Our Coche Loop Hike started at Upper Oso, went up to Bluff, across West Big Pine, down to Mission Pine Basin, down to Coche and back to Upper Oso. Here's the trailhead to the Santa Cruz Trail.
At the junction with the turn off to the summit of Little Pine mountain, we continued straight down the other side instead.
Here's looking into the back country we're going to explore. Our first stop is on the other side of that large, golden ridge in the foreground.
Our first night was spent at Santa Cruz Station. This is the cabin that is there. It's locked. We slept out back where there's a nice campsite. There are other campsites further away, but this one seemed pretty cozy next to the empty cabin.
There's Tony signing the trail register at Santa Cruz Station in the morning. We used our trail names. He's Trailhacker and I'm Little Albino Girl.
There's a lovely potrero as you begin the climb out of the canyon away from Santa Cruz Station. Today is Thanksgiving.
A few years ago our backpack trip had us hike through the Potrero on the fire road up to Santa Cruz Peak. That was the worst day of my life. I'll never do that again. Today all we have to do is admire it.
It's a pretty good climb just to reach the lower edge of the potrero. But once there you are treated to at least 3 signs. This is one of them. It looks like it says Bluff is 100 miles away.
After all the wide open vistas and climbing now our trail changes to creek bottom stuff. It's pretty but tangled with poison oak whips, raspberry snares, and wild rose scourges. There are only about a half dozen or so creek crossings though, and none of them were too difficult.
Finally at the junction with the Grapevine Trail. About this time we're starting to look forward to the Thanksgiving dinner we're sure they're cooking for us up at Bluff.
Right about here I'm looking forward to a little bit of both dark and white meat plus a mountain of stuffing and parker house rolls with ice cold pats of butter melting in the middle. Anyway, this sign post without a sign (there's a piece of a sign hanging in a tree) is you're only clue that Pelch camp is straight ahead and the trail is a sharp left turn. The USGS map doesn't say Pelch and doesn't show a turn.
We decide to go see Pelch. Here are some of those poison oak whips, raspberry snares and wild rose scourges. I decide I'd rather be whipped with poison oak than scourged by wild roses. Wild roses are the worst the way they tear at you. It's so tiring pushing your way through this stuff, too.
I didn't take a picture of Pelch, but it's a nice out-of-the-way spot if you want a dose of that spooky, Big Cone Spruce feeling.
This here is a picture back on the main trail. The cliffs are getting closer and more spectacular.
After a long and tiring climb through partly brushy partly clear trail we reach the road and the driveway into Bluff Camp. We duly note our passage in the trail register. Mmmm, I can almost taste the turkey dinner that surely awaits us along with the nice rangers who will rub our feet after dinner.
Alas, Bluff was empty. There would be no Thanksgiving turkey, no foot rubs, and no waffles for breakfast in the morning. Just noodles and oatmeal.
We stayed in the campsite out behind the cabin. It's a real nice site with a nice creek nearby. Looks like there's a pool that's been built up in the creek for those hot afternoon dips. It wasn't warm enough for any of that today.
We pack up the next morning. Here are our rigs. Mine is the smaller one. I travel light, but even so I brought too many clothes.
As far as clothes go, I found that those button-down shirts with the pit zips and all that fancy ventillation are the way to go, with no t-shirt underneath. Even with the sleeves rolled down you stay cool when you sweat and stay warm enough if it's a slight bit cool.
As for shoes, I like to wear light-weight hikers, but these light-weight shoes reach a point well before they look worn out when the sole loses its stiffness and they become worthless. I could feel the rocks under my feet way too much. I may go back to boots, or I might see if there are stiff insoles to protect against this.
As for socks, I usually go with a thin liner and a thicker wool outer sock. Problem is, I'm allergic to wool so I get a ring of rash around my ankles. Also my little toes get blisters from my toes being too close together. I have found these great toe socks at the running store next to Hazards bikes. Wow, these are great for keeping my toes safe from blisters. Unfortunately, as I learned after today, they are too thick to serve as inner socks. By the end of the day I had formed a blister under my big toe because I didn't have enough room and my foot kept banging into the ends of my shoes. You're feet are the most important thing you have when you're three days from home. If your feet are toast, so are you! Still, I'm definitely going to get more toe socks because worn alone they are great.
We begin the morning with a long slog up the road. The views along the way just get better and better. We could see the Channel Islands.
More of the view. Sorry you can't see the Channel Islands here. I had the settings of my camera all screwed up.
A little bit past a water tank we finally reach the junction with our trail. It starts out as a road but nobody drives it anymore, or at least it appears that way.
