgers and the taste was like heaven in your mouth!

We stopped by at the visitor center and paid an extra $20 to get a locker containing water, wood, and firestarter for Parson’s Landing (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED). We even paid an extra $43 ($21.50 each) to camp out at Two Harbors campground.

Speedy felt bad for us so he paid for our dinner at, once again, Harbor’s Reef restaurant. He was even more generous to let us stay at his campsite which was much closer to the town itself. Evon and I were both grateful to have met such kind people during the past few days here.

Fifth Day: Two Harbors to Parson’s Landing to Starlight Beach to Parson’s Landing

Evon and I woke up around 6 am, feeling ready to hike to Parson’s Landing. Little did we know, we got lost trying to find the trail.

We went up a steep dirt hill, thinking that was the TCT trail. Turns out, this wasn’t the trail and only made our feet and knees worse.

Evon and I gave up and headed the other direction towards West End to get to Parson’s Landing. West End is an alternative route that takes you to Parson’s Landing, but isn’t part of the TCT. Since you don’t gain as much elevation or walk straight up a hill, West End is easier on the knees and feet.

Disappointed, I slowly and I mean really slowly walked to the West End trail. Eventually, we met C and D and they told us that they didn’t make it all the way to Parson’s, but instead went to a private area by the beach. We said our goodbyes and continued onwards.

Along the way, we talked to several hikers who gave us advice about Starlight Beach and camping at Parson’s Landing.

There were Boy Scout camps along the trail. I thought it was cool that they’re named after different cities in California!

After passing the Boy Scout camps, we went up a few rolling hills which crosses paths with the actual TCT trail.

We made it to Parson’s Landing at around 1:30 pm. Evon and I set up our camp and ate lunch while deciding whether or not we should push to get to Starlight Beach. We eventually decided we can make it there, but with the possibility of hiking back to camp in the dark.

Bringing only my mini daypack and refilling our water bottles/hydration bladder, we headed off to the trailhead. We enjoyed the afternoon breeze and the solitude of nature as this made our hike a little bit more bearable.

After we passed the fence, the trail was just another torture chamber. There were six steep hills, all completely downhill. Evon and I had no choice but to spartan run on most of them since the momentum was in our favor.

We ran into Speedy, once again, and he pretty much hiked the Silver Peak trail all the way down to Starlight Beach. He’s definitely a trooper and we still couldn’t believe how much he pushed himself today. He was on his way to return to Parson’s Landing.

After another few minutes of brief chatting, we parted ways.

We had one more steep downhill to tackle before reaching Starlight Beach!

Evon and I finally made it to Starlight Beach just before sunset! We took a long break, taking in the views and watching the powerful waves crash onto the shore.

Photo Credit: Evon Tomoda
Photo Credit: Evon Tomoda

Afterwards, we headed back to Parson’s Landing and got lost along the way in the dark.

I know. Terrible idea.  

The steep hills didn’t help either as this was a treacherous journey to get back to camp. Evon powerwalked all the way back to camp, once again leaving me in the dust. I had to shout a couple times to her to see if I’m actually on the right trail.

And yes. The hike back was brutal.

After a couple hours, we finally made it back to Parson’s Landing. My foot blisters popped right away, but I limped back to our camp.  The feeling was a bit miserable. Evon felt the same way!

Nevertheless, we sat down by the campfire and chatted with Speedy, A, and B. They thought we were lost on the trail since it took us so long to make it back to camp. We reassured them that we’re okay and that our feet are completely sore.

I even told them I might complete the whole trail tomorrow.

I know.

This was not going to be easy, but my stubborn side wants to complete the whole TCT trail. I mean…that was the purpose of why I wanted to visit Catalina Island after all.

After a few hours of more chatting, we all called it a night.

Sixth Day: Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors

I knew I had to complete the trail without Evon. I slowly got up and packed my stuff. I ate breakfast in the dark while contemplating if I should hike in the dark or not. I think it’s best for me to wait a couple minutes until I see a hint of light.

Photo Credit: Evon Tomoda

Around 5:40 am, I started my hike. I’ll admit, hiking alone freaked me out! I kept hearing movement in the bushes and whatever it was got closer and closer by the second. As my eyes quickly adjusted to the small hint of light, I could barely see a small deer running out of the bushes.

PHEW!

This was just a precaution, especially for solo hikers, to be aware of your surroundings.

I quickly realized I was back to that Boy Scout camp earlier so I turned back around.

As soon as the sun rose, my paranoia faded quickly.

