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521. Mississippi Lake (08/19/06)

Hikers (16): Clive, George, Harvey, Hima, Janice, JP, Linda L, Nik, Padraig, Peter, Ramesh, Ravi, Rudi, Scott, Stacy, Steve
Distance: 22 miles
Rating: 6 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Peter -- Pictures by Janice and Harvey

It was supposed to be a brutal hike at Coe, and it lived up to full expectations. Before the hike, Linda was asking me why it was rated as Level 6. I knew that she would have her answer by the end of the day. One person rescued by the ranger, one more passing out on the trail, and plenty of aches and pains to go around ... read on!

The last time anyone smiled all day

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

We hit the trail at 8:20. I hadn't even made it a quarter-mile before I turned an ankle and had to pull off to the side while everyone went zooming by. It was going to be one of those days ...... I figured the best thing was just to walk it off, so I kept going.

The long and dusty road ...

The group started to spread out as we approached Poverty Flat. George was a man on a mission and was flying down the trail. He was still pumped from last weekend in the Sierras.

I stopped for a while at Los Cruzeros and rested my ankle. I could see most of the gang making their way up the Willow Ridge. Not wanting to be left too far behind, I forced myself to get up and continue. By now, the heat was starting to take its toll and I passed a couple of the INCHers on the way up. Welcome to Henry Coe!

Stacy and the mysterious alien spaceship on the Interior Route

As usual, the Interior Route showed no mercy. Four miles of up-and-down fire road and not a bit of shade. I was getting hungry but feeling nauseous at the same time. Not a good combination. When I finally made it to the lake, I collapsed on the ground under the nearest tree.

First view of the lake (or is it a mirage?)

As I lay there resting, I could hear Padraig and a couple of others splashing in the water on the opposite bank, but I was too tired to look (or care). A few minutes later Steve and George came strolling by and began to give me grief about not going all the way to the picnic bench at the north end of the lake ("It's only half a mile .... no, 0.3 miles").

I dragged myself off the ground and began hobbling towards the picnic area with Stacy, who had caught up by now and was looking fresh as a daisy. Half a mile, my ass! It felt more like 10. [8/21/08 update: While planning Hike 632, I found the distance is actually 1.2 miles each way -- bastards!] As I caught up with the gang having lunch at the north end of the lake, I really began to feel green. I wanted to heave my guts out, but figured that would only make me more dehydrated later on, so I struggled to keep it in. Ugh! I just flopped on the ground under a tree and prayed for the sweet release of death. Someone (I think it was Nik) said the ranger had told him it was going to get up to 95 degrees in the park this day. It felt worse.

I didn't even want to think about how I was going to get back. From what I heard, The Chief and a couple of others were not doing so well either. To top it off, a few people were almost out of water. This day had "ranger rescue" written all over it.

Word arrived that someone on the other side of the lake had a water filter, so half the crew took off like wildebeest in search of water. I told the rest of the gang not to wait for me as I sat there holding my head in my hands. After a long rest and managing to force some food down, I began to feel better, so I picked my weary bones up and hit the road. Did I mention I was the stupid ass who planned this hike?

Harvey and Clive cool off

Once I got going, things were not so bad. There was actually a cool breeze blowing as we made our way along the Interior Route. I was starting to feel there was hope of survival. I alternated stopping to rest and taking the lead with Janice, Stacy, and Clive. My plan was to have a long rest at the turnoff before heading down the Willow Ridge Trail, but when I got there, there was no shady spot anywhere to be found, so I turned down the trail and kept going.

Fatigue was really starting to set in now. My revised goal was to make it all the way back down to Los Cruzeros before resting, but now I was debating if I could make it. Just as I was mulling this over instead of paying attention to the trail -- BAM!! -- I turned the other ankle. Ouch, ouch, ouch!!! Well, that put a rapid end to the debate. I had to stop. As I took off my backpack, I felt myself starting to black out. I aimed for a grassy spot and hit the ground.

I just lay there staring up at the sky for a while. I forced myself to drink some water and then put my head back down and closed my eyes. A few minutes went by and I started to come to. JP, Nik, Linda, Padraig, Scott, and Hima came by one by one and offered to help, but I told them I was OK and asked them to keep going. I just needed to rest a little longer. Eventually, I got up and began to hobble down the trail. Did I mention I was the stupid ass that planned this hike?

I caught up with the posse resting at Los Cruzeros. I decided it was best to keep going. I was not even doing 2 miles an hour and we were more than 5 miles away from HQ. It was already past 5 o'clock and I knew darkness would be arriving in about 3 hours.

I felt 100 years old as I dragged my feet up the trail from Los Cruzeros. At least I was not the only one in bad shape. Janice passed me up -- I use the term loosely -- it was more like a slow motion race between a couple of turtles. Scottie and Hima were behind me, and I figured they would pass me up soon enough.

