Walter Mencken 9 a.m., Oct. 1
- Community Blog
- Tales of Adventure
I made my first voyage to Isla Norte on August 11, 1992. This is the outermost island of Islas Los Coronados, perhaps the most wild and beautiful as well. Under a mile in length and over one-quarter of a mile wide at its widest point, the island has a summit elevation of 467' at its central peak. Due to its resemblance to an ancient coffin or a body draped in a shroud, it was alternately known in the 1800s as "The Sarcophagus" or "Corpus Christi." This historically morbid nomenclature only adds to the mysterious aura which surrounds this island. Far more remote than other islands in the chain, it offers a level of solitude rarely found in this day and age, especially if one spends the night alone at its rocky summit. I spent the greatest solo night of my life at that location, and this is the story of that grand adventure.
On that fateful August day, I rigged and loaded Laser #2069 on the beach below the Coronado Municipal Golf Course. For those unfamiliar with the Laser as a class, it's a 14' racing dinghy with minimal freeboard, little more than a glorified surfboard with a rig. My Laser was powered by mainsail only, a whopping 76 square feet in area. Loading for an overnight voyage was always tricky, given the limited capacity of the Laser cockpit. Five-gallon plastic jerry jug of water for bathing, two gallons of purified water for drinking, cooler full of beer and food, waterproofed clothing and bedding... all these were scientifically loaded and lashed down, with equal distribution of ballast my primary concern. Soon I found myself under way, quietly slipping down the bay toward the harbor entrance.
As I neared Point Loma, I considered my objective. Several months earlier, I had completed my first overnight voyage to Isla Sur; upon my return, I wrote an article which was subsequently published in the Reader. This voyage would be different, for now I intended to deliberately avoid all human contact. Instead of hanging out and drinking rum with Mexican sailors and marines, this time I would pull the full-on 007 "stealth voyage" and summit expedition. My plan was to land in a shallow bight on the eastern side of the island, derig my boat and establish Base Camp, ascend to the prominent saddle above the bight, turn south upon the spine of the island and traverse the ridge to the summit. There I would stash my bedding, cooler, additional gear and clothing, prior to exploring the island from one end to another.
The breeze picked up as I cleared the Point, and I spent the next three hours thrashing steadily to windward. A loaded Laser is not the fastest Laser on the planet. However, it was a glorious day, perfect sailing weather for my purpose, and I studied the island as I gradually drew nearer. Although I had circumnavigated every island in the chain as a deckhand aboard a sportfishing craft, I had never set foot on Isla Norte before; as in my initial voyage to Isla Sur, I didn't know what to expect. My first task would be to safely execute a landing without damaging my boat . Easier said than done, particularly with a sizable surge running as swells wrapped around the nearby headland. The steep slopes of Isla Norte created a large "wind shadow" in the lee of the island, so I had time to study the shoreline as I coasted lazily into the bight.
Choosing a spot padded with eelgrass and seaweed, I gently stepped over the side and stood in my Top-Siders on a rocky reef. My daggerboard and rudder were already raised, so all I had to do was grab my bowline and situate myself on solid footing, wait for an opportune moment with regard to the surge, haul the Laser in and gently "walk" her up the shore, alternately lifting each end to put the boat on dry ground. This I did with minimal damage to the boat, just a minor scratch or two in the gel coat where exposed rock met the hull. No big deal, these scratches could easily be repaired later, and I was now safely ashore. I was thankful that the hull sustained no real damage; landing in an inflatable is one thing, but landing in a rigid fiberglass hull is another. It doesn't take much for a sailor to find himself in serious trouble in this sort of amphibious endeavor.
After a brief inspection of the hull, I began derigging my faithful little boat. Removing the battens and furling the mainsail around the mast, I placed this spar out of sight behind some nearby rocks. Same for the boom and sail bag full of gear, including my colorful yet streamlined life vest. The five-gallon jerry jug of bathing water wouldn't be needed until the following day, so it also stayed at Base Camp. The remainder of my gear was hauled out of the cockpit and momentarily set aside as I "walked" the stripped hull further up the shore, well above the waterline. I knew from consulting the tide chart that the hull would be safe overnight. Once I put it in optimal position, I carefully flipped the hull topside-down, so the gleaming white deck would be invisible. From a quarter-mile or more away, the dark blue hull would merely resemble another rock at the base of the eastern slope.
