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Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail

Hiking the Trans Catalina Trail

I’m always on the hunt for new adventures close to home.  Last year, over Thanksgiving, I decided to try my first multi-day backpacking trip.  I did some research to find where the best backpacking trips in Southern California were, and I came across the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT).  The last time I was in Catalina I just hung out at the beach and went scuba diving.  I was really excited about the idea of venturing into the interior of the island.  With the trip planned out, I bought a backpack, booked the campsites and hit the trail.  Be aware, the Trans Catalina Trail is not for the faint of heart.  The terrain is rugged and steep.  First, I’m going to tell you what my grand plan was, followed by what actually happened.

Trans Catalina Trail Plan:

DAY 1 on the trail

Avalon to Blackjack campground (about 10 miles).  We planned to start at the Hermit Gulch trailhead rather than the official TCT trailhead which is off Wrigley Road.

DAY 2 on the trail

Blackjack to Little Harbor campground (about 7 miles)

DAY 3 on the trail

Little Harbor to Two harbors campground (about 5 miles)

Trans Catalina Trail Actual:

DAY 1

My boyfriend, Zach and I drove up to Long Beach, CA to catch the ferry over to the island.  The ferry is called the Catalina Express.   You can take it out of San Pedro, Long Beach or Dana Point.  San Pedro is the only port that will take you in and out of Two Harbors on Catalina (which is where we planned to end our hiking adventure).  The cost of a ticket is about $37 each way.  Our plan was to head out of Long Beach into Avalon, because that is where the trail head is, then head back home from Two Harbors into San Pedro.  We planned to just take an Uber back to our car in Long Beach.

Anyway, we took the hour-long ferry ride over to Avalon and spent the night at the Hotel Atwater.

DAY 2

We woke up early and excited to hit the trail!

alt="about to hit the trail"
Heading out for day one on the trail

Our goal today was to hike from Avalon to Blackjack campground for a total of about ten miles.  You need a permit for the campsites and a key for the firewood lockers (if you reserved some).  You can get it from the Catalina Island Conservancy office on your way to the trailhead.  Be sure to also grab a map.  The trail does have cell service most of the way.  Head inland on Claressa Ave.  Once you get to Tremont St take a right until you get to Avalon Cyn Rd, then take a left.  Stay on this road past the Golf Course and past Hermit Gulch Campground (TIP: if you don’t want to pay to stay in a hotel the first night you can reserve a spot at this campground and start your trek from here).  Once you get to the far end of the campground, take a right and you will find the Trans Catalina Trail!  The trail is quite steep and rugged.  You can also continue straight past the campground into the Wrigley Botanical Gardens and join the trail from there (they end up joining at the Lone tree trailhead rest area).

alt="trans catalina trail sign"

So, here’s how this first section went for me.  We only got to the golf course before I had to stop and bandage up my feet.  I am VERY susceptible to blisters, and I realized I did not bring the right socks.  Turns out, good socks are VERY important!  Good hiking boots are critical as well, but without good socks it doesn’t really matter.  So, I put on some mole skin and band aids in an attempt to prevent any blisters.  We joined the trail and hiked up to the rest point where we took a much deserved break after the steep rocky trek we had just made.  I could tell my blisters were getting worse, but I wanted to keep going.  We continued on the trail.  The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking.

alt="trans catalina trail views"

After about five miles we found a great spot to sit and have some lunch.  At this point I took off my boots to investigate the severity of my feet.  Turns out, I had seven very large blisters.  No wonder my feet were hurting.  I was kicking myself at this moment for not double-check that I packed the proper socks.  Defeat and disappointment were creeping up on me.  I had been looking forward to this trip for months and now I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end.

alt="trans catalina trail lunch views"
View from lunch

I decided to keep pushing forward.  We continued on the trail heading for Blackjack.  Slowly, but surely making our way.  Luckily, my boyfriend was incredibly patient and supportive.  When we got about two miles from the campsite I just hit a wall.  I couldn’t trek two more mile with my feet the way they were.  We were along the side of a park ranger access road at this point and I was really struggling.  A ranger truck pulled up at that moment with a young guy and his girlfriend inside.  They asked if we were ok and if we needed any help.  I felt like they were angels sent from heaven to rescue me.  We took them up on their offer and climbed in the back of their truck and let them drive us the last two miles into the campground.

alt="blackjack campsite"
Our little campsite

I took off my boots and doctored up my feet the best I could.  Zach set up camp for us.  The amazing ranger gave us his number and told us if we needed a ride anywhere in the morning that he would be happy to help out.  I was so disappointed with how this trip had taken such a turn for the worse.  My stubbornness wanted so badly to make it happen.  I told them I would try to see how I felt in the morning.

DAY 2

We woke up in our tent realizing we also made a mistake in thinking a one and a half man tent was going to be big enough for the two of us to share.  I checked out my feet.  They were swollen, red and painful, but I was determined to try.  We packed up and joined the Trans Catalina Trail once more.  Heading for the airport, which is the first part of this section of the trail.  It was two miles of steep, rough uphill from the camp to the airport.

I limped along to the top.  When we got there I realized my feet had just had enough.  They were not going to make it another day and a half on the trail.  I switched out my boots for some flip-flops.  Zach went to work getting our campsite reservations cancelled and refunded.  He also lucked out, reserving us the very last hotel room available in Avalon.  We agreed to trade in our backpacking trip for a relaxing stay in town.  We got tickets for the Safari Bus (about $16) which would take up back down to Avalon.

alt="airport in the sky"

Hotel Atwater became our home once again.  After a long and exhausting two days on the Trans Catalina Trail we both passed out early.

DAY 3

We woke to the sound of rain, actually feeling thankful that we were in a hotel and not in our tent.  It was cold and rainy and would’ve been pretty miserable to be hiking.  We got some breakfast and the rain finally cleared up a bit.  We wanted to do something fun with our day, but quickly realized there isn’t much open on Catalina in November.  Due to the cold, all the beach/water activities weren’t available and we definitely didn’t want to hike anymore.  We stumbled upon golf cart rentals.  We decided we’d rent one and tour around the small town that way.  Which was great because it allowed me to stay off my feet.  It was fun to explore the area in our little golf cart.

alt="catalina harbor"
View from our golf cart

It then started to rain again, so we returned our rental and headed back to the hotel to pack up and catch an earlier ferry back to the mainland.  There was a large storm coming so they were advising everyone to leave the island earlier rather than later anyway.  The ferry ride home was miserably rough.  If you get sea sick I HIGHLY recommend taking some sort of medication before getting on the ferry.  Half the boat was getting sick.

We finally got back to the dock and for the first time in my life I was happy for a vacation to be over.

So, what lessons did we learn?

 

First, have the proper footwear.  Make sure you have good supportive hiking boots, because the terrain on the trail is pretty steep and rough.  The Trans Catalina Trail is rated difficult.  Don’t forget how important good quality hiking socks are.  They really can make or break your trip as I quickly figured out.

Second, having the right companion can also make or break your trip.  I was so very lucky to have such an amazing supportive boyfriend who was patient and helpful throughout my struggles.

Third, be flexible.  You never know what can happen on any trip.  Regardless of my stupid feet the weather would’ve eventually hindered this trip anyway.  Being able to keep a positive attitude and staying flexible can allow you to still enjoy a trip even if it goes in a total different direction than you were intending.

alt="zach on the trans catalina trail"
Zach on the trail

I have serious intentions of returning to the TCT someday and conquering the trail that bested me the first time!

For more couple travel tips check out my post about our trip to Temecula Wine Country!

 

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