The Channel Islands National Park
I was beginning to think I was going to have to skip this National Park due to the difficulty in getting a campsite reservation in combination with available transportation to the Islands but with the help of a wonderful woman at Island Packers and a little luck I was able to book it last minute! Monday Morning I will be departing from Ventura CA for a 2 night stay on Santa Cruz Island followed by 2 nights on Santa Rosa Island. On the itinerary is Kayaking, Hiking, Scuba Diving and a bit of fishing, weather permitting of course. I have to check with the Rangers but I am hoping to stay an additional 2 nights on Santa Rosa by kayaking to a few of the more remote beaches where camping is allowed, it all depends on if the Sea-Lions/Elephants have cleared the beaches or not. More information on this national park can be found by clicking the link at the top of this post. Ill be posting pictures/videos as soon as I return, check back soon!
I left for Ventura at 1:00 am Sunday morning to both avoid traffic and to try to get there early enough for one of the walk up beach camping sites. Six hours and a breakfast at Denny’s later I arrived at Point Mugu and was able to get a campsite for the night:
After getting my reservation I went back into Ventura to talk to the Rangers to ask about backcountry camping and book the activities for the week. The channel islands welcome center had some neat displays set up:
Unfortunately the Ranger confirmed that there was no back county camping available on either island until September but as it turned out this wasn’t a big deal since the campground was central start point for most of the hikes. I spent the rest of the morning booking the kayaking and scuba diving events and spent a few hours at Starbucks (free wi-fi) before returning to my campsite at Point Mugu.
The next morning I boarded the boat from Island Packers and settled in for the 1.5 hour ride to Santa Cruz island. Upon arrival, after unloading all the camping gear ‘assembly-line’ style (note this is NOT in the island Packers brochure…) we were given a brief orientation about the island. The main point that was stressed was to not feed the indigenous foxes that would ‘supposedly’ steal the socks off your feet while you slept and could even open zippers on bags and tents. They weren’t exaggerating! These foxes, though cute, are little devils and not scared of anything! I had to literally chase one out of my tent while another ran off with a pair of socks while I scrambled to stuff all my gear into the provided ‘Fox-Box’:
After I set up camp, had lunch and a nap, I set out to do my first hike on the island:
This was a pretty easy hike with cool views of Potato Harbor and Cavern Point along with some pretty scenery along the way:
I returned to camp, had a brief dinner and went to bed early both excited and anxious for the sea kayaking I was about to do the next morning. I awoke and headed to the beach to meet the guides from Channel Islands Adventure Co. The guides for my group were Adam and Scott, while the other group got Will and Chuck (Chuck is a professional photographer, check out his work here: Chuck Graham Photo). All the guides were extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and clearly enjoyed and excelled at their jobs as both kayaking instructors and tour guides:
The wind and surf turned out to be a bit too rough to go very far but what I was able to see/do was amazing, thank you again Adam and Scott for an amazing experience!
Following the kayaking adventure I returned to camp to eat and take a brief nap before setting out on my next hike, Montañon Ridge:
This hike was by far the hardest I have ever done (though I had just done 3.5 hours of kayaking to be fair) but the views were worth it. I have to admit I didn’t make it to the very top but to the hill right before it (I ran out of water and whenever that happens it’s time to turn around):
Exhausted, sore, and slightly sun burned I returned to camp and passed out. I awoke sometime in the night to relieve myself off the 4+ liters of water I had drunk the day prior and looked up to see an impressive number of stars. Regretfully I forgot my tripod and couldn’t get my camera to remain still long enough to get a decent shot so I went back to bed.