I turned to sort my expedition gear and load my pack for the ascent to the saddle. Out came black Nike hi-tops and dry socks, plus a change of clothing... dry shorts and a tank top for hauling the Gregory Mountaineering pack to the summit. Wet clothes and Top-Siders were hidden with the sail gear behind the rocks. There was no getting around humping the cooler on my ascent, but I managed to cram almost everything else into my spacious pack. Drinking water, fresh lemons for flavor, climbing shoes, chalkbag, clothing, and various small but useful items were stowed in succession. In light of the warm weather, I had purposely left my fartsack at home: I intended to sleep in socks and lightweight expedition gear (Capilene pants and top), while my bedding consisted of two thick Mexican blankets, tightly rolled and tied to my rucksack. Soon I was ready for the next phase of my voyage, the ascent and exploration of the island.
Having read Helen Ellsberg's excellent book on the islands from cover to cover (twice), and also having made one successful voyage to Isla Sur, I knew what to expect in terms of wildlife and habitat. These islands are wildlife sanctuaries and the environment is sensitive, so the whole idea behind "stealth voyages" is to have absolutely minimal impact and leave no trace of passage. This means carefully avoiding damage to flora and fauna, mainly by detouring around all living organisms and sticking to solid rock wherever possible. With prevailing westerly breezes in these latitudes, the eastern or leeward slope of Isla Norte is covered with the ground nests of thousands of sea birds. I carefully scanned the slope above and chose a route of ascent which would bypass all nests. I was glad to leave the shore: in the course of nature, dead birds routinely roll down the slope from the colony above, and the stench of avian carcasses in various stages of decomposition is quite powerful by the water's edge. I knew I would leave this unpleasant odor of decay behind as I made my way toward the saddle.
Slowly but steadily climbing, cooler in hand, I eventually topped out on the ridge and turned south toward the summit. There was plenty of solid rock along the spine of the island, so it was easy to avoid all birds and plant growth during this ridge traverse. The gradient was also more mellow, and the panoramic views were incredible... I had to switch the now heavy cooler from one hand to another due to digital fatigue, but my objective was in sight and I steadily made progress. A wonderfully cool breeze swept up the windward slope, carrying with it the raucous sounds of a sea lion rookery on the rugged western shore, while the active colony of sea birds down to leeward filled the air with their cries. Surf thundered on the rocks below and there wasn't a single soul in sight... not even a fishing or diving boat to be seen for miles. It was PARADISE.
I soon stood at the summit of the island and thankfully set down my cooler and pack. Despite the fairly short distance traveled, my muscles were pumped and my tank top was soaked with sweat. I removed my shirt and tossed it to the ground, then dug into my pack and splashed my face and torso with water. Cracking the cooler, I grabbed an ice-cold beer and sat down on a nearby rock to examine my surroundings. The view southeast along the island chain was magnificent... a stunning view of the islands and the northern end of Baja California. I sat like Buddha, beer in hand, and contemplated the scenery. Swiveling my head, I saw nothing but pristine wilderness in every direction. Not counting thousands of living creatures, I was alone on the island, the only human being present, with no other humans in sight for miles around. My spirits soared as I embraced this reality: the island was mine to explore, and I had all the gear I needed right here at the summit. I drained my beer and grabbed another just for the hell of it, standing this time and slowly rotating 360 degrees to study the surrounding terrain.
