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Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)

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Offline Col. Forbin

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Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« on: March 27, 2018, 01:52:19 PM »
On Friday, March 9, a friend of mine and I drove from Denton, TX to Big Bend National Park.  We left around 9:30 PM or so and after lots of boring driving through the night, maybe three hours of sleep from me and a few more from my buddy Jacob, we finally saw the Big Bend entrance sign and we arrived at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center around roughly 6:00 AM.  Side note:  Once we were a few hours out of BBNP, I bet we saw nearly 100 jackrabbits near the side of/crossing the road.  Cool.

Our plan was to begin hiking the Outer Mountain Loop that same day we arrived (Saturday).  I was not a huge fan of this idea.  I didn’t think the attempting the strenuous task ahead of us on minimal sleep was a great idea.  Jacob decided that we could at least get going on the trail that first day.  I reluctantly agreed.

After reading lots of posts on this site about how crazy the crowds get at spring break, I was concerned about obtaining our permits to camp along the trail.  I started waiting outside the Visitor Center around 6:30 AM and a crowd quickly formed; it seemed the hype was true about the demand for permits.  I didn’t worry too much though, and it was cool hearing from the other people waiting outside the Visitor Center to hear their plans.

 My buddy and I were the second ones in line when the doors opened at 8:30.  After talking with the guy behind the desk who was helping us determine our spots on the trail (he seemed to think my itinerary I had developed was a little bold) we grabbed a topo map, and went to grab some breakfast and then cache our water. 

The buffet breakfast in the café up the hill from the Visitor Center was good.  I was glad to get one last good meal in before hitting the trail.  From there, we decided to head to the Juniper/Dodson trailhead to cache two gallons of water each.  One of the ladies in the Visitor Center warned me that the road getting there was rough, and it would require some time.  I wasn’t as concerned about the road as I was the time.  Still, I knew it was in our best interest to stash some water there, and I would thank myself later.  So, we left the little café around 10:15 and headed towards the road that would lead us to the Dodson trailhead.  My 4Runner handled the rough road pretty well, and I was glad I had some all-terrain tires.   We were making good time and enjoying the views, when we passed a couple who were coming down the road from the trailhead.  We asked how much further it was, and they told us that we were close, but to be careful because the road ahead gets rockier and more rough.  Then they mentioned that a jeep ahead of us blew out the tires on their right side.  This scared me and caused me to drive more cautiously, as thoughts of our trip being ruined due to a vehicle mishap went through my head.  After two hours, we made it to the trailhead and talked to some people who were in the middle of the OML.  They looked exhausted, and some of them kind of confused.  It was definitely a hot day, and they said they were worried they hadn’t packed enough water, and said they had gotten into the NPS water that was provided at the trailhead water storage bear box marked, “Emergency Only.”  We gave them a couple of waters, let them look at our topo map, and went on our way.  I decided it was in my best interest to try and get some sleep on the way to Homer Wilson Ranch, so I let Jacob drive, but it was nearly impossible with how bumpy the road was.

We made much better time leaving the Dodson Trailhead, and made it to the Homer Wilson water cache around 2:15. As we pulled up, a group of guys who had started their hike from Homer Wilson had finished the loop – they were drinking celebratory beers and were in good spirits. They were excited to finish, and told us that Fresno had water.  Then they mentioned something about grabbing a burger, and left. So, with nothing left to do, we headed down to the bear box and stored our water (two gallons for me, one gallon for Jacob).

We made it back to the Chisos Basin, and started our hike at 3:30.  Here was our plan:
Day one:  Go up Pinnacles Trail, drop our packs, hit Emory Peak, and make it to the Juniper Canyon Campsite.
Day two:  Juniper to Dodson, grab water, and set up camp around Fresno Creek.
Day three:  Finish the Dodson, grab water at Homer Wilson Ranch, and head to the Blue Creek trail to set up camp.
Day four:  Go from Blue Creek to South Rim and then head to the Basin using Laguna Meadows.

