Big Bend Chat

Big Bend National Park Q&A => Outer Mountain Loop => Topic started by: hiker4Life on November 14, 2017, 11:26:39 AM

Title: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: hiker4Life on November 14, 2017, 11:26:39 AM
This post is an effort to say "thanks" for the advice and information this forum provided that was so useful in planning this past weekend's (Nov. 9-12) Outer Mountain experience. If you read on, I hope you find something worthwhile in the route/trail info provided, as well as encouragement to visit the park, and pay your own respects to the marvelous trails and surrounding landscape!

I was in a constant state of "wow" throughout my time at Big Bend: the quality of the trails, the persistently impressive, constantly changing scenery (and the diversity thereof), and the challenges offered by the trail and local climate. I took 3 nights and 2 days for my OML route (detailed below), and a lot of things came together that helped in completing it, perhaps most notably, the weather! Temp. range of mid-high 40's, to high 80's/maybe 90 degrees on the Dodson Trail. Clear skies at night. Water available if needed (more on this later). Pretty perfect conditions!

Additionally, I'm pleased to say that I was able to complete the OML while adding in a couple other, what I would call in hindsight, "key ingredients": the southern rim/loop, and Emory Peak. This particular route and combination enabled perspective that I would have missed out on if I would have, say, just stuck to the NPS-suggested route. It's very likely that others have done similar routes, and probably have more specific mileage and information, too; in fact this suggestion to incorporate the Southern Rim and Emory Peak was one I found through reading this forum, and I'm grateful for the advice.  If you have time and energy for it, adding these two parts to an OML will make for a fantastic overview of the various perspectives and landscapes Big Bend has to offer.

One note on the following: I do not own a GPS device so the mileage estimates are my best approximation using the Nat Geo Trails map and the trail markers/signs on the route. This is a route description/my itinerary, following my checking in and paying dues at Panther Junction*:

Thurs: 2.5 G. water cached at Homer Wilson. Parked car @ Chisos Basin. Start hike at ~4:30pm to Laguna West 1 backcountry site. (had to hike at dusk/twilight--it was beautiful, but of course I was thinking "lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!" the whole while. Cut me some slack, please: I happen to be from Kansas. And yes, thanks, I did know I'm not in Kansas anymore). Thurs. evening mileage: about 3.5 mi. to campsite. Laguna West 1 is a great site! It is located higher up than Laguna Meadows 1, and the site was pristine when i found and left it. Nice little spot for a tent or bivvy underneath some friendly-seeming trees. (they did not throw any apples at me, for instance). Surrounding prarie grass and meadow area is golden/almost glows silver in the moonlight. Felt a little eerie to me; a very beautiful place to be.

Fri.: Hike from LW1 on South Rim Trail in a loop, including Southwest, Southeast, and Northeast, segments, and parts of the Boot Springs, Boot Cyn, and Colima trail segments. At the end of the loop (which was fantastic for its own landscape and wildlife as well as for perspective of the surrounding ridges and valleys/desert-scape), I ended up at the Colima, laguna meadows and Blue Creek Trail intersection (again). Then Blue Creek to Homer Wilson water cache. There was a large crew from the Texas Conservation Corps out there clearing the trail--very helpful and many thanks to them! At HW, drank remaining water, and ended up carrying a little over 8.5 L with me into the Dodson--!! Didn't have a reliable water report at start of hike, so wanted to be careful about having enough to get me 'home". (An aside: 9 liters is heavy, especially for someone (like me) used to packing on the lighter/swifter side of things. So for those with a positive water report--find a happier medium for water capacity than 9 liters! However, even with relatively moderate temps. in high 80's/low 90's, the Dodson portion of the OML is every bit as much a trial as it is a trail: I met an experienced hiker that had to call off the remainder of his hike this weekend due to dehydration and fatigue on the Dodson Trail. Why? Mostly b/c underestimated amount of water needed from Fresno to HW--he was going clockwise, east-west on the Dodson).   From the cache, I admit I had some difficulty finding the Dodson Trail... Wandered the Blue Creek wash for a while following footprints--rookie mistake. Backtracked to Homer Wilson and checked right up close to the old ranch building--there was a lovely little sign that said "Dodson Trail" AND a pretty obvious trail waiting there. This I followed for about 2-3 miles, basically up to the first pass following some switchbacks traversing and ascending a ridge. Wish I had more specifics, but I called it a day up there, camping out on the ridgeline/pass. My map has this pass located on a ridge between high points at 5360 ft. (to the North) and 5000 ft. (to the South), and approximately .5 mi. West of the Smoky Creek Trail intersection. I estimate this was about a 17.5 mile day.

