An unsettling sound rang out above the crash of waves onto a wild, lonely seashore on Santa Rosa Island, a part of the Channel Islands Nationwide Park, the place my associate Emanuel and I had bedded down after an arduous 10-mile trek.
I used to be jolted awake. Once more — the irate sound, like a rusty steel bucket scraping in opposition to rock. It appeared nearer.
Emanuel heeded my nudge and investigated.
When he poked his headlamp-adorned head again within the tent, he broke the information: “I feel we’ve an issue.
“There’s a 2,000-pound elephant seal outdoors our tent.”
There he was — a large lump barely seen within the darkness. The ranger who had greeted us earlier that day hadn’t warned us a few doable pinniped encounter.
Not solely was it our first night time on the island, it was additionally my first time backpacking. I had by no means carried the whole lot I wanted to maintain me on my shoulders, not to mention for 5 days. And I’d by no means thought of what to do within the occasion of a seal invasion.
A tough diamond
Santa Rosa is likely one of the less-visited islands that represent one of many least-visited nationwide parks. It attracts a sure breed of adventurer, in accordance with Brittney Hammof concessionaire Island Packers, which provides journeys to Santa Rosa a number of instances per week.
“It’s positively an exquisite place, nevertheless it takes a bit bit extra effort and analysis to go there. It’s simple to finish up unprepared,” she mentioned on our Monday morning boat journey in August.
On a heat, sunny day Santa Rosa can cross for a postcard-perfect tropical getaway with sandy white seashores and glittering turquoise water. However it may be harsher than on-line photographs painting. Sturdy winds blow year-round. Moody bouts of dense fog and chilly temperatures evoke circumstances much like the Central Coast.
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Morning view with drink
Taking within the view of the seashore with a drink in hand at Santa Rosa.
Those that search out “Rosa” are drawn to seclusion and are self-sufficient, with ample backpacking expertise, Hamm mentioned.
I checked not one of the packing containers.
However Emanuel, reduce off from city-slicker bars, eating places and film theaters throughout the pandemic, noticed his curiosity within the outdoor surge.
As he trekked farther and more durable, my expertise grew by affiliation. We packed extra of California into 2020 than I’d seen in my total life — and I’m a local Angeleno. It helped that he was investing in what may be dear gear.
Nonetheless, the divide in our talents grew. We spent much less time collectively as he pursued inhospitable peaks and I clung to flatter land. When he introduced up the opportunity of backpacking on Santa Rosa, I mentioned sure although I wasn’t positive it was inside my novice wheelhouse. “It would kill me,” I believed, “however it should afford us some high quality time.”
It was time to guide it — and begin coaching. Flash-forward a number of weeks. I’d upped my train routine via path runs and energy coaching so it was time for a check hike. To simulate the backpacking expertise, we set out on an area 12-mile hike — approximating the longest single stretch we’d deliberate for the island — and I stuffed my backpack with 20 kilos of bottled water.
As I compelled one leg in entrance of the opposite, Emanuel turned to me with a smirk and advised me a few saying amongst mountaineers: “It doesn’t must be enjoyable to be enjoyable.” Leaning into the axiom, I cursed and winced my technique to the tip.
On the wild aspect
Grey, misty skies hovered as dozens of passengers filed onto the boat in Ventura Harbor. Masks are required, and a crew member mentioned they depart some “wiggle room” by not reserving the boat to capability. As the boat bucked on uneven seas, dolphins skipped gracefully alongside.
We landed on the island at Bechers Bay roughly three hours after our 8 a.m. departure. (The journey included a pitstop to drop off these headed for Santa Cruz Island, the biggest island within the park and extra frequented.)
Day journeys to Santa Rosa are doable however restricted to just some hours. Of the roughly 25 individuals on our journey, solely two mentioned they had been returning later that day. Most had been staying at one of many 15 campsites at Water Canyon Campground, which provides potable water and wind shelters.
However we had been charging farther — a lot farther — than the campground 1½ miles from the pier.
Throughout the roughly 5½-hour journey up and down the island’s hills, we stopped to fill a number of bottles and bladders with water at Clapp Spring, considered one of solely two dependable sources on the island.
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Santa Rosa seal sighting
Elephant seals on Santa Rosa Island.
Derelict farming tools, a part of the island’s ranching previous, appeared periodically as we pushed on, incongruent with the vacancy. I discovered an animal horn amid the grass and later discovered that elk and deer had been delivered to the island as recreation, with industrial hunts occurring till 2011 when the remaining animals had been eliminated.
We bushwhacked down a steep canyon and landed on a seashore simply east of Ford Level, the place we bedded down after a dinner of sausages roasted on a camp range (fires are usually not permitted on the island). That’s, till the elephant seal arrived.
After it roused us from our tent, we scrambled up a sand dune, uncertain about what to do. Weary, however not desirous to danger a confrontation, we moved our total camp farther away.
