Henry Coe SP – Jackrabbit Lake and Raven Pond Bikepacking

For the second year in a row, we were going to have to miss backcountry weekend at Coe. This year, Scott had to go to a wedding on the Big Island – so sad I know 🙁 Anyways, to make up for this we decided to head out for 3 days of bikepacking to hit some remote eastern parts of the park. We thought about doing Robison Mountain, but the possibility of poison oak in the bushwack portion made us save it for next year as a dayhike during BCW when we could go home and wash off.

Our plan was to head 24 miles in to Jackrabbit Lake the first day. The second day would be a relatively easy day into Raven Pond and then we would head out on the third. Being our first time bikepacking, we had to gather a lot of gear, but we ended up with a pretty good system. We both had handlebar holders where we were able to clamp down our tents and sleeping bags. Sean, who has a hardtail was able to also fit in a frame pack where he carried some food and smaller items. To round things out, we both carried our backpacking packs where we threw in whatever else didn’t fit.

Sean’s Bike
Scott’s Bike and Pack

Now on to the good stuff… Katie dropped us off at Bell Station at 9AM on 3/31. After a few minutes to get ready, we headed off. The initial climb up Kaiser Aetna road was killer and the sun was already out in full force. What a great warmup!

Climbing Kaiser Aetna Road

Once we crested the first big hill, we were able to ride most of the way to Dowdy Ranch. Along the way, we were passed by Ranger Paul whom we have volunteered for many times. We talked to him about the usual Coe happenings for a bit before moving on. An hour and 45 minutes after starting, we cruised into Dowdy Ranch. We filled out a backpacking permit here and dropped it into the Iron Ranger.

Resting under the shade of the (closed) Dowdy Ranch visitor center

Right after Dowdy Ranch was the demoralizing hill that everybody has to descend after the ranch. We knew we would have to ride up it again in a few days, but it was fun to descend now. Pacheco Creek was a flowing well – a testament to the torrential rain we have received in the last few months. More meandering brought us up the final hill before Orestimba Corral where we took a short rest.

Pushing the bikes up more hills

Despite the heat, we were happy to know we had crested the last major hill of the day. We quickly descended down to the intersection with County Line Road and Orestimba Creek Road.

County Line Road to the right – we would come down there in a couple days on our way out

Once we got onto Orestimba Creek Road, our progress began to slow due to the multitude of creek crossings. We counted somewhere between 35 and 40 creek crossing in total. One got the best of Scott who took a minor tumble into the creek during a rocky section.

Its more rocky in person – I swear
Froggy!

After about 7 or 8 easy creek crossings, we reached Orestimba Corral. It was deserted now, but in a month or so, it would be buzzing with a few hundred people.

Empty Orestimba Corral

We had thought the next six or so miles to Paradise Flat would be quick since it was all on a road and going the same direction as the creek so it should be a slight downhill. With the hundreds of miles of experience in Coe, I don’t know what we were thinking in assuming that a remote road would stay out of the creek. The first couple miles weren’t bad, but it quickly turned into a constant battle with the creek.

See the Hartman Trail? Neither do I…

The road included many creek crossing that got our feet soaked while riding through them.

Halfway across one, the bike sank into the dirt and I was stranded

Even the sections that weren’t the creek bed seemed to be all uphill.

I was promised a downhill road! Grrrr

Finally, the road left the creek for a mile or so and it was actually quite nice and mellow – what I thought the whole thing would be. Right before we left the creek, we were treated to a field full of wildflowers.

Wildflowers

On this short section, we took a short half mile spur trail to Mustang Pond. Others have reported the trail to be invisible, but we found it well-defined the flagged.

Heading to the Pond…
The pond

Back on Orestimba Creek Road, we dropped down to the creek and kept going for about 10 minutes until we reached the junction with Long Ridge Road.

Orestimba Creek Road with Rooster Comb in the background

We wanted to get a good view of Rooster Comb, so we dropped our heavy overnight gear at this intersection and continued north for awhile before hitting the Rooster Comb Trail. Along the way, there was a large field full of wildflowers. The remoteness, the green hillsides, and wildflowers under the towering Rooster Comb made this one of the prettiest spots in Coe.

Rooster Comb in the background
Wildflowers

With no signpost, we had some trouble finding the Rooster Comb Trail, but we saw some flagging on the tree and we soon found the overgrown trail.

Overgrown Trail
Just a small depression in the grass
Rooster Comb in the background

After this short jaunt on the trail, we headed back to the road and went back to Long Ridge Road.

Rooster Comb with the submerged Orestimba Creek Road in the foreground

Scott took a nice video of Sean crossing the creek here.

We were dead tired by this time, so we didn’t take any photos on the way to Jackrabbit Lake, but there were only a few minor hills and we rode the whole way. We arrived at the lake around 6 and quickly began to set up our campsite. There were a lot of reeds around the lake, but with a little looking, we found some good places to get water.

Our tent with the lake

As evening faded to night, it began to cloud up and we had our first concerns about weather. We knew that tonight would be OK, but we had seen a chance of rain tomorrow night and the next day. Our tent isn’t exactly waterproof and we aren’t sure about our packs. In short, we weren’t very prepared for rain. Oh well, we would deal with it when the time came; now it was time for sleep. Around 10, we dozed off for a nice sleep after a long day on the bikes.

The next morning we woke up around 6:30AM, but we didn’t get out of ten until around 8AM. Our tent had an incredible amount of condensation on it and the top had sagged down a few inches. It was a little humorous and we joked about how the impending rain couldn’t be worse than this. If either one of us even sat up a few inches, we knocked down a mini downpour of water.