It was now midafternoon, so I had hours of daylight left. My next task would be to set up Summit Camp and repack only the gear I needed to make an exploration of the island. With this in mind, I loosened the straps securing my blankets and chose a likely spot to lay them out, right at the very summit. In keeping with the cosmic and historic "Sarcophagus" theme, I would lie in the exact orientation as "The Sarcophagus" itself. I pulled everything out of my pack and dumped it all on the blankets. A lemon was quickly sliced with my razor-sharp Gerber Gator Serrator and squeezed into the open gallon water jug, then two quarts of lemon water were transferred into bulletproof Nalgene canteens I routinely use in the field for climbing adventures. These canteens went into my Gregory pack, along with climbing shoes, chalkbag, extra socks and shirt, some "pogy bait" (snacks) and a couple of beers wrapped in a towel to prevent condensation from wetting the sticky rubber on my Sportivas. Everything else got wrapped in blankets and weighted with the cooler at Summit Camp, not only to keep the gear from blowing away, but to deter avian theft.
Stuffing my cheesy disposable plastic camera into a cargo pocket, I surveyed my attire and equipment. Thick baggy field shorts, fresh tank top, fresh socks and Nikes, sunglasses on a goon cord, primo Gregory pack with only what I needed for a quick Alpine-style exploration of the island... everything was cool, so I headed out, choosing the northern end of the island to explore first. I did this so I could look down and check the status of my boat, even though I had left it high and dry an hour earlier. Hey, color me cautious when it comes to island voyages in small craft... until you've successfully completed one, you don't know your @$$ from a hole in the ground. I set out to retrace my steps to the saddle above my boat, carefully keeping to the stone path and avoiding all living organisms. Traveling light this time, I soon passed my former topping-out point on the ridge, and continued onward to the northern peak and headland.
When viewed from San Diego, the two largest islands in the chain resemble elephants half-submerged in water, with the heads of these elephants facing outward in opposite directions. Think of the northern headland of Isla Norte as the "forehead" of that particular elephant. Know that the view from the top of this headland is INSANE, with large, steep, and radical blocks of rock dropping downward in a gradual curve to the shore below. The summit elevation of the northern peak of Isla Norte is quite high, not quite as high as the true 467' summit elevation of the island, but still radical and almost as high as the central peak. My guess would be somewhere around 460', if not higher. Donning my climbing shoes and chalkbag, then swigging lemon water and parking my rucksack, I carefully descended partway down this headland by sticking to the most solid blocks of rock and bypassing the gnarliest cliffs. Once I was in position to scan the entire northern end of the island, I halted my descent, as I knew I would only have to climb back up in short order.
My Sportivas performed admirably on this exposed headland. The rock is actually pretty good here, unlike the friable rock in other parts of the island, and a little chalk on the hands doesn't hurt either. I may very well be the first rock climber to put up a route on the northern headland: a cool 5.7 face climb which I promptly dubbed "Those Pesky Swiss Yodelers." Look for this face on a large block of rock high on the northern headland. The beauty of this climb lies in the setting, with radical views on all sides and thundering surf below... WTF, it ain't Compton, North Philly or the Lower Bronx. Once again, until ya do it, you don't know sh!t about climbing on Isla Norte. I may not be the best climber on the planet (far from it), but I make an effort to go places where few others have gone, and that's all that matters to me. Nothing like hanging off a face high above the ocean, feeling the breeze as you take a moment to chalk up on some solid holds. Pain and death on the rocks below, heller natural beauty and solitude in every direction. Perhaps only a technical rock climber can understand and appreciate this mentality.
I recovered my pack and swapped shoes atop the northern headland, then made my way south along the western heights. Cliffs on the western side of the island are highly dangerous, and one REALLY has to exercise caution while hiking above these sheer drops. Unless you're on solid rock, you're dealing with loose gritty dirt atop heller cliffs higher than the Bay Bridge. Inattentive hikers can easily lose their footing and slide down to their freefall deaths, unless they're conveniently equipped with ice axes and desperately perform "self-arrest." Believe me, once they slide over the lip, it won't be pretty when they splatter all over the rocks below... the whole scene reminds me of a story in the Union-Tribune years ago, wherein some hand thought he would play the hero above Black's Beach and retrieve a cassette tape dropped by a girl to whom he was speaking. He went out, lost his footing and slid over the edge, falling to his death at the base of the cliffs. I just hope the cassette was worthwhile: it would totally suck dying for Barry Manilow, as opposed to The Ventures, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix or The Wooden Tops, let alone Mozart and all those classical heroes.
