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After a moderately easy outing to El Montanon on Santa Cruz Island the previous day, I was ready for the big outing of this short, two-day trip to Southern California. I had this grand plan to ride my bike along the length of Catalina, tagging a handful of peaks along the way including the island highpoint and P2K summit, Mt. Orizaba, as well as the LPC summit of Silver Peak. To get to the island I had reserved a $76 seat on the first boat out of Long Beach Harbor run by Catalina Express. I had spent the night sleeping in my van in the parking lot of Catalina Express right next to the Queen Mary. When I awoke in the morning and got my stuff together, I eventually wandered over to the office to check in, half an hour before the boat was scheduled to depart. The lights were on inside the small terminal and a boat was parked outside, but there was no one to be found anywhere, inside the building or without. A sinking feeling came over me as I noted a piece of paper taped to the inside of the window. It was a map showing directions to the downtown terminal where the Catalina boats are currently being launched - this terminal was closed.
I looked at my watch and it showed I had less than 30 minutes. I scrambled back to the van, reloaded the bike and quickly drove off. It cost me $24 to get out of the parking lot, 2 days worth of fees for the privilege of spending about eight hours there - nice. One stroke of luck that I had on my side was that I had gotten somewhat lost the night before and had driven across the bridge to downtown by accident. While there I had seen the ferry boats which at the time I thought belonged to competitors. At least I knew roughly where to go. The streets are somewhat tricky as the switch from expressways to side streets is not obvious and there is some roundabout driving to get from one to the other. I managed to get to the correct parking structure and then to the counter in the terminal in 15 minutes. Not bad, but I had only 15 minutes before the boat was scheduled to leave.
I was somewhat relieved to see I wasn't the only one rushing through the terminal. Apparently this last-minute ritual was fairly common with some of the regular commuters across to the island. The girl at the counter asked for my name and looked up my reservation. "Do you have transportation arranged between Avalon and Two Harbors?" she asked, noting my return was not from the same port. I was standing there with bike in hand and replied that I planned to ride my bike there.
"You won't have enough time for that. Have you ever done this before?"
"No, I haven't done it before, but I'll be alright."
She turned to a coworker out of sight behind a door, asking, "Can he ride his bike to Two Harbors in time for the 2:20 boat?"
There was no response from the other quarters, but I reassured, "I'll be fine."
She tells me that if I don't make the boat I'll be stuck on the island overnight, and then adds, "There's no camping there, you know." There is, but I didn't know it at the time.
"I have a credit card," I responded.
I got my ticket and joined the other last-minute passengers making their hurried way to the boat. I got onboard and still had five minutes to spare. Time to relax. The boat is a large catamaran capable of carrying several hundred passengers. Inside it is almost plush, with cushioned seating arranged almost like an airliner, only much wider across. There is a snack bar serving all manner of food and beverages and crew members dressed like those on a cruise ship. The boat is sparsely-filled. For a 6:15a departure time, not even LA gets up that early to start its day. The few early commuters are mostly busy on laptops or watching the news on the television screen.
The downtown area of Long Beach is very new and modern-looking. Tall buildings with glass windows reflect the bright eastern sky bringing the new day. A thin cloud layer overhead makes for a spectacularly colored sunrise as the boat cruises slowly through the harbor, past the Queen Mary and the Carnival Paradise. Once past the inner harbor, the boat begins to open throttle and pick up to a cruising speed around 20mph.
The ride over took just over an hour, as advertised. It was smooth enough that I could sit inside reading my book without the least discomfort. After passing by the Casino at Avalon, we entered the small harbor and disembarked at the main dock just after 7:30a. A few minutes later I was riding down the streets in search of the road to the interior.
I could have done a much better job of researching this, but I had thought it would be a simple and easy manner to find the only road that leads across to the other side of the island. Not so. Most of the folks never travel beyond Avalon and there seems to be little interest in helping outsiders find a way to do so. Most of the island is owned by a private conservancy and travel requires either a permit or use of the bus service that runs once or twice a day. The road out of Avalon is paved as far as the airport that sits atop the island, roughly halfway between the two harbors. I came prepared with a topo map and GPS, figuring the more up-to-date maps on the GPS would compensate for the outdated information that is often on the topos. I flailed. I first drove up one street that looked steep and likely to lead out of town. After climbing nearly to the top I checked the GPS to find that I was leading up a dead-end. I went back down and cruised around until I noticed the small Truck Route signs tacked atop the street signs. Since there were no arrows, it took some brainwork to figure out the truck points in the direction one is supposed to go. Cute, but not entirely obvious, to me. I'm finally on the road leading out of town and begin a long climb. After 500ft of elevation gain I came to a fork. The left fork is gated, the right fork not so. I turned right and head off, noting the road is now going downhill. Perhaps this is necessary to gain the main crest and I wait to reach a saddle. But no saddle comes, no additional forks and soon I've cruised all the way back down to Avalon, now over by the casino. I look at my map and decide to follow the road that goes by the casino along the shore as this is sort of what is indicated on my map. The GPS is hard to use because the screen is small and hard to read and all that zooming in and out to figure out the roads confuses me. I followed this other road for half a mile before realizing it is not what I want, dead-ending at a resort. Back to town I go.
It occurs to me that my bike is part of the problem. It is simply too easy to head off in the wrong direction for some distance before realizing a mistake. Combined with my usual impatience, they become a deadly combination. If I were walking and had climbed 500ft, I would have looked things over very carefully before giving up that elevation. But on the bike, it took only a few minutes to find my way back at the start. So I finally decided to take the time I should have at first and studied the GPS and map more closely. It did not take long to realize the gated road I had passed by was where I should have turned. Though I hadn't expected it, the island conservancy had installed it to keep unauthorized motor vehicles out. Back up the route I went, once again following the little truck route signs. In all I spent about 40 minutes riding around in circles before returning to the gated fork in the road.
