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365. Willow Ridge (12/27/03)

Hikers (14): Barbara, Cal, David, Elaine, Eugene, George, Hussam, Janice, Nancy, Padraig, Peter, Ross, Sparky, Steve
Distance: 15 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park near Morgan Hill

Write-up by Peter

It was a chilly day at Henry Coe as we met up for the last hike of the year. I was the last to arrive and got a bunch of icy stares from the angry mob. So much for the Christmas spirit!

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

There was a touch of frost on the ground as we headed out and the footing was a little slippery. I figured we would warm up soon enough, so I only wore a long-sleeved shirt and shorts, but many of the INCHers looked like they were ready for some kind of trek in Antarctica. One notable exception was Hussam, who was only wearing a thin T-shirt and shorts and seemed to be paying the price.

We headed out on the Fish Trail to the Middle Ridge Trail, which would take us down to Poverty Flat. This was a new trail for INCH, and a very pleasant one -- hikers-only, with beautiful scenery all around, and our old buddy Mt. Sizer looming large across the valley. I had wanted to explore this trail for a long time and was glad to finally do it. Coe was even more uncrowded than usual, and we had the entire place to ourselves, making it even better.

Now it was time for the fun to begin -- the first stream crossing at Poverty Flat! Some of the INCHers were innovative and found good places to cross further upstream without getting their feet wet. Padraig had a great solution: plastic supermarket bags to cover his boots when he walked across -- quick and effective! Most of the crew had brought along a change of shoes for fording the raging waters, but I didn't care myself -- I just plunged in and waded across. The cold water felt nice -- very refreshing! It was just like a Coors Light commercial (except without the scantily clad babes and the crappy beer).

After crossing the stream, I stood there watching while the poor slobs carefully toweled off their feet and put their dry boots back on. I was dying to tell them there would be another stream crossing less than 100 yards away, but why spoil their fun? Let them find out for themselves. Heh, heh, heh! I heard them yelling and cursing at me as I waded across the second time and left them behind. By the time I crossed the stream for the third time at our usual Poverty Flat crossing point and began heading up the Wild Turkey Ridge, I could not hear them any longer. Finally, some peace and quiet!

By the time I made it to the top of the ridge, I was starting to feel hungry so I stopped to rest, have a snack, and look for a good spot to stash a couple of bottles of water -- no sense in hauling them up to the top of Willow Ridge and back. The first batch of hikers -- Steve, Ross, and Nancy (!) -- were up ahead, and I figured they should be close to Los Cruzeros by now. I waited for the next batch of hikers to catch up to me before heading out, and before too long Sparky, Barbara, and Dobby showed up. Dobby was in fine form, and was already cursing up a storm bitching and moaning about how difficult the hike was. He does this every week, and yet he continues to show up. I was thinking to myself he's actually more like Smeagol (my precious!) than Dobby, but the name has stuck.

As we got to Los Cruzeros, I saw Steve & Co. sitting on some rocks upstream. It looked like they were taking their lunch break. I had just eaten and Barbara didn't want to stop, so we kept going across the stream and began heading up the Willow Ridge Trail. Barbara was kicking butt -- she really was "Trailblazing Barb" on this day. I think it's because she was pumped for her 20th leaf. Whatever it was, I was struggling to stay ahead of her. She was just chatting away with me as if she was at a tea party, and meanwhile I was gasping for air and huffing and puffing up the hill. In my own defense, I will say that I had been sidelined with a lousy cold all week and had a head full of phlegm, but this hill is a butt-kicker even when I'm healthy. Barb was just cruising as if it were Alviso Slough!

About two-thirds of the way up, Steve and Ross caught up to me. I was in low gear at this point, and they just blew right by. Ross kept on going, but Steve was snagged by Barbara, who wanted his input regarding men's fashion. As if he's a big fashion expert! I could still hear Dobby cursing at me from farther down the hill. If he put as much energy into hiking as he does to complaining, he could probably beat everyone up the hill. All in all, there was just too much talking going on. Less talk, more walk!!!

Ross was the first one to the top, followed by Steve, myself, and Barbara. We waited a while for the others to drift in. Hussam had been doing fine earlier, but was dragging up this hill. The long layoff between hikes was exacting a toll on him, but he finally made it. The last one up was Cal -- normally a great hiker, but a step slow on this day, due to the new low-carb diet he was on. Forget that stuff!!

Now it was time for a well-deserved rest. It was a beautiful winter afternoon, and it felt good to sit in the sun on top of the ridge. As we sat there, my thoughts were with Amy, who had hiked to this spot with us five years ago, and whose life had been tragically cut short a few days earlier.

I could tell that many of the crew wanted a longer rest, but it was already past 2 o'clock and I was worried we'd run into darkness if we hung around too long, so I began cracking the whip to get going. We had 7 miles to go, about one mile less than the distance we'd walked so far, bringing the total to around 15 miles. I didn't want to remind people that I had originally advertized this as a 12-miler! Hey, that's only an estimate!

It was slow going back down the ridge. My knee brace had been digging in to the side of my leg all day (it was actually bleeding), so I ditched it and began walking even more slowly than usual, if you can believe that's possible. On top of that, there was ice on the ground, so that made it even slower! I think it took me about an hour to get down off the damn ridge. By the time I made it to the bottom, everyone else had already crossed the Narrows and were heading up the other side. Smeagol was once again disgracing himself, and having Padraig pull him up the trail. Some people have no pride! There was talk that we should give him the Pink Leaf of Weakness, but in the end we settled for another Black Leaf of Shame for the Dobster.

I walked solo all the way back to Poverty Flat, remembering to pick up my stashed water along the way. This was one of the more pleasant parts of the day. I remembered doing this section of the trail in the hot sun on the way back from Mississippi Lake in the past -- a big contrast to this day. This time I was not begging to die!

I caught up with Cal and Elaine at the Flat. I once again sloshed right through the water and waited for them to cross. Elaine looked like she was going to slip off the rocks and get dunked a couple of times, but she finally made her way across in one piece -- just like a graceful ballerina (sort of). Cal was less light on his feet, and did end up getting his feet wet.

Now it was time for the endless climb up from the Flat. Elaine took off like a wild woman, leaving the Calvinator and me in the dust -- actually, the mud. What had gotten into the INCH women today? I was going slow, but Cal was even slower. I kept turning back to make sure he was OK. This was my revenge on him for trying to kill me on Mauna Loa! After an eternity of thinking that each switchback was going to be the last, only to get our hopes crushed as we rounded the turn, we finally made it to the top. Whew!

We had less than an hour of daylight to go and about 2 miles to Park HQ. Piece of cake! We decided to take the flatter, but slightly longer, route back via the Corral Springs Trail. We could see Elaine and a couple of others up ahead on the fire road and waved to them, but they didn't see us. No matter -- all roads lead to the same place.

Everyone made it back to HQ just before darkness settled over the park. It was a chilly 38 degrees and it felt good to finally peel those soaking wet boots off my feet and put on some dry socks. And it also felt good to sit down after a long and grueling hike! Checking the stats, my pedometer clocked in at 14.96 miles and Sparky's altimeter showed we had a total cumulative elevation gain of 4710 feet -- a fitting end to a great year of hiking. Special congrats to Barb and Dave on their 20th and 40th leaves respectively. Here's to more great hikes in 2004!

P.S. I bumped into Kevin at a restaurant the next day. It turns out he and Gwynneth had been flying over Coe on Saturday and had seen us from the air. Good job, guys (but no leaf)!

Barbara's 20th leaf
David's 40th leaf

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