Beneath the towering cliffs west of the central peak, one can see the largest rookery or sea lion breeding colony on the island, a broad rocky shelf which forms the largest point on the western shore. Here numerous marine mammals haul themselves out to take their well-deserved rest; as I peered over the edge of a gnarly cliff, I saw a sh!tload of sea lions below, with what looked like a few odd seals scattered here and there around the fringes. The air was filled with barking and bellowing as the creatures went about their business. The drop here is fearful, with the point several hundred feet below. The surf thunders against the rocks with rhythmic violence, but the shelf is safe enough for the animals. Marine mammals prefer the rugged windward shore of the island, as it offers a wild and remote haven not easily accessible to other creatures (including man).
My recon of the northern end of Isla Norte took longer than I thought it would, so I decided to save the southern half of the island for the following morning. No big deal, just a decision based upon safety, given the gradually fading light as I neared the center of the island. I had at least forty-five minutes of daylight left, but I wanted to make sure my Summit Camp was in good order, and I had already pounded the beers in my pack after soloing the northern headland. Hence, I climbed back to the central summit of the island, immediately dropping my rucksack and grabbing another cold beer out of the cooler. The air temperature was absolutely perfect as I unfolded my blankets, moved all formerly enclosed gear to one side, and positioned the water jugs for easy access during the night. I hesitated while pulling the Capilene garments from the blankets... the ambient temperature was still too nice to think about donning synthetic clothing. Stripping the clothes from my body, I stood naked on the summit of Isla Norte, dressed in a beer and cooler cup while marvelling at the scenery which surrounded me. No other humans in sight, just this antisocial small craft sailor kickin' it in his birthday suit and watching a heller island sunset, cold tinny in hand.
The red sun sank beneath the horizon, and I donned my Capilene garments in the gloaming. These were followed by fresh socks; I have a thing about fresh socks in the field, due to time served in the Infantry. Spreading the blankets to their full extent, I parked my @$$ and pulled some gourmet food out of my cooler. This was followed by more beer as darkness slowly enveloped the island. Most of the sea birds were now roosting on the leeward slope, steadily squawking away as birds in nesting colonies will do. Far below on the now invisible windward shore, marine mammals barked and bellowed as they thrashed about, and their raucous noises were borne upward by the breeze. The rhythmic thundering of the surf enhanced this beautiful natural symphony, a symphony which would last all night and provide endless pleasure to this lover of nature. Just one more reason why these islands feel so alive, and why I'm drawn to them as I wholeheartedly am; where others see rocky desolation, I see slopes and shores teeming with life, not to mention abundant marine life hidden beneath the surface of surrounding waters.
Comfortably tired and full as I was, I only had a couple more beers before calling it a night. I've always been an early riser in the field, and I had plenty of exploring to do on the morrow. Arranging my blankets and lying down in precise orientation with regard to "The Sarcophagus" itself, I spent a few moments cheerfully reflecting upon the successful nature of my voyage so far... I laughed aloud at my seemingly ridiculous notion to align myself with the island, some sort of cosmic bullsh!t picked up from a New Age girlfriend somewhere along the line. Little did I realize how soon this alignment would pay off. Meanwhile, there I was, alone atop a massive rock in the ocean, enveloped in darkness but surrounded by living creatures... serenaded by song and surf as I quietly drifted off to sleep. The blankets were warm and supremely comfortable---even in August, nights can be cool offshore. Lulled by the natural symphony, I closed my eyes for the last time that evening and thankfully sank into oblivion.
I woke well after midnight to a sky filled with meteors... scores of shooting stars streaking soulfully across the heavens. It was the peak period of the Perseid Meteor Shower, and in truly serendipitous fashion I had a grandstand view. Amazed by my good fortune, I lay back and enjoyed the show... despite having taken a course in astronomy back in my college days, I had completely forgotten about this beautiful natural phenomenon. My voyage had been wholly spontaneous, you see, and meteors were the last thing on my mind when I embarked in San Diego. The brilliance and sheer numbers of these meteors were absolutely astounding... each meteor left a smoking trail as it blazed across the night sky, and multiple meteors often streaked simultaneously through the firmament. Clearly, this was my cosmic reward for aligning myself with "The Sarcophagus"... a celestial show unlike any other to round out the ongoing natural symphony.
