Last week my friend Cameron and I tackled the longest possible day hike in Henry Coe State Park. The brutal 26-mile loop hike to Mississippi Lake and back comes with about 6000′ of elevation gain, making it a true test of will. Cameron, a 51 year old, ex-Army Ranger, hadn’t really been training at all for this but he still finished strong.
We got to the trailhead at Dunne Street headquarters at around 06:30 and we were off on the Corral Trail by 07:00. We estimated that it would take approximately 10-12 hours and that ended up being pretty accurate as we returned to my truck at around 18:00.
About an hour into the hike I accidentally got my shoes soaked during a creek crossing, which would later come back to haunt me (keep reading). We arrived at Mississippi Lake at around lunchtime and we were feeling great. I remember thinking “this is too easy”, but of course that didn’t last long.
On the return trip we decided to make it a loop by climbing up and down Bear Mountain. This gave us some great views but it was also completely exposed with no shade to be found anywhere. It was at the top of Bear Mountain that the trail signs kind of disappeared. Henry Coe is pretty wild for a state park and there is the real possibility of getting lost. I grew concerned about the direction we were going because everything looks the same in this park. This was a good lesson about being prepared for the possibility of getting lost and having to be out overnight.
At the bottom of Bear Mountain we were able to refill our water supplies in the creek thanks to the water filter pump I was carrying. Again a good lesson. When I bought it I remember thinking “I’ll probably never even need this thing.” Wrong again!
After the water refill we had to do about 20 different creek crossings and I again got my feet soaked. I forgot to bring an extra pair of socks with me (rookie mistake) and I began to get some serious foot issues. I subsequently had to do the rest of the hike with no socks on. BRING EXTRA SOCKS!
Luckily I had a park map and we were able to determine that following the creek was the right direction to go. My phone was also dead at this point so we couldn’t rely Google Maps to guide us. I need to buy a USB power brick for emergencies and I recently bought a Garmin Tactix GPS watch so I don’t have to use my phone to track things.
At this point the hike started to get really hard. With only 5 miles left we both hit a brick wall as we scaled the endless trail up from the Poverty Flat camp ground. My hips, glutes, and IT bands were in serious pain. We again were getting very low on water as well.
Luckily at the top there was a water tank with potable water that we indulged in (thanks park rangers). The last two miles back to headquarters was seriously the toughest thing I’ve ever done physically. At the end of the hike we were both destroyed but also feeling a great sense of accomplishment. Cameron said it was the toughest thing he’s done since Ranger School.
As a side note, two days later at the gym I got a sharp pain in my ankle while running on the treadmill. Turns out I have Tibial Stress Syndrome and will be in a brace for a couple of weeks. I have no doubt that it was the result of this epic day at Henry Coe. I’ll definitely be doing this hike again someday and be better prepared.
Here is the Runkeeper track from the hike. The times are approximate as I had to manually fill in the second half as my phone had died.