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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Henry Coe State Park: An Introduction

 Henry Coe has quickly become my favorite location for multi-day backpacking trips in the Bay Area. It is the only place that I have explored locally, that truly feels like wilderness. Once you leave the zones closest to the main entrance of the park it is very unlikely that you will encounter other hikers and the mix of maintained and unmaintained trails makes for endless route possibilities. I have particularly enjoyed the less maintained trails and the adventures experienced in some of the more remote sections of the park. With over 89,000 acres, I still have yet to explore much of Northern California's largest State Park.

On our first trip to Henry Coe we took a "choose your own adventure" route starting and ending at the visitors center.

Getting ready at the visitor center

The first evening, Fiona Maclean, Ashley Hebert and I headed up Hobbs Road past Frog Lake up to Blue Ridge Rd.

Big Berry Manzanita, a very good looking tree

We took the Blue Ridge Rd. to Bear Mountain Rd. and night hiked through a spectacular wash until we reached Bear Mountain. In the wash we discovered mating clusters of California Newts and the feathers and skeletal remains of a red-tailed hawk. We finished the night with a steep climb up Bear Mountain before setting up camp for the evening.

Fiona's Ridge Stretches

That night there was a hard frost and we woke up with sheets of ice on our sleeping bags. The next day heated up quickly and we took a warming and drying break up on the ridge. Mountain Lion Tracks and sign were abundant and I was really hoping we could catch a glimpse of this ghostly magnificent cat. From the Bear Mountain Ridge we descended to Bear Spring on an unmaintained trail.

Yummy! Anybody thirsty?

If you're up for some minimal bushwhacking, Henry Coe has some stellar trails that really evoke a sense of wilderness. We continued our descent from Bear Spring down to Mississippi Lake and enjoyed Lunch next to the cattail filled oasis.

Mississippi Lake

From Mississippi Lake, we chose to take the Hartman Trail, an excellent choice, over to Orestimba Creek Rd. The hilly Hartman Trail is one of my favorite routes in the park. This trail offeres some great views of The Rooster Comb, a rocky ridge that became the focus of our second trip to Henry Coe. 

Navigation Discussion

Hartman Trail

Fiona and Ashley

Shooting Stars

We connected Orestimba Rd. to the Orestimba Creek trail, another gorgeous walk above a rocky creek. Next, we took the Alquist Trail to County Line Rd, and over to Coit Rd. At the intersection of Coit Rd. and the Phoneline Trail there is an unmarked trail that runs north along Mississippi Creek. This trail quickly disappeared and after following the creek for the better part of a mile we were unable to locate the Mudd Spring Trail.

At this point we had a couple of options. We could head south back down the creek or we could try to make it up to Pacheco Ridge. We chose the second option and took on the good old cross-country bushwhack. We became well acquainted with Chemise and White-thorn Ceanothus. In fact we were so well acquainted that they became one with our flesh.

After an hour of thrashing through brush we found a open clearing and set up camp just as the sun set. The next morning we quickly made our way up to the ridge and were relieved to find ourselves exactly where we expected to be.

As we descended back down from Pacheco Ridge we were met with a frozen valley. The ridgeline campsites were good choices.

Frozen Valley

The last day we took the Rat Spring Trail to Willow Ridge Trail to Los Cruzeros. The section of trail from Los Cruzeros to the Narrows is a definite highlight.

Fiona climbs the Narrows

After the Narrows, we traversed the Creekside Trail and made the big climb up Poverty Flat Rd. We finished up our Henry Coe adventure with a great walk on the Forest Trail. The Forest Trail has some of the coolest Madrones and Valley Oaks I have seen.

Valley Oaks

Acorn Woodpecker Granary

I absolutely loved this arid, hilly, chaparral landscape. The Rooster Comb was so compelling we were already planning a return trip.

Total Mileage: 37.6

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