Picture me as I'm lying in my blankets atop Isla Norte, thundering surf and raucous marine mammals audible in the darkness to windward, thousands of restless roosting sea birds squawking down to leeward, an absolutely magnificent vaulted arch of sky above, filled with stars and blazing meteors too numerous to count. I feel so humble and so grateful to be here as I lie atop this massive rock in the ocean, an insignificant speck of humankind in the midst of the most gorgeous natural setting imaginable. THIS is the greatest solo moment of my life, this fantastic natural and celestial symphony... never before have I seen such perfect cosmic timing, such complete and complementary interaction of earthly and celestial elements. I feel as if the island itself is sailing beneath the stars, and I am a mere passenger along for the ride, infinitely grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. A separate reality indeed, and I am fortunate to be at the center of it all.
Ironically, I later discovered that astronomers who flocked to mountain observatories in San Diego County were completely denied views of this spectacular meteor shower, since the entire mainland was blanketed by clouds. Offshore, it was a different story, with clear skies and zero light pollution over the islands. Honestly, I could not have planned my voyage any better had I tried, but these events unfold in certain ways for a reason, and that reason is known as "natural progression." Laugh if you will, but the fact remains that I had the perfect grandstand view of that amazing celestial display, unlike any other meteor shower I have ever seen in my life... and I've seen a few, believe me, camping in remote wilderness areas as I so often do. Comets too, which are also radical, though not quite as exciting to me as multiple meteors streaking across the night sky.
I ran out of wishes long before I grew tired and drifted off once more to catch another hour of sleep before dawn. When I woke at first light, I briefly wondered whether I had dreamt of that phenomenal meteor shower... I smiled at my good fortune as my memory kicked in and I relived the most spectacular moments in my mind. What a tremendous gift from the cosmos, that rare celestial display! Now a fine new day was dawning, and I had the southern half of the island to explore. Galvanized by this thought, I stretched in my usual manner, rose from my blankets, and dug a fruit smoothie out of my cooler. Naked Juice, rather appropriate in light of my stint as a nudist the previous evening. Not something I habitually do... I suppose I was overwhelmed by the freedom and solitude, and figured: "WTF, why NOT stand here with a beer in my hand?"
Downing the smoothie and returning the empty container to my cooler, I peeled my Capilene garments in favor of field shorts, T-shirt, fresh socks and Nikes. I loaded my pack more lightly this time: only one quart of lemon water, climbing shoes, chalkbag, and a change of socks. My mission was to pick up where I left off, exploring the southwestern quarter of the island before checking out the impressive stack at the southern tip. From there, I would play it by ear and go wherever my will took me. As a student of geology and physical geography, I often find interesting natural features and specimens to examine in the field. With no shortage of flora and fauna on Isla Norte, I looked forward to another day filled with wildlife sightings. Arranging and weighting my blankets with the cooler, I shouldered my pack and set off down the western slope. It was too early for sunglasses, so I let them hang from the goon cord around my neck.
The slope dropped steeply downward as I angled toward the southwest. Rounding a low dirt bluff, I came across a sad sight. A length of fishing line borne on the wind had blown up the slope, where it had become entangled in the scrub. Anchored at each end, the line stretched between two small shrubs, not quite eighteen inches above the ground. A dead bird hung from the line, which was an avian death trap. Sea birds routinely skim low over the surface of the island; any hapless bird which encountered this line and managed to wrap a wing around it more than once was doomed to die a slow and agonizing death, unable to free itself. I instantly resolved to clear this deadly obstacle so that no further loss of life occurred. Pulling out my Gerber, I flipped it open and stepped forward to perform this task.
