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Catalina Island

Trail Partners.JPG

After two years, Randy and I returned to Catalina Island for a backpacking and survival adventure.  Backpacking for me and survival for Randy.  He decided to do the "Survivor Man" thing on the trip and take only the clothes on his back and 10 items in his small backpack.  They included a blanket, pocket knife, fishing pole, toilet paper, flint and steel, poncho, Bible, wrist rocket (sling shot), water, and cooking pan.  He would attempt to eat only food captured or picked on the trail and use nothing else for warmth that what he wore on his back and carried in his pack.


Catalina Island lies 22 miles off the coast of California.  We would depart from Dana Point on a 90-minute ferry ride to the quaint and classy town of Avalon, take a shuttle bus 25-miles to Two Harbors, then work our way back to Avalon via Little Harbor and Mount Black Jack (elevation 2006).

Ready for a Very Cold Night.JPG

Randy, ready for a cold night.  It would get into the low 40's and take its toll on him.

Two Harbors.JPG

Two Harbors is a small village, population 130.  It has a general store, fishing dock, restaurant, post office, and a one-room schoolhouse.

A Ripe Purple Prickly Pear.JPG

Randy had heard about prickly pear cactus. He'd never eaten any of it until he got hungry. The purple fruit holds a surprising amount of juice. The trick is to get past the needles. We got quite a few in our fingers and I got one in my mouth. Ouch!

Learning to Prepare Prickly Pear.JPG

Carving the prickly pear is a lot more difficult than just chopping off the end and squeezing it between two flat rocks. The juice drips nicely into a bowl.

An Abundant Crop.JPG

An abundant crop.

Fresh Squeezed Delicious Prickly Pear Juice.JPG

A juicy harvest.

Little Harbor II.JPG

We spent a night in Little Harbor, like we had two years ago.  Randy tried his hand at hunting for shelled muscles, capturing crabs for bait (he caught them but the the meat wouldn't stay on the hook), spear fishing (doesn't work in murky water) and gathering hermit crabs.  He succeeded in capturing and eating about 30 of them.  They tasted awful and offered little protein because they were so small.


Randy caught several crabs and would have done better to eat them rather than use them for bait.

Headed Home.JPG

Randy injured his achilles tendon on Day 2 on the way to Little Harbor.  With his soccer season at risk, we chose to shut down the hiking and take the once-a-day shuttle to the next campground.

Ranger Virginia.JPG

Virginia, a Ranger on the island, took good care of us.  She delivered us to Black Jack campground and later coached us through a buffalo encounter via cell phone.

Scoping out the Fish.JPG

Randy went swimming and built a spear for fishing by tying his knife on a palm shaft.  However, the water was murky and prevented him from seeing the fish.  So he had to resort to collecting, boiling, eathing, and being grossed out by hermit crabs.

Randy was able to make "survive" with only his 10 items for one full night, one full day, and part of another night.  However, during that second night he awoke early in the morning and realized that his body was losing the fight against the cold with temparatures falling into the low forties.  We had some wood but were restricted on the island from gathering and burning.  So, fire as a source of heat was not available throughout the nights.  During the second night, Randy discerned that he was at risk of hypothermia (which happens when you combine low temperatures, exhaustion, and lack of food) and took action. I gave him my fleece and some Power Bars to make it through the night.  As Randy let go of the "Survivor Man" constraints, he realized he'd learned a lot about survival.  It's about managing body heat and consuming enoiugh fuel to maintain an adequate core temperature.  You can fight the cold with some food and can go without food if you are warm.  But going without heat and food at the same time is a very tall assignment.  Randy plans to embark on another adventure but thinks a sleeping back will need to replace the blanket to make a more reasonable go of it.

In the four days we spent on the island, Randy never did use a sleeping bag.


Somebody else took this picture but I thought it was a cool shot of the island.  It is compliments of the Catalina Chamber of Commerce.

A Close Scare.JPG

This buffalo surprised me and walked right into our campground.  I called out to Randy and Seth (the only other person in the camp) and we all watched the giant beast's every move.  After initially looking me over, he trotted through the center of camp (right between Seth and me) and drank from a stone cistern.  It didn't take but a minute or two to convince him that the meager water supply was too putrid to bother with.  So he trotted out of camp.  Just before he left, he turned straight toward Randy and I and walked within ten yards of us.  Our hearts were pounding and we were ready to run.  (A man had recently been gored through the hind end by a buffalo and we didn't think that sounded too appealing.  The buffalo stared right at us by turning his head sideways and zeroing in with one of his shiny, brown, golf-ball-sized eyes.  It was beautiful and intimidating.  He decided not to take the confrontation any further, turned, and vanished beyond the ridge of our camp.

(Note:  A shuttle driver described a smaller buffalo as weighing 2,000 lbs.  This guy was HUGE.  So I estimate him in that weight vicinity as well.  If you want to learn more about buffalo from the folks at Wikipedia, you can read more here.)

Scruffy 2.JPG

Five days without shaving makes a guy look a bit scruffy.

Avalon Harbor II.JPG

It's hard to find a more quaint harbor than Avalon.

Archway Bay.JPG

Catalina is an idyllic place.  If you get the chance to visit Avalon and beyond, I highly recommend it.

Trail Ready.JPG

If you do visit, I recommend you find a wonderful travel companion like I had in Randy.  Doing life together is an immeasurably wonderful gift from a generous God.  Thank you, Lord!