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144. Willson Peak (11/06/99)

Hikers (5): Jamie, Peter, Russ, Steve, Taylor
Distance: 7 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Steve

It had been a while since we had done an reasonably tough hike, so we decided to go the Bay Area's home of buttkickers -- Henry Coe State Park. Our old friend Mt. Sizer was originally scheduled, but in the final planning I suggested we try something new in the recently annexed southern part of the park, and, being an intrepid group, everyone agreed (note to others with wise ideas: the prize for this suggestion was writing up the hike!)

Looking at a map of the Southern region, we decided to take Steer Ridge Road (moooo -- Russell beware!) up to Willson Peak, descend to Willson Ranch, and take Willson Ridge Road back. There were an awful lot of contour lines between the peak and our starting point, but that's what Big Henry Coe is all about!

The hike started out with a bang, ascending from 856 ft to the peak of 2651 ft in a scant two miles without letting up. There is a turn off at the Jim Donnelly trail about half way up. It ranks among the lowest moments in one's hiking life. Just when you think you MUST be near the peak, the first landmark indicates you you are only half way there! Fortunately, this point has an altitude of 2100 ft, leaving only another 500 ft of gain for the final mile.

We learned that Willson Peak is unmarked. As you get near the top, the trail flattens out along a ridge and eventually passes Serpentine Road, which is after the peak. Whoops. The sweeping views from the ridge are great, and Henry Coe is one of the few parks in the area where one can see miles of nature with nary a hint of industry. Russ and I had gotten a nice lead and climbed up to a rock cropping while waiting for the rest of the group (who also discovered that they had missed the elusive peak).

Once reassembled, we headed down to Willson Ranch and, after getting a little mixed up (six trails intersect within an eighth of a mile span near the ranch), Peter found The Bowl Road and we eventually took Lyman Willson Ridge Road back to the parking lot. The return trip was fairly easy, with the only memorable feature being a small trail-clearing vehicle left in the middle of the trail. We looked for a way to start it up, but the keys weren't around -- gotta do all we can to help build trail!

Like all Coe hikes, there were some up and down sections, but nothing like Mt. Sizer. On the other hand, the ascent to Willson Peak was probably harder than Mt. Sizer's creek-to-bench section, not to mention bereft of flat sections, and most certainly longer. Also, this hike apparently features very scary chipmunks, judging by Jamie's terrified scream upon encountering one along the trail.

All and all, a very rewarding hike. Next time we may try to get Willson, Vasquez, and Rock Springs Peaks all in one trip -- a conquest of Coe's Mississippi-Lake-like proportions.

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