The line suddenly jerked in bizarre fashion, even though there was no breeze to speak of and the bird in front of me was clearly dead. Knife in hand, I leaned over and peered farther around the dirt buttress. A second bird was snared in the trap, but this one was still alive; frightened by my approaching footsteps, the poor creature had gone berserk in a desperate last-ditch effort to free itself. My heart was filled with compassion, and I vowed to safely extricate this living bird from the linear trap. I realized the bird was terribly frightened: for all it knew, I was a predator, here to mack the bird for breakfast. The line had just enough slack in it for the bird to thrash around a bit; the line appeared to be wrapped several times around the bird's right wing, near the joint in the wing itself. Assuming the most nonthreatening stance possible, I stepped forward, razor-sharp knife in hand, and attempted to soothe the terrified creature. Not fifteen minutes into the day's exploration, I found myself talking to a bird:
"Look, this isn't what you think... I'm just going to set you free."
As I drew closer, the bird went apesh!t, violently thrashing about and flapping its loose wing in all directions while baring its beak and harshly squawking in a way which would have done Alfred Hitchcock proud. There was no way to gently remove the line from the bird's right wing without getting pecked hard, and I was afraid I might unintentionally break the wing trying to placate and hold the frightened animal. I chose the next best course of action: I would simply cut the line as close to the wing as possible, hopefully leaving the bird to extract the remainder once it was free. Timing my movement, I cut the line a few short inches from one side of the wing; the bird was still trapped, thrashing around like a slam dancer in a mosh pit. With one more well-timed cut, I freed the bird and it turned to launch itself into flight, skimming the ground while diving down the slope toward a nearby cliff and wheeling out into space... a beautiful sight, enhanced by the knowledge that the creature surely would have died if left in its predicament.
Carefully removing the line from the dead bird without touching the carcass, I collected all lengths and thrust them into a pocket for later disposal. I also scanned the slope in every direction to see if any other death traps existed. Thankfully, I saw none, but fishermen who frequent the islands should be aware of the potential threat to wildlife posed by improper disposal of trimmed line. Lightweight as fishing line is, it can easily blow up the windward slope and snag in the scrub, creating an avian death trap like the one I had just cleared. To be perfectly honest, I myself never realized that this sort of thing could happen; I've heard about the dangers of pollution in the ocean, particularly plastic bags, six-pack rings and cigarette butts, but I never would've imagined that fishing line could be so deadly to birds, if I hadn't seen the resulting death trap firsthand. So, next time you trim line aboard a sportfishing craft, do all sea birds a big ol' favor and properly dispose of that line.
Having done my good karmic deed for the day, I continued my exploration. The southwestern shore of Isla Norte is extremely rugged, with sea cliffs undercut by pounding surf and jagged points of erosion-resistant rock jutting into the ocean. I made my way along the edge of cliffs above shore, carefully scanning the terrain and choosing the least dangerous route. This is a particularly beautiful area, out of sight from the mainland, very wild and remote with a powerful sense of isolation and solitude. In other words, my kind of place. I cruised along at my usual speed, stopping here and there to check out things as I am wont to do in the wilderness. That's the way I roll in the field, although I can make heller time when I want to get somewhere in a hurry. Places like Isla Norte are special, however, and deserve to be explored more thoroughly. After a while, I found myself at the southern end of the island, looking down into a fearful chasm filled with turbulence.
This chasm lies between the main body of the island and a large rock or stack a stone's throw to the south. A dangerous place, this chasm, with friable rock, heller drops, and thundering surf below. Under calm conditions, scuba divers can effect passage through a slot in the chasm known as "The Keyhole"---not possible on this day, with a strong swell running and the chasm roaring like a freight train. A fall here would mean sudden death on such a day: if you actually survived the drop, you'd soon be crushed or drowned by the surf. I lingered here long enough to get a feel for the place... had the rock been more solid on my side, I would have liked to climb down into the chasm and really experience the roaring turbulence of that seething oceanic cauldron at close range. However, the rock was somewhat damp and one block shifted under my feet, so that was my cosmic cue to avoid further risk. I go into the wilderness to find freedom and solitude, not to F----- DIE.
