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OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18

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Offline ckrenitsky

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OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« on: January 13, 2018, 02:44:26 PM »
Route:
Mon, 1/8: Basin-->Juniper (near Dodson trailhead)
Tues, 1/9: Dodson-->Homer Wilson ranch-->Blue Creek
Wed, 1/10: Blue Creek-->South Rim-->Basin (via Laguna Meadows)

I really like the NPS recommended route. The views descending Juniper on Day 1 are pretty spectacular, and it turns Dodson into a pretty easy Day 2 (in the cooler winter months). Throwing South Rim as a Day 3 add-on made for a fantastic climax to the trip on the final day.

Water Report:
There is water in Boot Spring and Fresno Creek

Gear:
I brought a 70L pack with a 2 lb tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, solar lamp, headlamp, cathole trowel, water filter, solar USB phone charger, light jacket, extra socks, 6L of collapsible water bottles, and about 10k calories of food (mainly protein bars, trail mix, PB, chocolate, and bagels. I cached 2 gallons of water at Dodson before starting. My pack was 35-40 lbs at start, which was slightly heavier than I recommend (I'm a 6'3", 175 lb, 29yo male).

In retrospect, I'd go lighter on the food, as I only ate about 75% of what I packed. I think packing 5L of water is probably the right number in the winter months for water, so long as you drink a few liters the night/morning before Day 1, and cache 2 gallons at Dodson to refuel on Day 2.

Clothes/Footwear:
I was going to wear running shoes, but read from many on this site that hiking shoes were highly recommended due to the terrain. I stopped at REI two days before the trip to get hiking shoes, and I'm very glad that I did. Much of the trail (esp Juniper and Dodson) is jagged, rocky terrain and it would be tough on your feet / treads to do it in running shoes.

The temperatures were mid 60s during the day, and in the 40s at night. I wore sweat-wicking shirts and shorts with long socks. I strongly recommend wearing some trail pants over shorts - I got a lot of scratches and cactus needles on my calves/knees from plants that have grown into the trail. Nothing too bad, but pants would be more comfortable.

Mon, 1/8:
I stayed in Alpine (2 hour north of the park) the night before starting the hike. I left my hotel at 5:30am, got to Homer Wilson Ranch at 7:30am to cache 2 gallons of water, and (after taking some sunrise pics at various points in the park) got to the Basin just before 8:30am to register. Solo registration was a breeze - I just told the ranger which zones I planned camp in and my rough plan in terms of food storage and catholes. I got to the Basin trailhead and started by 9am.

I found the first 3 miles of the Pinnacle trail to be the hardest of the whole OML. The switchbacks are pretty steep and you're doing them at peak pack-weight, and just carrying a heavy pack is uncomfortable in the first few miles. I'm in decent shape - training about 4 days per week, but had never done a multi-day backpacking trip before, and my OML training was just a couple of weeks of intensive back/leg training and one 12 mi 30-lb pack hike. However, I was really to find out that after reaching the junction with Boot Canyon trail, the rest of Day 1 is mostly downhill or flat.

The Pinnacles trail ends with nice views of the Basin, and Boot Canyon trail leads to some nice south-facing canyon views. After heading downhill for about a mile, there is some water flowing at the Boot Spring. The Juniper trail starts with a steep ascent for about 500 ft or so, before it levels out an leads to a long, gradual descent to the canyon floor below. Along this trail, the views of Boot Rock and the ridges to the east are spectacular.

I reached the valley floor around 1:30pm. The valley floor of Juniper is about 5-10 degrees warmer than the Chisos, and I was in awe of the perfect silence. The desert plants really thrive here (and in the the Dodson). The hike is mostly flat, but a word of caution - the trail has some really shifty rocks and you should really watch out for your ankles. I rolled my left ankle twice, and once was a near sprain, which would have been a really bummer with 20+ mi to go. I took breaks every 30 min or so to drink water and only went through about 1.5L during the day's hike (I drank about 2L in the morning before starting the hike)

Around 3:30pm, I made it to the Dodson trailhead and backtracked about 100 yards to an open campsite at the end of the Juniper trail. The panoramic views of the canyons and ridges in this area are spectacular and the Monday sunset/Tuesday sunrise were indescribably beautiful. I passed out around 7pm and slept about 12 hrs through to 7am Tuesday to catch the sunrise. I did the 11.2 mi in about 6.5 hours.

