Sunday, April 29, 2012

Henry Coe Geocaching Adventure

I had a fabulous long day of geocaching and hiking at Henry Coe State park in the Hunting Hollow area yesterday, April 28, 2012, with my good friend, Sharon, otherwise know as Bykenut in the geocaching world.  I'm Hykenut.   So we're a nutty team!

We arrived at the Hunting Hollow entrance to Henry Coe at about 11 a.m.  The parking lot was unusually full and we saw four tall odd looking tents near the porta potties, lots of regular tents set up next to the creek, an outdoor kitchen, and folks hanging out near the sign up table.  We were musing what the tall tents were for when a lady near the table spoke up and told us they were shower tents and that the V.O. Cal (Volunteers for Outdoor CALifornia) was camping here and working on trail maintenance for the weekend.  She told us all about V.O. Cal.  It sounds like a really cool organization to volunteer for.  Maybe in my retirement years, I'll consider it.  After our talk with her and taking a bathroom break, Bykenut and I head off on the Steer Ridge trail.

Our first cache was about .1 mile from the start of the Steer Ridge trail.  The first cache we searched for took us the longest time to find.  This was a good thing as we had plenty of energy at the beginning of the day.  We spent 10 to 15 minutes searching all around this big old fallen tree trying to avoid the prickly sow-thistles  and not get close to the clumps of poison oak.  We had just about given up when we stepped back for one last look and I spotted a suspicious looking rock in a place we hadn't looked.  Bykenut was closer to it than I so she trundled over there and although it wasn't near the rock, she saw the cache on the ground near by.  Success at last!   We recorded our first find of the day and set off up the Steer Ridge trail.

We climbed up and up the Steer Ridge trail and stopped about every tenth of a mile to find another cache.  In the caching world there are rules about where caches can be located.  They must be at least a tenth of a mile apart.  Several geocacher hiders had worked hard hiding caches on the Steer Ridge trail and had put a cache just about every .1 mile!   At about the third or fourth cache, we failed to find the cache.  The clue for this particular cache was to use the step.  Bykenut is not much of a climber and is shorter than I so I was elected to use the step and climb into the tree.  I climbed up about three feet and could not spot any cache.  I then got nervous about being able to climb back down so gave up on going higher.  I looked and looked but did not see any cache within reach.  So we reluctantly agreed to call this one a DNF.  DNF is "Did Not Find."

The worst of the steep climb up Steer Ridge was over at the intersection of Jim Donnelly trail with Steer Ridge.  We stopped here under a wonderful shady tree (that also had a cache hidden near it!) for lunch and spotted the V.O.Cal volunteers working away on the Jim Donnelly trail.  They were digging on the trail and wheel barrows were being filled with dirt and the dirt offloaded elsewhere.  I could not see where they were going to offload the dirt.  It was a marvelous lunch stop.  I had a gaterade to restore my electrolytes lost on the hot sweaty climb up the steep bit of Steer Ridge and enjoyed my tuna sandwich.  Sharon had her cheese sandwich and her Cito Max drink.  We had to put on a layer as a breeze blew in and chilled us in our sweat soaked t-shirts.

After lunch the steep climbing was pretty much over.  We hiked on the rolling hills of Steer Ridge trail.  We found about 5 or 6 caches as we hiked along Steer Ridge and enjoyed the stunning views of the spring time green hills of Henry Coe.  Many fields were full of bright orange poppies.  We also saw fiddleheads and blue eyed grass along the trail.  We soon reached Wilson Peak where we had agreed to decide on the rest of the route.  We examined our maps and determined to continue on Steer Ridge trail  to Wilson Camp and pick up the Bowl Trail there and take it to Middle Steer Ridge trail back down to the Hunting Hollow trail and then to the parking lot.

It was two more miles on Steer Ridge trail to Wilson Camp.  Much of it was mild downhill and we saw more and more poppy fields and found 2 caches along the way.  When we got to Wilson Camp we took a break.  Its a real camp for backpackers and so had an outhouse.  Its always rather nice to be on a hike where you can use an outhouse rather than have to pee in the woods!   We had a snack at the picnic table there, found yet another geocache, and headed off on the Bowl trail.

The Bowl trail was just awesome.   We found oodles of caches on it and it hugged the hillside with mild ups and downs (nothing really steep) and great views.  I love being on trails that are new to me and turn out to be fantastic!   Towards the end of the trail, the plant environment suddenly changed for a small bit to sage and sticky monkey flowers.  I love sticky monkey flowers so was excited to see them and the sage smelled nice.  As we finished up the Bowl trail it was nearly 6 pm.  The late afternoon early evening light was very cool.

At 6ish, we started our descent to Hunting Hollow trail on the Middle Steer Ridge trail.   It was a nice trail with short steep sections mixed in with flatter sections.  They were nicely timed so that you could rest the sore weary feet or knees from the last steep section!  I made lots of use of my walking stick to ease the battering on my knees and keep from slipping down the steep bits.  We continued to find oodles of caches on this downhill but had to DNF another cache.  The clue for this cache was "a fallen log".  However all the fallen logs near the coordinates had lots of poison oak around them and I easily get poison oak so try to keep it at arms length distance.  We peered at the logs from a distance but could not spot the cache.  We finally gave up as we were tired and did not want to risk getting poison oak.   We continued our descent and found our last cache of the day at the bottom of the hill along side a creek.  It was my 31st find of the day.  I didn't know that at the time.  I had simply lost count of the caches we had found (I logged them all this morning and came up with the final count of 31)!

The last bit of our trip on Hunting Hollow trail was flat but required three creek crossings.  Fortunately the water was pretty low and there were always rocks to hop on to get across without plunging our boots into the water.  Well at least I didn't plunge my boots in.  I think Sharon lost her balance once and the toe of her boot went in the water.  She finished the hike with a wet sock but it was less than 1/2 a mile so didn't bother her.  We reached the cars at 7:30 p.m.  It was fun to arrive to a jolly group of V.O. Cal volunteers talking about their day of volunteering and finishing up their dinner.  Bykenut and I packed my car with our hiking gear, extracted our wallets and other civilization gear and headed to Gilroy where we had dinner at Applebys.  It was a nice ending to our grand geocaching adventure.