Here is the gear I brought and planned to use on the trail:
Backpack:
•   Kelty Redwing 44L pack
Food:
•   MSR PocketRocket Stove to cook on with small bottle of fuel
•   One small, lightweight pot to cook on that fits two bowls inside
•   One 12 oz. ceramic coffee cup
•   Two sporks
•   Two Packages of Pop Tarts (Brown Sugar Cinnamon)
•   Five Fruit and Grain Cereal Bars – Two didn’t get eaten
•   Five Greek Yogurt Protein Bars (Fairly lightweight) – Two didn’t get used
•   Two ziplock baggies about 60% full with nuts and dried fruit – Finished one, other barely got opened
•   Two ziplock baggies about 60% full with granola – I ate maybe ¾ of one bag
•   Three packages of instant oatmeal
•   Three nutty bars (two in each package)
•   Instant coffee in a ziplock baggie – maybe had a cup’s worth leftover
•   Two Ziplock baggies about 65% full with granola
•   Half a container of peanut butter – ate maybe half of what was in the jar
•   Two dehydrated meals
o   Three Cheese Pasta by AlpineAire (Pretty tasty!)
o   Mesquite Barbecue Chicken with Beans by AlpineAire (Not so great)


Gear:
•   Hydrapak Water Flask, 2L size
•   Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow, Ultralight Large
•   40-degree sleeping bag (Kelty Cosmic Down)
•   Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad 
•   One person tent
•   One trowel and half-full roll of toilet paper
•   Aquamira Water Treatment
•   Lifestraw (didn’t get used)
•   Hi Lyte electrolyte drink mix
•   One 20” x 40” Packlight Travel Towel
•   One pack of sanitation wipes
•   One small travel size bottle of hand sanitizer
•   One toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste
•   Extra contacts
•   Cell Phone (kept on Airplane mode 95% of the time – I finished the hike with 70% battery)
•   Headlamp
•   GoPro with two backup batteries and extra SD Card
•   Portable Charger in case needed to charge cell phone/GoPro (didn’t get used)
•       Card-holder
•   One bottle of ibuprofen
•   Three empty ziplock baggies to keep trash in

Clothes:
•       1 pair of hiking pants (I wore these every day)
•   1 pair of performance underwear sliders (I wore these every day)
•   2 pairs of boxers to change into to sleep at night (I’m glad I did this)
•   4 pairs of hiking socks – Smartwool/Darn Tough – One pair didn’t get used
•   1 Lightweight, quick-drying base-layer hiking shirt (This got the most use)
•   1 Lightweight, quick-drying long-sleeve base layer hiking shirt (This got used one night as a pillowcase, and 2/3 of the days that we hiked when it was chillier in the morning
•   1 Polyester t-shirt (I used this 2/3 days while hiking)
•   1 lightweight rain jacket
•   1pair of ankle supported hiking boots
•   1Hat that covered my forehead and the back of my neck
•   1 pair of lightweight sunglasses with string attachment
Note:  I kept my rain jacket accessible at all times pretty much (top of backpack or in jacket pocket).  My other clothes that weren’t being worn (typically a shirt, three pairs of socks, and my extra two pairs of underwear) were kept in a drysack.  Jacob carried our first aid supplies.


