1091. Hunting Hollow to Dowdy Ranch (07/15/17)
Hikers (13): Brad, Chinyet, Christina, George, Giulia, Grady, Karl, Kendra, Mihail, Peter, Sarbinder, Sophie, Yipeng
Distance: 24 miles
Rating: 5 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park near Morgan Hill
Write-up by Peter and Karl -- Pictures by Karl and Chinyet
Peter's notes: All week long, wise greybeards had been warning me about doing this hike in 100 degree temperatures. I chose not heed their advice -- after all, what could possibly go wrong?
1, 2, 3 ... INCH!
It started out well. We left the parking lot at 7:15 and headed up the mighty Steer Ridge. It seemed a little more overgrown than usual, and Big Henry had introduced some tall thistles to scratch us up along the way. Nice touch, BH! I'm awake now, thank you.
The usual hares charged up the hill. Brad made it to the peak in under an hour. I think Mihail, Eric, Gulia, Kendra, Christina were all there in about the same time. Sarbi was going a little slower, saying he wanted to save his legs for a 30 mile run later that evening. WhaaaatttTF??? I've concluded that people like the Sarbinator and Colleen Zato are from another planet. Pal passed me up, and I remember thinking he'd better be saving some gas in the tank for the rest of the hike (hold that thought).
It was pretty smooth going for the next few miles after Willson Peak, but as we started the descent down to Vasquez Hole, I remember thinking this thing is gonna be a bitch to climb up in about 3 hours from now when the temperature is 20 degrees hotter. Truer words were never spoken ...
The steep start up the Dormida Trail was slow going for me, but I managed to pick up the pace about halfway up, and caught up with Karl, Yipeng, and Pal. I could see UG up ahead. I was feeling pretty good at this point, and even did the optional side trip to Burra Burra Peak with Yipeng. I thought Big Henry would look kindly on my extra efforts, but he misinterpreted it as cockiness and decided to teach me a lesson I would not soon forget ...
I made it to Dowdy in 4 hours, together with Yipeng and Karl. Not bad. UG and Sophie were still there. I heard Ranger John had been there a few minutes earlier to check up on the group (yes, the Coe rangers do check the INCH page and know when we're coming) and had chatted with the front-runners. As we were sitting there, newbie Danielle and second-time INCHer Pal came in. Danielle had been ahead of me, but missed the turn up the Dormida Trail so she ended up going up the other side of the Vasquez Trail and circling back to Dowdy Ranch. Nice!
I spent less time at Dowdy than usual. I wasn't that hungry so I only ate half of my nice roast beef sandwich. By the time I got back from the bathroom, everyone was gone. I guess my sitting there shirtless had something to do with that. I filled up my water bottles, packed up, and headed out. I immediately noticed that it seemed much hotter now. The heat was just blasting off Aetna Road and there was zero breeze. This could be a bad sign.
The last time we did this hike, it ended up being around 6800 feet elevation gain, so I had decided to add a little bit to push it over 7K. This would involve dropping down from Dowdy and then working our way up to Center Flats on the Sherrer Trail - a new trail for me. It was a nice enough trail, but on this day it felt like Sizer Plus. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. It was really getting hot now. Choosing this hike may have been a huge tactical blunder. Well, too late now ...
I caught up to Pal as he had stopped to rest in the shade. I suggested that when he got to the top of this trail, he should turn left and take Center Flats back down to Dowdy and call for help. He had no response or reaction, so I wasn't sure how to interpret that. I just kept slogging along. I could see UG and Karl up ahead. I caught up with Karl at the top of the trail, and we took a short rest. Just over an hour out of Dowdy, and I was already throwing off my backpack, lying on the ground, and breathing hard. This was gonna be a slooooooow trek back. I'd already used up close to a third of my water supply in the first hour. This did not bode well. I should have taken my own advice and headed back to Dowdy, but I'm just too stubborn.
The next mile was OK -- mainly flat (by Coe standards) along the appropriately-named Center Flats Road. There were a couple of steep, but short, uphills as we worked our way up to the Vasquez Trail junction, but we made pretty good time overall.
I stopped briefly to take inventory of my supplies as Karl headed down the hill. As I slowly made my way down, I could see him bending over and "assuming the position" a few times. Big Henry was showing no mercy on this day. I was panting just going downhill. After an eternity under the scorching sun, we made it to Vasquez Hole. Karl and I just collapsed on a rock next to a puddle, gasping for air. After a couple of minutes flat on my back staring up at the sky, I was able to summon up enough energy to put a bottle in the puddle and pour some of the bug-infested water over my head. I had no pride left at this point. I would take the rescue Ride of Shame in the ranger truck in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to keep going.
