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67. Mississippi Lake (05/23/98)

Hikers (10): Amy, Faisal, Jamie, Kevin Q, Nanda, Peter, Pistol Pete, Quinie, Ram, Steve
Distance: 22 miles
Rating: 6 difficulty, 9 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Peter -- Pictures by Steve

Rusty and I first did this hike almost a year ago to the day. Afterwards, I swore I would never hike again. Well, looks like you can't teach an old dog new tricks -- not only did I continue to hike, but I actually came back to do the Death March all over again.

After telling everyone about what a killer hike this was, I assumed nobody else (except Esteban) would be foolish enough to do it with me, but 10 people told me they were going to show up! I smell trouble!

Ram called me up the night before the hike to say he was going to hit the trail at the crack of dawn (he was going to haul all his snorkeling gear to the lake and wanted to make sure he had enough time). Glad I'm not the only one with a few screws loose.

Nanda, Jamie, Esteban, and I met up at Intel at 7 o'clock. I knew Quinie and her iReady co-workers were going to meet us at the trailhead. There was no sign of Amy or Pistol Pete at Intel, so we assumed they had bagged us and we hit the road.

We arrived at Henry Coe and began to get our stuff together. I saw Ram's truck in the parking lot, so I knew he was out on the trail. As we were getting ready to head out, Amy showed up (she had just missed us by a couple of minutes), followed by Quinie, Kevin, and Faisal. Welcome newbies!

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

It was cool and windy as we headed out -- a huge difference from last year when the temperatures hit 106 degrees. As with our second trip to Murietta Falls, I knew the Temperature Factor would make this hike much easier than the first one. We saw our first critter of the day -- a long-eared jackrabbit. What's up, Doc?

As our merry group descended down the Pacheco Route to Poverty Flat, we were passed by Gary Meeker, another Intel dude out for a day in the park. The difference was that he was on a bike. He told us he intended to get to Mississippi Lake and back by 1 o'clock. Wheels! What a concept!

After crossing the first stream, we began to spread out. Esty and Amy went on up ahead, followed by the bulk of the pack, with Kevin and I bringing up the rear. I knew we were in for a long haul, so I was in no rush. A couple of wild turkeys sat there looking at us as we began to head up from the Flat. From that vantage point, it would seem that we were the turkeys!

As I huffed and puffed my way up the hill to the turnoff for Los Cruzeros, I could see everyone had missed the turn and was going the wrong way. Jeez! Don't these people know how to read maps? I called out to them and managed to catch most of them, but Esty and Amy were too far ahead. Nanda tried to catch up with them, but to no avail. We figured as long as they were together, they would be OK and they would figure out the right trail sooner or later. Onward!

We crossed the Narrows at Los Cruzeros and stopped for a short rest. We were making great time. We had only been out 1.5 hours and were almost halfway to the Lake. Of course, it had been downhill most of the way, and the toughest part was still ahead, but we were well ahead of schedule.

After catching our breath, we began our ascent up the steepest part of the entire hike -- the Willow Ridge Trail. Just as with Mt. Sizer, my intention was to make it to the top without stopping. Well, it was easier said than done. The trail, while overall not as steep as Sizer, does have its moments of glory when your heart is pounding like a jackhammer, your calves are screaming out in pain, and you are just looking straight up to see when this damn thing ends. The key is to just keep going. After 36 minutes of agony (the exact same time it takes me to climb Sizer), I made it to the top. Whew!

I just sat down in the dirt, with sweat pouring off me -- not a beautiful sight. I was thankful it was a cool day and I had brought plenty of water. It sure makes a huge difference. A couple of minutes later, Jamie appeared, followed by Kevin (who had barely even broken a sweat), Quinie, and Nanda. Halfway up the trail, Faisal had discovered he'd left his socks back at the Narrows and had gone back down to get them. Hmmm ... the original 8 were now down to 5.

The Interior Route was waiting. We left an arrow behind for the others and continued on our way. We had been out a little over two hours and had just over 4 miles to go. Looking good!

We made our way along the top of the ridge, up one hill and down the next, up one hill and down the next, up one hill and down the next ... the sun had come out from behind the clouds and was not helping matters. We amused ourselves by spotting various other little critters as went walked along: horned toads, salamanders, and a garter snake (ask Quinie about that one).

About halfway along the Interior Route we met Gary coming back from the lake. He told us he had seen two guys there, and from his description one of them sounded like Ram. Good to hear the Ramster had made it. Inspired, we continued on.

A little further up the trail, I once again saw the alien spaceship. I had seen it on my last trip, but was too tired to go investigate. This time, I decided to check it out. For those who haven't seen it, it's a large metal spherical object which is covered in dimples and has a big handle. It looks like a big wrecking ball, but when I went up and tapped on it, I found it was hollow. It's odd to see it out there in the middle of nowhere. I figured I'd better leave it alone before the little green men started jumping out of it. Back to the trail ...

A short while later, we turned around and saw Faisal catching up to us. He had run most of the way. The King! Everyone was pumped and picked up the pace. Before too long, we arrived at the turnoff for Mississippi Lake and knew we were home free. As we descended down the long hill towards the lake, we could see an inner tube in the water. Had to be Ram -- who else would drag an inner tube all the way out here?

We made it to the lake in just under 4 hours. Excellent! The water was perfect -- refreshing, but not too cold. Ram was snorkeling about in his wet suit, happy as a clam. Quinie wasted no time and waded in and grabbed the inner tube. I debated for a second as to whether it was wise to go in with my contact lenses, but then threw caution to the wind and threw off my boots and shirt and dove in. Aaaaaaahhh!!!! It felt great! The water was nice and clear and fish could be seen swimming about. Mississippi Lake is legendary for its giant trout.

