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693. Rock House Ridge (09/26/09)

Hikers (7): David, Diane, Kandha, Kirk, Linda L, Peter, Steve
Distance: 20 miles
Rating: 5 difficulty, 8 beauty
Park info: Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill

Write-up by Peter, David, and Linda -- Pictures by Helen

Peter's version:

I knew this hike was going to be trouble even before starting. I planned a 7 a.m. start to help beat the heat, but I knew I was just kidding myself. Driving around Anderson Reservoir at 6:30, the temperature was 64 degrees--not bad. But as I got closer to Coe, the temperature started heading up ... 68 ... 74 ... 77 ... 80 degrees as I pulled into the ranger station, and the sun had not even come up yet. No time to waste--let's get going.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

Seven of us headed out on Manzanita Point Road towards the Fish Trail. I was a little worried about Kandha, who had only done one Level 2 hike with INCH prior to this. This should be interesting ...

About halfway down the Fish Trail, Dave and Kandha picked up the pace, leaving me behind with the two ladies. Linda seemed to have consumed a pre-hike gallon of coffee and was talking a mile a minute, jumping from one subject to the next like a hopped-up hummingbird .... save your energy for walking!

Pretty soon, Linda started to fade, and I kept up with Diane all the way to Hobbs Road, where we caught up with Dave (Kandha had gone on ahead--I hoped he was pacing himself). Diane and Dave kept walking, but I decided to take a break at the picnic table to have my second breakfast and rearrange some stuff in my backpack and jot down some notes--the last time we did the Fish Trail, I realized that the Coe map has one segment incorrectly listed as 3.7 miles, when it's really more like 1.1, but I had forgotten to make note of it, and thus I had to downgrade the hike from the original 22.7 miles to 20.1 miles--woo-hoo, less suffering! After a couple of minutes, geo-caching Steve showed up, followed shortly thereafter by Kirk. We headed down towards the creek.

It was starting to heat up, just in time for heading up the Shortcut Trail to the World's Tallest Bench. Last time we did Rock House, I pushed myself too hard up the hill and paid the price for it all day. I took it slower this time--41 minutes to the top. All the others had long gone, except for Linda, who I knew was behind me. As I sat on the bench, dangling my feet and catching my breath, I was feeling good.

But it didn't last. Even though I had a decent rest at The Bench, after I started up again, I immediately began to feel the effects of the heat. Uh-oh. This could be bad. I kept walking along the top of the ridge, and a semi-cool breeze began to revive me. OK, this wasn't too bad. I could see Hat Rock off to the left of the ridge -- due to the fire a couple of years ago, a lot of the brush had been cleared out and The Rock was clearly visible. Nice!

The Black Oak Spring Trail is a (supposedly) unmaintained trail, but it looked like the trail crew had been through there recently. It was well-marked with flags and ribbons and very easy to follow. None of the cross-country bushwhacking like last time. There was only point where the footing was a little shaky, and sure enough, down I went. Ouch! My knee twisted and my leg folded under my body as I went down. I sprang back up quickly and surveyed the damage. This was the same knee I've had operated on twice, so I had good cause for concern. It seemed to be OK, but I knew I would have to be extra careful not to aggravate it the rest of the way. Easier said than done when you're hiking at Coe.

By the time I got to Hat Rock, it was 11:30 and the sun was beating down mercilessly. I found a shady bush and lay down under it for a few moments to gather myself. I was glad I followed George's tip of bringing some frozen water bottles. They helped to revive me. As I sat there forcing down a sandwich, I made an executive decision to cut the hike short. Given my bad track record in the heat and my banged up knee, it was the smartest course of action (see, I can be semi-smart once in a while--just have to learn to stop scheduling these hikes, but that would be hoping for too much). My plan was to head down the Rock House Ridge, through the Narrows to China Hole, along the Creekside Trail to Poverty Flat, where I would call for help. This would avoid any more uphill as I was having trouble pushing off with my knee, and since I had been through the Narrows recently, I knew my way around.

I didn't think walking downhill would be so tiring, but by the time I made to the end of the Rock House Ridge Trail, I was exhausted again. I sat down in the shade at Arnold Horse Camp to once again gather myself. I was starting to worry that I wouldn't even be able to make it through the Narrows. I decided to press on...

