ALL-HALIBUT 2012: Leviathan
Two Harbors to Little Harbor
May 4 – 6, 2012
Andrei, Charles, Rick, Steve
Now wait just a moment. Why in the world are there pictures of Catalina on a website dedicated to backpacking the Sierras? The answer, in a word, is “snow.” As in, “there is too much snow in the Sierras in May to go backpacking.” Or perhaps the answer is “inpatient.” As in, “we are too impatient to wait until the summer to go backpacking in the Sierras.” Or maybe we just wanted to try something a little different. Whatever the case, we decided to do a springtime backpacking trip rather than waiting until the summer. After bouncing around a few ideas, we decided on Catalina. And, because the entirety of the trip would be at or near sea level, Rick’s altitude aversion didn’t prevent him from joining the fun. Even as this writer starts to document this trip some three months after the seafaring cadre returned to the mainland, he finds himself with one of those resigned smiles that he knows to mean “the trip was so much fun, and there’s no way to capture it with words and pictures.” But he writes anyway.
Day 0: The Pre-Trip
This writer and Charles decided to beat the traffic and arrive in Long Beach on Thursday night, rather than driving from San Diego and Ventura to catch the 8:00 a.m. ferry ride to Catalina. The high jinx started immediately (if not earlier), as this writer and Charles made their way to the rendezvous point, the historical floating hotel known as the Queen Mary. The antics would make no sense to anyone else, so suffice it to say we were well met. After staying up entirely too late, having too many Crown Royals (in Cannonball’s good name), and utterly and completely ruining the point of arriving ahead of time to capture more sleep, it was Steve and Charles who arrived at the ferry at the very last moment the following morning, well after Andrei and Rick had completed their commutes from Ventura and Valencia (excuse me – Santa Clarita).
Day 1: The ferry ride from Long Beach to Two Harbors via Avalon, followed by a hike across the Island from Two Harbors to Little Harbor (approx. 5 miles, and 3.75 hours at a leisurely pace)
Our harried arrival at the landing, with our group being literally the last to board the Catalina Express, was further complicated with respect to our plan for bringing propane with us. Apparently propane is not allowed on the ferry, and those who bring it aboard are rewarded with a felony citation. So, as the ferry pulled away from Long Beach, our propane stayed ashore. We had rehearsed saying “no, there is no propane in my backpack,” but apparently that was not meant to be. For our honesty in turning over the illicit camp fuel, we were rewarded with a rich bounty of good karma that lasted the entire trip, and gave us some good laughs as well.
A QUICK FERRY STOP AT AVALON, THEN ON TO TWO HARBORS
CHARLES AND ANDREI FIND AN ABANDONED JEEP OFF THE TRAIL. CLEARLY WE ARE IN AN EPISODE OF “LOST”
After we had been plied with gourmet food and wine, we decided to try out the kayaks, which we had rented in advance and which had been left for us on the beach. Rick chose to survey the area by climbing atop the Whale’s Tail, where he took the above picture of the campground and the two below pictures of us kayaking. Andre is not photographed, as his kayak stint took him further away from the Whale’s Tail, while Charles and I stuck close to search for halibut. Charles did find success, but he let the halibut go as it was a hair on the small side. Perhaps as a reward for letting the young halibut go, the ocean treated us to quite an exciting halibut adventure the following day.