Quinie looked just a little too relaxed out there on the inner tube. Time to put an end to that! Unfortunately, she knew what was coming, and she managed to escape to shore before I could tip her over. Dang! Well, at least I got the inner tube.

Enough fun -- time for lunch! I was not that hungry, but knew I would need the energy for the trip back (plus I prefer to eat my lunch rather than carry it), so I forced down the sandwich. Everyone had pretty much finished lunch and was settling into nap mode when Esteban finally appeared on the other side of the lake. He sat there for a while, then decided the action was over where we were (I guess he saw Quinie in her bikini), and headed over. After an initial exchange of pleasantries we gave him plenty of flak for (a) taking the wrong trail, and (b) abandoning Amy in his quest to catch up with us.

Time to get the show back on the road ... but first I did a quick initiation for the newbies. I could tell they loved it!

Nanda and Jamie got a quick start and headed out first. The rest of us slowly began to pick up our stuff and get organized. Esty and I offered to help Ram haul back some of his gear, but he said he wanted to do it himself. That wet suit was going to be a bitch to carry back. Frankly, if Ram had said yes, me and my bad back would be in deep shit! We did another INCH cheer for morale and headed out:

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

About half a mile up the trail, we met Amy rushing towards us. After backtracking all over the place, she had finally made it! You should have seen the look of relief on her face. We offered to wait for her while she went down to the lake and back, but when she found out that she would get the hike leaf even if she didn't go the final half-mile, she decided she would rather turn back right there.

We continued the trek back ... as expected, the pace was slower than the outbound trip. Amy had slowed a bit (she had not had a chance to rest at the lake like the rest of us and had done a quick 180 and headed back without a pause). I walked along with her, while Quinie, Kevin, and Faisal were went on ahead (Esty, Nanda, and Jamie were long gone by now).

Before too long, we caught up with the iReady gang. Faisal's leg had cramped up and he was sitting down taking a breather. Quinie was off in the bushes somewhere taking care of business. Kevin was just Mr. Energy. This hadn't tired him one bit. In fact, he had been running up the hills!

We all took a short rest at the turnoff for the Willow Ridge. It was a little after 3 o'clock and I figured we had about 3 more hours of hiking to do (allowing for long rests at both streams we had to cross). Plenty of time before dark. Much better than last year.

We practically ran down the ridge all the way to the Narrows (many places on the trail are so steep that it's much easier to run down than to try and fight gravity). Time for another long break! I took off my shoes and cooled my feet in the stream. Amy peeled off her shoes and nursed her blistered feet. For some reason, Quinie decided to strip down to her bikini and perform the Forbidden Dance of Love with a large boulder in the middle of the stream. Sometimes it's better to just not ask questions.

I would have liked to stay there longer, but I knew my legs would start to tighten up, so I forced myself to lace up and hit the road. The others assured me they knew the way back, so off I went. The climb up to the Pacheco Route was short, but took its toll. I was breathing hard as I finally reached the fire road. Big Henry was starting to kick my ass again. The good thing was that I knew I had less than a mile to my next rest stop and it was mostly downhill from here.

After I crossed the stream at Poverty Flat, I sat down for my final rest (and bagel) before the big push up the final ridge. As I was sitting there, I saw another Intel person that I recognized. Her name was Jennifer, and I could tell she was no fool -- she was carrying a small backpack while the poor guy she was with was loaded down like a mule! They were here for the long haul (two nights of camping) and it looked like they had brought the kitchen sink with them. Good luck!

As I was lacing my shoes back up, who should come along in a Ranger truck, but Amy! Normally, that would be an automatic Black Leaf of Shame, but after having seen the sad shape her feet were in, I would have to let it slide. Besides, it's hard to justify giving a Black Leaf to anyone who's walked 23 miles at Henry Coe.

OK ... let's get this sucker over with. One of the highlights of the trip to Mississippi Lake is the climb out of Poverty Flat after you've already walked close to 20 miles. My best advice it to not think about it, and like Nike says, "just do it". I hit the road ...

Before too long, I was moving in slow motion. A young deer came and walked alongside me for a few steps. He must have figured I was so tired, there was nothing I could possibly do to him. He had beautiful markings and short fuzzy antlers (they were the round nubby kind and had not grown into points yet).

I had originally wanted to stop and rest on my usual bench at the top, but as I got closer, I caught my second wind. It must have been because I knew I had cold beer waiting for me back at the car. I picked up the pace and headed on in. I did see one final critter before I made it back to the car: a wildcat. It went chasing down the hill after some blue birds. That sucker was faster than I had expected!

Thankfully, there were no wild boar sightings on this hike, and we all made it back without major incident. That beer tasted good! As I sat there enjoying it, a ranger came over and congratulated us on making it to Mississippi Lake and back in less than 10 hours. Side note: He told me there is a sign-in sheet for those who make it to the top of Mt. Sizer. We've been there a few times, but have never seen it. I guess this just means we'll have to go back again soon!

After the torture: Quinie, Faisal, Jamie, Peter, Kevin, Nanda (nice shoes!)

Final note #1: Ram eventually dragged his sorry ass in 2 hours after everyone else (we were long gone). He says he will never do that again, but I seem to remember making similar comments about going back to Mississippi Lake last year.

Final note #2: The next day, we bumped into Pistol Pete at Muffy's BBQ. He told us he had arrived at Intel a few minutes late, then headed over to Henry Coe, gotten wrong directions from the rangers and then spent the day wandering around all over Big Henry (including walking through the Narrows). He showed us the map with all the markings as proof, so we give him a leaf for effort. Good job!

Faisal's 1st leaf
Kevin Q's 1st leaf
Nanda's 10th leaf

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