Channel Islands National Park Day 2
In our last post, we were enjoying beautiful Santa Cruz Island, seeing lots of wildlife, and having a great time hanging out with our siblings. Unfortunately we were told that due to an impending storm, our trip was going to be cut short and we would soon have to take a ferry back to the mainland. For more details, read the full Day 1 blog post.
Things got stranger on Day 2 (December 21). This map of the island will help orient you:
Our second day on the island began early with a variety of birds chirping around the Del Norte Camp. Ever curious, we got up and tried to spot them.
We found a loggerhead shrike as the morning sun pleasantly illuminated the hills and water.
After breakfast, we went on a short out-and-back day hike on the Del Norte trail.
The views were amazing. We saw an island fox, a spotted towhee, house finches, and several other birds.
We couldn’t go far, because we had to get back to Prisoners Harbor in time for the ferry. Yesterday we’d been told that due to extreme wind and waves, this could be the last ferry for a few days! We turned around and headed back to Del Norte Camp.
After packing up our backpacks, we started hiking uphill (south) to the Navy Road, an alternate path back to the Prisoner’s ferry dock.
Not long after we started walking, a truck came round the bend. The driver was the same ranger we spoke with yesterday, who had informed us we’d have to leave the island because of the approaching storm. Now the ranger told us the forecast had changed. The storm would be weaker than predicted, so there would be daily ferry service as normally scheduled. The ranger drove off to the backcountry campsite to spread the news there, while we discussed amongst ourselves.
We were leaning towards leaving on the ferry immediately because we didn’t want to risk missing holiday gatherings or flights due to changing weather conditions. Also Anna had been sick recently, so she’d booked a ferry shuttle ride to reduce her backpacking mileage. Given the changing conditions, we weren’t sure the shuttle would still run. Finally, the cross-island hike is 12 miles, and we were worried there wasn’t time to hike that far. We would have gotten an earlier start had we known we could stay on the island.
The ranger drove back up the hill, stopped next to us, and told us he was surprised we were still deliberating. He said the cross-island hike wasn’t hard, and he thought our whole group could do it no problem, even with a late start. We expressed concern about the ferry shuttle and future shuttle service. He radioed the Island Packers ferry service while we waited. They confirmed that there would be regular ferry service for the next few days. Overhearing the radio conversation with Island Packers swayed us to stay on Santa Cruz Island.
We swapped around a couple items in backpacks, then split up. Anna hiked solo to Prisoners Harbor to catch the ferry shuttle to Scorpion Anchorage, our intended campsite for the night. Chris, Becky, and Joe began hiking east across the island towards the same destination.
The hike to Prisoners Harbor was almost entirely downhill. Lots of fennel grew alongside the Navy Road. Occasionally she spotted a patch of lupine or a red penstemon, a rare treat for someone straight out of Colorado’s snowy winter.
It sprinkled a bit, but never hard enough to require a rain jacket. Sun mixed with the drizzle, and a faint rainbow appeared out over the water.
After about a mile, Anna noticed a gated entrance to the Nature Conservancy’s protected area of the island. The Channel Islands contain a healthy mix of completely undisturbed land for animals, and accessible areas for humans to hike and appreciate nature’s beauty. She continued on the public road.
The hike went quickly since it was all downhill. Anna soon reached Prisoners Harbor. As she waited on the shore, she scanned the water with binoculars. To her surprise, she spotted a seal! It kept popping its head out of the water and looking in her direction. Maybe it was just as curious about her as she was about it!
Anna also observed something more troubling: a dense cloud hung over the taller part of the island where Chris, Joe, and Becky were hiking. There was nothing she could do but hope for the best for them, and enjoy her current lovely scenery with trusty pet Cheep Cheep.
To Anna’s relief, the ferry arrived on time, and shuttled her over to Scorpion Anchorage. It was raining when she arrived. Immediately after disembarking, she ran into the kayak guide we had hired for tomorrow. He told her that he was sorry, but due to bad weather, they had to cancel the trip. He then hopped on the ferry to leave the island.
Wandering around looking for our reserved campsite spot, Anna ran into some campers. They said there would be an emergency ferry run at noon tomorrow, and this would be the last chance to get off the island before bad weather stopped ferry service for days! Anna was confused because the ferry crew hadn’t mentioned anything about suspending service when they dropped her off. All the conflicting messages were very frustrating. Already our trip plans had been prematurely ended, reinstated, and now ended again in the space of 24 hours. Now Anna didn’t know what to believe.
She found the campsite, got water, bundled up because the wind was getting really fierce, and started cooking dinner. She calculated that the rest of the group should arrive soon. Then she waited.
Meanwhile Chris, Becky, and Joe…
Chris, Becky, and Joe enjoyed seeing the other side of island, where they could look out onto the Pacific Ocean. Light streamed through the clouds, making a patchwork of shadow and shimmer on the water.
The island’s dramatic cliffs were on display as well.
The walk took a turn for the worse when Joe’s hiking boots began to cause him serious Achilles tendon pain. He pushed on, but reached a point where he was hobbling badly. Fortunately Chris realized his feet were similar in size to Joe’s. Chris gave Joe his light low-profile walking shoes that didn’t rub on ankles much, and he took Joe’s boots in return. The swap, plus a bit of Ibuprofen, helped Joe’s ankle pain tremendously.
Those lovely ocean views didn’t last. A heavy fog rolled in.
After a couple more miles, the dirt road became a narrow, steep, rocky trail. This was the spine of the island, a ridge known as El Montanon. The wind increased to a stiff breeze, then a fierce gale. At times the trail became steep and rocky, forcing us to climb with our hands. The wind gusts became so intense that we joked we might get blown off the mountain. The fog closed in, preventing us from seeing far enough to judge the steepness of the drop on both sides of the ridge. We were in a cloud.
Becky stopped and removed a poncho from her pack. Instantly the wind grabbed it, thrashed it, and tore it to the point of uselessness. Joe had a stronger nylon rain cover, which he placed over his pack. As he walked, the wind filled the rain cover like a sail, snatched it off his pack, and slammed it into a bush a couple hundred feet away. Luckily he was able to retrieve it before it disappeared completely!
The wind was so ridiculous that Joe made a video to capture it.
We walked carefully through the heavy gusts and dense fog, making sure not to lose sight of each other.
As we descended from the ridge, the wind tapered off and visibility gradually increased. That was a morale booster, but it was starting to get dark. We had no cell service so we couldn’t contact Anna. We hoped the wind had been much calmer where she was, and that the ferry had been able to shuttle her.
As we reached the campsite area, we saw a bobbing light moving towards us. Anna! There were big hugs all around. We swapped stories and laughed and ate a warm meal as the moon rose above. Despite our joyful reunion, the howling wind gave us pause. What surprises would tomorrow hold?