Tue, Nov 22, 2016
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Jackass Peak previously climbed Wed, Jan 28, 2015|
Willow Ridge previously climbed Fri, Jan 23, 2015
It was almost 9a when I reached the Park HQ high atop Pine Ridge after an hour's drive from San Jose. The Visitor Center, where I hoped to get change to pay the entrance fee, was closed when I arrived and it didn't look like it was opening any time soon. The fee is $8 but I had only a five and a couple of 20s. As a compromise, I left $5 in the envelope I inserted into the self-pay station, figuring if they wanted the other $3 they could leave a note on my car. I spent almost an hour on the bike, most of this downhill, first descending to Poverty Flat where I carried the bike over the creek. Much of the route is shaded, still wet in many places from a small storm that came through two days earlier. After crossing the creek I rode through the backcountry campground, then up to a saddle just north of Jackass Peak. As has become my habit when going this way, I stopped for the five minute side trip to the top of Jackass Peak. There's nothing special about the peak or the views which are mostly blocked by the oaks and pines that surround it - this was just an easy chance to pad the stats. Once back at the saddle it's mostly downhill to Los Cruzeros, another camp area along Coyote Creek where I parked the bike and continued on foot. I crossed this larger creek without trouble as there's not much water in November, even after a short rain. In February or March this would be a much bigger deal. On the other side of the creek I picked up the Willow Ridge Trail, a single-track that climbs out of the drainage some 1,200ft to the Willow Ridge Road that runs along the ridgeline, continuing to Mississippi Lake another 4mi to the northeast. I stopped at the Willow Ridge HP about half a mile from the junction with the Willow Ridge Trail, then backtracked a short distance to find the Eagle Pines Trail junction, marked by a trail sign. There used to be a road running along this spur ridge to the north, but that has since deteriorated to a trail which in turn has deteriorated to something less. The route is quite overgrown but one can pick up a use trail running along it with only minor bushwhacking. Eagle Pines is located about half a mile from the junction, so thankfully there isn't much of this to deal with.
Shortly after 11a I reached the top of Eagle Pines, marked by a rock outcrop that is higher than several others in the immediate vicinity, offering up splendid views overlooking the interior of the park. I saw a few of the downed pine snags nearby, but no living pines, not even seedlings. The most interesting part of the day was when I decided, somewhat on a whim, to make a cross-country descent back to Coyote Creek. Such travel is not to be done lightly in Henry Coe, thanks to an abundance of chaparral, poison oak and ticks that can be found in varying quantities throughout the park. In November the poison oak has lost its leaves, making it harder to spot in the undergrowth. The brown stems that snake through the other brush are not as potent as the leaves, but still a danger. The many deer that inhabit the park have made numerous tracks that can be followed, offering some breaks through heavy brush. The deer also help the tick population thrive, so they're sort of a double-edged sword. Feral pigs also make tracks through the brush, but their short stature means it is often hard for humans to follow through the tunnels they create in the brush. In all I spent about 40min descending about a mile down often steep slopes with much backtracking and searching for ways out of the many deadends I found myself in. I picked up about half a dozen ticks, lots of debris in my shoes, pockets and elsewhere, but (hopefully) little poison oak. Once back down at the creek I picked up the Narrows Trail which took me back to the creek crossing at Los Cruzeros. It would take another hour and twenty minutes to cover the 5mi back to park headquarters, much of that pushing the bike uphill - I think at one time I may have been able to ride most of this in the lowest gear, but those times have passed as my legs can no longer generate the force needed and my lungs can't cycle air in and out fast enough. I didn't see another soul anywhere in the park until I had returned to the parking lot in the early afternoon. There was a coed group of 7-8 20-somethings getting ready to head off on a backpacking trip. Gear was spread out all over the parking lot as they went over their checklists and sorted things out. Later I learned there was a 90% chance of rain during the night from a new storm coming through - hope they were prepared for it...
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