17 March 2012

Trans-Catalina Trail: Airport to Two Harbors

A beautiful Catalina day!
Nuts and Bolts:
Date: 10 March 2012
Who Hiked: Thing 1 and me
Route: Trans-Catalina Trail: Airport to Two Harbors Time: 0945 - 1515 hr
Weather: sunny and warm (low 70s)
Distance: 10.X mi (measured on GPS)

I'll post the elevation profile and accurate distance soon -- the computer I use to download those data from my GPS unit is being rebuilt (get back to work on that Hubby!).

The trail descends from the Airport to Little Harbor over a distance of 5 miles. For the most part, the grade is gentle, with only a few steep sections. The trail to Two Harbors climbs steeply out of Little Harbor, with flattish sections interspersed with thigh-burning uphill sections. About 1.8 miles out of Two Harbors, you begin the steep descent into town.

View of Catalina Head
Saturday morning and my alarm is beeping at 5:15 AM.  I hit the snooze bar. It's the day of the Catalina Marathon and our family is staffing an aid station along the route. Nine minutes later, my alarm beeps again and reluctantly I turn it off and rouse Hubby. After waking the boys, we eat breakfast, load up our insulated coffee cups and head for the intersection of Empire Landing and Big Springs Roads.

Working the marathon is an annual event for us -- we always have an early station, close to the starting point in Two Harbors, and we are usually finished by about 8:30.  Today I had decided that after our early morning work, I would take on the Trans-Catalina Trail from the Airport to Two Harbors. Thing 1 is working on his Hiking merit badge for Boy Scouts and he decided, after much contemplation, to do the hike with me.

We drove from our station to the Airport, passing marathoners and shouting encouragements as they climbed out of Shark Harbor up to the Shark Harbor Overlook. I bought a few supplies at the Airport and then Thing 1 and I set out on the trail. It was about 9:45. Thing 2 and Hubby hopped back in the car and drove home, smiling and waving.

Puttin' on the Ritz
We followed the TCT on the road toward Little Harbor to where it veers off to wrap behind the Airport. The TCT here is part of the Airport Loop Trail and it follows the contours of the hill on which the Airport sits. We hiked past a lot of lizards (Uta stansburiana), who skittered away from their basking sites as we came by. The trail goes by two reservoirs and to my surprise, both had water in them. We've had quite a dry year and I expected them to be closer to dry. We stopped to bird a bit and were rewarded with nice views of Ruddy ducks, American coots, and Green-winged teal.

Just past the second reservoir, the TCT joins up with a surface road. This section is flat and easy until you pass where the TCT follows Sheep Chute Road. The road to the right (marked as private) takes you out toward Empire Landing. We stayed on the TCT and started descending, usually in short steep sections, as we walked toward Little Harbor. Thing 1 and I broke out the left-over marathon snacks -- M & Ms, gummy bears, and sour patch kids. Yep, hiking food of champions. We dropped a few here and there -- the squirrels should have had a nice little sugar buzz going for the next couple of hours.

By 1108 (~ 2.8 miles) we were on the flatter part of the TCT (on the old Sheep Chute Road). There were lots of great rocks here with mica and quartz crystals. Thing 1 had a hard time not picking them up until I pointed out that he had to carry them another 7 miles. There was a cool breeze here which cooled us off a lot and we could see the Shark Harbor Overlook in the distance. House finches were calling and singing from the bushes and meadowlarks were singing from the grasses.

Thing 1 and I had a great time talking about school, Legos, Nerf guns, and our upcoming trip to the Bahamas.

View of Shark Harbor (L) and Little Harbor (R)
By 1120 (3.4 miles) we had reached the intersection between the TCT/Sheep Chute Road and the trail that heads to El Rancho Escondido. The vineyards of Escondido looked green and happy. Just 20 minutes later (4.1 miles) we were rewarded with lovely view of Shark and Little Harbors. At the end of this section the trail again descends steeply, but only in short sections. The loose rock was a bit treacherous underfoot.

Many gummy bears were consumed
in the completion of this hike.
By noon (5.2 miles) we reached Little Harbor -- just over half-way home! We stopped at the port-a-potties, picked up some left over trash from the marathon (there was an aid station at Little Harbor too), helped ourselves to some left-over Coke, and rested on a bench.

We chatted with a couple who had walked along the road between Two Harbors and Little Harbor. I called them Flip-flop woman and Foster's man. They were nice folks, but made many of the classic mistakes I see walkers on Catalina make... You can read a bit more about my interaction with them here.

About 1220, we started on our way again. The trailhead to Two Harbors is a bit tricky to find -- you walk along the road that goes through the campground toward Two Harbors until you reach the last campsite on the left. There is a sign there that says "Trans-Catalina Trail" -- turn left and look for the footpath that snakes up the side of the hill.

We've hiked this part of the TCT before, so I won't go into it here. It's got some challenging uphill sections intersperse with flat bits. My right knee was complaining a great deal by this time -- it had actually felt wonky at the start.

By 1308 (7.1 miles), we had reached the T-intersection between the TCT and a trail that takes walkers to the Two Harbors Road below. We had turned here the last time we'd hiked this part of the TCT. I was hoping that the worst was behind us -- I was tired and sweaty and my legs were quite fatigued.

Thing 1 with the Hill from Hell
in the background
I was wrong. The worst hill was coming. The trail crossed a saddle, then traced the edge of the island along a ridge that went more or less straight up.

I don't know that it's actually the worst hill on this route -- but because it comes about 7.3 miles into the hike, it certainly felt like the worst. At a rest stop along this ridge, I have written in my notes, "1331, 7.67 mi -- maybe 2/3 up the hill, OMG, I'm dying." Flip-flop woman and Foster's man caught up with us here (I felt really lame then). Daniel rested with me a bit and then took off with them as they passed.

Obviously I survived, but it was tough. I reached the peak and the trail followed the ridge top. Luckily the ridge undulated fairly gently. At 1409 (8.7 miles), we reached the intersection of the TCT and the Banning House Road. The sign here is confusing -- it reads as if you get to Two Harbors by turning right -- but if you take the Banning House Road to the right, you will descend to the road that goes between Two Harbors and Little Harbor. Not the way you want to go. Instead, continue on the TCT as it goes up a steep (but mercifully short) hill past a microwave tower.

Wild onion (Allium praecox)
It's all downhill once you get past the microwave tower, as I well know. Painfully so.  My feet were tired and my right knee was really aching now. Daniel's feet were tired. We chatted and walked. Daniel was quick -- but I was oh-so-slow, moving gingerly because of my knee. We stopped briefly to chat with two guys walking back to Little Harbor and then again to look at some pretty flowers blooming in the burn area above the Banning House.

Just after 1500, we passed the playground at the school where Hubby and Thing 2 were playing soccer. We stopped to chat a bit, but soon I hobbled home, arriving by 1514.

One segment of the Trans-Catalina Trail down, three more to go!

Birds seen: House finch, Northern raven, Ruddy duck, Green-winged teal, American coot, Western meadowlark, Spotted towhee -- but I looked less as the hike went on!

*click to enlarge*

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