Channel Islands - “Champagne & Powerbars”

Hero Caption (Photographer Name) More photos below.

By Matt Pritchard

As our boat pulled away from the dock in Ventura Harbor, I ran through a mental checklist of big-ticket items for this trip.

Backpack - check.

Camera bag - check.

Diamond engagement ring - check.

Stove fuel...wait, what ever happened to the stove fuel?

And so it came to pass, that on the weekend of our engagement, in the picturesque Channel Islands, I would absent-mindedly subject us to three days and two nights of cold meals. I could hardly be blamed. I had more important things on my mind. Like how I was going to pull off a romantic marriage proposal in the company of 60 spastic Boy Scouts and their various handlers. I crossed my fingers and called upon the powers of all that is good and fair in the universe, hoping they would be let off at the first stop - fifteen miles and one big ridgeline away from where we planned to start our trip.

Despite the overcast skies, Someone was smiling down on me. When we arrived at Scorpion Bay, 110 of the 120 passengers on board, including every last one of the Scouts, got off the boat, carrying with them enough gear to mount a three-month Himalayan expedition. Jody and I watched with amusement as the crew begrudgingly unloaded the stockpile of crap the Scouts had toted aboard. Before long, we pulled away from the dock and headed around the eastern flank of Santa Cruz Island, passing Chinese Harbor and Coche Point; landmarks that would, for several reasons, be burned into our collective memories for years to come. En route from Ventura we had already passed various seals and sea lions, a friendly humpback whale, and a group of dolphins so large they gave life to the rather placid morning waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. The trip had all the markings of an epic, by our standards at least.

Backpacking on the Channel Islands presents a unique challenge. In a cruel twist of irony, there is no water in the backcountry. Despite the lush hillsides, most of the creeks and seasonal springs are dry by late May. We knew this in advance and had planned accordingly. For the first two days of our trip, until we reached Scorpion Bay, we would need to haul every drop of water we might need. This translated into about 5 gallons, to be on the safe side. After loading two 6-liter water tanks into my pack, I effectively added about 25 pounds to the load I normally carry. Throw in a bottle of Champagne and a full camera bag plus tripod and I was looking at the heaviest pack I had ever hauled.

We arrived at Prisoner's Harbor and were surprised to learn that only one other couple was heading to the same campsite we were. During our "orientation" by an NPS ranger, he encouraged us to hike the dirt road all the way to the campsite, avoiding the overgrown but more direct Del Norte trail. After a mile of slogging up a steep and none-too-interesting dirt road, we arrived at the intersection where the Del Norte trail veered off. We dropped our packs, caught our breath, and settled down for lunch.

While we munched away on our sandwiches, I pulled out the map and decided to review our route options myself. Ranger Dave had been pretty clear about his recommendation. I also noticed that, when discussing ticks on the island, he indicated a counterclockwise turn was the best method for removing the little buggers. Since any backpacker worth their salt knows that pulling a tick straight out is the approved method of the hour, I took this as a clear indication that he didn't know shit and couldn't be trusted. In hindsight, this might have been an ill-advised leap in logic. One thing lacking from my arsenal of map reading skills is an attention to the little things - the small details. For instance, when I saw that the Del Norte trail was shorter and more direct than taking the dirt road, what I should have noticed is that it crossed through two substantial drainages en route, forcing us down and back up very steep and rocky sections of trail. During the next 2.5 miles, I was very aware that getting us stuck deep in the brush of some overgrown canyon wouldn't bode well for my impending proposal. Channeling Sacagawea, I led us through the overgrown muck and we arrived at the Del Norte campsite in one piece.

Channeling Sacagawea, I led us through the overgrown muck and we arrived at the Del Norte campsite in one piece.

The other couple had taken the recommended route and beat us to the campground, staking claim to the only decent site; a grassy little number under a shady oak. We trampled about in search of the other "sites" and settled on the only other level spot we could find, deep in a thicket of fennel and thistles. Neither of us had been blessed with any more than two hours of sleep in the past day and a half. After six hours of driving, two hours of boating, and three hours of hiking, we were a bit punchy and the only thing on our minds was taking a hard-earned nap. My master plan was to wake up before sunset and suggest a hike to a spot where we might take pictures while the light was good.

We rose from our long nap feeling refreshed. Before departing for our photo safari, I checked for the forty-seventh time that day to be sure the ring was, in fact, stashed safely in the bottom of my camera bag. Hiking down the trail I began to wonder just how many guys had lured their girlfriends to a scenic spot under the guise of "taking some cool pictures." It might not have been the most original idea, but Jody seemed pretty clueless about what was really happening. Several times, we stopped and Jody asked if the spot was good. I knew that our destination had to be more than just photogenic. It had to be proposal-worthy. It had to stand the test of time. It had to endure what I hoped would be countless retellings of "our story." We pressed on. A mile down the road we came to a bend where the hillside dropped off and we were treated to an unobstructed view of Coche Point, the spot where Montanon Ridge finally yields to gravity and tumbles down to the Pacific.

