Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hike 2015.060 -- Cavern Point and North Bluff Trails, Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Hiked Saturday, August 1. I joined (as a paying non-member) a trip planned by the Catalina Island Conservancy. The boat sailed out of Ventura Harbor for the roughly one hour trip across to Santa Cruz Island.
The passage length varies by how many marine mammals are encounter-ed along the way. In our case, we slowed to circle a buoy that was covered by sea lion.
We were also accompa-nied for part of the way by a large pod of dolphins, which surfed our bow shock and our wake, and put on quite a show for us on board the boat.
The boat appeared to be the same design as that used by Catalina Express on their crossings to Santa Catalina Island--catamaran. Two hulls, which I think slice through the water more smoothly than a singled-hulled boat.
Certainly, as we were underway, the crossing was smooth. There was a bit of bobbing when we slowed and looped around to see the sea lion. But the water was pretty smooth in the channel, so even that was no problem for me.
We docked at Scorpion Anchorage, which is on the north side of the island. Santa Cruz Island runs pretty much east to west, so the north side is the landward or leeward side. Relatively calm seas, although there were plenty of steep cliffs on this side, nonetheless. It was not unlike Santa Catalina's windward side.
From the harbor, we were briefed near the dock, then sorted out for our various hikes, of which there were two options. I initially intended to take the longer one (still only 4.5 miles, which is not much land to cover on a nearly all-day visit), but opted for the shorter hike, to Cavern Point. The logic there was that we'd be overlooking the sea for much of the way, and there was also the option of extending it by another two miles, to Potato Harbor.
From the harbor, it's maybe 1/2 mile to the visitor center and camp-grounds. Reserva-tions would need to be made for camping before embarking on your trip to the island. But my wife and I were only here for the day.
Near the camp-ground, morning glory (a local variety, with slightly more purple and larger flowers than the mainland variety) were dense in bloom. I also saw a number of what looked to me to be cliff aster.
As we walked through the camp-ground, the guide mentioned several other plants and made some historical notes. We also saw a Channel Island fox here.
Somewhat sadly, the fox seemed to be intent on scrounging the ground for food discarded by people. That's part of why they are so often seen near this campground. Also, because the fox evolved as the top predator on the island, they habituated to hunting at all hours of the day, as opposed to mainland fox, which are more twilight and night-time hunters.
The Island version are also smaller. Adults weigh only 4-6 pounds, which is less than all but the smallest of house cats. Further, there are slight variations among the subspecies on each of the major islands.
Once through the camp-ground, the trail climbs in a ravine, which tops out near a saddle. Up the right about 1/4 mile puts you at Cavern Point, which juts, Gibraltar-like, above the sea. To the left is the path to Potato Harbor (which, judging by the harbors appearance, is named for its shape and not for any plants that may once have lived here.
Most groups spent a fair amount of time near the point, overlook-ing
steep cliffs, and with views down to the ocean, below.
Seabirds could be seen below, and also buzzed by and above us from the cliff tops. There were many pelican here, as well as the more common seagull.
From the cliffs, we could also see kayaks, navigating the sea caves or cruising over kelp forests. The waters seemed relatively smooth, though, of course, they would need to take care if they approached the sea caves.
I made it about 1/2 way to Potato Harbor before deciding to turn around. Just didn't feel motivated, and my wife was back near the campground. We don't get to spend too much time together, so I decided to spend a few hours of the time on Santa Cruz Island just "hanging." We relaxed in the shade, stared up at a very talkative crow, and watched as the local fox made its regular rounds of the picnic tables and locker areas.
Despite having spent so much time just laying around, the early rising required to catch the outbound boat had me totally conked out, and I slept much of the way back. Smooth sailing back, too.
All told, it was an enjoyable trip. Somewhat pricey, as I'm sure the Conservancy uses the trips to raise a bit of extra money. But it was nice to be guided on my first trip to this island. I did also learn that regular boat rides out to these islands are actually quite affordable, probably because they're operating as a National Park Service concessionaire. There's a fair chance I'll return on my own to further explore this island, which is much quieter and less crowded than Santa Catalina (although, of course, once you walk far from Avalon, Santa Catalina gets pretty quiet, too!)

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