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Backpacking the Trans-Catalina trail in a weekend: Day 1

July 7, 2010 |  5:14 pm

Two weeks ago I wrote about my plan to backpack the 36-mile Trans-Catalina Island trail in three days and two nights. The fact that a nonprofit was leading a group across the same trail in six days and five nights made me a little worried, but I didn't have time or money for that trip.

As it turned out, my concerns were realistic, and my plans were not.

Arriving in Avalon on the first ferry Friday morning, my boyfriend and I scrambled to get our bearings. No detailed maps of the island were available at the Catalina Island Conservancy office. (I had tried REI -- no luck.) Campsite reservations had to be confirmed at a hotel a few streets over, and various strangers helped lead us out of the town in the direction of the trail head.

Already we had the feeling that we weren't in a state or national park. According to Wikipedia, the island was owned by the Wrigley family beginning in 1919. In 1975, their company gave 88% of the land to the conservancy, which Philip Wrigley helped create. While conservation is a priority on Catalina Island, tourism appears to be a bigger one.

During the first leg of the road uphill to Blackjack Mountain, vehicles headed to Catalina's new zip line passed us frequently. After we passed a gate, the trail became fairly desolate; a few vehicles, but no other hikers.

The way up the mountain offered stunning views of Avalon's harbor and surrounding hills. As the trail began to flatten, we had an up-close encounter with the island's legendary bison. Blocked on one side by a swamp and forced to walk within 10 feet of a herd, we nervously called out greetings. Fortunately, they grunted and kept their distance.

Bison The population of about 180 bison roams freely, but as a hiker, you should keep an eye out for the Trans-Catalina trail markers. We learned the hard way that if you don't see a marker every 20 to 30 minutes, you're on the wrong trail.

And because we got lost twice, an already ambitious 20-mile walk turned into more. We were exhausted and blistered as we reached Little Harbor campground after dark, and continuing up and down 14 hilly miles the next day was an impossible thought.

A better stop for the night would have been Blackjack campground, about 10 miles in. But we had booked our campsites a month before, knowing we had only a weekend to tackle the route.

In my next post: How we made it to Parson's Landing campground on Day 2.

-- Clare Abreu

Photos: Top: Little Harbor campground, on the south side of the island. Above: bison, up close.

Next: Backpacking the Trans-Catalina trail in a weekend, Day 2

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