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638. Coit Lake (10/04/08)

Hikers (7): David, Diane, Helen, Iyad, Paul, Peter, Ross
Distance: 16 miles
Rating: 4 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Peter

I had been planning to hike from Dowdy Ranch to Jackrabbit Lake for over a year, but something always came up. First it was the Coe fire, then my knee surgery, then something else ..... finally, I was set to go on the last weekend of September, but then The Man asked me to switch hikes with him, so it got pushed to the first weekend in October. What difference could one week possibly make? The main thing is to get the hike in before Dowdy closed for the season.

The weather had been beautiful for weeks, but, naturally, the rain arrived the night before the hike. It rained, and rained, and rained some more. Of course, we are the Intrepid Northern California Hikers, so the the hike is on, no matter what.

I was the first to arrive at the gate to the unpaved road that leads to Dowdy Ranch at 7am. A few minutes later, Iyad and Helen showed up in their cars. As we stood there chatting and wondering if the park would be open (I had not checked in advance, but they probably would not have known anyway), a state trooper car rolled up and asked us what we were doing there. How did they even know we were out there in the middle of nowhere? Spooky! Well, it didn't take much to convince them that we were just innocent hikers, so they left us alone and went on their way.

A few minutes later the rest of the gang arrived, and we were ready to go -- except the gate was still locked. And now it began to rain once again, so we all retreated to the safety of our cars. After a few minutes, the rain died down, and a truck rolled up. Out came a guy, and without saying a word, unlocked the gate and waved us. Let's roll!!

We began slowly moving along the gravelly, muddy road. The slick gravel sitting on top of loose mud made it difficult to navigate. The speed limit was posted as 25 mph, but we were barely doing 10. Less than a half-mile in, I began hydroplaning and had to slow down even more. In my rear-view mirror, I saw nobody else was behind me. After a couple of minutes, I could see Helen's car. She had previously been behind Iyad. I guessed (correctly) that Iyad had spun out and decided to ditch his car and snag a ride with someone else (Dave, who had the nice 4WD truck).

We continued on ........ more skidding, more mud flying around. The car had a mind of its own and was going whereever it wanted. Good thing it was a wide road. It was definitely white-knuckle time. Going up any sort of hill was near-impossible, and coming downhill was even harder. At one point, I began hydroplaning towards a steep drop, and a flashing orange light appeared on my dashboard. Great -- I really needed a flashing light to tell me I was skidding out of control! At least it would provide something to distract me as I plunged over the cliff and hurtled to my death. I was actually driving with my windows down in the rain so that I could crawl out of the car if it flipped over. My hands were frozen to the steering wheel. Did I mention I badly needed to pee? This was not fun.

We had been driving like this for the better part of an hour, and I estimated we were less than a mile from Dowdy Ranch. The torture would soon be over! But I spoke too soon. As we made our way up a long hill, the car just refused to go any farther. Wheels began spinning in the mud, lights were flashing, and I started to slide backwards. OK, time for Plan B.

We all got out of our cars and huddled around, trying to figure out what to do. It was obvious the cars would not go up the hill. We could either ditch the cars here and just start hiking, or go back out of the park and hike somewhere else. If we ditched the cars here, it would probably add a couple of miles to the planned 26-mile hike and we were likely to finish at dusk, and then we would have to navigate back down this treacherous road in the dark. Plus, we weren't sure if the cars would even be here when we got back.

At this point Ross mentioned the guy who let us in was just a local rancher, not a ranger, and had locked the gate behind us after we came in. What???? I could just envision the cross-hairs of his sniper rifle trained on us as we were standing there in the middle of the dirt road, while his toothless cousin was plucking the banjo. OK, well that made the decision a lot easier. We'd have to go back and figure a way out of this mess.

We began heading down the hill, slowly, in reverse, until we found a place where it was a little less muddy and we could turn around. After another hour of torture driving down the road, we all arrived safely back at the gate. First things first -- I had to run out and pee! Aaaaaaah! Finally, I could breathe again. Now, back to the gate. During our absence, a small sign had been attached to it: PARK ENTRANCE CLOSED DUE TO BAD ROAD CONDITIONS. Now they tell us! Obviously, the rangers had closed the park off after we had already been let in by the rancher.

Well, time to figure out how to get out of here. In the worst case, we were only about half a mile from Hwy 152, so we could hop the fence and go flag down some help. Fortunately, I could get cell phone signal and I had given The Man the heads-up that we would be likely calling for help (after all, it is an INCH Coe hike), so he had the rangers' phone number programmed into his speed dial. As usual, The Man thought I was BS'ing him when I called, but I was able to convince him this was for real, so out went the call for help. (Side note: I don't know why The Man always thinks I'm BS'ing him. I have never cried wolf before. I guess the Coe events are just getting more unbelievable each time.)

Within a couple of minutes, The Man called back. The rangers had given him the code to the combination lock. We were free!!

We drove out and assembled in the parking area on the other side of the gate. By now, the sun had come out and it looked like it was going to be a nice day. We decided to go hike to Coit Lake from the Coyote Creek entrance, so we hopped back in the cars and hit the road.

After about another hour of driving, we finally arrived. The Coit Lake hike itself was uneventful by comparison ... we finally set out on trail at 10:45, made our quickly up the ridge and back down the other side to Kelly Lake, continued on to Coit Lake in a downpour, head a quick lunch, then headed back using a different route (but visiting Kelly Lake once more along the way), and ended up back at the cars around 4pm. Time to kick back and have a well-deserved beer!

I predicted Steve would attempt Dowdy Ranch the following week, with Nani in tow. We'll see how that one turns out. The good thing is that we now have the combination to the gate!

Helen's 60th leaf
Paul's 150th leaf

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