We went on a sibling backpacking trip in Channel Islands National Park this past December. Chris’s sister Becky and Anna’s brother Joe joined us for the adventure. We were very excited to spend some quality time with them, and to explore a new place at the same time. We planned two days of hiking, a day of kayaking, and a half day of snorkeling before heading back to mainland California. We could never have guessed what surprises the park held for us!
We woke early, piled gear into Joe’s car, and headed about an hour north of Los Angeles to Ventura, CA. We arrived at the harbor on time, checked in, and put our packs below deck. It was a sunny, gorgeous winter day. The only odd thing that morning was a terse email from Island Packers ferry service stating “We are running the trip to Prisoners Harbor today. The crossing to the island will be rough.” That couldn’t have been farther from the calm, sunny weather we were enjoying on the shore.
Minutes into the ferry crossing, the captain got on the loudspeaker, slowed the engines and started taking about a Stellar sea lion he’d just spotted. He explained that it was rare to see a Stellar sea lion in Southern California waters because they mostly live near Alaska. It was huge, much bigger than the California sea lions we’d seen before. The captain also explained that the large semi-circular scar near the sea lion’s tail was likely from a shark bite. The sea lion made a deep call and even stuck out its tongue at us as the boat drifted by.
Stellar sea lion
Farther from shore, the wind picked up and the waves grew taller. The ferry started to rock and roll. As we rode wave after wave high into the air, then fell into an empty void below, it felt like we were on a roller coaster. Salty spray drenched the boat as the fierce wind chilled us. Dolphins seemed to like the waves and the ferry. For a few minutes, several swam playfully alongside us, even jumping occasionally. They were so beautiful and graceful.
Dolphins swimming next to ferry
The ferry ride was turning out to be part of the adventure, not just transportation to the island! The first stop was Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. The majority of passengers, many of them birders, were to disembark here. Unfortunately the dock at Scorpion had recently been damaged by a mix of climate change-induced sea level rise and a king tide. With the dock unusable, passengers had to be skiffed to shore six at a time.
Skiff dropping people off at Scorpion Anchorage
Our stomachs started to feel uneasy while waiting over an hour on the bobbing ferry. We watched the horizon to fend off seasickness.
Finally, the ferry started moving again. We passed steep cliffs and grand arches carved into the rock. Whitecaps kept the boat rolling. We were glad when we arrived at Prisoners Harbor, and set our feet on solid ground.