As the sun inched toward the horizon behind us, the light grew warmer and we both started taking pictures. Waiting for the perfect moment, I pretended to be interested in what I was doing, bouncing from one spot to another, burning through an entire roll of thoroughly uninspired pictures. Just before the sun dipped below the horizon, as it set ablaze the clouds spilling down Coche Point, I set up my tripod and asked Jody to come over and take a look at my composition. As she peered through my camera, I took a knee and pulled out the ring. When Jody turned around, it took her a second to figure out what was going on. I'm not exactly sure what I said, but I took my sister's advice and kept it short. I'm pretty sure the words "Will you marry me?" came out at some point, because Jody said "Yes" and we enjoyed a long hug and kiss on the top our mountain on our little island in the Pacific.

We snapped a couple of quick self-portraits and headed back to the campsite, drunk on love and tripping over our smiles. I was finally able to tell Jody about the past few weeks of shopping and planning and the reason why I couldn't be blamed for leaving the stove fuel on the dock. With no hot meal in our future, we settled down at the picnic table near our site and enjoyed an engagement dinner that couldn't have defined the moment any better - two Powerbars, half a salami sandwich, and a bottle of Champagne that I had snuck along for the trip.

The next morning, we took our time getting ready. Our excitement about the engagement was tempered by the day that lay ahead of us - eleven miles of hiking, some of it off-trail, to reach the Scorpion Bay campground. Mercifully, the weather was cool and the overcast skies gave us some reprieve from the Southern California sun. Despite the heavy loads and our sore hips, we settled into a nice pace. Our route took us past the previous night's spot and pushed us up and down steep dirt roads as we headed east toward Montanon Ridge. The scale of the landscape took shape as we approached the ridgeline. Although they weren't necessarily very tall (1500'), the proximity to the ocean below gave the mountains in front of us an impressive stature. I felt very small as the trail faded away and we were left to pick our route up the craggy flank of High Mount. A wrong turn a mile back had worn us down a bit and by the time we finally reached the ridgeline, we were ready for a break.

Jody took some pictures and I assessed our water situation. After topping off our Camelbacks and smaller water bottles, I realized that in less than two days, we were going to finish all 5 gallons we had brought along. Unfortunately, I never really noticed the weight missing from my pack. As my load had become lighter, my legs had also grown more tired, resulting in a disappointing net-zero effect.

We snapped a couple of quick self-portraits and headed back to the campsite, drunk on love and tripping over our smiles.

With only four miles to go, we began the slow descent to Scorpion Bay. Day hikers began to pass us going the opposite direction. The route was littered with golf-ball-sized rocks that caused us to stumble downhill in an awkward display of footwork. What we lacked in grace, we made up for in determination. The last four miles of the hike dragged on and on. By the time we reached Scorpion Bay, we were ready to crash. We found a great campsite in a eucalyptus grove and were happy to hear that the Boy Scouts had been isolated in the upper campground, secluded and contained at a safe distance. During my nap, Jody took a stroll and charmed her way into the good graces of a church group that was camping nearby. She informed them of our stove predicament and they graciously offered us some time on one of their stoves later that evening. During a yummy dinner of freeze-dried lasagna, we resumed our talks about wedding plans and how we were going to tell our family and friends.

A peaceful night under the stars gave way to a mellow morning. We explored the boundaries of laziness in earnest as the day passed by. Our 4 P.M. departure from the island gave us a chance to cruise the beach of Scorpion Bay and talk about our marriage and our wedding and all sorts of other mushy stuff. The time alone was relaxing and stood in stark contrast to the whirlwind that was sure to await us when we got home and told everyone about our weekend.

The passage back to Ventura took a long time as our boat was half as big and the seas were twice as rough as two days prior. After powering down a couple of foot long sandwiches in record time, we got back on the road and made good use of the six-hour drive to San Francisco. Roaming charges be damned, we called all of our family and friends and spilled the beans about our weekend. Our calls were met with smiles and laughter and resounding approval. The fun of telling everyone our news made the drive home speed by. We pulled the car onto Lake Street a few minutes past midnight, bringing to a close the most memorable backpacking trip of our lives. WOO HOO! WE'RE GETTING MARRIED!

Read Jody's version of this story.

Questions or comments about this trip report? Let us know.