I stumbled the one-tenth of a mile through the Hole, and then I had to stop again. I threw off my backpack and lay down in the dirt. I was not ready to take on the climb up to Vasquez Peak. If there were any rattlesnakes around, I was hoping they would just kill me now so I wouldn't have to do this goddamned climb. Karl headed out, giving me assurance that he would see me again. I wasn't so sure about that.
The next couple of miles were the slowest hike of my life. I think I made better time summiting Kilimanjaro. I stopped and lay down in the dirt multiple times. Most of the time, I didn't even take off my backpack. I just threw myself backwards, landing on top of my backpack, crushing my empty bottles, the other half of my sandwich, and a few other items in the process. I was too tired to care any more. I dozed off briefly at a couple of the stops, but luckily did not awake to find a coyote gnawing on my face.
There was some respite from the sun courtesy of the cloud cover, but it seemed that every time I would get to a steep portion, Big Henry would make the skies open up and the blazing sun would beat down on me. I would see Karl every now and then, but I had given up any thought of trying to catch up with him. I was down to my last half bottle of water, with about 7 miles and couple thousand feet of elevation still ahead of me. At this point, I was debating if I should spend the night in the woods and walk out in the morning, or just rest a few hours and try to walk out in the evening when it became cooler.
I just kept staggering along, one foot in front of the other, until I somehow finally made it to the fence that goes along the top of the trail. I sat down on a log on the side of the trail gasping for air. I was exhausted. My chest cavity was hurting from my heart pounding so hard for the last couple of hours, but I felt more optimistic now. It occurred to me that I hadn't eaten anything except a couple of small Gatorade chews since we had left Dowdy about 4 hours earlier, but I could not bring myself to eat. I had no appetite, my mouth and throat were completely dry, and I didn't think I could hold down any food. I tried to take a couple of small bites out of an energy bar, but it was a struggle to chew it and force it down. Looking down the other side of the hill, I knew I was getting closer and I felt I could make it.
Coming off Vasquez, I felt fully recovered and started going at a brisk pace. There was a nice breeze blowing, and I felt rejuvenated. As I got closer to Willson Camp, I could see George climbing up the hill. About a quarter mile before the camp, I ran into Karl who was coming backwards thinking he had gone the wrong way. He didn't look or sound too good. My own voice was pretty hoarse too -- I could barely croak -- but I told him I'd wait for him at the intersection at the top. Our plan was to head down to Willson Camp in search of water.
We trudged down to the barn and sat on the bench for a while, catching our breath. Only about 3 miles to go, most of it downhill. We would make it. On the way out, we stopped at the tap. Thankfully there was running water. We both poured it over our heads and I filled up a bottle. I was so thirsty, I didn't care if the water wasn't treated. I figured it might give me stomach problems later, but at least I'd make it out of there.
I took the lead on the Bowl Trail. We were making decent time, but I started losing energy again, and we had to take another break halfway along the trail. I lay in the dirt once again, panting. At this point I had so much dirt, burrs, bugs, shit, and other stuff in my hair and my clothes that I didn't even bother trying to clean myself off when I finally staggered to my feet.
When we got to Lyman Willson, I pointed Karl towards home and had to stop again. All in all, I had to stop and rest three separate times on that 1.5 mile downhill. My last rest stop was at the bottom, when I finally got to the flat Hunting Hollow Road.
As I lay in the dirt, I could hear a group of kids on mountain bikes coming rapidly down the hill towards me. As they got closer, I heard the guy on the lead bike shout "Whoa!!!". I covered my head and rolled off the trail, hoping that they would miss me. Thankfully, they blew past me, but my jerky motion caused my hamstring to lock up in a massive cramp as I lay in a pile of thistles. Ouch, ouch, ouch! Thanks, Big Henry! Making me suffer until the bitter end.
As I lay there inhaling the clouds of dust kicked up by the bikes, I thought to myself that after surviving all that torture, it would really suck if I had been injured by the bikes on a lame flat road less than a mile from the end of the hike. I got up and dusted myself off for the final time. It was 6:55; if I could get back before 7:15, I would have done it in under 12 hours. It's good to have goals, no matter how modest. Let's get this shit over with!!!
