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February Trip Report

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Offline WNdx

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February Trip Report
« on: April 28, 2018, 12:53:28 AM »
I may not have much new to say here but as I had promised too long ago, here is my trip Report from February, first time attempt and completion of the NPS itinerary.

Day 1 -

I left the motel in Alpine at about 7AM  and loved the drive at dawn going down TX-118 to the Maverick entrance. The weather was perfect, and the view from the storage box at Homer Wilson gave me a good preview of the incredible landscape I'd be immersed in over the next few days.

Registration at Panther Junction was a breeze - surprisingly so. The ranger gave the obligatory "it is harder than you think" spiel, but went on to say that they no longer take information on solo hikers. No questions about my gear, experience, anything. I was prepared for a grilling and got none of it. 5 minutes after walking in, I walked out, and drove up to the Lodge to get started.

The hike up Pinnacles Trail seems understated as far as its difficulty is concerned, especially if starting in the basin at peak weight. I soon began cursing some of the superfluous items I brought - camp sneakers, a miniature bluetooth speaker, a portable charger -  that made this uphill hike that much more difficult.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of the hike through the mountains. However, the lower portion of the Juniper Canyon Trail provides more excellent panoramic photo opportunities from below. However I was surprised at how rocky the trail was. I had expected an easy stroll down a flat, burned-in path, but constantly found only tenuous purchase on golfball sized rocks - it was more taxing on the feet than one would assume.

I arrived at the junction of Juniper Canyon and The Dodson Trail by about 5pm and made camp in one of the well-worn spots nearby. By then, I was no longer cursing the extra luxuries I was lugging along - a pair of loose-fitting sneakers is a welcome amenity after a day strapped tightly into a pair of hiking boots. The bluetooth speaker allowed me to continue listening to an audiobook that I had started on the drive in. I really found this to be an essential piece of equipment. I am used to building a fire whenever I camp. A fire is always an incredible morale booster - the heat, the light, and and the task of keeping something alive all provide a sense of accompaniment in the isolation. The deliberate cadence of someone reading a book aloud provided the closest replacement to that sensation, and I'd advise solo hikers who struggle with loneliness or boredom to consider doing this. It really helps.

Before turning in for the night, I could see faint flashes of lightning far south of the border - not close enough to be a concern. I kept the rain fly off. In fact, the rain fly is a bonus addition to my makeshift camp pillow, which is basically a hoodie with the hood strings pulled all the way shut, stuffed with all of my other clothes, and twisted at the bottom with the sleeves knotted around the cinch to tie the whole thing off.

I awoke just after midnight to see much of the sky obscured by a layer of stratus cloud a few thousand feet above, and a barely perceptible pit-pat of tiny drizzle drops hitting my tent. I panicked over the possibility of heavier rain falling, frantically dismantled my makeshift pillow and threw the rain fly on - just in time for the drizzle to stop and never be seen or heard from again.

However, another two hours later, I was again wrested from sleep by the sound of distant thunder. It worried me that once inaudible storms were now loud enough to wake me up. I got up to mark my territory and could see bolts of lightning shooting out from clouds hovering over mountain silhouettes. It was one of the more incredible sights I've ever seen; something you only see in nature-themed calendars and coffee table books. Unfortunately my sense of wonder was eroded by growing apprehension over the possibility of being caught in a storm. It took me awhile to fall back asleep, but I eventually did after the rumble and glow of the storm faded off to the east. A review of weather radar data from that night showed the isolated storm was not more than a mile or two over the border. Close call.


Day 2 -

I got up just after first light and watched an incredible sunrise emerge over the Sierra Del Carmen. After scarfing down a cereal pouch I started off down the Dodson at a good clip.

Among my bigger fears heading into this trip was the prospect of getting lost, particularly on the Dodson. I had also made a mistake with my maps. I used the CalTopo version and got a custom print split into three pages, each laminated for durability. However, I only printed off the area including and immediately surrounding the loop. If I had ventured south of the Dodson more than a half-mile or so, I would have been off the map. Kind of defeats the purpose of having one.

About a mile into the Dodson I ran into another solo hiker breaking camp. He said he was heading to Homer Wilson as well but that he'd been permitted for another night on the Dodson, so he'd be taking it slow that day. It was nice to know that someone would be behind me in case anything went wrong.

I really enjoyed the Dodson Trail. The first half of the trail is well-established, and the steady incline is manageable enough to allow for deliberate but steady pace. I reached Fresno creek before noon, and what a sight that was - flowing water, deep pools, frogs hopping between them, and bugs abound - all in the middle of the desert.

The trail becomes a little more difficult after Fresno Creek, however. After collecting water and chatting with a pair of fellow hikers, I set off up the next hill at high speed, feeling refreshed by the water and wildlife at the Creek, and determined to make Homer Wilson by 4pm that day. 15 minutes later, I was gasping for air as the pair of hikers caught up, appearing totally unfazed by the climb. Then, there is a long segment through some dry river beds that can get a little dicey. The cairns are not always obvious. On a few occasions I had to stop and look around before I found one. The final vista looking southwest toward Carousel Mountain is a worthwhile prize to finish off the trail highlights.

