Monday, May 26, 2008

Henry Coe- hiking extravaganza!

Henry Coe State Park
(Corral- Forest- Manzanita Point- China Hole- Creekside- Poverty Flat Road-Middle 
Ridge Road- Hobbs Road-Upper Camp)
(12? 13 miles?)

So just to be clear--this was a backpacking trip, not a trail run (for that, see Pinnacles National Monument posting to follow). But one could easily turn this into a trail run. Well, easily is a relative term, I suppose.

I had never been to Henry Coe. ICO groups a-plenty have used Henry Coe as a jumping-off point to introduce youth to the fun of backpacking, but I had either taken my groups to Briones or Tilden, or made the farther trek to the Sierras. It's a little far for a day trip from San Francisco or the East Bay, but a great weekend backpacking option--especially in the winter or early spring, when it's too snowy in the Sierras. Stymied by the weather this weekend in the Sierras (our first choice), Jen and I decided to head down on Sunday morning to Henry Coe.

We became enamored just from the drive in, which winds up from Morgan Hill, past Anderson Lake County Park, into the hills, providing some stunning views even before we started hiking. At the Visitor Center, where you  must check in and purchase a permit, we were helped by John Verhoeven, one of the most enthusiastic rangers I have ever met. You, Ranger Verhoeven, are a credit to your park. It MATTERED to Ranger Verhoeven that we enjoyed our stay at Henry Coe!

On our favorite ranger's recommendations, we headed down, down, down to China Hole, billed as "the favorite swimming hole" of the park. We took the Forest trail detour and educated ourselves with the Nature Guide provided along the path. This path was beautiful-- filled with poison oak, to be sure, but also flanked by my favorite California plant ever: the manzanita! (My second favorite is the madrone, and there were plenty of madrone trees in Henry Coe as well...) With red, smooth bark and some amazing heat-withstanding properties, the manzanita is a truly unique plant. (My recommended reading on the abilities of the manzanita, as well as other California chaparral, is from John McPhee's The Control of Nature--the section on the San Gabriel Mountains. Fabulous.) 

China Hole Trail dropped down to (crazily enough), China Hole, the swimming hole on Coyote Creek. Dodging the ubiquitous poison oak, we made our way along the Creekside trail--one of the prettiest sections of the trail we were on all day. After a gentle section here and then on Poverty Flat road, the trail climbed (and climbed and climbed) sharply once we started on Middle Ridge road. Here, again, I was treated to the lesson I have yet to internalize: If I don't eat enough, I'm useless. After an hour or so of climbing (probably 7 miles of hiking so far), I began to get hungry, yet in true Victoria fashion, decided to press on and just finish (ignoring that we had 5 more miles to go). This led to a very silent Victoria and a concerned Jen, but once we ended up at Upper Camp, our home-away-from-home and I ate some cheese and crackers, the world looked fine. Silly me. 
The next day, we took Hobbs Road back out, with the steep uphills affording some lovely morning views. 

We were back in our car by 11, heading off to our afternoon's adventure at Pinnacles!

Final thoughts? Henry Coe is absolutely worth a visit. Beautiful flora, stunning vistas, challenging hiking or trail running
 (definitely enough up and down!)--AND enthusiastic rangers--what more could you ask for? One last point of appreciation for Henry Coe: the rangers keep track of who is at each campsite, and steer you away from campsites that are full, or suggest campsites that are empty. This, in my opinion, is enough to make one's weekend.

For a longer description of Henry Coe, I suggest (once again), the work of Gambolin' Man...

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