The subsequent morning we surveyed the realm and noticed not one however two elephant seals. A hulking male with the telltale proboscis was accompanied by a a lot smaller feminine. We had been guests of their world, one the place people didn’t reign over the sand, and moved on.
Nothing as dramatic occurred over the subsequent 4 days, although we took in breathtaking sights and experiences. At some point we hiked to a rudimentary lighthouse at South Level and will see sea lions frolicking within the kelp a whole lot of ft beneath.
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Clear waters at Santa Rosa
Clear waters at Santa Rosa Island.
We encountered nobody within the backcountry after the second day, once we crossed paths with two brothers we had met on the boat.
Hours-long treks created massive expanses of time for ideas profound and petty. We frequently wiggled into our sleeping baggage earlier than 9 p.m. And by dusk, I regarded ahead to writing notes about my day, although I haven’t had the endurance to maintain a journal in years. We splashed bare in frigid waters, a refreshing tub after days of sweating in the identical garments. I ended checking my cellphone.
Nature intruded when it felt prefer it. Although I slathered myself with sunscreen, I unwisely ditched my sunshirt on the second day, and the uncovered flesh on my shoulders and chest had been baked to a deep crimson. On the third day we hoped to absorb a 360-degree view from Soledad Peak, the best level on the island, however fog enveloped us so tightly we couldn’t see various ft.
Return to civilization
To keep away from a last-minute sprint throughout the island for our Friday departure, we spent our fourth and remaining night time at Water Canyon Campground.
At our campsite, a russet-tinged island fox — one other endemic species — tried to steal our range. It was a small miracle to take out my contacts utilizing working water in a surprisingly clear toilet after utilizing filtered spring water and a cellphone digicam for a mirror.
Additional confirming we had been again in civilization: individuals. Fellow camper Donna Sullivan affirmed the island’s fame as a tough magnificence with a mysterious pull. When she’d visited about 5 years earlier together with her sister, they had been blasted by livid winds.
“Although the island’s beautiful, it was the worst tenting expertise,” she mentioned. However some days had been wonderful and she or he did return, this time together with her husband, Chuck.
Whereas on the northeast shore, we hit what I known as the “vacationer points of interest.” We lastly donned the snorkeling gear we had lugged for miles and plunged into the crystal-clear waters of a abandoned seashore. I noticed a large orange crab and fish darting right here and there. The marine life wasn’t as epic as I’d seen on Santa Cruz or Catalina, nevertheless it was pleasurable.
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Snorkeling with a crab on Santa Rosa Island
Snorkeling with crab off Santa Rosa Island.
The winds picked up and the water grew to become extra turbulent, prompting me to scramble again to the seashore. However Emanuel — who grew up foraging within the sea off western Sweden — swam farther out and plucked blue mussels from a rock wall, which we boiled with olive oil and garlic. We additionally trekked to the big grove of Torrey pines we’d spied from the boat to see the uncommon timber up shut.
The fifth and remaining day we trekked to Lobo Canyon, although it added 12 miles to our journey. It was a transfer nicely price the additional pressure. After mountaineering over extra parched hills, we descended right into a lush canyon with a small creek.
Huge sandstone formations loomed, a panorama that will be extra at house in Arizona or Utah. The path dead-ended at a tiny seashore strewn with glittering abalone shells, now a uncommon sight on the California coast on account of many years of over-fishing. Not a soul was in sight.
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Blue mussels plucked from a rock wall off Santa Rosa
Blue mussels plucked from a rock wall off Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa’s elusive, multifaceted character was on full show. There was nonetheless a lot extra to see even after mountaineering about 45 miles and pitching our tent in 4 locations. And a few of it we’d by no means see as a result of sure areas are closed year-round to guard wildlife.
On the boat trip house, we had a celebratory beer fittingly brewed at Island Brewing Co. in Carpinteria. About midway again to Ventura, my web began working and I posted a picture on Twitter.
A pod of humpback whales appeared, one dramatically crashing into the waves with its tail excessive within the air, and everybody — myself included — whipped out telephones to file their majesty. Our previous life was speeding again and we weren’t even house. I regarded again because the island grew small within the distance.
If you happen to go
Island Packers provides journeys from Ventura Harbor to Bechers Bays on Santa Rosa Island a number of instances per week via November. Spherical-trip grownup fares are $85, or $120 for these tenting.
Channel Islands Nationwide Park, which incorporates Santa Rosa and 4 different islands, has its principal mainland customer middle at 1901 Spinnaker Drive in Ventura.
Guests can camp on among the island’s seashores from mid-August via mid-December. For particulars on which seashores are open, go to the Nationwide Park Service web site. Reservations may be made at Recreation.gov.
Reservations for Water Canyon Campground can be made at Recreation.gov. $15 per night time per web site, which may accommodate 5 individuals.
Ensure your boat and tenting reservation dates align. Examine each schedules earlier than reserving.