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29. Mt. Sizer Loop (04/05/97)

Hikers (3): Eugene, Peter, Russ
Distance: 17 miles
Rating: 5 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Peter

We were itching for another Level 5 hike, and we had heard good things from Mary about Henry Coe State Park in Morgan Hill, so we packed up and headed south. Knowing that it would be tough, most of the usual suspects had chickened out, leaving just the three of us to forge ahead ... so much for "intrepid"!

After driving around a highway interchange in South San Jose for hours, Rusty finally found the right road and we were able to stop at a Safeway to pick up lunch (note for next time: there's a Safeway right off the exit for Henry Coe in Morgan Hill).

Onward ...

After getting off the highway, there was still about a half-hour drive to the park entrance. We passed by some beautiful scenery, including some great houses overlooking a huge lake. Some people know how to live!

We arrived at the park, and Rusty pulled into the best parking spot in the whole place -- an exclusive spot right next to the Ranger Station (this would come to be known as Rusty's private parking space and we would park in it on our next two visits to the park).

I went inside to ask the ranger about which trail to take. The ranger took one look at my, um, well-rounded middle, and suggested a gentle three-mile roundtrip walk to Frog Lake. Frog Lake???? "Listen up, Grandma! I want the toughest hike your dinky park has to offer!" The ranger hesitated, then after having been assured that we had actually hiked before, suggested the Shortcut Trail up Mt. Sizer -- the steepest climb in the park. That's more like it! With a big smile on my face, I quoted from Arnold Schwarzenegger: "I'll be back!" .... "Yeah, we'll see about that, Fat Boy!" was the condescending reply.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

Henry Coe is a huge park, over 70,000 acres ... the 17-mile trail that we were about to embark on would cover less than a quarter of the park's area. We figured we were in for a long hike, so we wasted no time and hit the road.

The Ranger Station was located near the top of a ridge at the western corner of the park. The first part of the trail was a sharp uphill which took us up to the top of the ridge. We had only been hiking for a few minutes, but we were already huffing and puffing. This was going to be a hike to remember! We had to stop for a a few minutes at the top of the ridge to catch our breath. From here, it was a gentle downhill stroll to Frog Lake. If we were smart, we would have turned back at this point, just like the nice ranger said ...... but nooooooo!

From Frog Lake, we began the descent down the backside of the ridge and into the gulch. We could see Mt. Sizer looming like a giant wall on the other side of the gulch. We were going to walk straight up that? As we kept walking further and further down into the gulch, Mt. Sizer was looking taller and taller ... haven't we reached the bottom yet? On our way down, we were passed by another ranger in a pickup truck asking us if we knew where we were going and if we needed a ride. This was not a good sign!

Finally, we reached the creek at the bottom of the gulch. We hoped to have a chance for a rest before the steep climb, but the bugs buzzing around the creek did not show any mercy. Hit the road, Jack!

There was no easy way across the creek ... just had to walk through and get your shoes wet. That was the least of our problems! Looking up, you just saw the trail going straight up into the sky. Rusty forged on ahead, with me in the middle, and Eugene bringing up the rear. I had made it a personal goal to make it to the top without stopping (I figured if I stopped, I might never start again).

After the first 200 yards, the calves were starting to burn. Around the first turn, it flattened out a little, allowing a brief respite before the next steep section. We were already panting like dogs. Thank God there was some shade along the sides of the trail! Just keep going ...

The trail kept winding around while going up and up ... looking back, you could have a great view of the Northern Ridge, but it was best to keep going ... by now, the calves were screaming in pain, but I didn't dare stop. Just keep going .... pant, pant, pant! That backpack weighs a ton! Keep drinking water to prevent cramping .... don't stop, just keep going. Oh, man! We must be idiots!

About two-thirds of the way up, you hit the steepest portion. At this point, the footing is also loose. For every step up, you slide back half a step, kicking up dust and making it harder to breathe .... just keep going ... the steps are getting smaller and smaller .... finally the footing starts to improve, and you sense you are nearing the top. Time for the final push!

Rusty made it to the top in 35 minutes, including a couple of rest stops. I made it to the top in 40 minutes, non-stop. Up at the top, it felt like we were going to heave our guts out. We just sat there on a bench, huffing and puffing, while an old-timer just stood there and smiled at us. He was one of the park volunteers and had also made the climb (it had taken him 3 hours, but if I can even do it in 6 hours when I'm his age, I'll be a happy camper). We also met a back-packer who had spent a week in the park. It is certainly a good place to get away from it all, but at this point, we just wanted to die in peace.

