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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

TCT Day 4: Two Harbors to Parsons Landing

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Today is like an active rest day; I am hiking West End Road, the coastal road, to Parsons Landing.

Panoramic view of Campsite No. 1

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I encourage you to follow my journey as it unfolded, enjoying the articles chronologically; however, for ease, these links allow you to jump between specific days. All links open in a new window so you won't lose your location.

TCT Day 4 Statistics

Date: January 25, 2023

Distance: 8.69 Miles

Total Elapsed Time: 4h 54m

Total Moving Time: 4h 09m

Highest Elevation: 230 Feet

Elevation Gain: 585 Feet

Trailhead: Buffalo Flats Campground (Two Harbors Playground)


Today's route option was a critical decision point for me. There are two options to get to Parsons Landing from Two Harbors; the first is to climb Silver Peak Trail to the highest elevation you'll hit on the TCT, then descend Fence Line Road to Parsons Landing, and the second is to take the relatively flat road walk along the coast on West End Road.

Option 1: Silver Peak Trail Start. This route is the direction intended by those who designed the trail. The climb out of Two Harbors is steady but manageable, gaining 1,700 feet in 2.7 miles; the remainder of Silver Peak Trail is rolling but generally downhill. The challenge of this route is the descent on Fence Line Road, where you lose 1,248 feet of elevation in only a mile. The road is steep, significantly rutted by the recent rains, and as it dries out, the loose top layer wreaks havoc with traction. Trekking poles are strongly encouraged, and it is critical to maintain a proper center of gravity to avoid falling. In my pre-trip research, a common theme among those who chose this route was that they slid down the steeper sections on their butts! At the end of Fence Line Road, you pick up the Parsons Landing Trail for the short walk to camp, ending the day with a little over 6.5 miles.

Option 2: West End Road Start. This option has minimal elevation gain, primarily at the beginning as you hike to West End Road from Two Harbors. This easy road walk follows the coast's contours, affording views of the many coves home to private camps and small yacht clubs. Less dramatic than taking the Silver Peak Trail, this route is a little longer, at approximately 8 miles.

"And the Survey Says..."

I chose the route months ago; I would go counter-clockwise, taking the coastal road walk to Parsons Landing, then returning via Fence Line Road and Silver Peak Trail. With my history of knee injuries (no ACLs), steep descents are challenging, even when wearing both knee braces. At 61, the prospect of sliding down a decomposed granite dirt road with a 48-pound pack on my back had zero appeal. 🤷🏻‍♂️ Steep ascents are much more manageable, albeit slower.

However, I left the option open to go out and back on West End Road based on how my knees felt; the first three days' roller coaster hills made me feel a little achy as I came into Two Harbors yesterday. I planned to take the coast road to Parsons Landing, rest up, then see how I felt in the morning; if I were still sore, I'd return on the road. Otherwise, I'd go up and over the peaks.

Cold and Damp

A situation unique to hiking the TCT early in the off-season is the weather; two weeks ago, the island was inundated with rain, the ground was saturated, and all the trails were closed. The upside is that everything is so green now; however, the trail is still muddy in many places, and the ground still holds a lot of moisture.

Drying Out!

Last night was the coldest yet, and it was damp. When I woke this morning and exited my tent, the rain cover was wet with condensation, and the ground sheet was wet and muddy. Of course, when I took the wet rain cover off, water ran off of it, passing through the netting on the tent, and landed my sleeping bag! I don't like to pack wet gear if I can avoid it; fortunately, I had an easy day ahead of me and wasn't in a hurry, so I had time to spread my bag out on a picnic table and dry my tent in the sun before packing up.

West End Road

I walked through town to pick up West End Road; I didn't need my GAIA for navigation because this was a straightforward road walk, but I had several survey marks to look for along the way and didn't want to pass by any of them inadvertently.

The first mark I found was on the trail coming up out of town; I had initially avoided this shortcut because it looked like it went through someone's backyard, so I dropped my pack on a bench by the side of the road and walked 100 feet down the trail and found the survey mark mounted on a pipe, sticking up about 2-feet off the ground.