Photo Credit: Evon Tomoda

I took another trail that looked to be a steep uphill. Soon enough, I realized I was back at TCT trail as I made it to Fenceline Rd.

This trail was tough. I can see why some people say this trail was the toughest. Hiking up from Fenceline Rd. to Silver Peak Trail was more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain in a few miles that it almost reminded me of when I hiked Mt. Olympus.

I could not get an ounce of break since I felt myself slipping back down if I did. I had to either find something to grab onto or find a slightly flatter spot somewhere.

After an hour of complete uphill, I finally made it to the top. I took a quick break, removing my shoes and socks to let my feet breathe. I could see Silver Peak from my right, but unfortunately both my phone and GoPro died so sorry for the lack of pictures.

I admit. Hiking alone felt liberating. I can hike at my own pace, take breaks whenever I want, and scream at the top of my lungs like a lunatic without anybody even noticing.

There were two hills that were not as bad as the ones on Starlight Beach.

Eventually, I came across a fence that also was a hunting zone. So, I’m glad I decided not to hike in the dark or else I would’ve been in trouble. Soon enough, I found myself at a lonely picnic table where I took a long 15-minute break just rehydrating and eating a granola bar. After my break, I continued back onto the trail.

Eventually, I saw Two Harbors as I slowly descended down the hill. The trail snakes behind the harbor where the construction site was at. No wonder the trail was very difficult to find earlier.

I ran into two day hikers who congratulated me for completing the TCT trail. YUP! Little Nugget finally conquered the whole entire trail! In my mind, I just couldn’t wait for beer! I finally made it back to Two Harbors and immediately saw Speedy sitting on a bench. We congratulated each other for surviving and chillaxed for a while.

I guess my adrenaline went down because I couldn’t feel my foot once I walked to Harbor Reef Restaurant. Feeling mentally and physically drained, I was in need of food and beer! I got myself a cider and another veggie burger as a reward!

Now I can say I officially completed the TCT!

I waited for Evon as she took her time walking from West End trail. Eventually she made it to Two Harbors and we congratulated ourselves with another round of beer! We also had to change the ferry ride for a small fee of $5 since the return trip was from Avalon to Long Beach (we had to take ferry from Two Harbors to San Pedro).

Photo Credit: Evon Tomoda

It was another 4 hours worth of wait so we relaxed by the beach. When the ferry arrived, Evon and I said goodbye to Catalina Island one last time! Once we landed safely at San Pedro, we took a quick shower back at home and went for a celebratory night-out at Messob’s.

Would I hike Trans-Catalina Trail again? Probably not. But I’m glad that this was a stepping stone for future long-distance backpacking adventures! I would visit Catalina Island again and maybe go snorkelling in the ocean.

Tips When Backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail

Tip #1: Be wary of island foxes. The only place with a locker is Blackjack Campground and Parson’ Landing so chances are you are going to have to bring your food into the tent. Zip the tent from the bottom up so that the island foxes can’t get into the tent and steal your food. Or you can try to bear hang them.

Tip #2: Stay at a safe distance from bisons. Those beasts are huge and they can charge at you if they feel you are in their territory. There were reports of bison attacks recently in Catalina Island. Even a reporter recently got injured from a bison attack so BE CAREFUL!

Tip #3: Keep a lookout for trail markers or signs. They are everywhere so it’s a no-brainer if you purposely try to get lost.

Tip #4: When you arrive at Haywood Reservoir, there is water. I REPEAT. THERE. IS. WATER. To find water, you make a right and head to the playground area/picnic area. There is a water spigot next to the sink. It’s not hard to notice once you actually walk off the trail!

Tip #5: LEAVE NO TRACE. Please be courteous and pick up trash off the ground even if they’re not yours. There is a trash and recycle bin in the campground. We want to make sure we keep this beautiful island clean for future generations to come!

Tip #6: Book your trip ahead of time especially for the ferry and the campgrounds. They can fill up very quickly especially Parson’s Landing so make sure to book early reservations that fit within your schedule.

To reserve or find out more information about the ferry departure, click here.

To reserve or find out more about the campsites, click here.

Tip #7: It’s recommended that you buy a TCT hiking map at the Catalina Conservancy in Avalon. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Tip #8: If you’re tight on schedule and don’t have time to hike the entire TCT, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND hiking from Two Harbor to Little Harbor and spending the night there. It is very quiet and peaceful there. Plus, who doesn’t want to wake up to sunrise/sunset at the beach.

Tip #9: Catalina Express ferry ride is free on your birthday. So take advantage! There are other great perks when visiting Catalina Island on your birthday so take advantage!

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.