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32. Mississippi Lake (05/17/97)

Hikers (2): Peter, Russ
Distance: 22 miles
Rating: 6 difficulty, 9 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Peter

Rusty and I decided we hadn't been punished enough by Big Henry (see Hike #29), so we went back for more. After hearing our horror stories about the last visit, everyone else chickened out, so it was just me and The Man.

Naturally, we picked the hottest day of the year to do our longest hike of all time. The weather forecast called for a high temperature around 106 degrees in the Morgan Hill area. 22 miles of pure hell ... both the hiking bible and the Henry Coe Web Page recommended doing this as a two-day overnight backpack trip, but we were going to do it in a day ... that's why we graded this as a Level 6 hike. Let's get it on!

Knowing that it would be about an 11-hour hike, we left bright and early. The Man showed up at my door at 7 o'clock and we were off. A quick stop at the Morgan Hill Safeway and then we were ready to go. Once again, Rusty got his exclusive parking spot at Henry Coe. They knew The Man was going to be there and they had rolled out the red carpet.

We saw a group of boy scouts loading up their gear and bunch of women with little parasols who looked like they were doing a tour of the wildflowers. We knew we would not be seeing these people at Mississippi Lake. We set out at 9 o'clock.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

The initial 6 miles down the Pacheco Route to Coyote Creek was a piece of cake. On a regular day, this would be considered a decent hike by itself, but we were only just getting warmed up. Speaking of getting warmed up, the temperature was rising. It was about 90 degrees at 11 o'clock. We were in for some torture!

The next part was a killer -- 1400 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile straight up the Willow Ridge. Oh my God! I was heaving my guts out as I slogged up the hill. My lungs felt like they were about to burst. The heat was oppressive. I was practically crawling up the last quarter-mile. I finally made it to the top and collapsed under a bush. The Man had already been there a while, and looked fresh as a daisy (well, a beaten-up trodden-down daisy).

We just sat there in silence, the only sound being the thumping of our hearts and the gasping of our lungs. Decision time -- should we continue on to Mississippi Lake or head back? This by itself had been a butt-kicker of a hike and if we turned back now we would have done about 15 miles of tough hiking -- not a bad day's work. We checked the map. We were at about 2800 feet of elevation and Mississippi Lake was about 3.5 miles away at 2600 feet of elevation. Figuring it was just a straight, flat hike along the top of the ridge, we decided to go for it. We were idiots.

The temperature was over 100 degrees at high noon as we set out. We were soon to find that the Interior Route to Mississippi Lake was anything but flat. It was a rollercoaster of a trail -- up one hill and down the next, up another hill and down the next, on and on and on. Just as you thought you were going up the final hill, you'd get to the top only to find another hill behind it. Henry Coe was one sadistic S.O.B.!

On the uphills my chest felt like it was going to explode, and on the downhills, my knees felt like they were going to cave in. Each step was an exercise in torture. There was not a tree anywhere in sight and the damn lake was nowhere to be seen either. Whose idea was this anyway?

We just wandered like zombies through the desert. Finally, we came to the top of a hill and saw the lake off in the distance. At last! We stumbled down the long incline towards our goal. My legs had gone completely numb at this point. We hadn't even reached the halfway point of our hike yet! I was beginning to understand the reason why the book had recommended doing this hike over the course of two days. Not only were we doing it in one day, but it was in 100-degree heat to boot! We were idiots!

The lake was beautiful, and the book had written about the giant trout that could be found there, but we were too exhausted to even look at it. I just wanted to crawl under a bush and die in peace. I took my boots off and rubbed my blistered feet. I had worn a big hole right through the sole of my boot. Walking back was not going to be fun. Luckily, The Man was there to rescue me. He took the insoles out of his own boots and gave them to me. Normally, I wouldn't touch his sweaty insoles with a ten-foot pole, but on this occasion it felt like the greatest gift I had ever received in my life.

We just lay there for almost an hour, not even having the strength to eat (if you know Rusty, you know what a big deal that is). The heat also played a part in reducing our desire to eat. It occurred to me that I had drank almost a gallon of liquids that day and had not gone to the bathroom once. Knowing that we needed energy, we forced ourselves to eat our mushy sandwiches.

Two o'clock ... figuring we had about 6 hours of hiking to do and there was about 6 hours of daylight left, we forced ourselves to get up. Our entire bodies ached from head to toe. We were damn idiots!

