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Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

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OML First Time 11/18/18

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Offline gclark

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OML First Time 11/18/18
« on: November 21, 2018, 06:55:52 PM »
First time to Big Bend and completed the OML in 1 Ĺ days. These are my thoughts on things I wanted to know about before going out there. Iím an average hiker so read my thoughts with that in mind. These are in no particular order of importance.
Practical Matters:
1.   Wear Pants.  The trail was overgrown in many places and a lot of what it is overgrown with has big olí thorns. My pants were torn up by the end of the trail Ė better them than me.
2.   Hiking Poles.  These will save your knees and ankles on the downhills, keep you on your feet when you inevitably slip on the rocks, and probably most importantly, push some of that thorny overgrowth out of the way. Learn how to use them properly, I saw a lot of day hikers who werenít using the straps the right way and it makes a huge difference going downhill. 
3.   Cairns, cairns, cairns.  The trail was easy enough to follow, but in those places where there could be any doubt, there were cairns. If you find yourself standing on ground that doesnít look like it has ever been trodden upon, just stop and look around, there is probably a cairn nearby. The GPS showed me off trail a few times, but the cairns steered me right. 
4.   Water report.  There was water flowing all along the Dodson trail, and I mean flowing. Boot Spring was flowing as was Upper Juniper. I know it is not usually so good. I carried enough water to get between caches and I recommend you do too, but I could have easily found it if Iíd had to.  I took the water-locating tips from this forum with me just in case it hadnít as plentiful as it was.
5.   Rocks.  A good part of this trail is covered with rocks of every size and shape imaginable. They are loose and they will go out from underfoot no matter how careful you are. I switched from trail runners to boots at the last second and my feet and ankles were happy I did. If you donít want to do a 30 mile rock scramble I suggest hiking somewhere else.
6.   Solo Hiker.  I did not get any grief from the rangers about being a solo hiker, and apparently, they donít require you to check in any more at the end of your hike. I did leave itinerary, GPS tracking info, and clothing/gear photos with my family, but I didnít get the 3rd degree from the rangers.
7.   Timing.  Donít think you are going to anywhere close to your normal hiking speed out there.  Much of what you do will be short, half, and baby-steps as you try not to slip on the rocks. By the end I managed to get up near Ĺ my normal speed.  There are very few places where you can stride out and walk normally.
8.   Food Storage. I had called the park and was told that a bear canister was required but the rangers at the permit office told me it isnít.  Just keep your food with you in the tent and youíre good to go - and a couple of pounds lighter.
Subjective Matters:
   If you havenít been out to Big Bend you have missed out on something impressive. My description would be beautiful, expansive, and unexpected.  Now, you canít walk on the OML and enjoy the views because you will end up on your butt or with an injury. Then again, thereís nothing wrong with stopping to take in the scenery. It is like a 30 mile focus exercise because if you donít stay in the moment and pay attention to every step it could go wrong very quickly. I started at the Juniper/Dodson trailhead and has no problem getting out there in a Subaru Outback.  I figured that in a worst-case scenario I was never more than 5 miles from a bailout. I made it 8 miles on day one since I got a late start and finished the trail the next evening.  I hiked the Juniper Canyon in the dark and really had no problem with route-finding since I had a ĺ moon in addition to the headlamp. I hadnít intended to night-hike but by the time I found an unoccupied site large enough, it was quicker to walk to my car than to set up and break down the tent. Itís the desert and cowboy camping was possible, but I just didnít feel like it. Even with the ĺ moon the stars were amazing. If you want to be alone this is a great place for you.  I saw no one on the trail (I did see some tents at night) and only met one guy at the Homer Wilson cache who regretted wearing joggers instead of boots and not bringing his hiking poles. Ignore the pitying stares of day hikers you encounter right after you have come up the Blue Creek, theyíd look just as tired as you if theyíd just come up that trail. Animals are no problem, I saw nothing dangerous (though I did see some bear scat), the ranger told me that bears and mountain lions are no problem, just the javelinas and rats. I did see some beautiful deer up near the rim and one snake went over my foot at night on the Juniper. The OML is not easy, either be in great shape or prepared to hurt for a few days afterward.  Reduce your pack weight wherever you can, I hadnít been to Big Bend so I took way too much stuff and paid for it. Overall, I enjoyed the hike and I feel the same way about the OML as the guy I met at the cache: if I hadnít done it Iíd always wish I had, Iím glad to have done it, I probably wonít be doing it again. 

