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  • Writer's pictureDale Hill

TCT Day 5: Parsons Landing to Two Harbors

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

The final day of my thru-hike and less than 7 miles to go, starting with a steep climb up Fence Line Road and ending with bison walking through my camp right past my tent; what a day!

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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 5 Statistics

Date: January 26, 2023

Distance: 6.79 Miles

Total Elapsed Time: 5h 07m

Total Moving Time: 4h 31m

Highest Elevation: 1,791 Feet

Elevation Gain: 1,741 Feet

Trailhead: Parsons Landing

Route Planning

Wow, the magic of the ocean! I woke up this morning refreshed and energized after the best night's sleep all week. I fell asleep to the sounds of the surf on the beach and was treated to a crisp, sunny morning. I felt good and instinctively knew I would take the high road back to Two Harbors.

Reviewing the route with George, I mentally broke today's hike into three sections; the ascent on Fence Line Road, the traverse across Silver Peak Trail, and the final descent as the Silver Peak Trail dropped into Two Harbors. Additionally, I had two survey marks to look for at the high points of the Silver Peak Trail.

After breakfast, I went through my morning ritual of breaking camp and packing my gear for my final day on the TCT. After a quick selfie, I left camp, pausing by the lockers to throw away my trash (including a mylar balloon I found on the beach yesterday!). As you can see in the picture below, there was plenty of water cached at the lockers; however, this may be more a factor of it being the off-season than a reliable cache. The bottles on the top row were unopened; the bottom shelf was filled with opened, partially filled bottles. I took one last look at the beach as I left; and followed the trail to Fence Line Road.

Fence Line Road: Better Up than Down

The first mile of the trail from Parsons Landing to the lower section of Fence Line Road was an easy warm-up, gaining only 394 feet of vertical gain; however, I knew things would get steep quickly as I had to climb 1,248 feet in the next mile. I recorded this video on the first steep pitch I encountered; little did I know there would be several more as I worked my way up the road.

I could see the Silver Peak Trail traverse well in the distance, so I should not have been surprised by the many false summits I endured as I slowly worked up Fence Line Road. As I said in the video, I am thankful I chose to go up this rather than down. The following slide show includes just a few photos I took as I went up, my sights set on the picnic table/shade shelter at the top of the ridge where Fence Line Road meets Silver Peak Trail. Of course, looking back to Parsons Landing was a spectacular view to see how far I'd come.

Leveling Out - Silver Peak Trail

Two hours after leaving Parsons Landing, I stood at the junction of Fence Line Road and Silver Peak Trail; all things considered, I was happy, managing to average one mile per hour on the climb. Yes, it's technically a road walk, but there were sections where my Dakota may have been challenged. Regardless, the hard part was out of the way, and I was looking forward to the rolling traverse ahead.

It was extremely windy, I didn't stop to take out my weather station, but winds were easily 35 mph, with stronger gusts which had me appreciating the dips in the road that offered temporary shelter. As I headed to the high point on the trail, I saw two hikers approaching in the distance. When our paths crossed, we exchanged greetings, and I asked if this was their first time hiking the TCT; both women replied it was, and they were headed to Parsons Landing. I told them I had spent last night in campsite number one and that it was awesome; they were excited, saying that was the site they had reserved. They were also happy when I told them I left my extra firewood in the Fox Box. 😊

I cautioned them about descending Fence Line Road, that sections were very steep, noting that most people posting online about the descent said they slid down the steeper sections on their butts. If I remember correctly, one had yoga pants on; the other was in shorts, not ideal for sliding down a dirt road, but what can you do? I also advised them that it was crazy windy along the ridge; one woman rolled her eyes and said she'd already lost her hat to the wind!

As they left, I looked at my GAIA to see how far I was from the high point when I noticed GAIA had stopped recording! Ugh. I resumed the recording but had a short stretch with no GPS data. The Relive video below shows a straight line where I seem to drop below the road, but that is just GAIA connecting the last two known points with a straight line. 🤷🏻‍♂️ It happens from time to time, but at least I caught it fairly quickly. I continued along the road to a short spur that took me to the high point.


Type of Marker: DB - Bench Mark Disc

Setting: 66 (A) - In a rock outcrop or ledge

Stamping: REF NO 2 1934

Monumented: 1934 by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey

I should have taken a video here; the winds were gusting at 40 mph, almost blowing me over when I took my pack off. I only stayed here long enough to recover the reference mark and quickly look for the GRANITE RESET (PID: DY3012) station disc. A Bureau of Land Management surveyor marked the station disc and RM 1 as "Not Found" in 2019, so I didn't hold much hope of locating them; however, GRANITE RM 2 was in excellent condition.

I was excited to find this older style of Bench Mark disc used as a reference mark. Between 1916 and 1924, all Bench Marks bore the center symbol of a circle with a slash, but after 1924 those discs were only used for Tidal Bench Marks, so it is interesting to see a regular Bench Mark (not a Tidal Bench Mark) set in 1934 that used this style disc. The surveyor likely had this in their inventory or no reference mark discs. This is the first recovery in my collection that uses this style disc for anything other than a Tidal Bench Mark.

This survey mark is located at the highest elevation I would reach during my five-day hike of the Trans Catalina Trail, 1,746 feet above sea level. 😊 For inquiring minds that want to know, The island's highest peak, Mt. Orizaba, reaches an altitude of 2,097 feet; however, it is not on the TCT.