The first part of the Narrows was an oven. The heat was rising off the stones with nowhere to go. This was brutal. I was feeling light-headed and a little nauseous. I kept hoping for shade, but no luck. I finally stumbled in to Los Cruzeros and once again had to sit down to catch my breath. I had walked just over a mile on flat ground, but I was huffing and puffing like I had just climbed Sizer. I saw someone had stuck a post-it note on the signpost: Still alive . I knew the feeling (barely)! It looked a little like Steve's writing, and he had told me he was going to take the Creekside Trail, but why would he leave the note if he knew that no-one else would be taking that trail? Was I hallucinating? Better keep going...

After another half-mile, I arrived at a second signpost with a note stuck to it: Still alive, but will have to skip some trail. This was definitely very INCH-like! Hmmm. I kept going .....

Fortunately, as I got closer to China Hole, the canyon became shaded and cool. Aaaaaah! I was going to make it! I started to feel better and picked up the pace. I was getting cocky now. I began to think of different scenarios--I was originally planning to call for help from Poverty Flat, but now I decided that if there was a ranger at Poverty Flat, I would take the ride, otherwise I would keep going. Big Henry would get the last laugh.

By the time I got in to Poverty Flat, I was once again drained. I had already been out 7 hours in 95+ degrees. There was nobody in sight. I decided to throw in the towel and call for help. I threw down my backpack and fired up my cell phone--no signal (thanks AT&T!). I wandered around for a bit trying to find a more open space, but still no luck with the signal. I would have to walk back. Fortunately, I had kept just enough water to take me all the way back to HQ in case this happened.

I began trudging up the Poverty Flat Trail in super slow-motion. I was tempted to stop and rest multiple times, but I was afraid I would not be able to get back up, so I kept staggering along. By some miracle, I made it to the top of the ridge and collapsed at the picnic table. Once again, I tried to call for help, but still no signal (thanks, AT&T!!!!). I resigned myself to trudging back the last 1.5 miles, with half a bottle of boiling water to sustain me. But I needed to rest for a while ...

As I sat there, hunched over with my head on my backpack, who should appear but Steve, Kirk, and another hiker! What the heck? I thought I was hallucinating. It turned out that Kirk was also feeling the effect of the heat and had to lie down about a half-mile into the Forest Trail. A couple of other hikers had seen what happened and one of them had gone back to the ranger station to get help. Good Samaritans at Coe!

Kirk and I sat at the picnic table, together with our newfound buddy Tim. Steve figured we'd be fine, so he started back out on trail to finish the hike. I couldn't sit at the table any longer and sprawled out on the ground under a shady tree. Ants were crawling all over me, but I didn't care. I just lay there, watching my legs twitch. It seemed like we were there for hours. We passed the time by swapping hike stories, and Kirk even told us a joke about Old MacDonald sneaking Clucky into a movie theatre (ask him about it sometime). After getting sufficient rest, I was feeling much better, and thoughts of walking back once again started popping into my head. Just as I was about to tell the guys that I was going to start walking back, I saw the ranger truck coming over the ridge, kicking up clouds of dust. I took it as a sign that I should be smart and take the ride back.

As Ranger Roy drove up in his 4x4, we could hear some great blues guitar blasting out of his car, and this perked Kirk right up. On top of that, Ranger Roy had also brought us some ice cold Gatorade and water. What service! I've said it before, and I'll say it again--the ranger crew at Coe is the best in the business.

We piled in slowly. My leg cramped up as I tried to get in--ouch! I guess I was not feeling that good after all. Maybe it was best that I was not walking back. As we drove off, with Jeff Healey cranked up, all was good with the world once again. Ranger Roy told us stories of rescues, and we told him about our various (mis-)adventures at Coe.

Back at HQ, everyone looked in much better shape than us. I was happy to see Linda had made it back, even though she was wearing a towel over her head. It turned out my worries about Kandha were unfounded--he ended being the first one in and looked like he hadn't even broken a sweat. Good job! Sabine, Helen, and Sarah had done a shorter hike (only 18 miles), having starter 2 hours later than us and finished before us. They get no leaf, but an honorary mention--especially Helen who opened a cold beer for me that Kirk had kindly provided. Cheers!

