Henry Coe state park has a well-earned reputation as a great place for backpacking and a truly steep set of paths. It is also one of the relatively undiscovered gems of the San Jose area. I arrived on a damp Friday afternoon and was, pretty much, the backpacker in a 40 square mile or so area, only 5-7 miles from Morgan Hill California.
After getting off the plane in San Jose, I checked the weather and it was supposed to rain quite hard on Sunday. Therefore I went to the safeway on East Dunne street, picked up a few supplies and headed for the hills. The ranger office was shut, but I could register with the “iron ranger”. Fortunately a couple of volunteers were around to help and show me where to place my car (behind the barn with a sheet on the dash saying when I’d be back).
I took the corral trail to poverty flats road and 4.3 miles and about 1500 feet lower made camp at poverty flats camp site 3. On the way down I passed an interesting tree that I don’t quite recognize. It had large nuts that resembled horse chestnuts, but aren’t. (it is a California Buckeye) I saw deer, a coyote, and a bobcat track on the way down. The fuel pellets worked well for cooking dinner – but the Osem brand mejadarra (rice & lentils) is now highly spiced and somewhat disgusting. Boiling water with tea helped the human sump work and I turned in. I tried the bivy sack (outdoor research microlight) and had a bit of trouble with condensation, so ended up taking it off. There was a bit of drizzle but nothing significant.
The next morning was beautiful and sunny so I tried a fast-packing technique of starting quickly and eating on the trail. So after a mile and a half or so and a 1000 foot up and down over jackass peak I stopped at Coyote creek, ate and pumped water. This was a decision point and after checking the map I started the climb up Willow ridge towards Coit and Kelly lakes.
I walked back the next ridge over in the afternoon
I called, and surprised, my father from the top of the ridge (I generally carry my cell phone even when it isn’t likely to be useful because if you come out in the wrong place it can be a lifesaver). Unfortunately my wifes cell was off. On the way I was passed by the one mountain biker I saw. I was almost to Kelly lake when the ranger drove by. He was concerned that I was lost, but I gave him my itinerary and we had a nice chat. He said that if the weather turned really bad, I could alway hold up in one of the latrines (which, by the way are spacious, relatively smell-free and even have toilet paper). I thanked him and went on my way. Just past Kelly lake I put up my tarp (as there had been a few sprinkles), ate lunch (peanut butter, cliff bars and tortillas), and pumped a bit more water. (I didn’t need to carry more than about 2.5-3 liters). I started on the return leg via Mahoney meadows road.
I saw several large brown newts (coastal range newts) on the way. They seem a bit out of place in this arid area, but that’s where they live.
About 4 miles later, the heavens unleashed a reasonable amount of rain and I put on rain gear and a pack cover. The REI flash 50 is somewhat water resistant and my gear is bagged in a contractor’s trash bag, but the cover helps keep the thing drier.
I had been planning to stop at Mahoney pond, which on a nice day would have been beautiful, but I don’t like to stop on a ridge when a storm is in the offing. There is a slightly overused campsite just off the trail near the pond. Because the weather was threatening I aimed for the lost spring campsite, but the sign was missing so I ended up at the lost spring. Rather than go back uphill and hunt around, I elected to head for the Los Cruzeros sites, by Coyote creek (only about 1.5 miles from poverty flats going the short way and about 17 miles the way I went).
I pitched my tarp, and setup underneath. This time I was glad of the bivy sack as the Etowah tarp would let the occasion spray through (could have been knocking condensation off of the inside). I started dinner, a mountain house meal, and then realized I’d setup within the “widow maker” zone of an oak tree. Fortunately there was a lull in the rain and I was able to very quickly move everything (in a hurry I can pitch the tarp and move in in less than 5 minutes!). So while dinner finished rehydrating I moved camp. Dinner, tea, and to bed. It rained a bit that night, but nothing too significant by my standards.
The next morning was foggy, but the fog was burning off. I lazed about, only having six or so miles to go and not wanting to get to the camp office much before noon. (I couldn’t check in at Asilomar until later in the afternoon anyway). So back up over jackass peak. Rather than face a grinding haul back up poverty flats road, I took the much steeper “cougar trail”, which was breath-taking (both literally and in terms of beauty). Half-way up there was an old car frame, and I have no idea how they got it there. The ranch, when it was active, had tried planting olive trees. These trees were bearing fruit, but would have been very hard to harvest by modern means as the slope was 30-50% grade at times.
Once on top I took a short break, and followed the Manzanita point trail, a bit of the road, the forest trail, and then the corral trail back to the office. This is sort of anti-climatic, and I was passed by the only two hikers I saw on the forest trail near the headquarters. Once on the corral trail, it started to rain, so on with the raingear and pack cover again.
There is no formal checkout and the ranger in the office was distinctly disinterested in the backcountry so I got in my car and headed off to do science.
Trail stats from gps
28.2 miles, moving average 2.7 mph, 6162 feet climbing (!?).
How did my gear perform?
REI flash 50 pack – Reasonably comfortable and held all I needed. Not quite as waterproof as advertised (but what is?). After a long day the shoulder straps began to hurt a bit, but that was probably a mis-adjusted load lifter. Definitely able to carry a weekend load, but a bit small for much more (though with a summer weight bag??). It has a strap similar to the over the top strap on the mariposa plus, which is good for securing rain wear and jackets, but not quite as versatile as there is a top pocket in the way (I probably could have adjusted it a bit better). The top pocket is useful and has clips for car keys so that you don’t have to worry about them getting lost. The side bags are a bit tight for most water bottles, so put them in before packing the rest.
Etowah tarp – light, possibly leaky (?).
Estibit fuel pellets. Much more expensive than ethanol, but WORK. You can take these on planes in small amounts, as they aren’t particularly flammable. (hard to light without a lighter). They smell like fish that is slightly off (as do most small organic amines). They leave a sticky residue on your pot, but it is water soluble and wipes off so it isn’t an issue. Definitely usable for a short “in and out” trip, but probably not good for a longer trip.
Bivy sack. Some condensation issues, but generally ok. The mosquito net was useful on the most rainy night as the little buggers came out. Not an adequate replacement for a ground sheet under normal conditions, unless you want the rest of your gear to get muddy. Useful as insurance, but not as good as I’d like on its own. The western mountaineering down bag I brought was much more water-resistant than the down bags of my youth so condensation wasn’t an issue. As a solo backpacker miles from help, it was comforting to have this.
Mountain house dehydrated meal, cliff bars, and the like. Edible, even tasty, but I’d be wary of using them for more than a few days as I’d get fed up with the taste.
Summer sausage bars, peanut butter, tortillas. A little better tasting, but not exactly balanced food.
Osem brand – way too weird spices for my taste.
Green tea hard candy – great pick me up.
Using tea for helping wash up (idea from “as the crow flies”) definitely good. Covers traces of seasoning and helps the human sump work.