Three days is too short to spend in these islands, and in off season there were fewer ferries and kayak tours available, but we got lucky and had the chance to camp overnight at Del Norte on Santa Cruz Island and sea kayak for a day. The kayak trip was fun and stormy, but it was the hike up to our backcountry site that took my breath away. Literally and figuratively.
It was an aggressive hike – not only because of the 1200+ feet in elevation gain over a few miles, but because we had on big packs and had to carry in 4+ gallons of water. There’s no water at Prisoner’s Harbor or the campsite so we had to wear it all. I learned that a gallon of water weights 8 pounds. It felt more like 80, and the steep and steady climb left me breathless and made me wish I had trained more for this year of hiking over the holidays rather than indulging in endless Christmas cookies.
It also just took my breath away with its beauty. There was one turn where we were overlooking a hill of emerald green, with the Pacific Ocean beyond, a full rainbow crossing the skies, and a pod of dolphins frolicking under the bow. So there may be no such thing as Rainbows and Unicorns, but who knew you could be lucky enough to see Rainbows and Dolphins?
This National Park only sees about 20,000 visitors a year – compared to Yellowstone or Joshua Tree, which see over 3 million a year. Lucky me. This particular backcountry trail to the campsite was so seldomly used that it was verdantly green with grass and clover. At some points, we were just hiking on top of tiny purple and white wildflowers, through the clouds, as though we were fairies.
And like in fairytales, the woods were full of colorful birds, and the biggest predator on the island was the Channel Island fox. Whom was precociously small and cute and we caught him eating his dinner of worms. Not exactly a terrifying beast.
As if to reward me for the effort of getting up to the top of this site with our precious water cargo, and to entice me to do ever-more backcountry camping, Del Norte was beyond lovely. There were only four sites, overlooking the ocean. Even the open-air pit toilet had a wonderful view. We camped under a grand old coastal oak tree, branches forming a protective canopy (and wet clothes hanger) over our tent and table.
The clouds continued to roll in, and soon we were living up in the clouds, a fine moist mist cloaking us, our dinner, the tent, the air. It was more Ireland and English moors than California, but the mist added an aura of mystery and magic to these little islands.
The morning found us waking in the clouds, and the hike back down was covered in dew and magic.
I find myself hoping that there remain only 20,000 visitors a year here – there is such splendid isolation and glee in thinking we’ve discovered this land beyond time right off one of the busiest coastlines in the world.