Channel Islands - “Through Her Eyes”

Hero Caption (Photographer Name) More photos below.

By Jody Pritchard

"This is right now. This is right NOW!" This thought kept repeating itself as I stared with tear filled eyes the size of tennis balls down at Matt. He was balanced on one knee in the middle of a rocky dirt road that clung to a cliff above the Santa Barbara Channel. The last 12 hours suddenly made sense.

The idea of backpacking in the Channel Islands was born while driving up to ski on the dawn of a February morning. Memorial Day weekend finally came and we drove all night to southern California to board a boat in Ventura accompanied by 60 teenage Boy Scouts. Amidst the mayhem, Matt and I found an unoccupied piece of standing space at the fore of the boat and faced the salty morning air ready for our big island backpacking adventure. I glanced back at the dock and had a fleeting thought as we pulled away from the security of the pilings. "Whatever happened to the stove fuel?" It would seem that the red MSR canister had been separated from our other belongings as requested by the crew, and placed on the dock instead of the appropriate metal bin. Matt's facial expression will forever be imprinted in my memory.

On our way across the Channel we passed a humpback whale (my first sighting) and watched Santa Cruz Island appear in the distance just as the California coastline disappeared. Much to our relief and entertainment, the circus of Boy Scouts and their brave adult counterparts would be calling Scorpion Bay home for the next few days - we were going to Prisoner's Harbor. For forty-five minutes, we watched the endless line of people unload a ridiculous quantity and variety of equipment from the hull of the boat including full sized cots, giant Rubbermaid bins, and loose Coleman sleeping bags. Perfectly equipped for the one-mile walk into the campground. Way to introduce the boys to real camping, scout leaders!

Happy to be leaving the action behind, (and to see that none of our equipment was mistakenly unloaded) we took the boat out of the bay and headed north along the island's coastline. On the way we joined a school of dolphins near Coche Point in the midst of their morning swim. I had never seen dolphins in the wild and was thoroughly entertained with how they played in the water, riding the compression wave created by our vessel. I tried to take pictures, but nearly every shot features the remnants of a splash and the horizon of a gray sky against a gray bay. But there would be another opportunity to take pictures near this Point.

Just before we docked, the park ranger on board, who distinctly resembled Ned Flanders, told of the trail options leading to the Del Norte campsite. The first option was the dirt road that wound it's way to our destination. The second option was the Del Norte trail that had not yet been cleared for the season and was overgrown, and very difficult to navigate. Ranger Ned clearly identified the road as the best way to get to camp… ("oakily doakily" I thought) and warned us of the wild pigs on the island that we might encounter in overgrown areas like the trail. However, during lunch, and a good mile into the road, Matt studied the map and persuaded me that the more adventurous route should be our choice. I resisted, but after my sandwich, saw the funny gleam in his eye. He REALLY wanted to take the trail and he was by definition our most experienced navigator.

Funny thing about the Channel Islands… everyone starts at the same place - on the beach. If you want to go anywhere, you go up - straight up. And if you choose the Del Norte trail as we did, you go straight up, then straight down, straight up, and then straight down, and then, yes - straight up once more. We climbed in and out of drainages, through fennel covered trails, and nearly lost our way at least once. Everywhere we looked we saw signs of these mysterious wild pigs. The fennel and brush were completely plowed down in areas and their dung was… everywhere. But there were no pigs. There was an eerie Lord of the Flies vibe about this place. You could feel them, just not see them. I half expected a surprised pig to jump out and start chasing us. After all, what the hell were we doing on his trail anyway?

By the time we crawled into camp, we were tired. Our 1 AM start that morning from San Francisco, and our trek on the 'adventurous' route had left us exhausted. I should also mention that on the Channel Islands, you're responsible for packing all of your water. This added the ingredient of very heavy packs to the mix. The second couple on the boat had apparently abided by Ranger Ned's suggestion and had taken the only nice campsite in the place under an oak tree. We wandered around until choosing a location to stomp down the grasses and fennel making room for our tent and a well-deserved nap. Our only wake-up call would be to take pictures when the light was just right.

Just before the light turned amber, Matt and I started to walk back towards the cliffs. He had bought a new camera and was always wanting to play when given the chance. I kept asking if he was satisfied with the view and he hesitated, said no, and we kept walking further from camp. We walked until we overlooked the area with the dolphins earlier from the day - Coche Point.

While Matt was taking pictures and trying different techniques with adjusting the tripod, I wandered, taking snapshots of my own, and sat down in the gravel road to enjoy the view. Matt periodically asks my opinion in photography matters, so when he asked me to check out his composition, I didn't think twice and peered through the camera. A gorgeous sunset painted on the rocks framed with a sparkling bay below. I heard Matt ask me to give him a hand (yes he actually said that) and when I looked down to tell him I thought everything looked great, our lives changed.

On his knee, in the middle of a road scattered with sharp gravel, above the Santa Barbara Channel, with amber light all around, Matt held the most beautiful ring I had ever seen. This was right now. He was asking me to marry him.

The next few moments are a blur, but I know there was a wild, "YES!", tears, and a giant hug. We were getting married! The stove fuel mishap, the funny look in his eye about the trail, the 'picture taking episode', it all connected.

We walked on a path of clouds back to camp where we told our neighbors about our engagement and had them take our picture. As the sun dipped away and the stars came out, we sat and ate our engagement dinner - a half eaten sandwich, Power Bars, and a bottle of champagne Matt had so thoughtfully added to his lightweight pack. (He had also packed 2 collapsible backcountry champagne flutes that will be making an appearance during our wedding.) That evening as we lay on our bed of flattened grasses, the pigs decided to show us just whose territory we had invaded. They snorted and ran by our tent - still invisible, but most certainly present. We snickered. Nothing says romance like pig snorts in the dark.

And nothing says commitment like an 11-mile hike up and over the crest of Santa Cruz Island. Our packs were heavy, but my steps felt light that morning. All of the times I had resisted thinking about what it would be like to plan a wedding with Matt came crashing down. I let the brain candy of thoughts weave through my mind and asked him questions on things I had always wanted to ask. Was it now ok to tell him how I wanted to marry him only 3 weeks after dating? Hmm… maybe I'll give it a few days yet. First we've got to get to Scorpion Bay, and I don't need him second-guessing his decision to ask

The hike to the other end of the island was beautiful and tough. Along the top of the ridgeline, through wispy fog, we were sometimes treated to views of both the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Barbara Channel. It felt as if we were walking across the back of a giant sea creature suspended in time. The highlight film from the weekend would have included us making a wrong turn near lunch and correcting our path by crawling under a barbed wire fence. (Matt shimmying on his tummy in the grass was priceless.) And our long walk home through the Mars-like red dirt and rock on the backside of the Montanon ridge looked like a scene out of a bad science fiction movie. We were exhausted and out of water by the time we reached Scorpion Bay.

After an endless supply of power bars and an 11-mile hike, I was determined to eat a hot meal that night and decided to make friends with a neighboring church group. I made a 7pm appointment for stove time with Dave (our neighbor) and we scarfed down 5 servings of Mountain House lasagna without chewing. Part of winning Dave over was mentioning our engagement and he made the first official announcement about our future marriage out loud to his fellow campers. My tummy was full and I was a beaming bride-to-be; sticky cheese fingers and all.

That night we slept under a grove of Eucalyptus trees (minus the pig lullabies) and had a restful morning waiting for our boat back to the mainland. Alone together on an island for three days meant we had a big secret to share on our way home, and upon arriving back to the mainland we pulled out our cell phones and started sharing our story.

Read Matt's version of this story.

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