Tues, 1/9
I drank about a liter of water in the morning with breakfast to prep for the Dodson, which many have described as their hardest day. I was pleasantly surprised during the hike - I'm sure that Dodson gets terrifically hot during the summer with its desert conditions, but I found it to be a much easier hike in January than Pinnacle or upper Blue Creek (which both have way more gain). The Dodson also has slightly less monumental views than the other two main sections (though it is objectively beautiful throughout), so maybe people just find that aspect to make it more a drudge as well. My body also felt fantastic after 12 hours of sleep - I can imagine day 2 being tougher if you're feeling the aches and pains already.

In any case, I spend the morning traversing the gradual ups-and-downs of the Dodson's rolling desert lowland hills. I hit Fresno Creek around 10:30, and it was a-flowing nicely. I found the cairns (rock piles) marking the trail through the Dodson to be very well-marked every few hundred feet - the trick is to look carefully both ways each time you hit a rocky creekbed, as those can often look very similar to the trail. The exception is that, just after hitting the Snowy Creek trail junction, the trail itself follows a creekbed for a few miles. From here, you get a final incline that leads to some spectacular views of the west side of the park, before the trail loops north and descends towards the Homer Wilson Ranch at 1:30.

I took a 30 min break at Homer Wilson to eat, replenish the water storage, and chug about a half gallon of water. I ran into 3 people at the bearbox, after only having seen one group through the entire Dodson. At 2, I headed up the Blue Creek trail.

I may have been a bit drunk off hydration, but I found the start of the Blue Creek trail more difficult to follow than the Dodson. I ended up off-trail in the creekbed for most of the first mile, which was fine since it runs parallel. The gravel does make the trail a bit more of a work-out (as well as the fact that the cached water increases your packweight again), but it's very flat during this gravelly section. Some cool red rock and limestone walls emerge in the next few miles of the trail, before the Blue Creek trail becomes a dirt path and hits an incline.

I had ambitions to get as far up the Blue Creek trail camping zone as possible to make camp, as I wanted to hit the South Rim for sunrise on Day 3. Around 4pm, after doing about 750-1000 ft of gain, I found a nice spot alongside the trail to set camp. It's tough to get primo views in this campzone as its deep in the canyon, but it was a pretty, peaceful section and was very quiet (in Juniper there was a group of campers a few hundred yards from me). I got to sleep around 9pm, jonzing for an epic sunrise in the morning. This was my longest hiking day - about 14.5 mi in 8 hours.

Wed, 1/10
I woke up around 4:45am and decided to go for it - do a night hike the final 4.5 mi to South Rim to catch sunrise. I broke camp, turned on the headlamp and solar lantern, and set off at a purposeful pace. I went offtrail at a few points in Blue Creek with the limited light, but once the switchbacks hit it was easy to follow. The last 2 miles of the Blue Creek trail have some nice elevation gain to them (~1,000 ft), and you gain an additional 1,000 ft on the South Rim Trail heading south. My legs were pretty sore after day 2, but I really wanted to have a strong finish to the Loop.

I hit the South Rim trail around 6:15am and ramped up the pace further, knowing that the colors would start coming out around 7:15. With heavy breath, I made it to the rim by 7:20, as the canyon floor below was starting to wake from its slumber in a bath of pink, purple, orange, and cool blue. For the next hour, I had the whole rim to myself to watch the colors change and eat breakfast. I will never forget that morning.