The long trek back began .... up the long incline and back along the Interior Route. Rusty started to pull away, and I tried to catch up to him, but my legs had a mind of their own. Nothing doing, bub! I just trudged along slowly, hill after hill, mile after mile. It had to be up around 105 degrees. At least I had plenty of water left.

I couldn't take it any more. I just had to sit down. I threw off my backpack and lay down spread-eagled smack in the middle of the trail. I figured if I kept away from bushes and trees and stayed out in the open, I had a better chance of seeing any rattlesnakes or mountain lions that might suddenly appear. As I lay there facing the sky with the sun beating down on me, I could see hawks flying overhead. Are you sure those aren't vultures circling? I didn't care any more.

After what seemed like only five minutes, but must have been more like twenty, I picked my sorry ass up and hit the trail again. Step by step, I trudged up the final hill to the top of the Willow Ridge. No sign of Rusty. I was hoping he hadn't taken the wrong fork. He's a nice guy, but has no sense of direction. Damn! My only hope was to try to get back to Park Headquarters as soon as possible and send the rangers out for him. Did I mention we hadn't seen another soul for over 6 hours?

I worked my way down the steep path. My knees were in agony and tears were streaking down my face as I clenched my teeth in pain. I had to stop every few yards to rest. Why do I put myself through this? If I ever get out of this hell-hole, I swear I'll never hike again! After what seemed like hours, I finally made it out into the open and could see the creek. As I got closer, I saw The Man sitting there on a rock. What a beautiful sight!

I peeled my boots off and soaked my ragged feet in the water. Oh man, that felt so good! Rusty was itching to get going (The Man doesn't like the dark), so I gave him a couple of bottles of water and off he went. I sat there cooling my heels for a while. Six miles to go, and under three hours of daylight left. Cutting it close ....

I hit the road again. Up the next long incline, and down the steep hill to Poverty Flat. Somehow, my knees were not hurting as much now. They must have been numb. I stopped again at the creek in Poverty Flat. This time I didn't even bother taking my boots off. I just submerged my feet in the cold water. I could see some of the boy scouts we had seen earlier that morning setting up their camp. At this point, I would have gladly accepted a ride back to HQ from anyone, but at least I knew if could not make it back, I could crawl back to the scout camp and spend the night there.

About 4 miles to go .... let's get this over with. The climb up from The Flat was steeper than I had remembered. At least it was in the shade and temperature had dropped a few degrees now that the sun was going down. Step by step, I inched my way up to the top. I finally made it to the ridge. About 2.5 miles to go and I knew it was a gentle uphill all the way back in. It was within reach! I finally went to the bathroom for the first time that day -- a trickle of bright orange! Is this what happens when you have kidney failure? Not a good feeling!

I stopped for one last time on a bench about a mile from Park Headquarters. I was out of supplies, and just lay there breathing heavily. A strong wind had kicked up and things were finally starting too cool off. Thank God it was almost over!

About half a mile to go to the end of the trail, and it was almost dark. I was exhausted and was just dragging my ass along slowly because I knew I was almost home. I heard some rustling in the bushes along the trail. At first I thought it may be deer since I had seen some earlier down by the creek. Then I saw them run out of the bushes and away from me. I saw there were three of them, and they were too short and wide to be deer.

For a second, the thought flashed through my mind that they were mountain lions (I had seen warnings posted at the trailhead), but they did not seem to be moving like mountain lions, more like dogs. I figured they had to be wild boars.

They ran away from me for about 30 yards, then stopped and turned around and it seemed like they were getting ready to charge. I didn't wait to see what was going to happen next. Exhausted as I was, I turned on the jets and sprinted as fast as I could (it's amazing what fear can do to you).

I think they started to come after me, but did not go very far. After a quarter-mile I figured if they were going to come after me, they would have caught me by now, so I stopped and looked back. They were nowhere to be seen. I was ready to collapse right there, but I managed to drag myself to the Ranger Station.

Rusty was waiting there for me. He told me I looked like I had seen a ghost. I could not speak -- I just sat there shaking and wheezing for minutes. Finally, I picked myself up and collapsed in his car. We hit the road and I think I passed out within a minute. Surprisingly, The Man did not have much of an appetite (I thought he would demand to have another 5-by-5), so we just went straight home.

We had survived Big Henry once again, but this hike had certainly taken its toll. I threw away my hiking boots and was not able to walk properly for days afterwards. This was not a hike that we would choose to repeat, especially on the hottest day of the year!

A couple of days later the local paper had an article on Henry Coe State Park in which they mentioned a couple of people had been attacked by wild pigs there recently. At least I have proof that I didn't imagine it!

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