Two long hikes in the past week at Henry Coe have shown me that it takes some serious hoofing to see any of the remnants of the Lick fire, which burned across almost half the park’s acreage. Whether you come in from Hunting Hollow or the Park HQ, you’re looking at a minimum of six miles of hiking to see any evidence of the burn, and closer to 11 or 12 miles to see it up close (assuming you stay off the closed trails. You can always ignore the rules and saunter down to Poverty Flat, but it seems hardly worth the risk of getting busted just to gawk at some burnt trees; but if you do decide to risk it, you can rest easy knowing the privy down there survived, according to a guy I talked to yesterday).

I took the China Hole Trail to China Hole, then headed up the Narrows to Las Cruzeros and took the Mahoney Meadows Road up to its intersection with Poverty Flat Road, where I did get the chance to stand next to actual burnt ground. It’s at least six miles via this route, perhaps closer to seven, and it provides a tempting shortcut back to the HQ — but you’d have to take the closed Poverty Flat Road.

After seeing “Into the Wild” the other day I’m feeling a bit more chastened about going solo in the woods, especially into areas the Park Authorities have declared off-limits. If I slip on a rock and break my leg is six places, I don’t want it to happen in the last place people will start looking for me (and I don’t want to give smug Park Authorities the satisfaction of chewing my ass for violating the rules).

And now, the pictures:

Fire damage across the canyon

Fire damage across the canyon is visible from about a half-mile down the China Hole Trail. The fire jumped Blue Ridge Road, rose to the ridge top and burned down this side all the way to Poverty Flat. Generally the fire stayed on the far side of Blue Ridge, which is why so much of it is beyond view.

Deep chamise, China Hole Trail

Much of the fire burned thick chamise, which also thrives in the open areas of the hill heading down toward China Hole. This area has burned fairly recently — you can see the occasional toasted fence post — and all this grew back.

China Hole

China Hole has a bit of water lingering, but it all smells enough that you wouldn’t want to wade in it. I stopped and gabbed with a guy camping nearby and another backpacker came along and asked us if the water was safe to drink when filtered. He noted it still smelled a bit skanky after he filtered some of it. He had three days of camping planned; here’s hoping the filter did its duty.

Rock in the Narrows

I always take pictures of the rocks in the Narrows.

Puddle in the Narrows

Puddles were full of little fish — the real photographic challenge, though, is to catch a frog before he dives to the murky deep. I saw one jump, but he was gone before I had the cam ready.

Scorched hilltop

On Mahoney Meadows Road, with burned area beyond Poverty Flat Road.

Burn near Mahoney Meadows

Now that you mention it, it is a pretty damn long walk to look at some burnt ground.

Road forms a fire break

Poverty Flat Road forms a fire break.

Old manzanita

One from the return hike: dead manzanita along the China Hole Trail. By the way this is an excellent time to check out the manaznita: the bark is deep brown and starting to curl.

Ruts from heavy equipment

Ruts from heavy equipment in the road on the walk back up the hill to the headquarters.

This really is a great time to be at Coe. And next Saturday it’s Tarantula Fest! (Alas, I’ve seen none of the great arachnids on the trail this year, but other hikers reported sightings)

Mountain bikers have gotten much further into the park from Hunting Hollow. Some pictures here. Also, Randy spotted some damage I missed the other day.