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196. Willson & Vasquez Peaks (01/27/01)

Hikers (4): Atul, Pistol Pete, Russ, Steve
Distance: 11 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Steve

After our last visit to Murietta Falls, it seemed like we were picking easier hikes. There's only one remedy for this trend -- Henry Coe State Park, home of the butt-kickin'est hikes in the Bay Area. Plus, with Super Bowl Sunday the next day, we needed to burn sufficient calories to justify future beer consumption.

Just to mix it up a little, we decided to sneak in Big Henry's back door to the secluded Southern area of the park, where veterans of our last visit would recall the unrelenting path to Willson Peak. To make it an even better hike, we decided to do a mini-loop just past Willson Peak to visit Vasquez Peak.

Since it had rained the day before, there was potential for a shiggy-filled hike, but four of us showed up anyway, ready for whatever nature would throw at us.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

We started at the Hunting Hollow Entrance and headed up the steep Steer Ridge Road. In the cool morning air, the trip from 850 ft to 2700 ft in about 1.75 miles did not seem nearly as bad as the last time, but it was certainly no joke. This time around, we had a much better map to help us find and stand-atop the unsigned Willson Peak. After enjoying the view and some food at the peak, we set off to conquer the second and uncharted (by us) part of the hike. Vasquez Peak, here we come.

Finding Willson Peak is hard enough, but Vasquez proved even more elusive. We correctly navigated the mysterious mobile-home graveyard at Willson Camp and got on Vasquez Road (which, presumably, leads to Vasquez Peak). We scouted for various signs and landmarks that we should be passing (according to the map) for a long time, hiking up and down ridge after ridge. After a while, we saw yet another mountain, and I decided that this one looked real enough to be the next peak (Rock Springs). Even if it was not, we had certainly hiked too far already. Pistol wanted to keep going, but cooler (and more tired) heads prevailed and we turned around.

On the way back, we saw an unmarked trail that might be one of our landmarks (Long Dam trail). Tired and at least six miles from the car, we crossed our fingers and took the trail. The trail immediately descended several hundred feet and was so underused that at a couple points we had to hunt around to pick up the trail again. We started discussing what we'd do if this turned out to be the wrong trail. Only one answer for that: "Forget it, just keep hiking."

As it turned out, we chose correctly and discovered a long earthen dam near the (southern) end, which is likely responsible for the name ("Long Dam Trail"). Then again, if we had hiked it the other way around (i.e. uphill), it would have been a "long damn trail" (crash boom bang!).

Since we had found the correct trail, that meant we had hiked up, down, back up, and back down Vasquez Peak and never knew it! The Ghost of Henry Coe always gets a good laugh from our visits.

At the end of that trail was a sign happily pointing the way back to Willson Ranch, and we knew we were on our way back home. The rest of the trip was mostly downhill and easy, with a little confusion about the right trail to take back at Willson Ranch (six trails meet within a tenth of a mile here, and the signs are all over the place). We spent the rest of the trip trying unsuccessfully to predict how long it would take to get to the parking lot.

All and all, this was a suitably intrepid hike, and certainly much better than the subsequent Super Bowl romp of The Man's Giants by the Ravens.

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