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Backpacker Magazine – September 2001

Wild Island Hiking

Hear wild horses thunder through camp. Look for wolf tracks in the mud or eagles' nests in the cliffs high above. Cast off the workaday world and go hike an island paradise.

by: Todd Wilkinson, Michele Morris and Jeff Rennicke

West   California

Channel Islands
Escaping The Sea Of Humanity

In one hand, I'm holding a global positioning device linked to a satellite orbiting in the cosmos. In the palm of the other, I have a shard of a rock bowl hand-chiseled millennia ago.

I followed a rib of land from the tallest overlook in California's Channel Islands National Park to reach this ancient Chumash Indian campsite. A fresh sea breeze caresses my face and I taste the saltwater that settles on my lips. With ocean waves pounding the shore, a pair of seals whirling through a protected cove nearby, and migrating gray whales passing northward to the Bering Sea, I feel like I'm in the middle of a lost world. And yet fewer than 30 miles away is Santa Barbara.

Sculpted by nearly incessant wind and weather that ranges from chilly monsoon rains in winter to bone-dry autumns, the eight Channel Islands are rugged and treeless, but ideal for hardy wilderness hikers. With 140 species of birds, rare endemic foxes, endangered California brown pelicans, and an abundance of sea creatures (including seals, sea lions, dolphins, sea otters, and sharks), I consider my treks here a consummate North American safari. Yet the 30,000 annual visitors rarely stay overnight.

What those daytrippers miss is the meditative solitude of a remote, surfside campsite and the image that comes to me on mornings like this one. As I run my fingers over the ancient crockery, I see southern California before the invasion of asphalt and feel somehow connected to the people who long ago sat on these islands and stared out at the vast blue sea with the same mixture of wonder and gratitude.

Casting off: Boat transportation is available through Island Packer Cruises (805-642-1393; and Truth Aquatics (805-962-1127; Light plane access is available through Channel Islands Aviation (805-987-1301;

Guides: Channel Islands National Park, by Susan Lamb and George H. H. Huey (Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 888-569-7762;; $8.95). The park provides an adequate map, or try Trails Illustrated's Channel Islands National Park #252 map (800-962-1643;; $9.95).

Hidden treasure: At Santa Rosa Island, backpackers in the know can secure backcountry permits for superb beach camping (other islands have designated campgrounds).

Contact: Channel Islands National Park, (805) 658-5711;

Island Hopping

Round Island, Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary, AK:
The 10,000 snoring walruses and clouds of nesting seabirds like puffins and murres more than make up for only 3 miles of hiking trails and the absence of sandy beaches and palm trees. Contact: Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary, (907) 842-2334;

Tongass National Forest, AK:
With 17 million acres and more than 1,000 islands, the Tongass has been called a "forest of islands." Hike in bear tracks in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness on Admiralty Island National Monument or in old-growth forest in the 265,000-acre West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness. Contact: Tongass National Forest, (907) 228-6202;

Na Pali Coast State Park, HI:
The 22-mile (round-trip) Kalalau Trail hangs from the cliffs and wisps through the sands of Na Pali Coast State Park, offering stunning vistas, soft beaches, and whale watching.

Contact: Na Pali Coast State Park, (808) 274-3445.
-Todd Wilkinson

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