Day 1
 So, like I mentioned, we started our journey at 3:30 PM on Saturday, March 10.  I felt pretty good despite only having three hours of sleep over the past 36 hours. There were lots of people hiking up the Pinnacles trail, and it was a beautiful day.  But it was steep, and long. I stopped here and there for pictures and to take some videos on my GoPro (and maybe for a breather).  My bag was feeling heavy. I think it was 45-55 pounds, and since it was only a 44 liter pack, I was learning quickly that it might not have been the best choice for as much weight and supplies that I had, despite my organization.  I tried adjusting the straps to put more of the weight on the lower half of my torso, but to no real avail.  My traps were already starting to hurt.  Yikes.  Additionally, this first day was the warmest of any we were on the trail.  It was 85 degrees or so, which wasn’t terrible, but I was working up a heavy sweat for sure.  Anyways, Pinnacles was kind of kicking our butts.  We were definitely moving at a solid pace, and that probably had something to do with the fatigue we were feeling.  Plus, we knew we had a late start on the trail so we were trying to hustle so we could set up camp before dark.  The views just kept getting better and better as we made it towards the top, and it was really cool to see all the ground that we covered over the last few hours.  The uphill climb was seeming like it was never going to end, but finally, we made it to the end of the trail.  We dropped our packs once we made it to the Emory Peak trailhead, and since the sun was starting to go down and the air was cooling quickly, I grabbed my rain jacket before we took off for Emory Peak.  The trail was only marked as 1.5 miles, so I figured we could make a quick trip up, come back down, and head to camp.  This trip turned out to be much longer than what felt like 1.5 miles up to the peak.  It was pretty steep for the most part, so that probably aided in making the trail seem longer than it was.  After what felt like 2.5-3 miles, we made it to the portion where you have to climb to get to the peak.  We dropped our trekking poles, and climbed up a short distance and made it to the peak.  It was truly a sight to see.  We spent maybe 7 or 8 minutes up there, then descended back down to the trailhead.  I think overall the trip to Emory Peak took an hour and a half (I could be a little off – it might have been shorter).  We made it back down to our packs around 6:45, loaded up, and headed towards our campsite.  We were hoping that it wasn’t far, and were excited that it appeared to be downhill from here.  It was getting pretty dark out.  We were heading down the mountain, with the sun setting behind us, and were now getting into an area with more and more trees. About 10 minutes in, we passed a guy and girl who looked desperate and ill-prepared.  They said they were with a group, and the other “experienced” bunch of the crew had left them.  I asked if they were okay and they said they were meeting a ranger near Pinnacles.  After asking if they needed anything, and trying to keep their spirits up, we carried on.  After about 30 more minutes, we looped around like we were going back up the mountain.  Steadily, we climbed in elevation while going around a corner.  We knew we had to be close to the Juniper Canyon trail marker.  We eventually had to put our headlamps on to see, and finally saw the sign.  We passed a couple of girls (who we would see periodically for the rest of our hike) with headlamps shortly after, and they told us they were doing the OML and camping up a ways past our site.  They seemed tired, but appeared to be doing okay, so we wished them luck, and carried on.  While we were trekking down, we threw out the idea of covering more ground on day two, and making it to Homer Wilson Ranch.  We knew we had our work cut out for us, but the more we talked about it, the more we set our minds on that idea.  Quickly on the trail, the path began going uphill.  I was just ready to set up camp, and I know Jacob was too.  Finally, we saw the sign to mark our campsite and knew we made it.  I set my tent up in the dark (which was a task - I probably should have practiced before I came) and Jacob set up his sleeping bag and pad (he was cowboy camping). After cooking some pasta on my stove, it was time for bed. I was exhausted. 

Sleeping was tough that night.  I’ve read a lot about people having great sleep due to them being really tired from all the hiking, but that wasn’t the case for me.  I was plenty warm, and it felt nice (it probably reached the mid 40s at the coldest), but the wind was ridiculous. It was so loud against my tent, and on top of that, I couldn’t really stake my tent down due to how rocky the ground was.  About 5 AM, I started feeling occasional raindrops. Uh-oh.  I didn’t put my rain cover on my tent. I couldn’t anyways, though, because my tent needs to be staked to attach the rain cover. I debated getting up and starting the hike, but I decided against it and pulled my sleeping bag over my head.  Since it was dark with my sleeping bag over my head, I awoke about 8:30 AM to Jacob getting me up. We packed up, ate some breakfast, drank some coffee, and hit the trail by 9:30.  I had no idea what was in store for that day. 