Turning away from this fearful location and working my way up the central spine, I studied the southeastern quarter of the island. This is not an ideal place to explore, as so many ground nests cover the area, while gritty downsloping dirt ramps lead to dangerous sea cliffs below, a recipe for disaster once an intrepid explorer begins to slide. I decided then and there to return to Summit Camp, pack up all my gear and head down to the boat, perhaps to explore the southeastern shore before taking a much-needed field shower. I had plenty of time: it was only midmorning so I wasn't in a hurry, but I also knew it would take me another hour to collect my gear and descend to the eastern shore. This I did, taking special care to leave no trace of my visit. I always pack all trash out with me, leaving my bivouac site in better shape than I found it---the true naturalist's code.
An hour later, I was poking around on shore just south of my boat. While examining a bed of conglomerate, I noticed an unusual stone protruding from the surrounding matrix: a perfectly oval piece of polished white quartz which resembled a bird egg. Reaching out to touch it, I discovered it was loose, ready to fall from the matrix. In fact, it came away in my hand, the perfect cosmic reminder of my action in freeing the bird earlier that morning. I slipped this unexpected gift into my pocket and eventually took it home with me. I later discovered that if one held it a certain way, illuminating it with a flashlight, the backlit stone would marvelously glow like a jeweled egg. My beloved niece now has that stone; I gave it to her years after completing this initial voyage to Isla Norte, sharing the story of my timely animal rescue and demonstrating the stone's luminous properties.
It grew warm in the lee of the island, under a blazing sun, so I returned to Base Camp and proceeded to wash the salt and funk from my body. This was done by holding the five-gallon water jug above my head and pouring at intervals. What can I say? I like being clean for my return voyages from the islands. My shower finished, I flipped the Laser hull, "walked" it down to the water's edge, and rigged the boat for a fast reach home. Reloading the cockpit and securing all unnecessary gear, I waited for an opportune moment to launch the boat and cast off. Again, I was fortunate to sustain no damage to the hull. Once I cleared the island, the wind filled my sail and I was off for Dago. My Laser now rode high in the water, since I had shed some ballast during my expedition ashore, and I made good time in transit as I bent on the knots. Like all return voyages from the islands, this one was an absolute pleasure...
Isla Norte gradually fell farther astern, its features slowly fading from view, but vivid memories of my grand adventure remained emblazoned in my heart and soul. Particularly my memories of the spectacular meteor shower... never before had I witnessed such a magnificent celestial display!!! Never before had I experienced such perfect serendipity in the wilderness!!! I've had quite a few outdoor adventures in my time, many in extremely wild and remote locations (as one can see from the few photos I've posted on my profile page---got a thousand more where those came from), but that first night spent at the summit of Isla Norte still stands as the greatest solo night of my life. Over the years, it has been my rare privilege to explore all four islands in the group, sleeping on the three largest time and again during memorable overnight voyages, but I'll always have a special regard for "The Sarcophagus." It's difficult to explain, and I suppose the affinity is deeply-rooted in my past...
When I was young and my family was slowly being torn apart by bitter and protracted divorce, I often escaped that ugly reality by losing myself between the covers of a good book. As I hailed from a nautical family, one day I picked up the all-time classic tale of seafaring adventure: TREASURE ISLAND, by Robert Louis Stevenson. All my childish grief and confusion vanished as I was instantly transported by that grand literary masterpiece, and I marvelled at each new development as I read the book from cover to cover. I think my love for islands was born on that day: there's something magical and mysterious about an island, something exciting that encourages exploration and discovery. As I matured and my love for islands grew, it was only natural for me to be drawn to Islas Los Coronados. Decades have passed since I first read Stevenson, and in that time I've become an antisocial sonofabitch, therefore I've gravitated toward "The Sarcophagus" due to its lonely aspect and remote offshore location. The further from "civilization" the better, as far as I'm concerned. Jaded as I am, I couldn't care less if the island has no pirates, no gold, and no silver. One thing I've learned in the course of my lifetime: THE ISLAND ITSELF IS THE TREASURE.
Those who wish to know more about the islands should read Helen Ellsberg's book: LOS CORONADOS ISLANDS, La Siesta Press, 1970. Packed with information, this is the definitive work on the islands.