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Offline dprather

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2018, 07:37:23 PM »
Congrats on your successful OML.  Thanks for the input, especially about water.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2018, 08:16:37 PM »
First welcome to BBC and thanks for giving us a report.
 :welcome:

I really like these reports that are lessons learned/tips shared.  I would say that saying that you are an average hiker is a bit of an under estimation.  Your second day at 16-18 miles (depending on if you went around the South rim) is no easy task with the climb up Blue Creek and then the long down Juniper Canyon.

Congratulations!   :eusa_clap:
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline michigan_man

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2018, 12:36:48 PM »
Can someone help define being in great shape? Iím new to backpacking and I want to make sure Iím physically sound before trying the OML. I climbed a couple class 1 & 2 14ers in Colorado last September with about 15lbs of gear. My conditioning has only improved since then. Iím 33 and Iím in the gym 5-6 days a week for 30-60 minutes. Iím reading trip reports and this part of the equation remains a mystery to me.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2018, 12:42:15 PM »
Can someone help define being in great shape? Iím new to backpacking and I want to make sure Iím physically sound before trying the OML. I climbed a couple class 1 & 2 14ers in Colorado last September with about 15lbs of gear. My conditioning has only improved since then. Iím 33 and Iím in the gym 5-6 days a week for 30-60 minutes. Iím reading trip reports and this part of the equation remains a mystery to me.

You sound like you should be in pretty good cardio shape but you will probably want to walk with your pack before the trip to get your hips, shoulders, legs and feet ready to walk a distance with a pack.  I usually start a month before the trip and increase the pack weight 10# each week until I am carrying 5-10 pounds heavier than my starting pack weight will be.  I do 3 miles with the pack every other day, with some hills involved.  Wear the shoes/boots and socks you plan to use too, this will get your feet ready also.  The only way to get in shape to carry a pack is...to carry a pack.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline elhombre

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2018, 01:12:16 PM »
For me, the ticket seems to knock out around 7 miles in my hiking boots a few times around the Hike and Bike trail pretty fast.  No weight.  Get'er done in around 2 hours.  Within 2 weeks of the trip.  Legs get tired, and the feet get a good feel for walking miles.  Much different than gym workouts.

But nothing really prepares a body for the OML unless you hike all the time.  You are going to suffer.  Just depends on how much. 
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Online House Made of Dawn

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2018, 01:17:13 PM »
First welcome to BBC and thanks for giving us a report.
 :welcome:

I really like these reports that are lessons learned/tips shared.  I would say that saying that you are an average hiker is a bit of an under estimation.  Your second day at 16-18 miles (depending on if you went around the South rim) is no easy task with the climb up Blue Creek and then the long down Juniper Canyon.

Congratulations!   :eusa_clap:

+1 on that. No average hiker could pull that hike off in one and a half days, and with such a good attitude. Well done, man.  And, about that snake......... :icon_eek:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Online House Made of Dawn

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2018, 01:26:45 PM »
Can someone help define being in great shape? Iím new to backpacking and I want to make sure Iím physically sound before trying the OML. I climbed a couple class 1 & 2 14ers in Colorado last September with about 15lbs of gear. My conditioning has only improved since then. Iím 33 and Iím in the gym 5-6 days a week for 30-60 minutes. Iím reading trip reports and this part of the equation remains a mystery to me.

The only way to get in shape to carry a pack is...to carry a pack.

That's still the best line I've ever read on BBC.


But nothing really prepares a body for the OML unless you hike all the time.  You are going to suffer.  Just depends on how much.


I don't prep for hikes other than trying to stay in regular shape, which is not great, but not terrible. I eat and drink a little less in the couple weeks or a month before a big hike, in an attempt to drop a few pounds of dead weight. And I'm always looking to cut dead weight from my pack by improving my gear and reducing what I feel I need to carry. I wear my hiking boots year-round with the same socks I hike in. I haven't had a blister in decades. But, frankly, long-distance hiking is as much a mental challenge as a physical one.

Bottom line is ....read my bottom line.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Hang10er

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2018, 09:49:29 AM »
House Made of Dawn hit a good point regarding the mental preparation. 

A strong, endurance type athlete will fail if he gets scared as soon as he can no longer see the trail head.  But I'd put money on a frail old man who has the will power to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 


Disclaimer - I have not done the OML. 

