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Background: If you don’t know me that well, the preface to this is that in September of 2008 I bought a “fixer-upper” sailboat, a 25 foot Coronado (well, kind of). My boat was actually a kit sold by Coronado, and her particular builder or builders had created a bulletproof boat which unfortunately had very little hardware left. After a year of labor including the complete fabrication/ installation of an interior (galley, head, bulkhead, companionway, hatches), new-used sails, new rigging and sailing hardware, brand new electrical system, new-used outboard motor, portlight replacement (windows to all you landlubbers) and a giant topside paint job, I finished her in June 2009. As you can/will see from all my trip reports in summer-fall 2009, I didn’t really have a free three-day weekend to make the 26 nautical mile trip to Catalina from Redondo Beach, but I vowed to as soon as possible.

March presented itself as that opportunity. I had three days off that weren’t being used for desert trips or snow trips, and decided it was now or never. Aaron drove down Thursday night (arriving early Friday morning) and I began packing and loading the car early Friday.

            Due to a hectic week at work, I hadn’t prepared as well as I normally do, and it was not until 1pm that we were all at the harbor with the kayaks tied down, sails ready, head emptied, motor idling, and the food supplies, clothing, and gear all packed away. I then refilled all my gas tanks at the marine fuel pumps, and made our way into the entrance channel before discovering I had left strips of Velcro at the top of the mast holding the mast-light wire (which I had never got working the day before or that morning). We would not be able to raise the sails without them off, and I knew it would take 20 minutes for us to turnaround, get back into the slip, climb the mast, fix it, and get back out with the sails up. So instead, I slipped on the bosun’s chair and climbed the mast with Marie as a spotter while Aaron drove us in circles around the King Harbor entrance channel. It was easy enough to fix, and really not dangerous or scary at all IMHO, but it was certainly funny to be waving with people at eye level on the third floor of the condo complex overlooking the harbor. All in all, it was a short period before I was back down and the sails were fully up, with Ship Happens on a starboard tack heading directly to Isthmus Harbor.


The day presented us with moderate winds that really picked up as we cleared the point and made our way across the channel. I underestimated how strong the southeastern currents would be, and our heading eventually required us to do one set of tacks as we neared the island. After 6 hours on the water across large swells, waves, and the roughest ocean I had been on in anything less than a cruise ship, reaching the safe protection of Two Harbors was glorious. However, my main source of relief was knowing that we actually had gotten a stringline mooring, since I had heard horror stories about the difficulty of getting a spot late on a Friday evening. It seems that in March nobody goes there, despite the weather being beautiful. We tidied up on board after the relatively painless mooring process, and then hailed a water taxi on the VHF to take us to the best bar in the area (and coincidentally the only) to try some Buffalo Milk, grab some fried food, and relax onshore. 

On Saturday we spent the day exploring our area of the island as much as possible for new visitors. We started by kayaking down to the south (still on the north shore) toward some neat ocean caves and landing on some nice pebbly beaches, getting as far as Paradise Cove before turning around. This totalled 7 miles round trip and tired out our upper body, which we followed with a hike to the overlook on the cliffs above Cat Harbor (opposite of the isthmus from the northeastern harbor that we were moored at). Luckily, this uphill trek was only a mile or two and didn't completely wipe out ourThe rest of the day was spent relaxing and Sunday was spent prepping to leave for the long sail back. With the wind atrociously minimal, it took a large amount of motoring to return, but it was soothing and even allowed us to spot a few nearby pods of dolphins and a few seals near the kelp before rounding the point and heading back into the harbor. 

 
 
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The first trip we took to Death Valley in 2009 really got us hooked, and despite cramming as much as possible into the days, there was still a lot more that we wanted to see. We got Justin on board, jumped into the FJ on Thursday night, and drove out to Stovepipe Wells campground, arriving in the middle of the night and quickly pitching our tent for the first couple nights in the middle section of this large park. 

Friday

Darwin Falls Road to Darwin - 14 miles offroad driving, 7 miles hiking/crawling/swinging
Our first trip took us to Darwin Falls from the northern approach along the canyon floor, where we bouldered up a ridge to get a better vantage point of the main falls which most people miss. SInce that first visit was done in a Toyota Corolla, revisiting the road in the FJ was very satisfying. We began by parking at the same trailhead as before, and hiked the same trail to the lower falls, which at this point was completely covered in a deep pool of water due to recent rains. We had to take a different route up the rock wall to reach the upper waterfall because of the water everywhere, but still ended up reaching the rocky outcropping with a view from the top to the base. 