GLO 1 (PID: DY2980)

Type of Marker: DD - Survey Disc (other agency)

Setting: 17 - Set into the top of a metal pipe driven into the ground

Stamping: JMC NO 1 1926

Monumented: 1933 by the US General Land Office Survey

This was an easy recovery on the way out of Two Harbors; the etched lines indicate a corner of two property lines, based on the datasheet, a quarter-corner. Note the difference between the date stamped on the survey mark (1926) and the date the GLO monumented it (1933). The survey point was initially identified in a 1926 survey; when the GLO Surveyors came through in 1933, they recovered the original survey point and established a new marker, keeping the original date since they verified the original survey.

I searched the GLO archives for the original survey, but they had no images in the online database. Based on the patent information I found, I did determine the Denver Colorado District was responsible for the survey, the District Manager ID for the survey was 291123, and the survey was approved on February 15, 1927, by Frank M Johnson (Supervisor of Surveys). However, this info falls into the "gee whiz" category without a copy of the survey map. 🤷🏻‍♂️ 😂

After this easy recovery, I geared up and started down the road. The great thing about today's section is that I'll have fantastic water views all day, winding my way around the many private coves. While you might think a road walk is boring and there's not much to see, I saw it as an opportunity to look for the details.

The first cove after leaving Two Harbors is Fourth of July Cove, home to the Fourth of July Yacht Club, a member-owned and operated club. Two miles down the road, I was on the south side of Cherry Cove when I saw a barricaded tunnel at the side of the road. Checking it out, I could see a more substantial barricade several feet inside the tunnel! I am not sure what it was for, but it was cool.

Winding around Cherry Cove, I had a birds-eye view of Camp Cherry Valley, part of the Greater Los Angeles Area Council (GLAAC) of the Boy Scouts of America and the most popular Boy Scout Summer Camp in the Western United States. The cove is also home to the Cherry Cove Yacht Club.

Looking down at Camp Cherry Valley from the south
Looking down at Camp Cherry Valley from the south

Walking around the camp on the road above, the next survey mark on my list was CHERRY 2, located at the end of Lion's Head Point on the north side of Cherry Cove. I was surprised to see a restroom at the bend in the road, and there were two footpaths behind the facility that appeared to lead to the point. Following the path on the left, in about 50 yards, I came to a memorial bench; more focused on finding my survey mark, I didn't photograph the plaque. The path disappeared several yards past the memorial.

I returned to take the path on the right, and after coming around a corner, I could see the trail snaking out to the point. Once out of sight of the road, I dropped my pack, grabbed my recovery kit, and headed to the Point. Halfway down the path, it joined a trail from the Scout Camp.

CHERRY 2 RM 2 (PID: DY2997)

Type of Marker: DR - Reference Mark

Setting: 7 - Set on the top of a concrete monument

Stamping: 2 1933

Monumented: 1933 by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey

Reference Mark No. 2 for station CHERRY 2 was easy-peasy to locate and was in great shape; however, I could not find the Station disc or Reference Mark No. 1. Still, I had one recovery, and the views from the Point were excellent!

After documenting the survey mark, I stayed on the point for a while, soaked in the views, then returned to the road. There were a bench and critter-proof trash receptacles next to the restroom, so I decided this was a convenient place to break for lunch.

Shortly after lunch, I heard a vehicle approaching me; as I stepped to the side to let it pass, I noticed it was a Ranger. He stopped to see how I was doing and if I needed anything, and I shared how my hike was going so far and my options for finishing the route based on how my knees felt in the morning. After chatting for 15 minutes, he wished me well and drove off.

Two miles from Cherry Cove, I reached Howlands Landing (Sullivans Beach), home of Catalina Islands Camps. Established in 1922, Catalina Island Camps, Inc. (CIC) operates a coed summer resident camp for 1st through 10th graders and is also home to the Catalina Environmental Leadership Program. The road on either side of the entrance to the camp was heavily signed, advising hikers to stay on the road that it was a private camp. After learning that it was a kid's camp, the aggressive signage made a lot more sense. It was an impressive facility, and I imagine it to be busy during the prime season.


