Sunday, January 11, 2009

Willow Ridge Hike

Well its way past Thanksgiving, but why have only one day a year when you decided to be grateful for the things you really care about. I love to take time to appreciate the simple things in life. And borrowing on a recent post by Adam Shake on his blog Twilight Earth entitled “Vowing to Praise the Beauty of the Ordinary”; I would like to offer the following quote:

“What is Beauty? Some would say that it is a rare thing, and it is the rareness of it, that makes it special. But I disagree. Beauty is a common thing. As common as a field of grass. As common as a trail snaking between pines with the sun filtering down through them. Beauty is an ordinary thing.”

I couldn’t agree more. And the more I visit Henry Coe State Park, the more I am grateful to the estate of his namesake for their gift of this awesomely “ordinary” track of land for use as a State park. Coe’s parklands abound in quiet, subtle, beauty that can only be truly appreciated by those who are willing to venture outside of the droning concrete anthill of the bay area’s metropolis. To those who are willing to venture inward in spirit by venturing outward in body, rewarding experiences are waiting for them a places like Coe.

Being solo for today, I had no really specific destination for today’s hike. I thought I might hike up high for the long range views, but I wanted to go somewhere I had not been lately. Henry Coe’s Willow Ridge came to mind because that would give me the opportunity to hike some sections that I haven’t been to in years. The last time I went up that way was on a hike out to Mississippi Lake. That hike was on a spring day, so I wasted a lot of time photographing wild flowers, enjoying the views, and after all the brutal climbing and decent, I didn’t get back until after dark. I had taken a route by way of Poverty Flat, down to Little Fork Coyote Creek, then back up and over a little ridge, and back down to East Fork, loosing all that altitude all over again. Then you head up daunting Willow Ridge Trail. All that up-and-down really burns a lot of energy. But if you don’t mind doing a little scrambling, you can reduce the impact a little by using the section simply called “The Narrows”. And that’s where I was headed.

Being one person hiking alone allows for the experience of the striking quietness of the morning. Large groups tend to make a racket which will spoil your chances for wildlife viewing. Hiking out through Manzanita Point early in the morning I noticed many young black tail, mostly doe. The one big buck I spotted pranced off as soon as he saw me. I have often noticed the males are a lot more skittish and wondered if this is a learned response due to hunting. Along the China Hole Trail several large masses of doves would actually startle me a bit as they all broke into flight at the same instant, beating the air intensely with their wings sending a palpable sound wave through the air.

After shedding layers up on Pine Ridge in the sun, down in China Hole it was still so cold that thick sheets of ice were covering any still sections of water. After re-outfitted myself with gloves and skullcap, I headed up The Narrows. There is really no trail through this interesting little rocky canyon. You must choose your own way, hiking across jagged rocks, often scrambling a bit, re-crossing the creek many times, with difficult footing. This route may not save any time, but any other way to Los Cruzeros will involve more climbing. It’s a beautiful area as well. I love the way quartz is laced through the rock as though drizzled by some master confectioner.

Trudging up Willow Ridge Trail I was soon back in the sun, and was soon back down to only a single wicking layer and a boonie hat. I was encouraged by the extent of recovery I could see in the areas to the south of Willow Ridge that were burned in the Lick fire some 17 months ago. The fire was not very hot in this area, and all of the visible charring is almost gone. The large double trunked pine that stands at the summit point of Willow Ridge is still there, but severely damaged with one of it’s trunks torn off. The mist lingered around the peaks to the southeast all morning making them look mysterious. I enjoyed a good view to the Sierras, but the snowpack is less than spectacular. And indeed the views in all directions were clear, and fine, the subtle color variations inviting a lingering gaze. Perfect for a nice backcountry lunch.

Back down at Los Cruzeros, I made my return trip by way of Mahoney Meadows Road to Lost Spring Trail, gaining altitude all the way to my turning point onto the other part of China Hole Trail, and back down to Coyote Creek. Up until this time I had not seen anyone else all day. Back at China Hole there was a whole group of people headed to some camping area somewhere. I talked to them briefly before heading back up to Manzanita Point by way of Madrone Soda Springs. My GPS batteries quit on me somewhere up the trail, but it’s just as well, because I am not at all happy with its performance. I knew the altimeter was usually off unless I can find a known point to calibrate to. But in trying to plot out my route on TOPO software, the coordinates do not match up very closely with the map. It’s supposed to be within about 15 feet with good reception, but sometimes it’s more like hundreds of feet. Not good enough to accurately show you my route. Maybe later this year I’ll get a decent GPS so I can include the track logs and elevation profiles in my posts.

Click here to see my photoset on flickr
Click here to see my Mississippi Lake photoset from 2006

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