After a long rest and some stretching, we picked up our stuff, bid the old-timer farewell and asked him to keep an eye open for Eugene as we hit the trail once more. The next section of the trail was a piece of cake -- just a gentle 4-mile walk along the top of the Middle Ridge and down into the wide-open section of the park. About a mile along the way, we sat down for lunch and waited for Eugene to catch up. I don't think I've ever eaten a sandwich so fast in my life! Just as we had finished lunch and were about to head out again, he finally hobbled up, looking a little worn out but in good spirits.

After waiting for him to have lunch, we all walked slowly along the top of the ridge. After a couple of miles, we were around the midway point of the hike, and it was starting to occur to us that we had not brought enough food. Better pick up the pace! We decided to take a slight shortcut along the Jackass Trail to the point where we were to turn and head back in along the Northern Ridge, but we never saw the turnoff and ended up walking an additional mile. I guess we found out why it's called the Jackass!

By now, our legs were tired and our stomachs were starting to feel empty. We still had about 7 miles to go. We began the steep descent down into Poverty Flat. That downhill portion was not forgiving on our tired knees and ankles. Ouch, ouch, ouch! Down at the bottom, we stopped to rest and weigh our options. There were two choices: climb the steep Cougar Trail to the top of the ridge, and then walk along the relatively flat trail to Park Headquarters, or take take the less steep Pacheco Route fire road all the way back. Rusty and I decided to get the torture over with as soon as possible and opted for the Cougar Trail. Eugene decided to play it safe and go back along the fire road and hope that a ranger would pick him up along the way.

The Cougar Trail is a good climb -- but not after you've already been walking for 13 tough miles! We were sweating like pigs as we worked our way up through the switchbacks to the top. We finally made it! Only three miles to go back to HQ!

Those last three miles were the longest three miles of our lives! By this time, our legs were like jello and we were just stumbling along like a couple of drunks. We could see a couple strolling hand-in-hand up ahead and stopping every now and then to pick some wildflowers. We were going all out to catch up to them, but we just couldn't close the gap!

We finally passed the couple with about a mile to go. The last mile is a gentle uphill into Park HQ, but it almost felt like we were scaling Mt. Everest itself. We could see families walking about, children playing, people admiring the spring afternoon -- where the hell were they when we were dying on Mt. Sizer??? Half a mile to go -- we could see the Ranger Station, but we just kept walking and walking and it did not seem to be getting any closer. That last half-mile must have taken us over half an hour.

We finally made it in and collapsed in a heap on the ground. Rusty the Man ran into the Ranger Station and wolfed down a couple of Power Bars. I was too tired to even think about food! Yes, Big Henry kicked our butts, but we had survived. Too bad Grandma Ranger wasn't there to see it.

Now, we had to wait for Eugene .....

The Man was getting hungrier by the minute. I tell you folks, it's not a pretty sight! You know those cartoons where the stranded man on the desert island is delirious and looks at his buddy and pictures a roasted chicken? That's how Rusty was starting to look at me! Thoughts of abandoning Eugene were discussed. Just as The Man was about to start eating some leaves and twigs, Eugene finally hobbled in. He took off his sock to reveal a big bloody red blister the size of a fat cranberry on his toe. Ouch!

Well, enough sympathy -- The Man needs food! Rusty put the pedal to the metal and headed straight for the In 'N' Out in Gilroy. The Man proudly strode up to the counter and ordered a 5-by-5 burger -- a Level 5 burger for a Level 5 hike!! The cashier gasped as The Man placed his order. There was not even an entry for it in the computer (it had to be entered as a 4-by-4 with an extra patty). I foolishly ordered the same.

It was a magnificent sight. The Man proudly held the giant 5-by-5 like a big fan with the meat patties flapping in the breeze. He devoured it without even a soda to wash it down. Then he proceeded to eat all his fries, then all of Eugene's fries, and finally my fries as well. All told, he ate more food than the family of four sitting at the table next to us! Meanwhile, I was struggling with the mighty 5-by-5, but morsel by morsel, finally managed to subdue the beast. Let me tell you folks, as I walked out to the parking lot, I did not feel too good! On the way home, The Man added to his legend by stopping at a gas station and snarfing down a cookie the size of a dinner plate. That's why he's The Man!

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