David's version:

I don't normally like to take the lead but since Peter was kind enough to schedule an early start, it would have been ungracious of me not to take advantage. It seemed like an opportune time to let gravity work for me down to the shortcut trail, as I was carrying over 6˝ quarts of water and ice. I also figured that all miles remaining after the heat hit would take twice as long to traverse. While my time up the Shortcut Trail wasn't all that impressive (36 minutes), I was packing water, it was starting to get hot, and I couldn't afford to burn out too early. I made it to the Sizer bench just in time to see Kandha really take off and was well rested by the time Diane showed up.

I followed her towards Mt. Sizer and talked just long enough to find out that Peter's spreadsheet did not itemize the distance between the Mt. Sizer turnoff and the Black Oak Springs trail entrance. Kirk caught up with us just as we found the unsigned trail and we hiked together until I stopped about five minutes from Hat Rock for my periodic rest and cooling session (think Universal Soldier). Upon resuming the hike, I felt cool and refreshed. Unfortunately, I also soon felt lost as I couldn't find any of the little trail markers. I continued heading to the ridge and finally found something that looked like a trail. I turned right and received confirmation that I was on the right path (or at the very least, I wasn't the only lost soul) when I found a pair of hiking poles next to a large rock.

About ten minutes later, I see Kirk and Diane heading back up the trail, presumably to retrieve her poles. While she expressed gratitude for "saving her life" (her words), I was left to ponder what kind of hiker loses her poles in the middle of a hike. The excuse that her hands were occupied with eating still doesn't ring sufficient to me - she couldn't even use the excuse of being mesmerized by fine chocolate and she can't use the heat-induced delirium defense available to the rest of us mere mortals. After the successful reunion, we again hiked together until my next rest session at the end of the Rock House Ridge trail junction, just before noon.

Miles came more slowly and rest periods more frequently from this point, as I encountered the open Poverty Flat Road in the heat of the day. After crawling up the Cougar trail, I thought I saw (and heard) a couple of hikers in front of me. It didn't make sense - Kirk, Diane, and Kandha should have been well in front of me by now as I had really slowed down; I had not seen Steve, Peter, or Linda for hours; and nobody but INCH is crazy enough to hike Coe on days like this. However, my need for rest overcame any natural curiosity. When I reached the Manzanita Point rest area, about a half-hour later, the mystery was solved as I found Sabine and Helen snacking at the picnic area. Helen shared her peppered sunflower seeds, after which they introduced me to their new best friend and helped me mooch about half a bottle of gatorade from him. While I was overheated and physically drained, I had avoided the nausea that normally hits me at this stage of long, hot hikes. I was also reassured knowing that if I didn't show up in a reasonable period of time, someone could send help. After fifteen minutes on the picnic table, I was ready to finish.

This pretty much captures the whole day ...

Not paying attention to the map (again!), I took the Springs trail back instead of the designated Forest Trail. While the mileage of the two routes were identical and my trail was more exposed to the heat, I missed out on Kirk's drama. I would have felt a little guilty except that I didn't need any more sun time than absolutely necessary and I had consumed almost everything I had (gatorade, bananas, GU) that might have helped him out. Besides, having been the recipient of a Coe ranger rescue the last time I hiked Rock House Ridge, I knew he was in good hands.

My post hike inventory showed that I had consumed over six quarts of water and only a small sliver remained of the gallon of ice that I started with. I'm usually concerned that, when carrying lots of ice, it won't melt quickly enough when I need a drink. That was not an issue today.

Linda's version:

I was not able to sleep so I decided to do the partial write-up. Since this is only an addendum to your (Peter's) write-up, your contribution is needed to reflect the complementary events of the hike. Wow, I finished it around 4 AM on Sunday. But I had no Internet access; thus I was not able to email it to you, proving it was the true. Wait! I could put the date and time stamp on it. Oops. That can be altered; or when changes are made, the original information is lost. Oh well, somebody knows; that person is God. Yeah! I do not qualify as a procrastinator!

Peter again tried to delegate the write-up to me from the get-go, but this time I refused it, telling him that I would do the Thanksgiving Write-up, which is when I will be obtaining my first "forest," a goal which I set at the beginning of the year.

Knowing it would be a hot day and my lack of sleep would only make this hike more detrimental. So, I asked Peter, "If I have to turn back, where can I do it?" He was very generous; I guess he finally learned the results of hiking at Coe. Without hesitation, he said that if I made it up to The Bench and as long as I came back on foot, I would get a "leaf." (Great! Who wants to hike 23 miles in the heat at Coe? I don't. Since my goal was to gather "leaves," I couldn't care less about hiking - the shorter the better. Oops! I might have offended some people. Oh well, we are one big family, we siblings do not get angry at each other.) Without second thought, my decision was made, happily announcing my intention to the group - Diane, Kandha, Peter, David, and later to Kirk - when he passed me on Fish Trail. Of course, Diane and Peter were trying to persuade but unsuccessfully. It was a wise call; I told Peter after the hike.