I started my journey back to the Basin via Boot Canyon trail, which had some pretty meadows and miles of trail-side spring in its steady descent. I connected back on the Colima trail, which had a nice final 750-1,000 ft of gain, but also gave me the opportunity to run into a family of white-tailed deer and get some great pictures as they froze and stared at me (thanks guys!). I re-treaded the 0.8 mi strip back to the Blue Creek/Laguna junction that I had done in the pre-dawn darkness, and got the Blue Creek canyon views. After starting Laguna Meadow trail, it was 3.3 mi of easy-street down to the Basin. I saw more people in those 3 miles (around 10) than I had seen since the end of the Pinnacle trail on Day 1. I reached the Basin trailhead at 11:30am, capping off Day 3 (11 mi, 6.5 hours).

In summary, the OML was a pretty life-changing experience, particularly as my first solo. It's a workout, but if you work out regularly and are prepared with water, it's nothing to be afraid of. I did not see any bears/javelinas while camping so I wouldn't worry about that too much (the rangers certainly weren't too concerned), as I don't believe there have been incidents outside the Chisos. As others have said, just keep your pack as light as possible and   get prepared to have a life-changing adventure!

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Offline mule ears

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2018, 03:00:36 PM »
Great first post ckrenitsky!   :welcome:

That is great that you made the south rim for sunrise, especially with that climb up Blue Creek!  Thanks for all the details, well documented and described, especially the parts about the Dodson and taking care to watch at the wash crossings.  I don't think you were "drunk off hydration", that first part of the Blue Creek trail in the soft gravels is just a pain!

Where were you driving in from?
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 House Made of Dawn

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2018, 04:54:19 PM »
What a GREAT trip! And what a mind-blowing experience for a first multi-day backpack! But you earned it: you packed smart, hiked smart, and pushed hard to get what you wanted. Well done!

Sunrise from the rim is a pretty rare experience. I bet you’ll remember that one forever. And I agree about the beauty of the basin at the bottom of the Juniper Canyon trail. Some people hike down that trail, hell-bent-for-leather, and never take the time to turn around and appreciate the majestic cliffs behind them.


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Offline ckrenitsky

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2018, 12:56:42 AM »
Thanks for the kind words! I came in from San Francisco via Austin.

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2018, 10:49:51 AM »
That was a great read/post, love to see some pictures when you can.

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Offline badknees

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2018, 11:03:19 AM »
Sunrise on the Rim is a special experience. Light, shadow  and color paint a dynamic that is uniquely Big Bend.

Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
http://mirrormagic.com

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2018, 12:09:59 PM »
Sunrise on the Rim is a special experience. Light, shadow  and color paint a dynamic that is uniquely Big Bend.



 :great:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Jalco

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2018, 01:39:31 PM »
Sunrise on the Rim is a special experience. Light, shadow  and color paint a dynamic that is uniquely Big Bend.



One of my all time favorite pics of the Bend.  It makes me sick, though.....
-with envy (for the photographer's skill)
-with appreciation (for his willingness to share)
-with longing (to be sitting right there, right now)
 :great:

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Offline dprather

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2018, 03:20:41 PM »
Most sincere thanks for a stirring report, and most sincere congratulations on an outstanding OML.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline nuggetf5

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2018, 07:10:08 PM »
Great report, always enjoy the hikes of others like this.

badknees I'm so stealing that picture for my laptop desk background. That is a remarkable photo.
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Offline badknees

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #10 on: January 14, 2018, 10:14:27 PM »

badknees I'm so stealing that picture for my laptop desk background. That is a remarkable photo.

You have my blessing.
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
http://mirrormagic.com

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Offline Losthiker68

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2018, 10:18:19 AM »
My wife is an artist. When I showed her your photo, she said, "I'd paint that in a hearbeat!" Then told me to make sure when I go in December I get lots of shots for her to paint, especially ones like that.

I'm planning on spending the night on the South Rim so hopefully I'll get sunrise, sunset, and good deep sky shots.
Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you. - John Muir

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Offline Glaros

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Re: OML + South Rim Solo Trip Report, 1/8/18 - 1/10/18
« Reply #12 on: August 10, 2018, 08:55:31 AM »
Bravo. Thanks for a great narrative. Happy trails, m


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