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Willow Ridge previously climbed Thu, Apr 17, 2014|
later climbed Tue, Nov 22, 2016
Starting from park HQ at 8a, I followed the Corral Trail out to Manzanita Point at the far southeast end of Pine Ridge, about 3mi distance. There are a number of group campsites located on this forested point, the highpoint found at site 8. Not much in the ways of views, however. From there I dropped down the China Hole Trail, through a fine stretch of mature manzanita, some more than 15ft in height. The trail drops in a series of switchbacks down to China Hole with nice views of the Coyote Creek drainage to the east and south. Heading east from China Hole (a not-so-great swimming hole, freezing this time of year), I passed through the Narrows, a half mile-long stretch of Coyote Creek's East Fork that sees very little sunshine in the winter months. Some of the quiet pools had thin layers of ice covering them in the early morning and it was rather frosty hiking in the shade here. Though the park map describes the trail as "obscure", it isn't hard to follow. Heading west to east, it starts off on the north side, switching to the south side where the canyon is narrowest, then through the middle of the gravel bars for some time before ending back up on the north side when the canyon opens up again. At times of high water flow, the effort could be considerably harder, but today it was pretty tame.
The east end of the narrows meets a place called Los Cruzeros which may be something of a misspelling of Los Cruceros which can translate to The Crossroads. There are several fine campsites found here adjacent to the creek. I followed a trail on the south side of the creek to another junction 1/4mi further east and the start of the Willow Ridge Trail. I climbed this fine trail for almost two miles to reach the Willow Ridge Road atop the ridge of the same name. As I walked along this undulating ridge up and over its highpoint at 2,615ft, noting the excellent views off both sides, it occurred to me that this must be part of the divide between the Monterey Bay and SF Bay watersheds (which also passes through the Santa Cruz Mtns). Water to the north flows into Coyote Creek and then down through San Jose to the Bay, while that to the south flows into Pacheco Creek and then the Pajaro River and out to Monterey Bay. About a mile to the east is the main divide of the range separating waters that flow east to the Central Valley from those flowing west.
It took about 3.5hrs to reach the highpoint I had been seeking at Peak 2,540ft. The last hundred feet or so has no maintained route to the top, but portions of an old firebreak make the bushwhacking required minimal. There were a few burnt remnants from some wooden stakes that may have been left by surveyors, but nothing else found at the summit. I sat for a short rest and considered altering my plans to take in Bear Mountain about 2.5mi to the north. Not close enough to make it a no-brainer, but not out of the question either. I decided to stick to the original plan. Peak 2,540ft is where Willow and Pacheco Ridges meet and so I took advantage of this to follow Pacheco Ridge south for several miles as an alternate return route. Like Willow Ridge, it is one of the main roads coursing through the park, undulating with the ups and downs of the ridgelines typical throughout the park. Halfway along I decided to climb a small rocky summit to the east of the road at a point on the map labeled 2,438ft. It turned out to have a small geocache at the top, seeing about one visit a year since it was placed five years earlier. I found a tick crawling on my pants while I was up there which now had me suddenly conscience of the nasty pests. I was hoping they would be taking a break during the coldest of the winter months. Later I would find one on the back of my neck as I was driving home. Luckily I managed to extract it in quick fashion without causing a wreck. Back on the road, I passed by several other trail junctions before leaving the ridge to descend on the Laurel Trail (a delightful trail with some flowers and open, grassy slopes), dropping to Pacheco Creek's North Fork, then climbing back up to Willow Ridge on the Rat Spring Trail.
I eventually connected with my original route and followed the Willow Ridge Trail back down to Coyote Creek and back through the Narrows. I made another detour on the way back up to Pine Ridge by taking the Madrone Soda Spring Trail, a delightfully shaded and cool route for much of the way, appreciated now that it was warmer in the afternoon. The trail passes by some ruins of the springs built many years ago, perhaps an attempt to develop it as had been done at the more successful Gilroy Hot Springs further south (though that one succumbed to the ravages of time and neglect as well). After climbing back up to Manzanita Point, I returned to the original route along the Corral Trail and returned to the park HQ shortly before 4p.
This page last updated: Sat Jan 24 15:08:29 2015
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