Finally! I saw my first fox on the trip; it was coming down a game trail toward the road and stopped when it saw me, allowing me to snap a few pictures 🦊 😊 ❤️


Type of Marker: DS - Triangulation Station Disc

Setting: 7 - Set on the top of a concrete monument

Stamping: PABLO 1875

Monumented: 1875 by the US Coast Survey

Reset: 1934 by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey

Located on the un-named Point north of Sullivan's Beach are the Triangulation Station PABLO RESET and its reference marks, well, at least one of them. The detour to make this recovery was a short trail at the bend in the road; the station disc was on the edge of the path, and the reference marks were easily spotted nearby. Unfortunately, RM 1 has been vandalized, and the brass disc has been removed, leaving only the remnants of the concrete monument.

c. 1875; REALLY?!?

In a word, Yes. Many of the Reset marks on the island are stamped with the date 1875, but the brass disc wasn't added until the mid-1930s. When the original survey mark was established, the nature of the mark was a bit different. The original description of the mark was:

A brickbat was buried even with the surface of the ground, and an iron spike driven in a lead bolt in the top marked the center. Four redwood stubs, each with a copper tack in the top, were placed to the N, S, E, and W, 2 feet from the center."

FYI, A brickbat is just another word for brick. In 1933 and 1934, surveyors with the US Coast & Geodetic Survey located the original marks, verified their coordinates, then replaced them with the brass discs we see today. Since these "resets" were in the exact location of the original, they bear the same name and date as the original mark. Very cool.

New Cove, New Camp

A mile down the road was the entrance to Camp Emerald Bay, a Boy Scout Camp at Johnsons Landing (Emerald Bay). This camp was huge! I also got a good picture of Indian Rock in Emerald Bay, a popular diving spot and kayak destination. Check out the vibrant colors of the water, except for adding my watermark; these photos are directly from my iPhone and have not been edited. I was torn between sitting, looking at the water, and turning to the green hills!

Once past the camp, the trail takes a more direct route to Parsons Landing. I had identified the survey mark RED PEAK at the end of Arrow Point, the high point above Parsons Landing, but when I looked at the trail and the climb to reach it, I opted to pass on it and go directly to camp.

Parsons Landing

I arrived at Parsons Landing at 2:45 p.m., contented with an easy hiking day, my survey mark recoveries, and looking forward to a relaxing afternoon/evening on the beach. Dropping my pack on the picnic table, I switched from boots to sandals, removed my knee braces, and changed into a dry base layer shirt. I chose the flatter of the two tent sites and cleared all small rocks out of the way before laying out my tent. Once up, I tossed my sleeping bag, pad, and other essentials I would need into the tent. I left everything I'd need for dinner on the picnic table, then stored my pack and the rest of my gear in the Fox Box.

I returned to the lockers to pick up my water and firewood bundle, thinking I should have left my boots on for better footing on the beach rocks. A fox ran through my site and quickly disappeared up the hill as I approached; fortunately, anything it could have been interested in was properly secured. I boiled water for tonight's dinner, AlpineAire Creamy Potato Cheddar Soup, another of my all-time favorite camp meals; while that cooked, I built my fire.

I ate my soup, steak strips, dried pineapple rings, and Gatorade by the fire to the sounds of the surf crashing on the beach; pure bliss! I was on the wrong side of the island to see the full sunset, but the views were still spectacular. I sipped my hot chocolate by the fire as daylight faded away.

Relive® 3D Video of Today's Section

I hung out by the fire until it was almost completely burned down, I still had two logs left, but I was tired and decided to turn in. Paying it forward, I'd leave my extra firewood in Fox Box for the next hikers to camp here. Tomorrow is my last day on the TCT; based on how my knees feel in the morning, I'll decide if I return via the coast or go up and over the Silver Peak Trail.

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