Dan and Hannah Hike on Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands off Ventura, California (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 concluded with the uncertainty whether my breakfast would return due to the rolling seas on our one hour high seas voyage from Ventura to Santa Cruz Island.

SC dock

At last, the metal framed, erector set dock at Scorpion Beach on Santa Cruz comes into view.  Victory is in sight as my oatmeal stays happily tranquil in my stomach.  None of the other 140 passengers is aware of my gastronomic triumph, but it’s those small victories we all embrace that get us through our own personal stormy seas.  (Chew on that.)

SC 3 H at start

Santa Cruz is the largest of the Channel Islands, 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide.   Click here to access excellent descriptions of these National Park hiking trails and maps of Santa Cruz Island.

SC 4 cliff

The cliff edges are indeed close to the trail

Debarking, we passengers are collected for some final instructions by our volunteer guide.  She tells us, We do not have fences, we have common sense.  Trails can be as close as ten feet to the cliffs.  And we later learn these bluffs aren’t just 70-80’ above the beach as we saw in Carpinteria, but hundreds of feet directly into the salty brine.

In conclusion, she reinforces that the boat leaves at 330P, not 335P.  The next excursion to Santa Cruz is not until Friday, three days away.  We get the message.

SC 3A cavern pt trail

Later I ask this volunteer what happens if someone does get left behind.  She tells me sometimes people do get lost on the island but not often.  The park service has some provisions and finds a place for the errant ones to spend the nights.  From what we can see, they are not deluxe accommodations.

SC 3B H at cavern point

From the Cavern Point Loop Trail

Ready to rock and roll on the trail, we choose to climb to the moderately rated Cavern Point Loop Trail along the bluffs of Santa Cruz.  Within feet of the edge of the rocky cliffs, we are taken by what we imagine Ireland would be like.   Green on green meadows, beautifully highlighted by yellow flowers; unfortunately, we learn they are invasive.   We were told that with the previous years of drought the landscape had turned a gray brown.  Today, we, with about fifteen others, have miles of trail to ourselves.

SC 3C trail with yellow flowers

The meadows of grass are nearly treeless so our view is for miles.  At times, the trail is wide enough for two, and soon turns into the just slightly larger Potato Harbor Road.  Hardly a road, hardly a fire road, it is a delightful walk in the fields of emerald green.

On the North Bluff Trail, we meet Kirk and Alison, who ask us to take their picture.  Soon learning that today, Valentine’s Day, is their second anniversary, we feel a good vibe with them; but I forget to give them my business card with info about my blog. Damn, I’ve got to be quicker.

SC 4C potato harbor coral

Potato Harbor

Two plus miles in, we are high above Potato Harbor.  Though we have no access to the harbor below, we do see coral blue water, something out of Hawai’i or the Caribbean.

With no comfortable place for lunch, we hike back through the meadows to the campground with picnic tables, bathrooms, and potable water.   We day hikers know the value of sitting at a picnic table for lunch rather than hunched over on a rock or log.  Of course, we are soft and these accommodations suit us to a T.

SC 4F trail

As we leave, the aforementioned Kirk and Alison arrive to take our picnic table for their lunch.  Playfully, I point out that we warmed it up for them; not missing a second chance, I hand them my business card, mentioning my Saturday blog.  I add that this hike will be reported on in the weeks ahead.  They smile broadly; say they’ll look it up.

Funny, I hear from maybe 1 in 20 we connect with on the trail.  I get it that the trail encounter is a moment that fades once we are all back home with our routines, jobs, and network of friends.  (Not bucking the odds, they haven’t checked in… yet.)  That said, I am still in touch with Rob from Georgia who we met on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont.

SC 5 Smugglers cove trail

The Smuggler’s Cove Trail beyond the windmill

With two hours before we must be at the dock at 3P for the 330P departure for the mainland, Hannah and I look for more.   Climbing the rocky Smugglers Cove Trail above Scorpion Beach for more exercise on this beautiful sunny California day, we find a trail that is badly eroded by the recent rains, and awkward to walk on.   We persevere but wonder why.

SC 5B looking down from Smugglers

Scorpion Beach from the Smugglers Cove Trail

Taking a side trail to the bluff edge, we know that we can’t make it all the way to Smuggler’s Cove, 3.5 miles from the trailhead.  Hyper-cognizant of the departure time, we are aware how much we prefer a shower, a glass of wine at our cottage rather than the unknown accommodations here on the island for three nights.

SC 5A looking down from Smugglers

The view to the visitor center at Scorpion Beach

Like so many others, we arrive a good hour before the Island Explorer leaves the dock.  Weary from nearly eight miles of hiking, I plop down on the bench in the stern of the Island Explorer for the mellow trip back to Ventura Harbor.

SC 6 H by boat at end

Made the 330P departure.  Last ones on.

On our return, Captain Luke slows the boat, having found a pod of Pacific gray whales heading north in the Channel.   Within a hundred yards of these glorious mammals, we see the blows of six to eight whales; they then arch their backs, bursting out of the water.  This is all followed by their tails flipping up as they re-submerge.  Later, after the final blows, as if choreographed, six whales wave good bye in unison with their tails.  It’s nature poetry in motion.

SC island packers

On the ride home, which is incredibly smooth as promised, Hannah gets the brilliant idea to have the captain acknowledge Alison and Kirk’s anniversary.  Having passed the information on to the captain, we finally hear the announcement as we head into the harbor.  Beaming as the proud parents of this fine idea, we wonder if they’ll guess it is us.  We do hear clapping above on the second deck.