It was not to be. About a quarter-mile later, Hima radioed in that she could not walk any more. Both her legs had severe cramps and had locked up. Ranger time! Scott stayed with her, and Padraig picked up the pace to get help from HQ. Fortunately, Hima had cell phone service and she was able to get Russ, who was lounging around at home, to call in to the ranger (side note: I was cursing The Man every step of this miserable day). {ed note: Steve and George were already in the ranger station, enjoying cool beverages, when Russ called in!}

My legs were also cramping, but not as severely as Hima's so I managed to keep going. I made it to Poverty Flat before my legs gave out and I fell by the side of the trail, too tired to walk another step. As I lay there in the dirt, I felt something crawling in my ear. I made a half-hearted attempt to flick it out and fortunately it seemed to go away. Maybe I was just hallucinating. I felt myself blacking out again.

I was suddenly awoken by the sound of a car. Some guy in a jeep went tearing by, kicking up clouds of dust. Thanks a lot, tool! By the way, this was the first non-INCH person I had seen the whole day. There's a reason why no-one else does these insane hikes. It was almost 7 o'clock and the sun was going down. As I lay there once again looking up at the sky (I did a lot of that on this day) I had to decide if I was going to attempt to head up the long 3-mile hill to HQ, or spend the night down at the flat. Figuring that Taylor would kill me if I didn't show up at home tonight, I thought it best to attempt the trail. If I didn't make it, I hoped at least it would be easy for someone to find my carcass.

About a quarter of the way up the hill, I was passed by the ranger carrying Hima in his truck, and Scottie in the back. I was so tempted to throw myself down on the road and beg for a ride, but the thought of Steve giving me abuse made me preserve my last ounce of dignity and keep going.

Doesn't Hima look like she enjoyed her hike at Coe?

With dusk falling, things were cooling off rapidly. The rest had done me good, and I was now starting to catch my second wind. Hey, this is fun again!!! I emerged onto the main road rejuvenated and picked up the pace. I saw a beautiful deer with big antlers staring at me off to the side of the trail. Two thoughts came into my mind: (1) Too bad I don't have a camera on me, and (2) I hope he doesn't charge me (flashbacks to the boar incident on my first trip to The Lake). Fortunately, there was no reprisal.

As I finally approached HQ, I could see the tail lights of the cars leaving the lot. I made it back in just after 8:20, almost exactly 12 hours round-trip. Some of the INCHers had kindly stayed behind to make sure I made it. Thanks guys! Now I'm ready to do it all over again.

Only the tarantulas were there to greet us at the end

Congratulations to Steve for being the first to 4 forests!!! At least he earned this one (it was no Alviso Slough).

For more photos, check out Janice and Harvey's cool pix.

Epilog: Good to know I wasn't alone in my suffering. Here's a sampling of email I received the next day, with the names removed to protect the guilty (remember, these are all experienced hikers who have hiked Grand Canyon, Half Dome, Sierras, etc.):

I was crawling out of Poverty Flat, going slower than I ever have. Stopping to put my hands on one knee and try not to keel over. Catch my breath, think about laying down, realizing I wouldn't get up, and do a couple more 1 mile an hour steps, then stop again. I couldn't believe Steve had not caught up with me. Finally after climbing out he caught me with about 2 miles to go. I ran out of water with 3 miles to go and I couldn't chew and swallow food, so I felt low on blood sugar. I gummed down a bite of a Clif Bar and my energy returned so I kept up the hunt. Afterwards Steve told me he got cramps in the last 1/2 mile trying to stay ahead of me. I can't remember feeling quite so beat up since the Rim-to-Rim hike (fuzzy mosquitoes, remember?) or the time I did Mississippi on a hotter day and David and I crawled up towards HQ with Cal and Nancy saying 'oh, I could go a few extra miles'. Bastards.

And this ...

Despite your caution I did not pay attention and came unprepared. I started with just ~1.5 liters of water and I paid a huge price at the end due to lack of fluids. Please pass on my sincere thanks to Ramesh for his coaxing/encouraging me for the 2-3 miles of the last 5 very difficult miles, to Rudi for sparing a few gulps of water and to Padraig for sparing the whole bottle of water. I was in not in any physical/mental state to talk or thank at the end so I want pass my appreciation to them via this mail. I learnt a very valuable lesson on being prepared. It is a very good thing you restrict amateurs for difficult hikes.

And this ...

I guess we all learned something from this hike, including me. I'll be at REI this week to purchase a water filter and new backpack with bladder. I had the luck to run into Padraig and party at the lake where he refilled some of my water bottles but still managed to end up with nothing before the end. Looking back on the hike, it was one in the true INCH spirit and the most difficult one for me so far. One we will be talking about for years to come.

And now you know why it's called a Level 6.

Harvey's 30th leaf
Steve's 4th forest

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