Friday, May 29, 2015

Angel Island

The winding trail keeps going up. Climbing steady with the view of the bay ever-changing. It started on pavement, leading to steps and then a trail twisting through a canopy of oaks and madrones. Crossing over the fire road the North Ridge Trail is interrupted with a picture post card view of Ayala Cove.
In the summer of 1775, Captain Cook has just completed his second voyage around the globe, George Washington was given the command of ragtag bunch of rebels fighting in a fledgling revolution and Juan Manuel de Ayala and crew of the San Carlos became the first vessel to enter the world's greatest natural harbor of San Francisco Bay.
Ayala later reported, "It true that this port is good. Not only for the beautiful harmony that offers to the view, but is does not lack very good fresh water, wood, ballast in abundance. It's climate though cold, is healthful and free of those troublesome fogs we had in Monterey."
Spanish navigators had been missing it for more than 200 years, but on Aug, 5th  The San Carlos battling powerful currents and using a crescent moon to steer by slipped past the Golden Gate into the bay. He saw an island and named it Santa Maria de los Angeles or as we call it in present-day Angel Island. Looking to protect his ship, he anchored it in Ayala Cove and remained there for nearly a month while is crew explored and mapped the bay area for the first time.

Over looking that cove today, ferryboat after ferryboat cruise in daily dropping off and picking up tourists at the island's visitor center and museum. The little cove is abuzz with activity as  visitors look forward to their new discoveries on the island.
 I'm here with four others from Bayside Adventure Sports. A church sports group based out of the Sacramento area. While most people visit the island via ferryboat, we all paddled in  and are camping at the kayak camp on the northwest side of the island. I had paddled around the island earlier today and now the goal is to hike to its top. A 788 foot climb up Mount Livermore.
The entire island is within Angel Island State Park boundaries and administered by California State Parks. The island has a history of being used in a variety of purposes including, military forts,  missile site,  an US Public Health Service Quarantine Station, and an US west coast Bureau of Immigration inspection and detention facility. Historic building, battery strongholds and installation facilities have been left behind to view on guided tours.
We are steadily climbing up North Ridge Trail on the east end of the island.  We have ascended between 500 to 600 feet since leaving the visitor center. Through the trees we catch views of old Fort McDowell and the bay.  It's a sailor's paradise today. Vessels can be seen skimming across the water in every direction. Their white and shiny sails bounding over their tops on the blue water. Like stars in the heavens there are way to many count.

It's a 5 mile trek around the island. For a dollar extra people can bring their bikes on the ferry or rent one in Ayala Cove while visiting the island. There are 13 miles of hiking trails and roadways on Angel Island. Cyclists have access to 9 of them. However, for the two and half mile trip up to Mount Livermore its all hiking. Steep switch-backs make the trail challenging to even the best of hikers.
At 700 ft. the trail splits into three. While two trails lead back down and one goes to the summit. The trees yield way to the bay for its view. There is still evidence of the 2008 fire that scorched 250 acres there. At 88 more feet we were rewarded with an island's awe-inspiring expansive 360° views of the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County.

It is a view Ayala never got to enjoy for himself.  Ayala had accidentally shot himself in the foot and left most of the exploring to his sailing master Jose de Canizares. On September 17, 1775 he sailed the San Carlos back out through the Golden Gate never to return again. A year later explorer Juan Bautista de Anza led the first colonists to the hilly peninsula facing the Golden Gate and and chose site for the  future city of San Francisco.

 Our visit was short also. When we loaded our kayaks up with our camping gear and paddled away the next morning, unlike Ayala we all look forward to our next visit to the little island.