Sat.: Early start, with about 3.5-4 miles to Fresno Creek. I did encounter water there--plenty of puddles and pools ranging from less than 4 inches deep to perhaps 18". i did not need any more water at this point so i did not take any, but this is a reliable source at this time for filtering. The remainder of the Dodson and the long, gradual approach up the Juniper Canyon Trail offer an ever-shifting view of the Chisos and surrounding ridges and desert-scape. And then once the Juniper Springs Trail begins ascending in earnest, the entire landscape changes and everything is green and smells of Evergreen wreaths and Christmas candles! There is a sharp contrast between the desolate, subtle ups and downs of the Dodson and lower Juniper trail and the quickly ascending switchbacks and rock-steps of the higher Juniper trail. Now, unfortunately, I did not read carefully about the Juniper Springs access trail/point and did not check it out. I remember distinctly passing by the side-trail at the point just below the 'zone camping begins in .25 miles" sign and thinking, 'hmm... i wonder where that goes.' The side-trail there is pretty obvious. Thankfully, others have visited and have posted this weekend that there is currently enough water for filtering at the Juniper springs location. I finished the day hiking up the Pinnacles trail to Toll Mountain 1 designated bc campsite. Along the way, I checked out Boot Springs (the second time going by it--what a beautiful place/area!) and there is water flowing out of the pipe, somewhere between a school water-fountain and weak faucet in flow/volume, to use very standardized measurements. I estimate this day was about 16 mi., w/ very significant elevation gain. Like summit day of an alpine climb-type elevation gain.

My 2 cents is that it is incredibly worth it to try the approach from this direction--the hike up the final couple of miles of the Juniper trail is strenuous, but the views are phenomenal, as is the fresh Juniper-y air. Also, there is a beautiful little spot, I'm guessing just above where the spring is located, where there are some large boulders and shady trees, and steps made of stone placed into the ridge to make the climb up and out nice and comfy and stable. I don't know if this spot has a name, but I believe it should! Hobbit's Hollow is how I'll think of it--reminded me of a scene or two in the Lord of the Rings. A beautiful, peaceful little place, and in the afternoon/evening, just the perfect place for a quick rest before the last push to Boot Springs/South Rim intersection higher up and in.

A note about the Toll Mountain site: I reserved the site for the correct day and everything checked out at Panther Junction HQ on Thurs. I arrived at the site somewhat late in the day on Saturday and discovered a tent already there, set-up. Another hiker had already arrived at the site, placed the rest of equipment in the food-storage box, and I assumed (as it turns out, correctly), hiked up to Emory Peak to watch the sunset. I loitered around the site to find out what was going on with--also because I was pretty trail-weary and didn't want to move on--and when the hiker returned, we discovered that both of us had reserved the same spot on the same day. We decided there must have been an error in the Park's designated backcountry site registration system and ended up sharing the site, which was especially simple since there are two bear-proof food storage containers at Toll Mountain 1--plenty of room. I learned I was wrong to assume that my fellow hiker had ignored protocol and simply occupied an empty site without registering.

Sunday, I started early and hiked up to Emory Peak to watch the sun rise. Breathtakingly beautiful. Some nice little rock scrambling to do  (with for the most part very solid rock) at the top if you like! I enjoyed the last of my instant coffee for the trip, heated up using the very last of the fuel in the 100g Jetboil canister I was carrying. Too perfect, right? And on the way back down Emory Peak, I'm quite sure that I witnessed (from a healthy distance!) a mountain lion chase down a deer for breakfast. Quite the experience of nature, this Big Bend NP place. Now how neat is that?? (that's pretty neat).

Then with the hike down to the Basin, I believe that put Sunday between 5.5 and 6 miles. In total, doing this route, counter-clockwise OML with the Southern Rim loop added in towards the front end, and Emory Peak at the finish, will put you at about 43ish miles by my estimation. If someone with some nice mapping software or a GPS device was to calculate it, that might be helpful for future reference for others, since It turned out to be a pretty unbeatable experience, and I'd highly recommend going this route. Taking it a more leisurely pace would also be lovely! There are plenty of amazing campsites along the way, so if there's time, add on an extra day/night! Having the water situation more dialed in would also be a good idea, especially taking into account the recent data of water availability. i decided to visit the water cache at HW well within the first 1/2 of the hike (going counter-clockwise), hence the need to carry so much water for the Dodson and remainder. Even with carrying so much agua, I still carried a back-up water treatment in case I needed it. All the talk about it being a good thing to have a backup plan for water (and plenty of it) out there seems like primo advice to me.

