Monday, May 11, 2015

Swimming with Sharks on Mother's Day

This last weekend for Mother's Day my family and I took advantage of the Birthday Special on Catalina Island.  My twins (who's birthday is on May 7th, and this year turned 7) received free admission to board the Catalina Express roundtrip, which saved us around $120.00.  We decided to do an adventure weekend on Catalina to celebrate their birthday and Mother's Day.  I took this as an opportunity to plan a wild and authentic adventure for the family.  Zen (my youngest) turned 4 several months ago, and over the last several months I have been training him - taking him on weekly 5 mile night hikes.  I have 4 boys (9, 7, 7, 4), and we live in a nice little suburb.  So naturally the tradeoff for convenience is that you need to find yourself in the wilderness from time to time to free yourself from the box life.  This was one of those adventures that truly freed us from the box, and I must admit, it was extremely physically demanding, but also the most fun I have had on a family vacation... I'll start off with BULLET POINTS - from there you can decide whether you want to read on, and if this is something you'd like to try/do.

What we saw while diving and snorkeling in the Sea:
- Schools of Leopard Sharks!!
- Crystal Blue Ocean with 100 feet of visibility
- Kelp Forest (beautiful but also terrifying)
- Schools of Fish of all kinds
- Crabs and Shellfish
- Seals

The very lovely and secluded and primitive campground of Parson's Landing

What we saw while exploring the Land:
- We hiked 14 miles round trip from Two Harbors to Parson's Landing in 3 days on the Trans Catalina Trail (TCT) I carried a 60lb pack the entire way, and the kids each had their own packs, weighing between 2-7 lbs. 
- We hiked a strenuous 1250' ascent within 1.5 miles (then hike another 4.5 after that) we were at the near top of the ridge of the Island and were able to see the Pacific Ocean on both sides of us!  A seriously epic moment.  The highest point we climbed was at 1750' of elevation.
- No fresh water (you have to carry it/bring it/be prepared/have rangers leave it for you in a locker at midpoints along the trail)
- We saw a wild Bison roaming outside our tent!!
- Fox
-Pelicans and tons of other birds
- Cactus and Succulents
- Gold and Red grasslands
- Red Eucalyptus trees

A morning surprise - Wild roaming bison on our campground

The Hike - is amazing.  It's beautiful, but also brutal.  The sun beats down on you because there is hardly any shade, and because it's a desert island the weather can be extreme, first being hot, then cold, within a period of 10 minutes. If you hike the ridge, the wind can be stiffening, because carrying your pack and hiking causes you to sweat, but the wind can give you a chill.  So dress in layers, it will protect you from the sun and the wind, and also keep you warm.  Dress down a layer or two if you get hot, but have your sweater handy.  If you take the TCT to Parson's Landing, be prepared for some strenuous labor on Fenceline Road.  It's a 1250' ascent/descent within 1.5 miles.  With the kids I had to walk behind them with a hand on their back because they were having trouble getting their footing on the path.  For much of it they had to QM and use their Parkour skills, as there is a lot of loose rock/gravel, and when you are going straight uphill, your calves and ankles are getting a run for their money.  If you wanted to increase the strength in your quads and hammy's, this path will make you a champion.  If you ever complained about doing crab walks in parkour class, this is the time you would be thankful for them.  Crab walking is great for steep ravines and ridges, and when you are in the middle of an Island, with a limited supply of fresh water, with the sun closing in on you, you need to keep moving.  I must admit, and boast a bit - my kids were total champions.  There was a point, on the trail where I was questioning my judgement as a mother, and wondered if we were going to make it.  The nice thing about Catalina, however, is that you can get cell reception most anywhere on the Island, which makes a great contingency plan in case you need to call for help.  I had done my research, and made sure we would have a contingency plan, in case my kids couldn't make the trek.  My kids were good sports (there was a bit of complaining about 3 miles in, but after we saw a snake in the road, and chipmunks running around everywhere, and a bird snatching a big ol' moth and eating it right in front of our eyes) the kids were all about the trail, and wondering what more they would see.  My 4 year old needed us to carry his pack for about 8 miles of the trip, and we even took turns carrying him for about 1 mile - but other than, they were true champions.  I was a proud mother on Mother's Day weekend - the best gift of all... but there was another gift I received on Mother's Day, and it was freaking amazing.  Read further...