Along the way we find little side paths to these great lookout spots. The ocean and islands are visible. The cliffs are sheer and scary. It's just amazing up here.
That's Hurricane Deck right in the middle way off in the distance. The rock outcrop must be West Big Pine itself as it was the tallest spot. We didn't actually go up there. I never saw a turn off. Tony says he did, but I would have felt too lazy anyway. We still had a long way to go.
At one point I turned around and realized that I could see the Sierra Nevada way off on the horizon. It could be no other range. Even from so far away the mountains appeared to tower above. This little picture does them no justice. The mountains look like a light blue haze.
It's still piny up here. There are ducks to help you find the way. The trail is a bit indistinct now that it's no longer a road.
The first part of this trail we'd been following foot prints and mountain bike tracks. Now the only tracks to follow were bear and mountain lion.
The route down to Mission Pine Basin is much like the trail across Hurricane Deck on the back side of it. Lots of scrub oak clawing at you with little patches of elfin oak forest and piles of leaves up to your shins to slip and slide through. This sign is at the junction of Mission Pine Basin and the trail down to Coche.
All morning I'd been eyeing some lenticular clouds in the distance, watching as they brewed their way into what appeared to be coming rain clouds. By the time we reached the Basin it was cold and windy and looked like it might rain any moment. We didn't have a good feeling about staying the night up here so we headed down to the lower elevation of Coche.
Here's a quick peek at Mission Pine Basin. It seems so forlorn and windswept. I just wanted to leave right away.
As we descended rapidly on the trail to Coche it began to rain in a fine mist. This is looking back toward West Big Pine where we had been in the morning.
After a grueling descent where it seemed every rock and every branch and lots of things I couldn't even see were conspiring to trip me with every step, we reached the bottom of the trail at the creek. Oddly, the trail to Coche gets worse the further down you go.
Coche is such a disappointing campsite. It was all covered in a thick pile of leaves. I grabbed the rake that was there and put the campsite back in order so it felt like a place to stay. I think it turned out pretty nice after all. We used the ice cans (why do they call them that when they're always in the fire?) as benches by the fire ring. We didn't have a fire, though, because it was still raining and it was very windy.
Here's the creek at Coche the next morning. Lots of these pools. There were probably fish in there, if not today, then in the past.
Well, we saddled up really early and got the heck out of there. It was very windy. Tony worried all night a tree limb would fall on us. Now we're headed back down the same trail that brought us here to begin with.
Here we are again at Flores Flat. We stopped and washed our hair. Somehow I knew we were going to make it all the way home today, and I hadn't even brushed my hair since the last time we were here.
A pretty flower in the big potrero just before Santa Cruz Station. Turned out some people were staying at the cabin and doing some volunteer work for the forest service. We all agreed more people should get out and get back here. So many don't even know what beautiful country there is back here. It's so close and yet so remote. When people don't know their wilderness areas it becomes more acceptable to say go ahead and drill for oil in the wilderness, we need the gasoline.
Maybe I'm nuts, but I would gladly give up driving and working and all that hassle to spend more time in the Wilderness. I certainly don't want to trade the Wilderness for more time in the car on my way to more time at my desk!
It was very windy all the way up. At one point I hear a tremendous roar down deep in the canyon and the sounds of trees cracking and breaking apart. I look down and see an explosion of leaves spiraling hundreds of feet into the air. Then the wave of wind finally reaches me giving me one more thing to fight against in my slow struggle up through the brush pushing me back, the gravity pulling at my pack, and the pain in my feet crushing my spirit.
Here's that rock again on our way up to Little Pine. I'm dreading the approaching descent.
Looking back again at what we've accomplished. The clouds are still hovering over Mission Pine. I'm so glad we didn't stay there. It must have been very cold and miserable.
At the summit we stopped and rested before plunging down the trail to Upper Oso.
We met a couple of mountain bikers up there and pointed out some of the treacherous spots on the trail below. We each seemed to be in such totally different worlds after having been out away from civilization for only 4 days. They were like super fit atheletes and we were stinky and tired with a bunch of junk on our backs.
As the moment of dread approached, I begged Tony for some Ibuprophen, took 6 tablets, and then went down the trail as fast as I could go so as to maybe reach the bottom before it wore off.
Finally we reach Upper Oso and civilization.
There's the readout from my pedometer. 57.7 miles in 4 days. That last day we basically hiked the whole Santa Cruz trail in one day. From Coche to Upper Oso is almost 18 miles. Why do we punish ourselves so?
It was a great trip anyway. Except for being temporarily crippled with a huge blister under my big toenail that's sure to fall off, it left a good feeling. We really should do this more often.