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Offline dprather

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2018, 11:14:31 AM »
Can someone help define being in great shape? Iím new to backpacking and I want to make sure Iím physically sound before trying the OML. I climbed a couple class 1 & 2 14ers in Colorado last September with about 15lbs of gear. My conditioning has only improved since then. Iím 33 and Iím in the gym 5-6 days a week for 30-60 minutes. Iím reading trip reports and this part of the equation remains a mystery to me.

"Great shape" is an important part of the equation, but not all of the equation.

Hikes (not a strong enough word) like the OML require at least as much mental stamina as physical stamina.  This is not to say that basic fitness and conditioning are not required (heart/lung fitness, strength, balance, and stretching), but these necessities are not sufficient. 

In order to complete a tough trek one must also possess mental toughness, the grit and guts to defy the urge to quit and keep on going all the way to the end, and to end in good form.

As for me, I anticipate that urge to quit.  I know it is coming, and I have already made up my mind to treat it with disdain.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline wrangler88

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2018, 01:39:36 PM »
I wouldn't call myself in great shape by any means. I did the OML in a day and a half last year. Started 11 am one day and would have finished the second evening but I stopped with Homer Wilson Ranchhouse in view the second night. Just stopped there because i wasnt sure if i was going to be able to get a site in the basin that late in the day. Woke up and walked the last 15 minutes out the next morning.

I am in decent shape. But keeping my pack as light as possible REALLY helps me. The amount of energy saved not toting excess pack weight makes the hiking much more pleasant for me. (But not as comfortable at camp). I'd say if you are in any sort of walking shape and have experience backpacking, the OML isnt too tough. I liked starting at the Ranch House and getting the Dodson and the climb up Juniper Canyon done first. I think that also helped a lot. All downhill when I was tired by the end of the trip.

Just my 2 cents ...

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Online House Made of Dawn

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2018, 02:06:03 PM »
I wouldn't call myself in great shape by any means. I did the OML in a day and a half last year. Started 11 am one day and would have finished the second evening but I stopped with Homer Wilson Ranchhouse in view the second night. Just stopped there because i wasnt sure if i was going to be able to get a site in the basin that late in the day. Woke up and walked the last 15 minutes out the next morning.

I am in decent shape. But keeping my pack as light as possible REALLY helps me. The amount of energy saved not toting excess pack weight makes the hiking much more pleasant for me. (But not as comfortable at camp). I'd say if you are in any sort of walking shape and have experience backpacking, the OML isnt too tough. I liked starting at the Ranch House and getting the Dodson and the climb up Juniper Canyon done first. I think that also helped a lot. All downhill when I was tired by the end of the trip.

Just my 2 cents ...

Yeah, I vastly prefer starting at Homer Wilson and skipping the Basin. There are strong arguments for going either counterclockwise or clockwise from there. I prefer clockwise so that I attack Blue Creek Canyon when I'm freshest. But I also try to only go in wet periods when I know there'll be water up top in Boot Canyon, so I don't have to carry much water up that climb. That leaves the only other uphills being: the approach to the pass before Dodson Spring, the climb out of the Fresno drainage, and the climb up to the final vista looking toward Carousel Mountain (one of the best in the park and a perfect way to end a hike). I like to take at least three days so I can camp near the gorgeousness of the Fresno drainage and maybe even explore a bit down through the drainage. I never cache water and have always found plenty in springs and creeks along the way.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: OML First Time 11/18/18
« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2018, 10:05:54 PM »
I am old and fat.  Over the years I had been to BB a few times, and had done OML with backpack over the course of days.  Last few years, I been getting into doing longer stuff, like Grand Canyon rim to rims etc.  For whatever reason, I decided to give an OML dayhike a try in March, and last weekend I did it for the 5th time this year, this time with one of my daughters, in 14:10.  I've done it both directions, done it going up NE and around the rim, done it Colima, done it Basin.

I would agree going down into Basin and back out sucks.  Not particularly scenic, lots of people, lots of vertical.  Best way for views etc, is start HW, up Juniper, then up NE rim and around to Blue Creek and Down.  Plan for the Rim to be in daylight.

The FKT for the OML is something under 8 hours (there's a FKT website--guy from Austin did it in 7 something)

I've done em fast (for me), I've done em slow; done em solo and with people; all the ways have their own charms.  I really like the dayhike method, as you carry very little, not much planning involved.

In terms of preparation, I've found climbing stairs daily is a big help.  Hardest part of these trails is the vertical.  I work in Dallas and I just walk up and down the stairs in big buildings daily, instead of taking elevators.

 


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