Hannah and I are just not “going out in any kind of boat” people, be it in lakes, rivers, or oceans.  But we both would say don’t miss this boat trip.  You have the trifecta of bluff hikes on unsullied terrain, whales, and dolphins on the ride to and from Ventura.  No race track could beat that winning combination.

Dan and Hannah Hike on Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands off Ventura, California (Part 1 of 2)

Just don’t eat anything the morning before you go or you’ll be sorry.  The ride is rough out to the islands but smooth as silk on the way back.  Such was the advice that a woman I met at the Carpinteria Writer’s group gave me about the fifteen-mile, one hour Island Packers boat ride to Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands.  Click here for information on Island Packers.


I immediately thought.  Come on.  It’s a 9A departure; don’t make me miss breakfast.  We all know that there is nothing better than early morning coffee with Hannah’s biscuits.  Follow that with a bowl of oatmeal with all the fixings any health nut would love (blueberries, raisins, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, cinnamon, and walnuts).   Even with the possibility of barfing, I can’t pass up such a morning banquet.  I am weak.

SC 1 boat in harbor

Island Explorer in the Ventura Harbor

Throwing caution to the wind, I breakfast at our cottage before we leave on this Tuesday morning for an easy 35-minute drive south from Summerland to the Ventura Harbor; there the Island Explorer awaits to take us to the high seas.

Being the last ones on the vessel, Hannah and I choose to stand at the front of the boat where we’ll have the wind and sea spray in our face for the full nautical experience.  Anyway, most of the seats for the 140 passengers are taken, either in the stern, in the indoor café with booths, or rows of benches on the open second deck.

Our round-trip tickets cost $54 each as seniors (regular adult $59); for that we have passage to the island, which many Californians, we learn, have never visited.  Santa Cruz was once the home of the Chumash Indians as well as to sheep farmers early in the last century.

SC snow

Some of Nolan’s handiwork in our front yard on the way to our generator

As we stand in the bow of the ship, I get a call from our neighbor Marco on Chases Pond Road in York, Maine.  He tells me that our area got blasted with two feet of snow.  (Thankfully, our friend Nolan plows our 150’ undulating driveway and shovels a path to our generator.)

Marco then tells me the “bad news.”  The snow plow has taken out our mailbox and he has the remnants in his garage.  Relieved that that is all the “bad news” there is, I smile knowing that for those of us living on country roads – mailboxes come and mailboxes go.

SC snow plow

To show how naïve (I prefer to call it hopeful.) I can be, I later call the York Department of Public Works wondering what they do when the snowplows crush a mailbox.   I’m sure they were smiling at the other end of the line when they politely said that the town does not reimburse home owners in such a case.  I’m told that the snowplow drivers do the best they can, which I totally get having lived here for 35 years.  Anyway, I learn that mailboxes are on the town right of way.  This is a classic first world problem.

SC 1A heading out to sea

Leaving Ventura Harbor

Our clever friend Patty from Oregon texts in response to Hannah’s news that it’s a sunny day for our trip to Santa Cruz.  Patty texts, You’ll have some Vitamin D and some Vitamin Sea.   Did I mention she also graduated from the Harvard of the West – Arizona State University?

In an intimate setting with passengers standing shoulder to shoulder or filling the benches and café tables, Captain Luke, a handsome young man in his thirties with a British accent, says this should be a smooth trip.  That is good news for one whose oatmeal still churns below.

SC 1B life preserver

Bow of the Island Explorer with Santa Cruz in the distance

Those of us in the front of the vessel are advised by a crew member that there is no jumping during the passage to Santa Cruz or they will close the bow of the boat.  Jumping?  Why would anyone jump on the bow of the boat?  Any idea?

Only later by asking one of the crew do we learn that some (might they be teenagers or twenty-something guys!) like to jump up as the vessel bounces on the waves for a feeling of weightlessness.  The problem is that such people get hurt or lose teeth smashing on the metal railings.

Cruising out of the Ventura Harbor at 5 mph, I have no idea what motion sickness possibilities lie ahead; my stomach is fine but on alert.   Soon it’s full throttle as we rise and fall, bouncing rhythmically to the beat of the ocean waves.   With an hour on the high seas, I am suddenly less sure that Danny and his breakfast won’t soon be parted.

SC island packers asea

To that end after 15 minutes in the bouncing stern of the ship, I grab the railings and go hand over hand, carefully making my way to the back of the boat, where there is much less bouncing.

The possibility of upchucking remains on my mind.  When was the last time you barfed?  Years, I’m hoping.  Do you remember an episode on How I Met Your Mother where Ted Mosby proudly proclaimed that he was vomit-free since 1993?  I guess that’s an accomplishment if you drink and drink some more.  Click here for a link to the video explanation of that episode, referred to as the Pineapple Incident.

SC 2 cliffs of SC

Approaching Scorpion Harbor on Santa Cruz

Hoping only to get this boat ride over vomit-free myself and begin to hike, I wouldn’t mind if the studly Captain Luke would just slow down!  And then, out of the blue, he cuts the engines and we just roll with the waves.  It turns out that we are within fifteen feet of thirty to forty dolphins which are following the boat.  Check out this homemade video on the high seas.

SC dolphins

Channel dolphins

Pleased to see dolphins, I’m not so pleased to be going in circles miles between Ventura and Santa Cruz, when upchucking is still on my radar.  Previously, we have been advised by the crew that if you feel like vomiting, come down from the second deck and go to the back of the boat, and lean over. No one likes a thoughtless guest

Part 2 of 2 concludes with the end result of my oatmeal as well as about the amazing hiking on Santa Cruz.