One last note, and the reason I *'d the part about checking in at Panther junction above: I understand that typically for solo OML hikers, the NPS personnel will at least ask if you wish to do the very thorough check-in process, including taking pictures, filling out extra forms, making plaster casts of your boots and body, doing a full background check, and I could exaggerate on... This was not my experience at Panther Junction. Perhaps it was due to the office's busy-ness at the time, or to the working experience level of the NPS staff helping at the desk. Anyhow, I was not disappointed in the least--happy not to do the extra stuff with the extra "grilling", is i think how one person put it in another forum post. I'm curious, though: has this been others' experience as well?

Finally lastly: a couple points about gear choices, if you're interested and find this sort of thing helpful. I like hiking in trail-running shoes, and pretty minimalist ones at that. This is my preference now for a variety of reasons: they are comfy, natural-feeling, light, and grippy, and although it was irrelevant at Big Bend this time, they are nice in that they dry very rapidly if they get wet. For those with similar preferences, it is worth noting that parts of the Dodson and Juniper trails are quite overgrown with all manner of spiny and prickly encroachments. Any bushwhacking you do for zone camping sites or nature's call breaks are likely to have the same effect: with a lightweight minimalist trail shoe, I had plenty of issues with spikes going after my feet from all angles--top, sides, and even through the outsole on the bottom. Plus, the loose, rough rock especially on the Dodson just flat out wears on your feet if you don't have much cushioning under them. Especially when carrying gear plus 18 ilbs of H20! As a solution, you might be able to find an ankle gaiter that provides a little protection for the foot as well as the ankle. Nice for keeping sand and little rocks and poky things out of the shoes, too. A shoe with either a pretty sturdy poky-proof outsole, or a healthy bit of cushioning, maybe like Altra's trail-runners or something, might be a good (or even great) idea. Additionally, I would highly recommend lightweight, quick-drying hiking pants. You will probably have a lot of extra scratches on your calves and shins if you do not wear the longer variety of pant. Some people like the scratched-up, more tough-looking aesthetic, though, so keep that in mind, I guess. Still, blood-loss is not the best way to shed trail weight. Or so I've heard. Trekking poles would help keep the poky stuff at bay, too, and be wonderful for all of the ascending and descending. On a different note, I did not bring a tent with me, and if the forecast is clear and you have a good sleep system (warm pad, bag, and ground cover and/or emergency blanket), I'd absolutely recommend this, too. The skies at Big Bend are supremely spectacular. There must have been a meteor shower either going on or recently or coming soon this past weekend... Sunday night I was seeing "shooting stars" about every 20 seconds. It was pretty unreal. With the currently waning crescent moon and utter lack of light pollution, it is really dark out there, and the amount of stars and quality of the view of the milky way is incredible.

Truly a phenomenal hike in an awe-inspiring place; i'm grateful for your help in planning, Big Bend forum community! Hope someone can make use of this contribution. -Chris

Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: sydneybvk on November 14, 2017, 12:26:19 PM
Thanks, Chris for this wonderful post! Iím heading out this Friday and S
am so excited!! Itís good to know there was plenty of water because i was planning to carry about as much as you did!
Thanks again and Iím glad you enjoyed it!
Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: nuggetf5 on November 14, 2017, 12:50:22 PM
Chris, great report, descriptions, etc. Howdy from a fellow Kansan.
Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: House Made of Dawn on November 14, 2017, 01:26:15 PM
An absolutely wonderful trip report in every way, Chris!  Congrats on the trip and the report. You may have had the single best first-time trip to Big Bend that anyone's ever reported.  Sunrise on Emory, a full circuit of the Rim, the incredible vistas that come with a hike UP Juniper Canyon, a camp in sight of Laguna Meadow with a clear night and just enough moonlight to make it glow, a camp on the high pass above Homer Wilson, a wet Fresno, a wet Boot Canyon, good weather and reasonable temps, meteor showers, and a mountain lion, too!  In 25 years worth of visits to Big Bend, I've only had two mountain lion encounters, and never anywhere seen one chase down a deer.

Great descriptions of everything from trail conditions to equipment selection and hiking strategies. Plenty of useful details that others can benefit from.  It's also clear you earned every mile and every experience. A well-planned and well-executed trip! And you have a delightful authorial voice. I enjoyed spending some time with you in the Bend (vicariously).  Looking forward to your NEXT report from The Bend.


Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: mule ears on November 15, 2017, 06:52:46 AM
Chris great first post and trip report and  :welcome: to the board!  And thanks for giving us a report, many folks join BBC, maybe ask a few questions but never give anything back.  It's hard to have up to date water reports if folks don't take the time to post them.  Sounds like there is still good water in the Chisos and I usually will rely on water reports that are several weeks old, up to a month depending on the water source, like Fresno creek.

You were moving along well and I like a counter clockwise loop.  I much prefer going down Blue Creek and up Juniper.  I also agree that not going by the South Rim is the major flaw in the NPS itinerary.

Just for your info I have your mileage at 41 total, maybe 42 as there is some question if the Dodson is 10 miles or 11 miles long.  3.5 the first day, 16.6 the second, 15.1 the third day (16.1? depending on the Dodson) and 5.8 the last day.  Not sure if you found the OML FAQ  ( has mileage logs compiled from various official sources.

I am also with you on cowboy camping to take in the night sky.  You caught the beginning of the Leonid meteor shower that started around the 5th and peaks this Friday the 17th.  Well played all around!   :great:
Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: tbone on November 15, 2017, 10:05:33 AM
An absolutely wonderful trip report in every way, Chris! 
Yeah, but it'd be more wonderful with pics!!!  :eusa_dance:
Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: wrangler88 on November 15, 2017, 01:33:06 PM
Awesome trip report! I too would love to see pictures.

This is very similar to what I'm planning for February. Sounds like it worked out very well for you.
Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: hiker4Life on November 15, 2017, 02:00:10 PM
I'm so impressed with the big bend community and this forum--thanks so much to you who are Big Bend veterans for replying; for the affirmation on the trip and post. What a group!

Sydneybvk -- have a wonderful hike this weekend! And wow--thanks a million to Mule ears for the mileage count and link AND for the data on the Leonid shower! The peak is this Friday--hoping the sky is clear for your hike Syndeybvk--you are in for a truly spectacular spectacle :)

Tbone and wrangler88-- You are SO RIGHT! Tragically, the one thing that DID NOT work out for me was the electronic technology I was carrying: i don't have a camera, so used my phone's built in photo-taking device. I took actually quite a lot of pictures, at least for me. I do not know how or why, why WHY!... but I lost all of them. They up and RUNNOFT as cousin Pete would say. My phone's a little old and cranky, so I have to be patient, but still... I do have the memories though, for now, and try to share 'em the best I can, and now am finding that I would encourage anyone and everyone to go and make their own memories in this place. And take pictures if you want. And NOT lose them.

Hello nuggetf5, Alright, a fellow Kansan! These days, I live/work in a shelter for refugees. One of them asked me the other day--"is Kansas Texas?" Haha, I'm thinking, 'well, it pretty much is, in at least a few ways!' But there is no Big Bend there! The Flint Hills, Konza Prairie, the wheat fields,'s definitely worth a visit and a hike, in my little opinion. But I'm biased, since that's still home for me--good to hear there's company out here!
Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: nuggetf5 on November 15, 2017, 04:35:43 PM
Hello nuggetf5, Alright, a fellow Kansan! These days, I live/work in a shelter for refugees. One of them asked me the other day--"is Kansas Texas?" Haha, I'm thinking, 'well, it pretty much is, in at least a few ways!' But there is no Big Bend there! The Flint Hills, Konza Prairie, the wheat fields,'s definitely worth a visit and a hike, in my little opinion. But I'm biased, since that's still home for me--good to hear there's company out here!

The quote where I am of course is, "I'm not from Kansas, I'm from Lawrence." Sort of the Austin of the Sunflower State for the Texans reading this. Well, you sure had a kick-ass hike there. If you haven't checked out the 15 mile one-way at Elk City Lake near Independence, KS, it's a very challenging hike a Big Bender/OML type would enjoy. You're right, there's nothing approaching Big Bend here, that's for sure.

I'm just trying to schedule a return trip in the Spring to do a bunch of day hikes there I've never done.
Title: Re: OML plus South Rim and Emory Peak, w/ route info, water report (Nov. 9-12, 2017)
Post by: JRinGeorgia on November 16, 2017, 07:26:51 PM
Thanks Chris for the great TR. Very helpful to me as I'm planning a first-time trip for January. One thing in particular you mention that I haven't seen discussed elsewhere -- shoes. I too hike in trail runners and had not even considered that spiky plants could poke me through the shoes.  My shoes aren't minimalist but they still are mostly mesh around the upper. I also have Dirty Girl gaiters but don't know that they will protect against needle-like desert plants. How much did you actually get poked and scraped?

Moderator Note:  Followups on footwear choices moved to the What's your choice in footwear? ('s-your-choice-in-footwear/msg157800/#msg157800) topic.