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377. Willson & Vasquez Peaks (02/21/04)

Hikers (11): Carissa, Chester, Janice, Nancy K, Oliver, Peter, Ross, Sparky, Steve, Tania, Taylor
Distance: 12 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Peter

The forecast had called for heavy rain and the dark clouds were starting to roll in as eleven intrepid hikers showed up to do a tough hike at Henry Coe. I could tell people were anxious to get this hike over with as soon as possible because everyone (including myself!) was early for a change.

1, 2, 3 ... INCH!

The bad thing about starting from this end of Coe is that virtually every hike starts out with a tough climb right off the bat. Big Henry showed no mercy. Less than 20 yards into the hike we had to cross a stream and then begin the long, brutal climb up the Steer Ridge Trail. It was more like the Steep Ridge Trail. We were huffing and puffing in no time at all and people were already starting to separate out, even though we had gone less than a quarter-mile from the parking lot. Oh, man!

Ross and Esty had already established the lead up front. I was in the next group with Tania, Oliver, Nancy, and Janice. For some crazy reason, I decided to push myself to see how long I could keep up with the front-runners. I made my move to separate from the pack, and Tania came along with me. Normally, she would be breezing up this hill, but today she was gimping along on a bad knee, so I wasted no time in pushing her to the side like yesterday's news in my maniacal quest to take the hill.

At the three-quarter mile mark, my heart was pounding hard but I kept going. Ross was out in front, just walking along like it was a stroll in the park, but Esty has slowed down. I could see that I had closed the gap, so I didn't want to stop. The problem was that now my back was also hurting like a mother. I was carrying too much water, so I forced myself to start drinking huge gulps to get rid of the stuff. After all, this was the toughest part of the whole hike, so why save a lot of water for the easy parts?

We kept climbing.... fortunately, things flattened out near the 1.25 mile mark, allowing me to catch my breath. Steve had sped up again and was now increasing the gap, and Tania was not too far behind, so that motivated me to keep going. Despite her bad knee, she was still kicking my ass! I knew it was only about a half-mile to the top, so I kept going. I knew I was going to pay the price for this later, but what the heck ....

About two-tenths of a mile from Willson Peak, I could see Ross and Steve were already at the top. I looked back to see Oliver had passed up Tania and was gaining ground rapidly. He was a man on a mission! He caught up to me in zero time like I was walking in molasses, and we walked the final few steps to the top together. Whew! Thank God the torture was over.

Even though we had been up here a few times before, this was the first time that we found the "real peak". In the past, we had usually stopped in a clump of trees off to the side of the trail (I guess because it's usually a hot day in mid-summer when we come up here). Not only were there two official peak markers, but there was also a deer skull, complete with antlers, on a stick poking out from a pile of rocks. Very cool! Borrowing a page from Satanic Rituals for Dummies, I made everyone touch it.

We stayed up there for a while as the remainder of the gang drifted in one by one. Chester was the last one in ... his feet had blistered up pretty badly, so The Chief brought out the pharmacy from her backpack and began administering first aid while the rest of us stood around and watched. Can't beat that for entertainment!

The rain had held off, but there was a cold wind blowing at the peak so we got going fairly quickly. Our next destination was Vasquez Peak. It was only 400 feet lower than Willson, but we'd have to drop down about 1000 feet before climbing back up. That sucked. Welcome to Henry Coe!

Despite the grumbling, we knew the hardest part of the torture was over, so we all pretty much took it easy and stayed together in a group. It took us about a half-hour to get to the not-so-easy-to-identify Vasquez Peak, and from there it was about another half-hour to the equally-difficult-to-identify Rock Springs Peak, where we broke for lunch. It felt good to finally sit down. Aaaaaahhhhhh!

We sat there for a while enjoying the view and talking about plans for upcoming trips to the Grand Canyon and other destinations. It would have been nice to stay longer, but we were starting to stiffen up from the cold and the rain was once again threatening, so we broke camp and headed out. Even Ross put on an extra layer of clothes, prompting Janice to say this was the first time she'd seen him with his pants on. Hmmmmmmm.....

By now the INCHers were eager to get this hike over with, so we picked up the pace. The next mile or so was all downhill, so things went by quickly. Of course, at Henry Coe this means that the next mile is all uphill so only a fool would celebrate too quickly. I knew we had another 1000-foot climb coming up.

We crossed a stream at the bottom of a gulch and then began slogging our way up the Wagon Road. Taylor was starting to slow noticeably, so I hung back with her. After a while she began to regain the color in her cheeks, so I knew she was OK and I picked up the pace to catch up with the others. Fortunately they had waited up at the next fork, so it was not too long before we were all back together in a group.

From here, I took the group on a new trail up the Phegley Ridge, with the advance warning that this was unchartered INCH territory. The wide fire road climbed another 300 feet to the top of the ridge, where we got a great view of Hunting Hollow on one side and the Center Flats on the other. Henry Coe rules!

At the top, I gave the group a choice: take the marked Redfern Pond Trail back to the car, or follow me along the top of the ridge to an unmarked trail which was supposed to take us back to Hunting Hollow. The less intrepid among us opted for the former, so we split into two groups with Tania leading Taylor, Sparky, Nancy, Carissa, and Chester back to the car and all the other suckers following me.

Well, guess what? About 5 minutes after we split off, the weak weasely group lost the trail and inadvertantly took the path around Redfern Pond which ended up back on the same trail as the rest of us! The hiking gods had chortled at these fools! We had a good laugh at their expense and continued on ...

As it turned out, the trail along the top of the ridge was very well marked. Our gamble had paid off. Not only did this take us directly back down to the Hollow, but we also saw some deer and great views along the way. Additional bonus: swamp trees from the bayou -- you have to check 'em out.

About a mile from the car, the rain finally arrived, but we didn't care. We knew the end was in sight. I didn't even bother trying to step on rocks to cross the multiple streams, I just sloshed right through. As usual, Big Henry did not let us go that easily and there were a couple of scary moments with a cow chasing Janice, but no harm was done and we all made it back to our cars in one piece. Time to change into some warm dry clothes and then head home for a well-deserved nap!

Milestones:
Sparky's 10th leaf



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