Where: Henry W. Coe State Park. Morgan Hill, Ca When: April 20-21st, 2018 Who: Ben and Violet (aka Zero Fucks or Zef for short) Miles: 8 miles out and back (16 miles total) Ancestral home of the Ohlone and Miwok peoples.
My friend of almost 20 years Zef and I headed out to Henry Coe park for an overnight backpacking trip this spring. I drove down from Oakland, Ca and she up from Monterey, Ca for an almost perfect halfway meet up. We met at the Coe Ranch Visitors Center around 8am and got some great information from the Ranger on duty. He told us where the good wildflowers were and highlighted a map for the loop we wanted to do. The cost is $5 per person per night and $8 for parking the cars overnight, which we were happy to pay to keep this knowledgeable staff on duty and the park running!
After some last minute packing of bags we headed away from the Visitors Center on the Corral Trail to Poverty Flat Road at 8:30am. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and as soon as my feet hit that dirt trail I felt all the stress melt away. It’s one of the many reasons I love backpacking. As soon as I am on the trail I just focus on putting one foot in front of the other, watching for wildlife, or wondering what flowers or trees I am seeing, everything else going on outside of this space is for me to worry about later. Right now I’m wondering where those turkeys are running to or where would be a good lunch break spot, not what’s waiting in my email or what errand I need to run. That’s the privilege and joy I get from being outside that I hope others can enjoy as well.
We cruise along and come to Poverty Flat Road quickly. The views open up and we roll along the hills for a while watching a couple of turkeys in the surrounding grasslands jog along ahead of us. The road is wide and lined with different wildflowers which Zef knows several of the names of. I try to remember the names for later use but always seem to forget them, except for some of the basics like paintbrush, lupines, and violets. Soon we start descending along the road, which gets pretty steep in some places and makes our knees complain. We keep dropping in height for a long time on a nice shaded Eastward facing slope with Digger Pines, Manzanitas, and Black Oaks mingling around us.
We finally hit the bottom of the canyon along the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek and find a nice spot in the shade for a break.
The creek is gorgeous and we listen to some weird farting noises from the water that turn out to be good sized gray frogs sitting on the rocks!
It is so gorgeous and peaceful down here and we take a long break before the hot sun tells us it’s time to get moving. We know we have a climb back up from the other side and would rather not do it as the sun climbs above us. Sweaty bags are back on and we hope across the creek to continue along the road. We get a bonus pit toilet in a shaded camp area with a picnic table shortly after we cross the creek and then we start climbing away from the farting water. Luckily there’s a good amount of shade still on this side as we weave around Jackass Peak.
The views are lovely as we stop for breaks along the climb, especially knowing there are a few steeper sections coming that the Ranger marked on the map for us. We see them looming ahead of us when we hit the top of one hill and are surprised when we are then suddenly at the top of our last big climb and winding back downwards again. We see a few deer with small velvet antlers jog up the slopes to our left, as we drop to the East Fork of Coyote Creek junction. We take another break in the shade here and watch Killdeer birds dance around in the creek bed. They have an interesting call and we watch two Killdeer not far from us sing to each other, dance around a bit, and then have some bird sexy time, well that was something I have never seen in person… huh.
After delicious rehydrated refried bean burritos with cheese its snacks we turn towards Bear Mountain at the junction sign and follow along the creek a short ways to our campsite for the night. We have not seen another person since shortly after we set out this morning and find this area people free as well. After scouting around a bit we find theres really only one suitable very sunny spot to set up our tents on.
The established campsite is on a little hill up from the creeks small swimming hole and even though it does not have shade it’s a nice spot. I regret carrying my hammock all this way since there is not a suitable area to hang it up but I knew that was a possibility when I decided to carry it. It’s dang hot down in this valley with the sun beating on us and there’s not a good shaded place to hide yet with the sun right overhead. I’m not in the mood to swim really so after dipping my feet in for a bit I get in my tent to “just chill” and end up falling asleep with the doors open trying to coax the breeze in. Zef wanders around the area taking pictures and sees a Golden Eagle while I’m passed out drooling in the tent, oh well.
