Thu, Apr 17, 2014
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Jackass Peak later climbed Mon, May 5, 2014|
Willow Ridge later climbed Fri, Jan 23, 2015
After a nighthike to Jesse Morrow and Campbell Mtn in the Sierra foothills near Fresno, I had spent the rest of the night parked along a dirt road off SR152 east of Los Banos. On my way home to San Jose the next morning I decided to stop at Henry Coe SP for another visit, this time to the Park HQ entrance on the west side out of Morgan Hill. There were a handful of summits in the park I had yet to visit and all of them were most easily approached from this side. Doing all of them in one go was going to be a bit more work than I was prepared for. As it was, the two I did manage involved some 14mi of hiking and more than 4,000ft of gain. A bike would have made this easier, but it was more a last minute thing while I was driving home and I didn't have the mountain bike with me.
I got to the park HQ just before 9a and to some surprise found the Visitor Center closed. I paid the $8 day use fee using the envelopes at the entrance kiosk and set off on my way, heading east along the Corral Trail. One of the few trail open to hikers only, this single-track trail meanders for about half a mile through oak woodland, one of the lusher areas of the park along Pine Ridge. The area was still very green with grassy ridges and quiet benches set at delightful overlooks among the stately oaks that dot the landscape. At a trail junction near Manzanita Pt I picked up the Poverty Flat Road heading downhill to the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek and Poverty Flat. Normally the creek would be flowing quite well this time of year but it was only a little more than a trickle in this drought year. Still, there was ample water for primitive camping purposes for those staying at Poverty Flat.
The dirt road continues east out of Poverty Flat up and over the lower, southern part of Blue Ridge. At the apex where it goes through a saddle is a use trail leading up to Jackass Peak, a summit with less than 100ft of prominence. I followed the use trail up the short distance to the grassy summit, looked around (not much for views) and headed back down, barely a five minute diversion. I'm not sure why this was even designated as a peak, but I suppose the folks at the Pine Ridge Association that created the park map needed some features to put on it. Like Hartman Peak in the Orestimba Wilderness and a few other peaks, it is not officially listed with the BGN. The one view I did get from near the summit was of Willow Ridge to the east and it was to this feature I headed next.
Not far past Jackass Peak, the Poverty Flat Road forks as I turned right to drop a short distance to the East Fork of Coyote Creek at Los Cruzeros, another primitive camping area. One can either continue on the Mahoney Meadows Rd to the south or as I did, turn left for the start of the Willow Ridge Trail. This fine single-track climbs almost 1,500ft in less than two miles to reach the Willow Ridge Road. Though there's plenty of poison oak to keep one on their toes, there are also pockets of shooting stars and other flowers along this delightfully green trail (undoubtedly less green in the heat of summer). The Willow Ridge Spring and campsite are found just before the trail tops out on the ridge. The highpoint of the ridge at 2,615ft is found less than half a mile after turning left (north) onto Willow Ridge Road. There are several collections of rocks vying for the highpoint, all offering good views, none with a register that I could find, so take your pick. It's one of the few places in the park where you can see both the park HQ to the west and the Dowdy Ranch to the east. The latter is hard to spot, as you have to know where to look to the left of Burra Burra Peak. Those are the only to two signs of civilization one gets in this expansive view of the Diablo Range aside from the obvious dirt road one uses to reach it.
Actually, that last statement isn't exactly true. If one looks carefully to the north a few miles to Peak 1,940ft, a small island in the Coyote Creek drainage, you can spot a cabin atop the summit. This private inholding has enough prominence to qualify as a peak and it was going to be my stretch goal for the day. The park map shows the Eagle Pines Trail heading north from Willow Ridge into another private inholding, heading in the quickest fashion to this other peak. Try as I might, I could find no sign of this trail and concluded it would be an ugly bushwhack to continue north on the ridge. I would save that summit for another day. Now 11:30a, I spent the next two hours returning back to HQ via the same route. I would pause to take pictures of the various flowers that caught my fancy, the occasional stately oak or overlook site. The roads and trails overall were good and mostly brush-free. For my trouble I got one or two ticks on my pants, but these were spotted before they could get into any trouble. In addition to Peak 1,940ft, there was one other summit right near the park HQ but I left this also for another visit. I knew my daughter wanted to do some easy hikes with me and this would make a perfect one. And indeed, it was only a week before we came back for a return visit.
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