I came around Carousel Mountain around 3:30pm, just ahead of my 4PM goal. I didn't waste much time, though. I put on my camp shoes, collected my water from the cache and left some spent bottles to retrieve later. I really wished the box was at the bottom of the trail instead of halfway up.

I knew that the first couple of miles of the Blue Creek trail would be confusing, but I didn't consider how frustrating that would actually be. With a heavy pack, the sun bearing down directly into the canyon, and the steady uphill trudge over the gravel wash, and the frustration of being only vaguely oriented with the "trail", I began to really lose steam. I was stopping every 15 minutes or so. But I was set on reaching Cedar Spring by sundown, and did, barely.

Day 3 -

I was hoping I would wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the climb up Blue Creek. I was not. Sore and tired, this was the slowest hiking I've ever done, stopping maybe every 5 minutes and draining my water supply quickly. It was windy and overcast and I just wasn't feeling it. I was fortunate to have avoided blisters or injuries, but general fatigue began to take over. I would caution to first timers that if any part of the trail prior Homer Wilson Ranch really pushes their limits, they should think carefully about what they will face beyond it and consider stopping.

 I got a few good self portraits with the canyon in backdrop, but for the most part had my head down, trudging, thinking about the beer I had at the car and the fast food waiting for me later on. I eventually made it there, feeling good about what I'd done. I went back to Homer Wilson to collect my spent bottles and saw a few hitch hikers leaving the trail. While I won't ever judge anyone for stopping short, it did make me feel that much better that I'd pulled it off, proving to myself what I had set out to prove.



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Offline Hiker79

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Re: February Trip Report
« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2018, 09:36:13 AM »
Thanks for the report, WNdx.   Great job completing the hike.  I've done the OML twice in the opposite direction, once solo.  Someday I'll conform and hike it clockwise. 
I have found that a box of donuts from the shop in Alpine is a great ice breaker with the rangers when getting the permit!!   :icon_biggrin:
« Last Edit: April 28, 2018, 09:45:28 AM by Hiker79 »

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Offline jim2

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Re: February Trip Report
« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2018, 12:03:52 PM »
Nice shot from the western side of the Dodson, one of the best views in the park.
Congrats on completing the OML

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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February Trip Report
« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2018, 12:36:22 PM »
Outstanding trip report, WNdx! 

You did a great job of identifying a lot of the biggest challenges in hiking the OML via the standard NPS itinerary: the long slog up The Pinnacles trail, the rough trail-bed descending into Juniper Canyon, the sometimes dispiriting climb up out of the Fresno drainage and, further west, through the sparsely-cairned drainages near Smoky Creek, the sandy/gravelly braided morass leading up Blue Creek after Homer Wilson, and the final gut-busting climb up to the Chisos. Doing it all in three days makes it all the harder. Kudos to you for pulling it off. That second day of yours was a really impressive hike: the entire Dodson and then all the way up Blue Creek Canyon to Cedar Spring. That would tire me out, for sure.


I left the motel in Alpine at about 7AM  and loved the drive at dawn going down TX-118 to the Maverick entrance.

One of my favorites, too!

I am used to building a fire whenever I camp. A fire is always an incredible morale booster - the heat, the light, and and the task of keeping something alive all provide a sense of accompaniment in the isolation.

I've been backpacking for 40 years, and that's the first time I've heard it explained that way.  You've articulated something I've always felt deeply but have never been able to put into words.

I awoke just after midnight to see much of the sky obscured by a layer of stratus cloud a few thousand feet above, and a barely perceptible pit-pat of tiny drizzle drops hitting my tent. I panicked over the possibility of heavier rain falling, frantically dismantled my makeshift pillow and threw the rain fly on - just in time for the drizzle to stop and never be seen or heard from again.

Hahaha! If I had a nickel for every time I've done that......

I had also made a mistake with my maps. I used the CalTopo version and got a custom print split into three pages, each laminated for durability. However, I only printed off the area including and immediately surrounding the loop. If I had ventured south of the Dodson more than a half-mile or so, I would have been off the map. Kind of defeats the purpose of having one.

Yep, it's tricky.  On my two cross-park hikes, I took along the Nat Geo fold-out map as a back-up, just in case I was forced to improvise outside the parameters of my intended hike. Both times I was glad I had it along, and didn't regret the extra weight burden.

I won't ever judge anyone for stopping short, it did make me feel that much better that I'd pulled it off, proving to myself what I had set out to prove.

You should be justifiably proud of what you accomplished. Well done. Solo hikes are the toughest of all. And great trip report, too. An excellent resource for anyone planning their first OML.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2018, 03:31:39 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: February Trip Report
« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2018, 01:11:58 PM »
Sounds like a hell of a walk - way to gut it out !

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Offline jtemples

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Re: February Trip Report
« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2018, 07:21:45 PM »
Great report.  My wife and I are planning to hike the NPS route the last week in Feb.  Really enjoy reading your account of it.  Tks!

 


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