Distance: 12.7 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1804' (Silver), 1336' (Torquemada), 1750' (Granite), 1488' (Oak)
Elevation Gain: 2800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.24
Round trip time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 148 oz.
Parking/Fees: $72 round trip boat fare, $17 parking
Catalina Express - Schedules and Fares
The quest for Sierra Club Lower Peaks took us to Catalina Island for Silver Peak, the highest point north of the isthmus. Sean, Dima, and I boarded the Catalina Express from San Pedro to Two Harbors. It was my first trip to the island. The tricky part of this hike was to pull it off in one day. During the summer, only Fridays and Sundays had schedules that worked. We took the 10 AM boat out with the return trip slated for 8:30 PM.
When we arrived at Two Harbors, we stopped to get our hiking permit then started down the Trans-Catalina Trail, a wide dirt road. It was warm, but a strong ocean breeze kept us cool. The road turned north and sharply climbed over 1400' with no break and no shade. As we moved away from the ocean, the breeze died and the road reflected the heat, soon reaching around 100 degrees F. The breeze only returned intermittently and we had underestimated the heat. We plowed ahead for Silver Peak, up and down the rolling ridge. There were good views down to the ocean on both sides of the island and small boats dotted the ocean all around. We were all dripping with sweat when we reached the summit of Silver Peak. We found the benchmark and signed one of many registers in the ammo box, resting and refueling. More interesting times were ahead on Mt. Torquemada.
On the way back, we stopped for a while under one of the few small trees large enough to provide shade. There were only three such trees along the entire route. We planned to hit the two small peaks just off the trail plus Mt. Torquemada. Before we got to Granite Peak, a Ranger in a truck rolled up on us from the south. He had two hikers in tow that were suffering from cramps and borderline heat exhaustion. Sean asked if he had extra water and he kindly gave each of us a cold bottle. It tasted far better than the warm water still left in my hydration pack. The ranger continued on looking for more hikers. The only other party we saw all day was a group we passed that looked somewhat unprepared. They probably thought the same thing about us. Granite Peak was a 5 minute diversion with a weather station. There was no register, but we did find a reference mark. We quickly reached Oak BM where we found a benchmark stamped 1875. This was by far the oldest benchmark I had seen. We discussed it later and started to doubt whether the date was correct. I did some follow up research at the National Geodetic Survey and according to their records, it was originally a metal spike placed in 1875, replaced by a disk in 1934 but stamped 1875.
The final target of the day was Mt. Torquemada, a three-quarter mile (one way) side trip on a ridge hugging the west side of the island. There was a good use trail that weaved through large stands of cactus. The best views of the day were along the trail overlooking thousand foot drops where the ocean had scalloped the shoreline. The final section was steep and rocky but not problematic. The only thing we found on top was a small unmarked cross. Dima explored some kind of scientific station down the far side. We debated whether to continue back up the use trail or take a cross country shortcut back to the road. Sean was running low on water and argued for the shortcut. He saw a good path back to the road and convinced us to go along. We picked our way down, following deer trails and diverting around brush. We never hit anything bad but did pick up a lot of foxtails. Near the bottom, we stumbled on a half buried boat we named Noah's Ark (marked with a waypoint on my track). We tried to come up with theories on how a boat got 575' off the water. Nearby, Dima found a deer skull and piles of bones. We easily got back to the road having saved the trek back up the ridge and about a mile of trail. We met the ranger one more time on our final mile of descent. He had diverted the other group of hikers down a different road to get them out of the heat. We talked to him about Mt. Torquemada, leaving out the cross country adventure. Checking the permit later, off trail travel was prohibited, but we rationalized that a deer trail was still a trail.
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