Earlier this April, Claudia and I trekked the Trans Catalina Trail – a 45 mile hike across the entire length of Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California. Below are some photo highlights and a brief trip report of this interesting trek.
Catalina Island is only a one hour ferry ride away from Los Angeles, but it’s a world apart. Unlike the hectic, traffic-clogged city of millions, Avalon just oozes a relaxed vibe, kind of like the Californian equivalent of a quiet Mediterranean seaside town. We spent a relaxing evening here before getting an early start on the trek the next morning.
The first day of hiking from Avalon to the Blackjack campground was a killer – 15 miles of ups and downs following the main ridge crest of the island. The entire trail, for that matter, is almost never flat – just constant up and down hiking! With a full pack and hot sun, those 15 miles pretty much whooped my butt!
The Blackjack campground is located high on the island, right below the tallest mountain, Mt. Orizaba which is 2,103 feet above the ocean. Despite our tired legs and sore feet we walked a short ways over the hill to watch the sun set over the Pacific.
Last week we spent four days and three nights on a 10th Mountain Division ski hut tour in the southern Gore Range of Colorado! The first leg of our trip took us to the Jackal Hut, which is perched on a high ridge with expansive views towards Leadville and the highest peaks of Colorado in the Sawatch Range.
Our trip coincided with the full moon, and it would have been a perfect night for some moonlight skiing but we were too whooped from breaking trail up through Pearl Creek to the hut to motivate. Lesson learned: stay at least two nights at each hut so you can spend a day skiing… that’s the whole point after all!
After one night at the Jackal Hut, we made the grueling 7-mile trek to the Fowler/Hilliard Hut – again breaking trail all the way up from Resolution Creek to the ridge of Resolution Mountain. Normally putting in a skin track isn’t so bad, but it’s a different story with a heavy pack!
Some friends of ours kindly offered us their backcountry yurt for the weekend, and we gladly accepted! Situated atop a hill above Red Mountain Pass and surrounded by heaps of intermediate ski terrain, the yurt provided a perfect base for two nights and three days of relaxing and skiing.
Claudia skins up the mountain…
…to enjoy some cruisey powder turns.
I apologize in advance for the cheese-factor of this photo, but I couldn’t resist showing how cozy it was in the yurt! After two nights like this, I’ll probably never want to winter camp in my tent again!
At the beginning of November, Claudia and I were excited to go on a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon, which neither of us has seen before. It was a great introduction to walk down all the way down into the heart of it, and WOW, we were impressed!
Our loop route took us down from Monument Point on the North Rim, down the Bill Hall Trail, over the Esplanade, across Surprise Valley, down into Tapeats Creek, along the Colorado River, up the Deer Creek Trail, then back up to the top again. All in all, more then 5,000 feet of elevation drop, and then back up again! Along the way we saw some of the most incredible sights, springs, and waterfalls we’ve ever seen in the desert.
The Racetrack is a mysterious and fascinating location in Death Valley National Park – a flat dry lakebed playa in a remote desert valley where large rocks seem to have moved around by their own volition, leaving random tracks in the dry mud revealing their path. How did these rocks move?
The theory is that given just the right conditions, rain will flood the playa, then freeze, and then once the ice starts melting a little, strong winds will blow the ice-bound rocks around on the slick mud underneath. It’s hard to believe, but the tracks are there – something made these rocks slide all around the playa!
These particular tracks – illuminated by the setting moon – are especially interesting. At first glance I assumed that they were car tracks – that some idiot had driven his car out there. Upon closer inspection, it’s clear that no car in the world could make tracks like this! Even more mysterious is that about a hundred feet away from these tracks are an almost exactly identical pattern, but aligned facing a different orientation. It boggles the mind!
After leaving Bishop, we headed to Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park. These dunes are just about as tall as the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, but are basically one single big dune, instead of an endless repetition of them. Another striking characteristic of the Eureka dunes is their absolute pristine remoteness – there is nothing out there in that valley! No lights, no distant towns, just one dirt road and absolute silence. Very cool.
Any regrets about leaving the cold and snowy Sierras vanished as we enjoyed a perfectly calm and warm desert evening atop the highest dune, with our bottle of wine and my camera of course.
Excited by forecasts of a brief but intense snowstorm, on Friday I headed up into Ice Lakes Basin for a couple nights of camping with hopes of catching some photos of the fresh snowfall around the not-yet-frozen lakes once the storm broke. I set up camp amongst the trees in the lower basin, since I could see that the weather was hellish up in the upper basin, with big plumes of snow swirling around the tundra. Turns out the first night of camping was fairly pointless, since the storm was howling all night Friday and all day Saturday. I spent most of my time those days either reading in the tent, or wandering around aimlessly in the windy weather, bundled up in all my down clothes.
On Sunday morning I awoke to calm wind and starry skies, and eagerly hiked in the dark up to the lakes in the upper basin, where I watched the dawn grow brighter and brighter, finally painting the peaks in brilliant orange sunlight. After two cold, dreary, stormy days in the mountains, the storm had vanished completely and the crystal clear bluebird skies had me feeling ecstatic!
On Saturday I was feeling antsy for an adventure, so we went out camping up on the “Bridge of Hayden”, a high ridgeline overlooking Ouray and the Sneffels Range. Early in the night we were laying in the tent when we heard some booming sounds echoing in the valley below. Was it mining operations up valley? No. A plane crash? No, it’s fireworks!!! We quickly scrambled out of the tent and ran to the overlook.
Stupid me, I had no idea of the Octoberfest party happening down in Ouray! I felt like the Grinch up on the mountain, looking down on Whoville. Apparently Ouray still had fireworks left over from 4th of July show, which was cancelled due to the drought conditions, and so they set them off for Octoberfest instead. It’s so funny that we just happened to be camping on one of the highest Ouray overlooks on the night of a fireworks show below!
I love watching fireworks in Ouray more than anywhere else – the booms echoing through the deep mountain valleys are as impressive as the fireworks themselves! And it was pretty cool to see them from almost 4,000 feet above!