We could see the Pacific Ocean on both sides - here we are at 1250' of elevation resting at the near top of the ridge

Diving - in Catalina, is first class.  You get crazy visibility - around 80-100' depending on the amount of sun in the day.  We were lucky enough to get 2 days of clear visibility ranging from 30'-80' most of the time.  My kids and husband love the water, and spent a good deal of time swimming and playing in the waves.  I love to sunbathe, and dive.  So after loading up on excessive calories to keep me warm during my diving ventures, I'd head out either with my husband or business partner/friend Corey on excursions.  We took turns watching the kids on the beach, while we buddied up.  My only regret is we didn't have a Gopro - so I don't have any underwater shots.  Which is a shame because we saw some rad stuff.  The highlight however was on my last dive excursion in Two Harbors - this one I first went out alone, checking out the rocks and fish.  My business partner/friend - Corey ended up coming out later so we decided to explore a cove.  I moved ahead, and saw a ton of shells and bones.  My first thought was "hmmm that'd be cool to see some shark, looks like a feeding ground".  Lon and Corey had seen a few Leopard shark the day before, and I was super bummed I hadn't seen any at all, so I didn't get my hopes up that I would see anything.  I navigated towards the shore and as the I neared the shore, I came face to face with 3 Leopard Sharks.  Let's just say.. it was an "OH (insert expletive here) moment.  I was within 10' of a school of Leopard Sharks and at that point couldn't see where I could surface because they were swimming in knee deep water!!!!!  I turned back to catch Corey's attention.  "Shark ahead!" was what I managed to gurgle underwater.  I pointed in the direction, Corey stayed still, and then he saw it - 3 tails flickering around in the sand.  Oh those Shark like ways!  How they can be so fast, fleeting, and down right intimidating.  Corey motioned that we move to the side, but I was ready to swim the opposite direction.  The only thought was to put as much distance between us and the multitude of teeth ahead.  Sure they can't exactly swallow you whole, but they can tear you apart piece by piece, especially when there is many more than one.  And the thing about sharks is if you actually see them, then there is many... MANY more nearby that you don't see.

So we swam, away... or so we thought.  I was behind Corey, eyes all alert from side to side.  Corey then tapped my shoulder and and pointed ahead, stuck his hand up like a fin and pointed towards the shore.  My thought was "Dear Lord just help us get out of the water without losing a limb!!"  At that point we were knee deep, and just had to make for land as quickly as possible.  So we went for it swimming past that which lurked nearby.  We scrambled up onto the shore, smiling big grins, wide eyes, and in awe.  Needless to say we were totally amped.  I mean holy crap!!  We just swam with Sharks!!  It wasn't the first time for either of us... swimming with Sharks... but it's just as much of a rush as any other time, if not more.  The more encounters, the more you know and realize how out of your league you really are when you are in the Sea.  Of course, the chances of being attacked and harmed by a Leopard shark are really next to none, they are deemed pretty much harmless to humans... still though... why take any chance at all?  Their mouths can clearly take a chunk off, so why chance it?  I say nay... let's not play with the sharks.  

Long story short, I got to swim with Sharks on Mother's Day... and it was FREAKING EPIC!! Later Lon, the kids, Corey and I ventured up on the ravine to take a good look down into the cove that we were diving.  We counted 10 Leopard Sharks! 10!  We were literally swimming in their feeding ground.  My kids were so excited to see the Sharks, but it was a lesson learned on my behalf that Sharks lurk even in the most shallow waters.  Literally 10 Sharks in knee deep water people!!!

Diving in these crystal blue coves. For the Kelp forest dive we climbed around some rocks to get to a good spot.

What Else? - The Kelp Forest dive in Parson's Landing was rad.  Terrifying, but rad.  Why is it scary? It can be pretty disorientating.  It's like swimming through an underwater forest maze, and you just never know what's around the corner.  Plus the kelp is literally right next to you - EVERYWHERE!  So if you are claustrophobic, this can start to affect you.  I really enjoyed this dive, but also felt a bit panicky near the end, and was ready to surface.  It's one of those environments you really need to acclimate to if you are going to spend a good amount of time down there.  I think if we had several more days, I would have wanted to do this dive several more times, just to get a bit more comfortable.

Waking up in the morning, emerging from my tent to see a wild bison roaming around was RAD!!  I observed from a good distance, and just watched him graze around.  This was my first time seeing a wild bison in real life, so that was a really cool experience, and my kids enjoyed checking him out too.

In Two Harbors the wind was really minimal, so we slept under the stars for a night. 
 I'd highly recommend an Adventure Getaway.  You experience so many incredible things, and it's a fun challenge for the whole family.  I was so inspired this weekend that I just had to write about it... and Catalina really is a beautiful terrain to explore.  If you have experienced some amazing Adventure getaway's, feel free to post in the comments, I'd love to hear them!

- Elle