Wednesday morning I broke camp and boarded the Island Packers Boat to take me from Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa Island. On this 1.5 hour ride we came across some and a mola-mola, or Ocean Sunfish:
(Better pictures and video of another pod of dolphin were captured later on the boat trip back)
Upon arriving at santa Cruz and after another brief orientation (I was ready for the foxes here dammit!) I set out on the 1.5 mile trek to the campsite:
I again set up camp, took a brief nap, then ventured out for my first hike on Santa Rosa:
This hike took me through a Grove of Torrey Pines, a special kind of pine that only grows on this island and in San Diego. The pine tree smell clashing with salty ocean air was invigorating and relaxing at the same time. I rested here among the trees listening to the sounds of the ocean and songbirds for an hour before heading down through the Grove back into camp:
Still recovering from the prior days hike and a little more sun-burned I called it early and headed to bed as soon as the sun went down to make sure I was rested enough for Thursday hike to Lobo Canyon:
I set out early for this 12 mile hike before the marine later (fog) burned off in hopes that it would be a bit cooler and more likely to be the only traveler (why I wanted this becomes clear later). As it turns out the fog amplifies the UV rays from the sun and I roasted. Seriously I haven’t been this sun-burned in 10 years, however it was completely worth it as the cloud cover gave the canyon a “rainforest” feel with bright lime-green hanging lichen and condensation on everything that glistened like diamonds as it caught the the rays of sunlight that managed to fight through the fog. For the second time since I started going to the National Parks I was overwhelmed at the sheer magnificence of what I found at the head of the canyon:
Truthfully these pictures don’t even come close to capturing the in-person view of this awe inspiring foliage (I am still working on my photographic skill set). After resting a few minutes to take it all in I continued on with a renewed enthusiasm, the guide brochure promised a beach finale so if the start of this trail was this incredible then I couldn’t wait to see where it ended. Also if I was early enough to beat the crowds (there were only 25 people on the island at this time) a perfect opportunity for a much needed bath! I wasn’t disappointed:
After exploring the tide pools and cliffs around the mouth of the canyon I found that there was only the one accessible beach so I decided it was now or never, stripped and jumped into the surf with camp soap in hand! The water was freezing but felt amazing on my sun-roasted skin. Combined with the relief of removing 4 days of hiking/camping grime I barely noticed the cold until I started shivering, which I knew meant it was time to get out. I dried in the sun, dressed, and put on the small remainder of my sunscreen and headed back out of the canyon to camp. Without the Marine layer the scenery was completely different on the return hike:
Back at camp, exhausted, and the equivalent of being deep-fried by the sun (#2 list), I slumped into my hammock and passed out. Several hours later I awoke determined to do some astrophotography and made the 4 mile trek to the NPS housing to see if it would be possible to get a ride to one of the mountain peaks on the island in hopes of getting above the marine layer. Unfortunately this was a no-go so I settled for the Cherry Canyon route back to camp:
Cherry Canyon was dwarfed by my experience in Lobo Canyon, yet it still offered some interesting scenery:
It was dark when I finished my final hike on The Channel Islands and when I arrived back at camp I was greeted by the clamoring of what seemed like millions of frogs, though I could not spot a single one. My thirst for adventure quenched by everything I had seen and done the past 4 days I barely made it through dinner before falling into the best sleep I have had in months.
The following morning I spent my last hours walking the beach next to the pier taking pictures with a fellow camper while waiting for the Island Packers boat to arrive for the return trip back to mainland CA:
The 3.0 hour boat ride back to Ventura was much more interesting than the ride out to the islands as we were able to stop and see the Painted Cave, one of the worlds largest Sea Caves:
I was also able to get my GoPro working this time when we joined a pod of dolphins swimming into the sunset:
The remainder of the ride back to shore was uneventful and sadly I did not get to see any whales this trip, though Island Packers does offer whale watching trips. After eating re-hydrated ‘chicken n rice’ for a week the first thing I did back in Ventura was find a pizza place and down an extra large with everything on it. Since my SCUBA diving was not until Sunday I found an inexpensive AirBnB close by for the night. My host, Heather, turned out to be an aspiring model and took me with her and her photographer friend Ashley to a Street Meet in Pasadena. This was a unique and vastly different experience from my previous week of near solitude but I actually learned quite a bit from the photographers present and everyone was very friendly. Ill be putting up a separate blog post for this side-adventure later.
After parting ways with my new friends I drove back to the Ventura Harbor to board the Spectre Dive Boat. The Spectre’s original purpose was to ferry workers back and forth from the oil rigs off the coast so it comes complete with a galley, mess area, crew quarters and bunks for passengers. Divers are able to spend the night prior to diving on the boat so I clamored on-board and slumped into a bunk. I was way too nervous to sleep since I haven’t been diving in years but managed to get a few hours before the crew started their day at 6:00 am. The boat was underway promptly at 7:30 and breakfast was served along the route to the first dive location, Goldfish Bowl:
So at the first dive location I was wearing my GoPro on a head-strap which fell off immediately when I jumped into the water…….I didn’t realize it was gone until half way through the dive! I was extremely fortunate that another diver found it while on his return to the dive boat, but the only footage I got during this dive was 30 minutes of the ocean sea floor. The next dive location was not as clear or full of sea life but was still really really cool and I was able to get a full 8 minutes of diving video here:
Now the GoPro I am using is the Hero5 Session and is waterproof up to 33ft without the need of a case. My maximum depth on the dives was 59ft and it had no issue staying dry, however the pressure at that depth actually is enough to push the buttons so again I was unfortunately not able to get a decent video on the third dive, but it did capture several cool pictures:
Hands down this dive trip was the most incredible experience of my life and as affordable as it is (only $205 for a full day of diving including gear rental, meals, and a place to sleep!) I will definitely be going back one more time before I leave CA for good in the next few weeks. I just have to let my left eardrum heal since it blew out on my last dive……
The Channel Islands are the least visited park out of any of the National Parks in the country, I think mainly due to many people not knowing of their existence in combination with the difficulty in getting reservations and primitive campsites. My experience is typical of what can be found on the islands so if you ever get the chance to see them, do it!