I knew Steve was behind me because he went back to get his hat. But wait, Kirk was behind me? No one can claim last but me! So, it raised my curiosity. I asked him. His response was that he forgot to display his receipt on the dashboard and didn't want to deal with it after the hike when he will be exhausted. Yeah, the likelihood of winning anything/defending yourself after a hike at Coe is almost next to none. Good decision, Kirk. Take care of it while you are still able.

Once again my intuition was guiding me toward a good decision. After "letting" Diane, Peter, Kandha, and Kirk pass me, I was hiking alone to the bench. I saw or passed one, except for a family, I assume, in Army uniform, sitting down. The couples were smoking, and immediately, I thought of fire. I said to myself, "I hope they are careful."

Heading up from creek at 9:15, and by 10:15 (60 minutes--the longest time it has ever taken me), I reached my destination, The Bench! What a relief?! I waited and sat on the bench for about 10 minutes (Sitting? When was the last time I sat down during a hike? Hardly ever.), hoping Steve would come up, so I could give him some of my water. (I carried more than 6 liters of water plus one can of 15 oz of coffee, just to be on the safe side.) With no sign of him coming up, I began my journey back to the headquarters. My goal was to go back the way I came. Shortly after I turned back; unfortunately, I fell, but with no injuries, Subsequently, I felt nausea, having regurgitation feelings. (Not a good sign with no one around.) Perhaps, the rising discomforts were due to the combinations of the heat and sleeplessness. So, while I was still conscience, I had to make an alternative and survival decision, attempting the shortest route back.

About 3/4 of the way down to the creek, I ran into same uniformed people. I asked them if they had seen anyone. Their responses were that one guy passed them. I asked them, "Was he older than I am?" Hmmm. It could've been Steve (He does look older than me. I have been told.). But, I did not see him pass. Oh, well no water for him. He was probably taking a detour, geo-caching somewhere.

I was ecstatic to see the sign, saying 4 miles to headquarters. Hooray!! It was before 11 AM. I should make it back in about 2.5 hours, given the conditions I was in, the hills and the scorching heat. For some wishful thinking I had, I thought it was pretty much all down hill or plateau from Frog Lake. Not! Jeez! It had more hills on the Manzanita Trail. (By the way, as I was hiking up, I got hungry, decided to eat my bagel. The funny thing was I dropped it, and it rolled for about 15 seconds before I could pick it up. So much for the 5 second rule! Hmmm. I wiped the dirt off with the same my towel which I used to wipe off my sweats. Yuck! It was only my "cooties", still tasted good with extra ingredients). I ended up hiking around 13 miles, more than 50% of the hike. Good enough to get a "leaf." My arrival time was 1:22 pm. It took me more than 6 hours to hike 13 miles, a record breaker! I was shortly followed by Kandha, who did the whole hike.

As usual, I would have cold watermelon for refreshment after the hike. Without knowing when these guys would be back, I cut the watermelon. While I was consuming my slice of watermelon, I offered some to Kandha, who thought it was a great idea. The balance was saved for the late comers.

Diane finally made her appearance around 3ish (need to consult with her), saying Kirk was having cramps near Forest Trail and wondering what she could do to help. Then David showed up, followed by Steve, who said Peter was feeling bad, wanted to be rescued along with Kirk. (Oh, to my surprise, Helen and Sabine were at Coe, doing a less insane hike, about 18 miles, on their own.) Sabine quickly called the rangers for help after learning the situation. Thank you, Sabine for making a responsive move and thanks Helen and Sabine for the additional food.

Survived -- barely!

Thanks Peter for giving me the Ibuprofen, which I did not consume. I guess it worked magically. Just having it in possession, my headache went away. By the way, everyone left after hearing that I still had the headache. They didn't want to get stuck behind me driving back home, prolonging their pains and suffering as promised by Peter. Thanks guys! I would not have any enemies if I had friends like you.

You know the rest of the stories.

Post-hike reflection -- why the hell do we keep doing this?

Diane's 130th leaf

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