Morning at Jackrabbit Lake

After a lazy morning, we left the lake around 10AM. Without much warmup, we were climbing the road up to Long Ridge.

Are we there yet?

We finally crested the ridge and had a few more miles to traverse over to Mustang Peak. There were some great views off this ridge.

Looking over to Mustang Peak

The ridge was a classic COE rollercoaster, but we were able to ride most of it and made quick progress…. until we reached the last hill before Mustang Peak. This was easily the steepest hill I had ever seen in Coe other than maybe the famous “Shortcut”. It was much shorter than the shortcut, but even pushing the bikes up it was almost impossible. On some sections, I couldn’t take a break as the bike would slide down the hill even with both breaks fully pressed.

Hey down there!

Once we topped out of this soul-sucking hill, we took a rest where we intersected with another portion of County Line Road.

The 10-ton bike

From here we headed east of Mustang Peak to the eastern boundary of the park that was rarely visited even by Coe standards. Well, I’m not even sure if it was still in the park. We had to cross a lot of gates as we headed east. Only the first and last were locked and a few others had “No Trespassing” signs. The rest had clips that we could undo to open the gates

The common gate-locking method used in this part of the park (or private land?)

However, we kept going since the park map has this road mapped out, but even on the park map, the road seems to leave the park. Our best guess is that they were left over from before the park owned the land. But you would think they would remove the gates….Oh well, we had a good enough reason for a rancher to not shoot us so we kept going.

We hoisted our bikes over this first gate and headed on down the road.

The sign is on the back of the gate as you enter the park, but it seems to say you can’t enter it. What?
Cool, old sign

About halfway to Raven Pond, we had stopped at another gate and noticed we had cell reception. We checked the weather and noticed there was a relatively high chance of rain tonight and tomorrow. We quickly decided to get out of here today. This would require a semi-herculean effort of some 40 miles and 5500 feet of elevation gain while carrying 20+ pounds of overnight gear, but we really didn’t want to be miserable in the rain. Since we still wanted to get to Raven Pond and the eastern boundary, we dropped our gear at this gate and headed out with just our bikes and some water.

Rearranging gear

Some 200 feet past this gate was the turnoff to Raven Pond. We were originally supposed to have camped here, but we realized it was a good thing that we were heading out tonight as Raven Pond wasn’t really the best place to camp. There wasn’t a good place for a tent and we would have had to drag loaded bikes down a steep and overgrown trail. We left our bikes on the road and headed down to the pond with only the camera.

The Raven Pond trail could have used some maintenance, but for a remote Coe trail, it wasn’t bad.

Raven Pond Signpost

The only tricky part was where we had to drop off ridge and we didn’t realize. Another old ranch road must have stayed on the ridge as the bushwacking wasn’t too bad, but we soon realized with the help of the phone that we were supposed to leave the ridge.

A nice section of the trail

About a half-mile down the trail, we hit Raven Pond. It was cool to have finally visited this remote place, but we were glad we weren’t staying here.

Raven Pond

We took a few photos then headed out.

Heading back up to County Line Road

We headed east for 3 more miles coming across 3 more gates. The first was had old “No Trespassing” signs, but it was open so we passed through.

Heading east!

Not 5 minutes past this one, we came upon another gate. We easily passed through this one that had no signage.

Gate 4

A little more climbing brought us to a funny sign.

hehe

We continued heading east taking some time to appreciate just how remote we were. So few humans ever made it out here so private property be damned, we were gonna go to the edge of Coe!

We finally made it to the last gate before the end.

One more gate to go!

We crossed a few more ridges and descended a few more bumps on our quest to the end.

Just riding along!

Finally, we reached the edge of Coe! We would have loved a sign to welcome us, but we were content to sign a remote geocache that nobody had found since 2013. It was muggy out and we were both low on fluids and food. We had some water and ate some dried oranges and gummies. These greatly helped and we felt a lot better.

The bikes at the end
Made it to the boundary!

After this small rest, we rode back to our stuff at the gate near Raven Pond and headed down. We alerted Katie that we were going to be heading out today. We had told her we would be out by 7:30PM so we had to hustle. We passed Mustang Peak again and headed down County Line Road to Kaiser Aetna Road. Along the way, we passed our first human of the day: the Coe pigcatcher! If you don’t know, Coe has a big problem with feral pigs tearing up the land so they has several traps out to catch them. He was setting the traps along County Line Road and Kaiser Aetna Road. We chatted a little bit and he ended up giving us some Dr. Pepper from his cooler.

Below Mustang Peak

A few hours of determined riding brought us to the Pacheco Creek Crossing where we enjoyed the Dr. Peppers before the huge climb back to Dowdy.

Cheers!

Sean was able to ride the entire hill in about 25 minutes while Scott trudged up in about 45 minutes. We’ll have to beat these times next trip! During the upper half of the climb, we started to get rained on and we could see the rest of Coe was in heavy rain. We felt we had definitely made the right decision as not only had the rain come early, but was a little harder than expected.

Selfie with the famous 20% grade sign in the rain
Coe gets rained on

We rode past Dowdy Ranch and finally crested a short hill which meant the next seven were downhill. And it was only 5:45! We were going to survive! The rain got hard enough that we had to put on rain jackets half way through, but we got back to Bell Station at 6:45!

We’re going to survive!

 

Whew! 65 miles and 9000 feet of elevation gain in 2 days! A tough trip, but one to remember nonetheless.