A group of large tree trimming trucks were just entering to begin some work near the entrance to the Conservancy property. They waved me through to pass them and I obliged. I was finally on my way. I climbed another 1,000ft to the crest of the island. From here the ride becomes much easier with most of the elevation gain dealt with. I rode for another half hour along the crest, enjoying both the ride and views. The Conservancy allows the LA Parks and Rec Dept an easement to install picnic and camping facilities at various locations on their property. The picnic site I passed looked so new as to be unused.
I passed by Whitleys Peak at the end of a spur ridge heading east off the main crest along which the road was following. I briefly considered taking an hour to hike out to the peak, but was still partly delusional about being able to reach Silver Peak. I had decided beforehand that if I ran out of time and didn't make it to Silver I wouldn't mind coming back a second time - after all, it's a pretty darn scenic area. So I wasn't anxious or feeling pressed for time, but it was slowly becoming clear I wouldn't be getting that last peak.
It was 9:15a when I found the dirt road turn off to Orizaba. This side road passes by Black Jack Mtn, the second highest summit on the island. I left this bonus peak for after I had first reached Orizaba. The distance to Orizaba is a bit over two miles with another 500ft of gain along the way. Most of this comes at the end when the road grows quite steep. I stopped to walk my bike up this section, steep as it was. Just before the steep section started was a locked gate that had all the indications of not wanting the public on the other side. Luckily it wasn't too tall and I could lift my bike up and over and continue riding on the other side. Fifteen minutes later I was at a last gate just below the flat-topped summit. An aviation VOR station is installed on the summit with lots of warnings about radiation. Luckily my engineering degree and many years of schooling allowed me to differentiate between dangerous nuclear radiation and fairly harmless electromagnetic radiation. I left the bike outside and hiked up to the summit for a few photos as I walked around the installation. The best view was towards the north end of the island where Silver Peak rises as the tallest summit north of the isthmus at Two Harbors. I found no register at any of the likely spots I investigated.
I returned back over the two fences I had breached, riding up the short side road to Black Jack Mountain on my way back. The peak was crowned with a tall microwave relay tower, the fence around its perimeter far more formidable than any encountered so far. It had rows of barbed wire that would have challenged my fence-climbing abilities, but luckily where it ran up a rock face there was a gap at the bottom just large enough to squeeze myself under. I then walked to the highest point and clambered upon the roof of the installation, taking pictures of the view of Orizaba to the west and the mainland across the crest to the east.
By now it was 10:15a and I was fairly certain I wasn't going to be paying a visit to Silver Peak. I still had plenty of time to reach Two Harbors before the boat was due, so there was no need to rush. I continued north along the crest, taking about 25 minutes from Black Jack to the Catalina Airport, also called the Airport in the Sky. As the name suggests, the landing strip is high up on the island on one of the few flat areas that could be carved into a runway of sufficient length to get twin-engine planes onto. I became further confused upon reaching the airport as I wasn't sure where to find the road to Two Harbors. A fork just before the airport entrance is signed for Little Harbor on the west coast. This was indeed the correct turnoff, but my topo map didn't show this newer road, but rather one running along the east side of the airport. I rode into the airport past the large hanger and the terminal, even as far as the tarmac to ascertain the route I wanted didn't run through airport. I then road back out and down to the crest and followed along a dirt road that was clearly marked as a private road. This road goes to a quarry on the northeast side of the island, but branches from it lead to the main road heading to Two Harbors. It wasn't until I was atop Pt. 1,415ft and had more carefully studied the GPS and map that I realized I had erred again. This one cost me little however, as a side road marked as the Trans Catalina Trail branched off to the southwest to meet the correct road at Little Harbor.
I dropped 1,300ft to the campground at Little Harbor, turning north again as I met the main road. From here there is another climb of 800ft over several miles before a saddle is reached that drops down to Two Harbors. I was about 500ft up this climb when it occurred to me that I was getting pretty tired. I stopped here for a five-minute break, the only one I took during the bike ride, aside from my strolls around the summits. I ate some nut bars and rested my legs off to the side of the road. I could hike for twelve hours with little trouble, but my legs weren't used to exercising these bike-riding muscles to the same degree.
Refreshed, I continued uphill on the bike, the grade easing as I passed by first Lower Buffalo Corral Reservoir then the upper version of the same name a few minutes later. It was just after noon when I reached the saddle and started the anticipated downhill to my destination. I passed through another gate put up by the Conservancy (this one has a pedestrian bypass), then past the campground and into the small town a few minutes later. I rode to the west harbor to check out the access road to Silver Peak, then backtracked to the east harbor where town is located. It's not much of a town, more like a tiny beach community. There's not a paved street among the half dozen there, perhaps 20-30 residences, a general store, a boat store, a high-endish restaurant, a dive shop and a few other touristy businesses. I bought some snacks at the general store and enjoyed them at one of the many picnic tables available on the nearby beach. I was the only one in the entire Harbor area that I cound see. I had more than an hour to wait for the boat, finding time for a shower (50 cents for 90 seconds) and some inquiries at the Visitor Center (permits for entry onto Conservancy lands can be gotten there - they open at 9:30a).
The boat that came in around 2p was smaller than the one I had taken to Avalon in the morning, but still very comfortable. Aside from myself, the only other person boarding from Two Harbors was a resident who was on his way to Mexico to spend several months with a lady friend. He was a crusty old sailor type, amusing to talk to, full of interesting stories. The boat left on time and got back to Long Beach around 3:30p. A most enjoyable two days in Southern California, but it was now time to head back back to San Jose...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Orizaba
This page last updated: Sun Dec 4 16:52:07 2011
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