Day 2
On day two we had high hopes to make it to a spot right before Homer Wilson Ranch from our site in Juniper Canyon. Looking at the map, we realized that it was a long way, but we were confident (probably overconfident) in our ability.  We had heard about how brutal the Dodson was, but we figured it couldn’t be worse than Pinnacles... Anyways, regardless, we still had to finish the Juniper Canyon trail. Leaving our site at Juniper Canyon was almost completely downhill.  After walking a long, long way downhill, we talked about how awful it must be for people doing the loop counterclockwise.  The weather was pretty nice hiking weather, honestly.  It drizzled very, very lightly, and was probably low 60s/high 50s.  I think half of the way I walked with my rain jacket on.  We finally made it out of the mountains, and the search began for our water cache (the Dodson trailhead).  After what seemed like forever, we finally made it there around noon.  We talked to a park worker (he said he wasn’t technically a Ranger) who was with his partner, and they told us they were looking for invasive species of plants along the Juniper Canyon trail.  We told him about our plans to reach Homer Wilson Ranch, and he told us that it wasn’t probable, but maybe possible.  According to him, it was 15 miles to Homer Wilson from Dodson.  After eating some food, drinking a gallon of water and storing the rest (making our packs much heavier, might I add), we set our course for the Dodson.  Starting the Dodson at 1:00 would have been much worse if it wasn’t partly cloudy.  The clouds provided some nice shade, and allowed us to set a nice pace.  It started off pretty tame, honestly – it was pretty flat.  Soon though, we started our battle against the elevation gain/loss.  We were good on water, so we didn’t stop anywhere to try to filter any.  Around Fresno, there were people hanging out and taking a break.  They looked pretty beat.  There were two trails we were looking to use as markers on the Dodson to give us an idea of where we were:  The first was Elephant Tusk trail, maybe five miles from the Dodson/Juniper trailhead.  The second was Smoky Creek trail, another 2-3 miles down the way. It was a bit discouraging when asking people along the trail coming the other way if we were close to the trail or not, because most of the time, the answer was not what we wanted to hear.  Finally, we saw the sign for Elephant Tusk trail.  I believe at this time it was somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00.  We moved on, passed another group doing the loop counterclockwise, and they told us we still had a little ways to go before we pass the Smoky Creek trail.  We were honest with them and told them that Juniper Canyon might not be fun for them, but wished them luck and carried on.  After we made it to the trail (probably an hour and a half or two later), we were starting to feel the fatigue.  Eventually, the trail went down to what seemed like a creek bed, where we were walking on this rocky/gravel path, and it wasn’t fun.  Eventually we made it out and saw more ascending that had to be done ahead of us.  It seemed like the steep climbs of the Dodson were never going to end.  When we made it to the top, we were treated to some wonderful views.  We figured we were close to Homer Wilson Ranch, and were going to start trying to find a place to camp.  Jacob recommended a few spots to stop to set up camp while the sun was still up, but I thought we’d find a better spot down the way.  Before we knew it, we saw the Homer Wilson Ranch.  Whoops, we went a little too far… Nonetheless, we decided to set up camp in the creek bed near the ranch. It was probably 8:00, and pretty much dark.  My health app said we had walked 19 miles that day.  I’m not sure if that was super accurate, but it felt like we had.  It had been a day of it.  We cooked some more pasta (we tried the barbecue chicken flavor and it wasn’t very good), and hit the hay.  Lying down that night, the stars were beautiful.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the stars in that way before – it was amazing. 