Finally the sun creeps down enough for me to re-emerge from the tent. I grab my water filter and start heading to the creek when I see some movement in the short grass a few feet in front of me. It’s a baby rattlesnake that I came close to stepping on! It’s about 6 inches long and curls up to defend itself, I back off and then it starts slithering towards my tent…um no. I try to leave it be hoping it will change its mind but intervene with my trekking pole when it starts to slide under my ground sheet. HELL NO tiny death snake! I move it a few feet away and it heads off into the grass up the hill, whew!
Crisis averted I filter water for us and then we wander around the area until our stomachs request feeding again. We set up on the gravel bar in the shade along the creek to eat dinner. I enjoy a new mountain house turkey stuffing situation that I randomly won off Instagram and Zef has rice, quinoa, and salmon. There’s a few little rocky seats at camp we use for a while after dinner looking at my field guide to try and figure out what flowers and birds we saw today. When the sun finally leaves for good it gets surprisingly cold and we both put layers on. Zef makes us some tea which hits the spot and then it’s into the sleeping bags to watch the final sun rays go down.
I’m out with the light as usual and then wake up around 3am needing to pee. I of course try to hold it until 4am making myself uncomfortable for an hour even though I know it’s better to just get up. When I grab my tent door it’s covered in cold condensation but the stars make the trip out into the cold worth it and I’m soon snuggled back up in my bag asleep again.
April 21st, 2018
I wake back up with the soft morning light around 6am but stay in my warm bag until about 6:30am. It is going to be hotter today and we hope to get to our cars before 2pm so I drag myself out of my very wet tent and start making coffee. Since this was such a short trip I brought myself the luxury of real coffee from home and brown sugar with my little MSR coffee strainer. It’s a special treat and me and Zef sigh over it’s deliciousness before we start packing up our wet tents with freezing hands.
We also have to cross the creek first thing this morning to get back onto the trail and are not in a rush for cold feet too. We do finally pull ourselves together and leave camp around 7:30am. We immediately cross the creek and it’s less terrible then I think it will be, it’s nothing compared to the high Sierra snow melt creeks! I put my warm and dry socks/shoes on and we head back to the junction we left yesterday. We of course immediately go through tall wet grass and our feet get soaked, HAHA nice one life!
Our feet were gonna get wet soon any way going through The Narrows section since the trail weaves back and forth through the creek so it’s no biggie. The morning is beautiful and quiet so we are not complaining about anything. We see more Killdeer along the creek who yell at us a bit before flying off. Soon it’s into the creek and we just tromp through with our shoes on giving zero fucks, it’s such a nice feeling.
We spend the morning walking along The Narrows “trail” which is a thin strip along the creek and then mostly just in the creek. It’s so dang pretty down here and a really cool experience! The yucky part is that the tall grass we walk through on the sides of the creek is home to lots of ticks. So we both spend a good amount of time brushing our legs off and feeling like every tickle is a lyme disease carrying monster. Luckily you soon dip back into the creek and it helps wash them off. The morning continues to heat up and I am thankful to be walking through the water, though dreading when we will climb away from the creek into the sun. The rock formations in here are rad too, some boulders rising 8-10 feet above us.
We take a few breaks to eat and check for ticks and start seeing a lot more people and campsites. We are obviously near China Hole (the most popular area of the park because its a few miles in and has a good swimming hole). Plus it’s now Saturday so a lot more people are headed into the park. Finally we cross the creek one last time and start on the China Hole Trail. We climb up long switchbacks that are mostly shaded for a while then into a chaparral area that has no shade. It’s really hot in this area and we are definitely feeling it. I keep reminding myself to drink water and we share a few shot blocs for electrolytes. I change into my dry socks since my Altra trail runners have dried out in the sun quickly and that little comfort feels glorious, especially since I pull one last tick off my socks, ew. Around noon we pop out at Manzanita Point campgrounds and take a luxurious break at a picnic table with a pit toilet nearby.
I finish off most of my food here except for a handful of gummy candies. I’m glad I saved my apple for this break as it was the perfect juicy snack to get me through the last few hot miles. We pass tons more people as we get back onto the wide road towards the Visitors Center. Around 1pm we see the parking lot and finally our cars. We garage sale all our wet gear on the warm asphalt and our tents dry out quickly.
We luckily have cell service in the lot and I find a BBQ place not far away for lunch and beer! I text Sarah and tell her I’m alive, then we jump in our cars to town. The BBQ is really yummy, plus it’s called Trail Dust!, and has a good selection of beer so we are both very happy. We give a last cheers to another great trip and then both drive home, already scheming for next year.