DEL NORTE – BACKCOUNTRY (Total 21 mile trip)
The California wildfires were raging, ash falling from the sky and smoke blinding the air. I had finished working a project from home and needed to break free somewhere to breath fresh air and reconnect with nature. It’s been a hard 2020 facing head first global climate change, social unrest and a pandemic, so some time to be grateful for fresh air and our mother earth is blessed. I found an island off the coast of Santa Barbara with clean air and open skies. The universe gave me a kiss and I found one single primitive campground reservation available for the season for just a few days. It was one of the 4 available in the backcountry as the entire Scorpion Anchorage area is closed now for pier construction.
I started at 6am, stopping for gas and shitty black coffee on my journey to Ventura harbor. A tall white man in the small store seemed to have this “challenge me” look I couldn’t figure out why because I was so sleepy. I got into my car, took a sip of my oil spill coffee and then the lightbulb went off, the dude didn’t have a mask on. I don’t even get it, why a mask is politicized. Well luckily I was going to be far away from most humans on a fucking island.
The boat took off around 9am and we saw a pod of dolphins swimming alongside us playfully. There were baby dolphins, that nearly killed me they were so cute, popping up next to their moms and splashing back down, in this hypnotizing rhythm with the waves. Our boat also saw great blue whales. A giant tail whipped into the air and then sunk away as one of the whales went for a deep dive known as a sound. All the wildlife made the trip a bit long and I didn’t hit the trail until around 11:30AM.
There is no accessible water on the island. The national park’s only water source was 15 miles away at Scorpion Anchorage and closed for construction. So I had to pack in an extra 15 lbs of water on my 12lb base weight pack. I’m glad I got some new ultra light gear. It was ROUGH. The sun beamed down on me and sweat steamed my glasses. There is almost no cover on this part of the island and the climate is very hot and dry, so it was starting to make sense to me why it was not advised for the inexperienced backpacker. I hauled my weight up and down the dry terrain and saw the native blue jays and island foxes. I then easily reached Del Norte Campground in the estimated 4 miles.
The campground is actually not that primitive as their is a horrid smelling compost “toilet” nearby and each spot has a picnic table and one bear locker for storing food away from the clever island foxes, and one full of emergency blankets. That’s some fancy “backcountry” shit haha. I had hauled in my 2 lb bear canister as food protection and it was not necessary. I loved my spot under the giant limbs of the tree at first… it wasn’t until night I realized it was a fucking spider tree and I was in a horror film. So yea, think about that… I had to pee every 5 min and go under the branches and tracked in a spider every time… some were pretty big. I was like a meth addict searching and killing spiders until midnight when I finally didn’t have to pee anymore.
ANYWAY… I set up camp, left one 4L reservoir of water and then took my 3L bladder (partially drunk) with me through the roughly 4 mile trek to Chinese Harbor (I could not figure out really why Chinese??). I was in the middle of nowhere and it was about 3pm so the day travelers were gone, leaving the island almost totally empty when I got there. On the way down I could see a tiny red sailboat from afar and then close to the shore I met two beautiful young surfers. They were a sweet couple that chatted to me about the magic of the islands and informed me of the docile nature of leopard sharks. They invited me for dinner on their red sail boat, but I knew I didn’t have the time.. so I headed down to the shore.
It was rocky but I got in the cold crystal cold water and sunk in to cool off my throbbing hot head. Suddenly, a leopard shark swam towards me, it’s body moving like silk. I sucked in my breath and lowered my chin into the water bracing for something, but it kindly swam with me for brief moment and then continued along the shoreline. I felt so moved by the power and beauty of the ocean. I got out and dried off in the sun. Soon, I put my pack back on and headed back the 4 miles to camp under the beating sun listening to metal music to power me through and getting me ready for the spider nightmare I didn’t realize I had in store for me.
I woke up groggy from dehydration. I carry hydration salts and Advil in my first aid kit which I recommend. I took more of that before packing up and heading the 4 miles back to the main shore. It’s probably like 1,000-1500 ft of total elevation change, nothing crazy but also doesn’t feel good exposed in the heat. I stored my bear canister and thermal pad back near the pier to lighten the load and saw I had only 2L of water left. I kept the rest of the pack with me, loaded up the remaining water and went back up and started the 2.6 mile Pelican Harbor hike. I was pretty wrecked from the heat and lack of water by this point. When I made it to ice cold water I fell in as if death kissed my skin, shuddering and exhaling relief. Ironically, I felt more alive than ever, which is why I backpack. I swam in the quiet beautiful cove to myself and then read Kafka under the shade of some trees.
Once the loud instagramming day trippers started arriving I took off and headed the 2.6 miles back. I walked around some more maybe, swimming again in the ocean, and getting melted crude oil on my microfiber towel. Finally, I boarded the boat to head my way back to my home in Los Angeles, dying for a cold Gatorade and fried oysters.