Day 3
After a better night’s sleep than the first, we set out for our final day around 7:45 AM.  My legs surprisingly felt okay, but I think both Jacob and I knew that we were going to omit the South Rim.  Starting off on the Blue Creek trail was rough.  We were walking on more of the gravel/rocky trail, and it sucked.  It felt like I was walking in snow.  Jacob jokingly commented that we needed snow shoes.  After walking on those rocks for what seemed like way too long, the trail took us up to some higher ground.  I felt relieved.  Then, it spit us back out on the creek.  It was not a friendly sight to see, and even less friendly to traverse.  It wasn’t super steep, but we were definitely heading back up to the Chisos on an incline.  It was consistent in its slight gain until we made it off the creek and into the trees.  It was really pretty in the trees, and the shade was welcomed on this sunny day.  The Chisos in front of us looked pretty daunting, but we could almost taste the Chili’s chips and salsa that we had been fantasizing about since the previous evening.  Once we got out of the trees, the ascent up the mountains to the Chisos was brutal.  It was pretty dang steep.  I will say, it was amazing looking back at the ground we had covered that day, and the views were excellent behind us.  After some strenuous, steep hiking, and lots of breaks on the last part of the Blue Creek trail, we made it to the top around 12:30.  We saw the sign for the South Rim, but passed right by it.  We were on a mission to make it to the car.  With me leading the way, we were in high gear on our descent down Laguna Meadows. We ran into the park worker who we talked to the day before at the Dodson trailhead, and he looked surprised to see us, and more surprised when we told him we made it to Homer Wilson Ranch from Juniper Canyon in one day.  He told us we were on the home stretch, so we bid him farewell and continued our descent. We made it to the bottom of the basin at 2:00 or so, meaning that we completed the loop in 48 hours or so. I felt pretty accomplished, and glad to wash my hands in a sink.  Since this was the Monday of spring break, there were lots of people at the bottom of the Basin preparing for day hikes.  I felt excited for them.  We hopped in the car, drank a couple of Gatorades that I had sitting in my cooler, and hit the road by 2:45.  The Chili’s that we stopped at in Odessa was nothing less than amazing.

Overall, the trip was a success, and a lot of fun.  I think if I could do it over again, I would allow us some more time.  Don’t get me wrong, we stopped and enjoyed the views, but that second day didn’t leave us a lot of down time to chill.  I also would carry a bigger backpack. I think my Kelty 44L Redwing is a great pack, but maybe not for backpacking the Outer Mountain Loop.  Just my personal preference I guess.  Regardless, I'm looking forward to my next backpacking adventure.

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Offline Col. Forbin

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2018, 01:54:05 PM »
Here is a video of our trip that I made: 

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Offline badknees

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2018, 04:46:42 PM »
Interesting take on the OML...........thank s for the report.

If you camped at Juniper Canyon 1, then indeed it was a long hike from there to Homer Wilson Ranch. Depending on where you camped, it is approximately 17.8 miles to a point beyond the ranch house.
Not all those who wander are lost.
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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2018, 05:41:58 PM »
Very impressive, doing the OML in under 48 hours. You'll definitely have to come back for the South Rim.
I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
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   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2018, 05:59:51 PM »
Very impressive, doing the OML in under 48 hours. You'll definitely have to come back for the South Rim.

Agreed. Not many folks on here would (or could) do that. And almost 18 miles in one day, carrying those packs, with that weight, is an almost superhuman feat. Thanks for the detailed equipment breakdown. I think you could probably shave a few pounds next time and be happier, but the main thing is you finished with a smile. Loved the trail video. Well done, Lewis and Clark.  :icon_wink:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2018, 07:55:37 AM »
Nice job, not sure why you all decided to rush through it (other than seeing if you could do it).  You had a longer plan and then you didn't even stay in the park to check out other things with your extra time.

Also not sure why your pack weighed 45-55# to start unless you were carrying 3 gallons of water?  Was that food for both of you or just one person, looked like a cook kit and food for 2.

Did you check out Upper Juniper spring or go down Fresno at all?
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline Col. Forbin

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2018, 09:06:45 AM »
Very impressive, doing the OML in under 48 hours. You'll definitely have to come back for the South Rim.

I wish we would have.  At the time though, my body was telling me no.  Next time!