After we returned the kayaks to shore, Charles began surf fishing, where he quite handily caught and released two surf perch. We had all seen a dead seal along the shoreline, and this writer thought it made perfect sense to cut some fat or meat off the creature and use it as bait to catch another halibut. In his mind’s eye, this writer saw himself as an intrepid seafaring lad who had become shipwrecked on a deserted isle, and had to use his own ingenuity to catch fish that would provide his companions sustenance. He quite logically used his vast knowledge of fishing (which in actuality is limited only to trout fishing and has nothing to do with halibut, seals or the oceans) to conclude that resecting a rectangular strip of flesh from the dead seal would be rather easy and would be just the thing to catch a halibut the size of a Volkswagen. As is often the case when the mind’s eye is involved, the reality did not follow the plan. This writer first observed that seals (presumably both the living kind as well as the dead kind) are not easy to cut. They are thick-skinned, as it were. Undaunted by this minor inconvenience, this writer continued to work his blade (itself a token of appreciation given to the groomsmen at Andrei’s wedding some 15-ish years prior) into the seal. After some time, the seal’s skin finally yielded and the knife went through the various cutaneous layers. At once, the sound of rushing air could be heard, perhaps similar to a very large person exhaling at moderate pace. It was unexpected, and this writer’s eyebrows must have gone up a bit. Surprise quickly gave way to disgust, and then perhaps even fear; the seal must have been dead longer than we’d thought, as that rush of air brought with it a most putrid and fetid stench that must have accompanied decomposition. In light of the invisible cloud of death-stench, the attempt of removing fish bait from the seal was immediately and permanently abandoned, and the seal was left to rest in peace.
Day 2: At Sea
As Rick and Andrei dealt with the fish, Charles and this writer returned to the sea in search of more halibut. While we didn’t catch any more of the flounders, we did catch a scorpion fish, which presented us with a problem. Scorpion fish, Charles explained, have poisonous barbs. And we had no equipment to remove the scorpion fish from our hook. No pliers, no gloves, no net, no nothing. Just a fish hanging on the line, wiggling as they do. In retrospect, we could have cut the line rather easily and been on our way with a new hook. Instead, this intrepid writer, in his mind’s eye, would handily unhook the scorpion fish by grabbing the hook with his fingers and twisting it out. Once again, the mind’s eye and reality were not meant to meet. As this writer reached towards the hook, the scorpion fish (quite predictably, actually) flipped and/or flopped and stuck a very small portion of one of its quills into this writer’s finger. At least the fish had the courtesy to drop off the hook, so at least the task was completed. So we paddled on quietly while Charles fished. He intermittently explained to me, in a sheepish tone, how poisonous scorpion fish can be. I understandably preferred not to continue talking about my potential demise, so I politely replied “can we please talk about something else.” After 15 minutes or so of relative quiet, and without any convulsing or swelling or loss of consciousness on my part, we decided that I had not, in fact, been subjected to any kind of neurotropic poison and that my finger (and the rest of me) would live to fish another day. Our spirits lifted, we fished, our banter returned, and we returned to camp – heroes for having battled the leviathan and for having landed our dinner.
We cooked the halibut and after having our fill we shared the leftovers with neighboring campers (who in turn shared with us some carne asada and some chicken barbecued with some kind of Middle Eastern spices). After that, Rick pulled yet another surprise from his backpack: a glow-in-the-dark frisbee powered by LED lights. We had a great time with that little gem, floating it across the grass-covered expanse of the campground under the moonlight. It perfomed well and was extremely bright – quite playable and not just a gimmick. The four of us stood rather far apart, in the darkness, and quietly played frisbee for most of an hour. Barefooted, with the grass under our feet and the sound of the waves nearby, it was yet another of the perfect experiences this trip had to offer.
We repeated our night hike from the night before, this time taking Rick along with us. Again we were guided by the light of the moon, which was actually a “super moon” event that had made the news for its unexampled brightness. We lay in our tents that night and reflected on how great the trip had been, and fell asleep completely contented – how could we not be?
Day 3: Little Harbor to Two Harbors (approx. 5 miles; 2.75 hours)
LITTLE HARBOR 4
We took fewer pictures on the way back, and carried fewer boxes of wine, so our hike back to Two Harbors took less than three hours. While we waited for our ferry ride home, we had plenty time for a bison burger in the welcome shade under the patio at the restaurant in Two Harbors, where we toasted a trip that exceeded our expectations in every regard and was nothing less than perfection itself. It is this writer’s hope that this springtime jaunt set the stage for further early season (pre-Sierra) treks, all at low altitudes so we can convince Rick to join us. His attendance is important, after all, as he is the one who carries the smorgasbord.