Another nice thing about this survey mark is that everything from this point is generally downhill! I say "generally" because I've learned that the descents mask rollercoaster ups and downs to keep you on your toes. 😉

OAK (PID: DY3026)

Type of Marker: DS - Triangulation Station Disc

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

Stamping: OAK 1875

Monumented: 1875 by the US Coast Survey

Reset: 1934 by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey

My final target for the day was a mile down the Silver Peak Trail. The mark was located on the top of a knoll 140 feet off the TCT; initially, I saw RM 1 pointing toward a rock cairn. When dismantling the cairn, I found the station disc at the bottom. After taking photos of my recoveries, I reset the rocks in a ring around the station disc rather than rebuild the cairn.

Survey marks are part of the passive control network in the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS). They are valuable because they have a known location and elevation. Over the past two years, the NGS has been actively updating the information about the nationwide passive control network through the GPS on Bench Marks program. Using licensed surveyors and crowd-sourcing via hobbyists as "Citizen Scientists," the NGS collects current information on prioritized Bench Marks nationwide. I have participated in this program, reporting many of my recoveries to the NGS; one of the data points they want to know is if the mark is suitable for GPS observation. Marks obscured by tree cover, man-made structures, or, as in this case, a rock cairn are unsuitable for GPS observation, hence my decision not to rebuild the cairn.

If you want to learn more about active and passive controls in land surveying, the NGS has a short video (3 min) on its website that explains Geodetic Control in Land Surveying: Active vs. Passive; it explains the role survey marks and continually operating reference stations (CORS) play in the NSRS.

Dropping Back to Sea Level, Again

The road ahead was easy, not as steep as my ascent this morning, but I still was careful and watched my footing. It was hard to believe my thru-hike of the TCT was ending; the opportunity to be fully immersed in my hike was amazing, and I found myself reluctant to leave. Staying in Two Harbors tonight would give me a much-needed transition day before heading home. I imagine groups that hike together on a trip like this need time to process leaving their companions; for me, my separation anxiety was leaving the peace and solitude of the island behind. For the next two miles, though, I would enjoy the views as I descended toward Two Harbors.

The Final Mile

Silver Peak Trail turns into a graded access road as it turns to parallel Catalina Harbor and goes into the village of Two Harbors. I was heading back to the Park to set up camp in the same spot I had the night before last. As I walked along the harbor, I looked across the water and made mental notes of the route I'd take in the morning to look for some survey marks, my final recoveries of the week. I spotted a bison wandering across the field and approaching a picnic table to scratch its head. The picture below is not the best quality because I had it on zoom, but it's my only bison picture from the week. 🦬 🤷🏻‍♂️

I officially ended my hike at 2:00 p.m., as I set my pack down on the picnic table at campsite number 14 in Buffalo Flats. Just as I had my morning routine all week, I went through my afternoon routine of setting up camp. The first order of business is to remove my boots and knee braces, switch into my camp sandals, change out of my sweat-soaked hiking shirt into a dry base layer, then pitch my tent.

Since I was in town, and there were no Fox Boxes in the park, I removed my BV500 from my pack and ensured all the snacks and smelly stuff were stored inside; then, I tucked it under the picnic table. I grabbed my wallet and phone, tossed the rest of my gear in the tent, and headed to the General Store. I contemplated eating dinner at the restaurant again, but I still had one dinner entree left, so I picked up a few snacks to go along with my Good To-Go Kale and White Bean Soup and returned to camp.

Relive® 3D Video of Today's Section

Unexpected Nighttime Visitors

After dinner, I texted my wife and kids the picture of the bison (above) and told them I had finished the hike and was back safe and sound in Two Harbors for my last night on the island.

I turned in shortly after it got dark, worked on a crossword puzzle for a bit, then eventually drifted off to sleep. It's not uncommon for me to wake up several times during the night; however, what WAS uncommon were the sounds that woke me up. I could hear the unmistakable snorting of bison, close enough to my tent that I could hear and feel the vibration of their hooves on the ground. 😳 I lay very still, trying to discern how close they were to me; I know that sounds carry in the still of the night, and maybe they weren't that close to my tent.

Very slowly and as quietly as possible, I sat up, unzipped a small section of my tent door, and opened the rain fly about 10 inches at the top, affording me a small window to look outside. No more than a dozen feet away, there was a huge bison scratching its head on my picnic table! 🦬 As I watched, it lifted the picnic table and pushed it a couple of feet as it tried to scratch on it. When the table moved, he turned in my direction; his head was all I could see, then he walked right past my tent. I thought, "please don't get caught on one of my tent guy lines." I had to trust their night vision was sufficient to notice that my tent was there and they had enough sense to avoid it. I must've sat there, not moving a muscle, for 15 minutes, listening as they snorted and snuffled off.

Checking the time, it was a little past 11:00 p.m. When I was confident they weren't close by, I quickly threw on my pants, grabbed my puffy jacket, headlamp, phone, and crossword puzzle book, and went outside. I put my headlamp on high and swept around the park in all directions making sure they weren't nearby; then I headed down to the laundry room and sat up for about an hour doing my crosswords. Tiredness overtook my apprehension, so I returned to my tent, put my AirPods in with some smooth jazz playing, and finally got back to sleep.

There's a reason why the Rangers recommend staying 150 feet away from bison on the island; these things are big, ranging anywhere from 800-1,600 pounds, and if spooked, provoked, or threatened, can be dangerous. They may have only been passing through the park, but I was double-zipped in little more than a nylon bag lower than their shoulder height. Them passing by my tent, only feet away, was unnerving.

Tomorrow is departure day, the boat leaves at 11:45 a.m., so I have the morning to look for survey marks and pack for the return trip.

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