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Offline Col. Forbin

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2018, 09:14:53 AM »
Nice job, not sure why you all decided to rush through it (other than seeing if you could do it).  You had a longer plan and then you didn't even stay in the park to check out other things with your extra time.

Also not sure why your pack weighed 45-55# to start unless you were carrying 3 gallons of water?  Was that food for both of you or just one person, looked like a cook kit and food for 2.

Did you check out Upper Juniper spring or go down Fresno at all?

Yeah, I think after the first night of poor sleep that we decided to only spend to one more night out there.  And while we definitely took in the views and enjoyed the surroundings, I think the competitors in us both had us wanting to push ourselves.

I had some of my buddy's food, yeah.  I think I traveled with maybe a gallon and a half a time, perhaps a little less. 

I actually didn't know about Upper Juniper until after our trip had concluded, or I would have been more likely to do so.  However, we didn't check out Fresno because we were so sufficient on water, so I don't know if we would have anyways.  If the weather was warmer, I bet we would have.

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Offline Col. Forbin

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2018, 09:16:45 AM »
Interesting take on the OML...........thank s for the report.

If you camped at Juniper Canyon 1, then indeed it was a long hike from there to Homer Wilson Ranch. Depending on where you camped, it is approximately 17.8 miles to a point beyond the ranch house.

Yeah, we camped JC1.  It was a long hike, for sure.  But descending out of JC wasn't bad, and it had some of my favorite views I think. 

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Offline Col. Forbin

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2018, 09:19:08 AM »
Very impressive, doing the OML in under 48 hours. You'll definitely have to come back for the South Rim.

Agreed. Not many folks on here would (or could) do that. And almost 18 miles in one day, carrying those packs, with that weight, is an almost superhuman feat. Thanks for the detailed equipment breakdown. I think you could probably shave a few pounds next time and be happier, but the main thing is you finished with a smile. Loved the trail video. Well done, Lewis and Clark.  :icon_wink:

I read a lot of posts on here to help guide me to plan for our trip, and seeing gear breakdowns really helped.  I think I could have shed a few items too, I'm just trying to decide what.  Hey, thanks for watching the video!

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Offline horns93

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2018, 01:28:17 PM »
Congrats on making it. That's always one of the goals.

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Offline VincentWKing

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2018, 10:30:37 AM »
  ...we completed the loop in 48 hours or so.
I would like to submit a motion to the site administrator that henceforth only actual human beings be allowed to post on this site. You and your buddy clearly are not human.  ;) Seriously, great report and congrats. I especially like your detailed gear list...very helpful for this and other trips!

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Offline Dcason1987

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2018, 06:49:09 PM »
Was curious about the hours to get your permit.  I was intending to drive down, obtain my permit, Camp that day and wake up early to hike.

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2018, 08:11:58 PM »
Was curious about the hours to get your permit.  I was intending to drive down, obtain my permit, Camp that day and wake up early to hike.

If you're not arriving at peak time (holidays or school breaks), it shouldn't take more than an hour (and probably less) to get a permit from Panther Junction.  I usually do the same thing you've described.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Re: Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop Trip Report (Spring Break)
« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2018, 09:23:08 AM »
Was curious about the hours to get your permit.  I was intending to drive down, obtain my permit, Camp that day and wake up early to hike.

If you're not arriving at peak time (holidays or school breaks), it shouldn't take more than an hour (and probably less) to get a permit from Panther Junction.  I usually do the same thing you've described.

Aaaargh. I just realized you were asking about the hours of operation at the permit office, NOT how many hours it would take you to get a permit.  :eusa_doh:   In answer to your actual question: the Panther Junction visitors' center is open from 9am until 5pm every day of the year (except Christmas, which is shorter, I think). It shouldn't take you more than an hour at most to get your permit, so if you arrive there by 4pm, you have a good chance of getting your permit and camping that night. Though I'd probably arrive a little earlier, say 3:30pm, if it was me.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

 


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