I stumbled in to the parking lot at 7:07, only to see a big party going on. The INCHers all looked pretty much dead, but another group had set up a big BBQ and looked like they were gonna hang out for a while. They were very sociable, and invited us to join them, courtesy of Christina sharing her chocolate cake with them. One of their group asked us how far we had gone. We replied 24-25 miles, and he asked, "What is that, about 2500 feet elevation?". When I told him it was 7000 (actually 7200) his eyes nearly popped out of his head! Unfortunately for me, I was in no shape to enjoy the party, but it was a nice ending to a brutal day.
Karl's random thoughts: Why do I do hikes like this? The challenge not the enjoyment, although there was some fun (very small amounts and some nice views). If I only hiked for fun, I would be doing Windy Hill type hikes all the time.I like to push myself with challenging hikes. But yesterday pushed my limits. I would have taken the "ride of shame" if a ranger came by me! I had to sit my ass on the trail a few times. I came close to tears a time or two. Really! Sounds awful. Wasnt as bad as I am describing for the entire hike. But I had my momemts. Before the steep Vasquez climb I wasnt sure if or when I would make it back.
That said, nearly everyone, including the hiking machines said "Never again, at least in the heat". But those words have been said in the past and we keep coming back.
It's the after hike that makes these grueling hikes fun. The sense of accomplishment, the stories. Peeps will be talking about this hike for a long long time.
Just before I reached the top of the vicious Vasquez Trail climb, I see George laying on the ground, all sprawled out. Fortunately, thank God, he was just sleeping, he needed a nap. I was worried he was dead lol.. He woke up as I approached and said, "Karl you animal!" LOL. Everyone had stories to tell like this. I hiked with George for a while, but he went ahead on the down hills. I was struggling even on the declines. Lol amazing experience.
Peter was so beaten up like I never seen. We both layed at the bottom of Vasquez knowing what was ahead and not knowing if or when we would make it back. He asked me for the map and wanted to see if there was an easier way back. He handed it back to me and said "Nope, we're fucked!" Lol. We both said we would accept a ride if we get the chance. I went along without him because he kept wanting to lay down every half mile. But he got that second wind sometime before Willson Camp and caught up to me. We hiked together for a while after a break at Willson Camp. I never got that second wind. I completely struggled after leaving Dowdy. On the final descent, Peter told me to not wait for him as he would be going slow with his usual bad knees on down hills. So I hiked solo down Lyman Willson. Even Lyman Willson was hard because the sun was directly in the face the whole way down and it was still hot at 5pm.
Peter seemed to be stunned sitting in his chair after the hike. Chinyet captured the moment perfectly in his photo.
Anyway, glad now that i did the hike. But it wasnt pretty while I was doing it.
I told Peter if the newbie Pal spends the night at Coe, he'll be fine since he is WEARING his sleeping bag!
So many stories to tell...
Peter's notes: Honorable mention to newbie Danielle and second-time INCHer Pal for making valiant efforts. Danielle wisely took Christina's advice and turned back to Dowdy because she was out of food and water with a long way to go. Pal made it all the way up Vasquez before having to get a ride. Good job by both!
A big shout-out and thanks to our friends Ranger John and Ranger Jennifer and all the great crew at Henry Coe State Park. You have saved our bacon many times and never give us a hard time. You guys are the best!
Peter's Post-Hike Thoughts, Part One: This wasn't a beatdown, it was an annhilation. Everyone suffered. I lost 7 lbs of water weight on the day. Mihail, who has no body fat, lost 10! It took me 7 hours to walk the 12 miles from Dowdy Ranch to Hunting Hollow. I've never hiked more slowly in my life. I gulped down almost a gallon of Gatorade and iced tea after the hike but I was still thirsty. After much insistence and half an hour recovery time, I did force down a beer, but it was not enjoyable. My legs and feet were cramping all the way home. I usually blast the music in the car going to and from the hike, but on this day, I rode home in silence -- I literally could not face the music. I had the AC turned to the max to revive me. The only thing I heard all the way home was the humming of the fan. After a nice long shower, I did finally eat the second half of my roast beef sandwich, along with a couple tall glasses of cold milk and started to feel better, but I will remember the Dowdy Death March of 2017 for a long time!
Peter's Post-Hike Thoughts, Part Two: As I write this the day the after the hike, some thoughts come to mind:
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