Shakeout Trip #1: Henry Coe Western Loop

This was the first of the “shakeout trips” that I have planned for the coming months. These are designed to test my gear and my skills (and improve my ability to walk with a heavy backpack on), and make any changes I need to before my trip!

I had an all-day required workshop scheduled for the Saturday of President’s Day weekend, but it was CANCELLED at the last minute due to illness! Scott and I decided to embrace spontaneity and go on a backpacking trip. We called up our friend Dustin who was also in for a last minute trip! Our choice: a ~14 mile loop in Henry Coe State Park, just east of Morgan Hill. It’s actually the largest state park in Northern California, with lots of opportunities for backpacking trips short and long.

Henry Coe is a great choice for a last-minute trip, because unlike the Santa Cruz Mountains, the backcountry permits are non-reservable and first-come-first-serve. We showed up fairly late around 11 on the Saturday of a holiday weekend and there was still plenty of availability (we got our second choice).

Our trip started with a walk along a grassy ridge and then through a forest of manzanita trees. There were actually two places to get potable water along the first section as well — exciting if you’re used to filtering! We then started descending through fields of lower brush to get to the bottom of the valley where Coyote Creek runs. We got some great views from the top!


My hiking companions for the trip, Scott and Dustin. 

We hiked down to the river, which was flowing happily at this time of year. It gets drier after the winter rains end, so February was a great time to visit!

We went through a section called “The Narrows” which is not a true maintained trail, but a use trail that cuts up the bottom of a branch of the creek. The water was relatively high and we had to cross the river a number of times; we only got our feet wet a couple of times (whoops!). Here’s Scott after he got tired of rock-hopping, taking a log across a wide section!


After this we walked up and over a hill along a fire road to get to our campsite. Parts were pretty steep!

Doesn’t Scott look happy walking up a steep hill?
We found a nice shady spot to have a snack break. Everything in California is this crazy neon green color that none of us have seen in years. 



From there it was downhill to our campsite. We got to our campsite around 5pm, about 45 minutes before dark. It started cooling off as soon as the sun went behind the hills!

We tried some new dehydrated meals for dinner! Scott and I aren’t totally sold on dehydrated meals because we’ve had several now that really weren’t very appetizing. I don’t feel like I’m a picky person, but somehow the textures and flavors of many dehydrated meals have been pretty unappealing to me. Good To-Go, a small company based in KITTERY MAINE (aka one town down from Scott’s hometown of York Maine!) promised to provide real food with great flavor — we figured we had to give them a try!


We tried two of their current four offerings: Thai Curry and Herbed Mushroom Risotto. Both took a smidge over the 20 minutes labelled on the package. (Not sure why since we’re not at high altitude and used fully boiling water?)

Oh. my. god. These are WAY better than anything I’d had before. The Thai Curry was hands-down amazing. Spicy, flavorful, filling, yummy. The Herbed Mushroom Risotto was a little soupier than I imagined a risotto but the flavor was spot on: savory and mushroomy. I’d definitely eat either one again!

The next morning, while I was using the outhouse, the engineers decided that they would use their engineering prowess to remove a rope that someone else had attached to the tree. (“It’s a nice rope!). They created a contraption with hiking poles, some parachute cord, and a carabiner to hook the slip knot at the top and tug to loosen it down. They latched the carabiner, retrieved the hiking poles, and pulled…. and the rope stayed well-attached to the tree, along with the carabiner and parachute cord. There was much pulling from many angles; then there was a rock attached to some cord and thrown hard into the tree, losing the other end of the parachute cord. The intrepid engineers had nearly given up hope, but Dustin decided to brute force the solution and climb the tree. Success! Rope and all of our own belongings acquired!

Dustin in a tree, with our campsite neighbors supervising skeptically. 

We walked out, leaving our little campsite by the river. We all agreed that we were cold the night before, even though the weather report said the temperature was in the forties. I’m starting to get nervous that my 30 degree bag isn’t going to be warm enough in actual 30 degree temperatures in the Sierras. Hmm! I suppose these “shakeout hikes”  are the right time to figure this out!


One of the highlights at this time of year, after some rain, is that the wildflowers are blooming! Really I need Mum there to identify them. Since I didn’t have her, these are “purple flowers”. (We also came across “blue flowers” and “white flowers.”)


The last part of our hike walked over the top of a ridge before diving back down towards the river valley.


The boys walked ahead of me while I was distracted taking pictures. I’d take a photo, then hustle to catch up, then see something interesting and take another picture.


Overall this was a great trip! We’d definitely come here again in the winter or early spring, before it gets too hot here, and while the water is still flowing.


  • Distance: ~14 miles (over 2 days)
  • Elevation gain: ~2500 feet
  • Highest elevation: ~2700 feet

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