After we returned to Sarge, we drove up and around the old Eichbaum Darwin Toll Road which was the original road into Panamint Springs and Death Valley before the Death Valley Hotel company began advertising Lone Pine as the gateway into Death Valley. Soon along the road, we stopped off at an interesting mine at Zinc Hill. We explored briefly, found someone's broken message on a piece of slate (strange?), and then took the detour on the road to China Camp, an old house or ranch along the road, where China Garden Spring provides a constant source of water for the Darwin falls, and part of the spring has been formed into a koi pond with actual koi fish! After we finished being mesmerized by the area, we attempted hiking from the top of the spring back down to the falls. Unfortunately, this was nothing but a disaster. The trail was supposed to connect or at least get close, but we didn't see where it went, even with a couple trail guides. It may have been due to the excessively high flows, infrequent visitation and landslides, or our own incompetence, but it just didn't work. We were able to follow the river for a long period, hiking through reeds and around brush, and eventually got to the boulders above the falls, but still couldn't find any perspective of the falls like we could from below. If anything, it provided us with some comical fun as follows:

At many places along the trail, we had to make the choice of climbing up awkward dirt slides, going through brush, or walking in the mud. Since I had waterproof boots, I made the decision to go with the mud route for much of it. At one point, the mud began getting deeper. Instead of turnaround, I had the brilliant idea to swing from oak tree to oak tree like an ape, keeping myself out of the mud as I went. This was actually quite fun, until I got to one tree that was ~6" diameter, and while hanging on it looking for my next reach, I heard the cartoonish cracking of the branch happening in slow motion. I put my arm out to brace my fall just as I landed in a pool of mud with the branch on top of me. At that point, I resorted to simply walking through the muck the rest of the way and rejoined Justin and Marie as a dirty and defeated man.

Once I cleaned off the best I could, we continued along the offroad drive past a few more remains of buildings, past the remains of an old water pumphouse, and then we arrived at the combination ghost town and rural desert town of Darwin, CA (with a very fitting rock arrangement on the desert floor-- see pictures).

 
 
Spent a weekend with friends in Mammoth. While they were off skiing and snowboarding, we brought our snowshoes with us and went on some short hiking trips into the cold trails of the area. 

Trail 1: Twin Lakes - Lake Mary Loop (Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center) - 5.5 miles
This was a fairly tame introductory snowshoeing hike, with about 30% semi-packed and the rest fresh powder. The trail we chose traverses some preset loops around the Lake Mary area of Mammoth Lakes, starting by Twin Lakes, passing north of Lake Mary, and getting views of Horseshoe Lake, heading south around all the lakes, and then back to the start. On the return trip, we split away from the trail for an exploration of the Panorama Dome, which we were surprised to find had only one or two sets of prints at that time. Coming back down required some navigation of backcountry, as the only trails up were from the south, in the opposite direction of where we planned to go. 

Trail 2: Obsidian Dome (June Lake area) - 6 miles
This was a short drive north along 395 from Mammoth, and the main trail itself was fairly tame. The semi-groomed path runs straight to the dome, and then loops around it in one big circle. Overall, the scenery was pleasant and the deer were abundant on this portion of the trail. However, not satisfied with the level of ruggedness to our snowshoeing adventures, we decided to cross country up some hills toward the top of the dome (or a mini-dome, it was hard to tell in the white wilderness). The terrain was fairly steep, and we were able to truly test our kick stepping as we zigzagged our way up the side of the hill. The view from the top was great, and we even were able to glissade down a few sections and save some time back, although we were more jealous of the cross country skier that was there sometime earlier in the morning. 

Trail 3: Shady Rest Park Loops (Mammoth Lakes Town area) ~3.5 miles
Desiring a little more mileage, we took this stroll on what seemed to be a combination golf course and park during the summer season. It was extremely easy and mostly just gave us a chance to get some exercise in the form of speed-snowshoeing in a big loop. Recommended as a warm up.