Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ridge Swapping at Coe

Heading back out to one of my favorite local tracts, the sprawling Henry Coe, I was contemplating a trek out to Mississippi Lake. I must have been feeling my oats, but I was thinking it would be good to do this hike while it’s still mostly cool. Also at this time of year, with plentiful rainfall, you can hike light because there’s plenty of natural flowing water which is filterable. I got off to an early start arriving at Coe headquarters just as the sun was rising to paint Pine Ridge in an orangey reddish glow with distant purplish tones in the lower areas. It was cool, about 38 degrees which forced me to begin with my jacket on, but the chill didn’t last. By the time I had reached Manzanita Point the sun was up, and I was already fully de-layered, even without having done any uphill yet. Is this February? I had chosen this route because I wanted to save some energy by using the obscure “narrows” trail to connect through to Willow Ridge Trail. This would bypass the extra climb from Poverty Flat up past the north side of Jackass Peak only to wind up back down at East fork Coyote Creek anyway. I expected higher water levels than usual, but I’ve used this trail successfully before, and hoped I could use my trekking poles, and my usual deft balance (chuckle…chuckle…) to straddle the rocks and keep my boots dry. It was impossible to make headway though, and right away I found myself needing to switch to my sandals and wade through the stingingly frigid waters of the east fork. Continually switching back and forth was not practical, so I wound up negotiating the entire narrows section in my sandals. This was extremely slow because the jagged, rough, rocky creek bottom and banks made it necessary to be very deliberate with every step to avoid injury. That wasted a lot of time. I didn’t stop to put my boots back on until I was ready to climb up Willow Ridge Trail. By then I was contemplating spending a pile of money for a better pair of sandals. By the time I was at the summit of Willow Ridge it was already nearly 11:00, so what I saved in energy I had more than negated in lost time. At this time of year there’s not enough daylight to play around with, so I scrapped my plan to head for Mississippi Lake. I decided to wait until later in the year, or just do a back pack trip like everyone else.

Instead, I decided to employ a different concept for the day’s outdoor experience. Rather than embarking on a harried speed march along the writhing spine of this wickedly rolling ridgeline to make up time, I would just chill and enjoy myself while exploring the topography, savoring the time, and drinking in the quietness. After all, I had not seen a sole since leaving my car at the headquarters complex. I do this occasionally on hikes and I find it very energizing. From Willow Ridge, the elevation and sightlines can potentially provide views all the way to the Sierras. I remember seeing awesome views from here to the eastern snowpack when it’s clear. But even though the sun was out, the skies never really cleared enough for long range vistas like that. I still have yet to get a perfectly clear view out to the east this year even though I have placed myself in position for them numerous times. But marvelous things were happening right before my eyes that really made this hike worthwhile. For one thing, I was seeing some surprising early displays of wild flowers. On Pine Ridge I was seeing lots of Mild Maids along with a few Baby Blue Eyes and Buttercups. There were also some flowering Manzanita and California Bay trees and Hound’s Tongue. On Willow Ridge I was seeing lots of Shooting Stars popping out. Not just a few, but in some of the sunny areas they were sprinkled through the grasses like I have never witnessed in mid February. All the hillsides are brilliant hues of green, and the air quality is great. I found a great little rock perch on which to spend some quiet time and just relax for while to invigorate the spirit. I had a leisurely hike back the same way I had come with time enough to explore the unique character of the route through the narrows. The rocks and mosses are really quite beautiful. While driving out I was treated to a fine sunset over Mount Madonna.

Click here to see my photos.


Gambolin' Man said...


It's been about 4 years since I've been to Coe - your nice write-up and excellent photos sure inspire me to get back there PDQ!

Gambolin' Man

Waypoints said...

Thanks Gambolin' Man. Maybe I'll see you out there.