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OML Trip Report - April 7-9 2017

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Offline Goose1221

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OML Trip Report - April 7-9 2017
« on: April 10, 2017, 05:32:29 PM »
        While preparing for our OML trip, Big Bend Chat proved to be a wealth of knowledge and contributed greatly to our good planning and success. So, I wanted to contribute my experience to this excellent resource.  My buddy Seth and I planned to do the OML clockwise, spending night one along the Dodson and night two just past Homer Wilson Ranch. When reading trip reports, I always appreciate knowing a bit about the physical condition of the author to help me better judge the difficulty of the trail. We are both 27 years old and semi-experienced backpackers having each been on a handful of trips (less than ten).  We are both in good shape; Seth is a climber and regularly lifts weights, while I am a runner averaging about 10-15 miles per week for the last several years.

Thursday, April 6th
   
   Seth and I departed immediately after work with the goal of making it to Fort Stockton and finding a cheap motel before pushing on to Big Bend early the next morning.  Given that we were going to spend a total of about 6 hours in our room, we were looking for the most inexpensive option. We stayed at the Budget Inn for $77 and were quite pleased with the price for two double beds, a clean room, and a shower with decent water pressure. We arrived a little after midnight and quickly tried to get some sleep knowing that we planned to depart early the next morning.  Neither Seth nor I have ever been to Big Bend and the anticipation made sleep difficult to come by.

Friday, April 7th

   Our trip to backpack the OML had pretty tight time constraints because we were only able to take one day off work and had about a ten-hour travel time each direction.  Knowing that we needed to cache water, acquire our backcountry permits, and cover about 12 miles on the first day we set out at 6 am. This allowed us to travel the 2.5 hours from Fort Stockton to Homer Wilson Ranch, cache our water, and then travel the 30 minutes back to Panther Junction Visitor Center.  We arrived at the visitor center right about the time they open, 9am. We talked to a very friendly ranger, Bob, who was happy to give us permits to backpack the OML and informed us that we would be the only group out there so far this weekend.  We told Bob about the group of elk we saw in the park and he immediately asked us for details (number and location).  Apparently the elk are pushing into the park from the surrounding area and are not welcome, as they are not native and compete for the limited desert resources.  With permits in hand we headed off to the Chisos Basin trailhead to start our clockwise loop on the Pinnacles Trail.



          We parked near the Chisos Mountains Lodge, geared up and hit the trail at 10:15 am. Knowing the forecast for Saturday and Sunday called for temps in the low to mid nineties I carried 9 liters of water and Seth carried 8. Our pack weights started just north of 40 pounds each. Not ideal, but considering we were carrying nearly 20 pounds of water each we had to deal with it.  We set out on the Pinnacles Trail and immediately started climbing. The Pinnacles trail offers some pretty views of Chisos Basin and the pinnacles are unique.  Itís a moderately tough climb right out of the gate with heavy packs, but fresh legs prevailed and we quickly came to the turn off for Emory Peak, a detour we chose to save for another trip because of our tight time window.  We continued onto Boot Canyon trail, and immediately noticed a precipitous drop in the number of fellow hikers.  Most people were day hiking to Emory Peak.  We did pass a large group of backpackers coming back from a trip to the South Rim, where they clearly had a great time.  I regretted not being able to see the South Rim on this trip either, but told myself to that I will make another trip to see the South Rim and Emory peak. As the temperatures steadily rose, we made our way to Juniper Canyon Trail. After turning onto Juniper Canyon Trail, we did not see another soul until we reached Homer Wilson Ranch.  A mile or two into our descent to the desert floor we came across a shady patch of boulders and took the opportunity to relax in the shade and eat lunch. 



          We reached the Dodson around 4 pm and had planned to hike only a mile along the Dodson before setting up camp, but we decided to push on knowing tomorrow would be hotter. Plus we had already hiked through the hottest part of the day.  We set up camp a bit shy of Dodson Spring and estimated that we had covered about 14 miles that day.  We chose to forgo bringing a camp stove and just ate dry food (mostly nuts, pro bars, peanut butter and tortillas).  Having consumed a liter of water before we hit the trail, I guzzled five more liters of water that day, leaving me four more to make it to Homer Wilson.  Seth had also consumed a liter before setting out and consumed four more on the trail.  We were both well hydrated with this amount.  We sat around the campsite and read for the next several hours, me on my kindle, and Seth on his phone. I was reading Slaughterhouse Five, and highly recommend it. We watched the sun set and I continued to read by headlamp until my eyelids grew heavy. When I couldnít keep them open any longer I decided to turn in, it was 10 pm.  Sleep came easy.

Saturday, April 8th

   We planned to get up around 6 am, pack up and head out at first light to beat the heat. However, we lacked the discipline to get up in the dark so we slept a bit more and got up at 7 am.  We quickly packed up, ate breakfast and set out. We were on the trail by 7:45 am.  Estimating that we had about 8 miles to cover before reaching Homer Wilson, we both realized we had a lot of water and drank liberally the whole way to the ranch.  The area around Dodson Spring and Fresno Creek is really pretty. Fresno creek wasnít running, but there were many large pools of water that, if treated would have been just fine. Having more than enough water, we left Fresno Creek alone and pushed on toward the ranch. The Dodson was my favorite part of the trip. I loved the openness of the desert, the beautiful flowers and different shapes and sizes of the hills and mountains as they meshed together. The views of the South Rim were truly exquisite and we had the good fortune to see them bathed in morning light. Roughly a mile or two before reaching the ranch, there is a steep climb that is gratuitously rewarded by one of my favorite views of the trip.  For us, it was unexpected and breathtaking. It felt like we could see forever. We stopped to have a bite to eat and enjoy the view for a while before moving on to the ranch. We had been averaging about 2 miles per hour regardless of terrain and this morning was no different.  We reached Homer Wilson Ranch just before noon and relaxed in the glorious shade of the porch. 



         After lazing about for an hour we made the trek to the bear box and grabbed our water.  We had stashed 3 gallons. We each took 5 liters for the remainder of the trip and then chugged to our hearts content.  It was now 1 pm and the day was getting very hot.  Seeing that there were several gallons of cached emergency water for OML groups in need, we chose to give ourselves a little shower with the remaining quarter of a gallon.  Even though the water wasnít cold, it was shocking juxtaposed with the mid-day heat. Refreshed and restocked we were ready to move on, but our permit stated we would camp in zone CO5 that night, which meant that we could only hike another 3.5 miles that day to the edge of zone camping.  So we decided to hang out at the ranch all afternoon.  We inflated our sleeping pads on the porch and lazed about in the shade reading, napping and goofing off.  After spending four hours at the ranch we got back on the trail at 4 pm to cover the last few miles of the day.

         It was brutally hot but there were little patches of shade along the start of the Blue Creek Trail.  We knew we were walking out into the hottest part of the day, but we were in good spirits and had plenty of water. The heat was something to experience; the sun beats down on you oppressively and the desert floor radiates the heat back up at you.  The Blue Creek trail follows a river bed, presumably that of Blue Creek, for a long way. It was a nice steady grade but the small rocks that make up the creek bed are like walking in sand.  This part of the trail featured red rocks and spires that vaguely reminded me of my trip to Canyonlands National Park. I was again struck by the amazing diversity of rock color and formations I had witnessed in the last 2 days. After a moderate and continuous climb along Blue Creek Trail we reached a small, forested area about 3.5 miles from Homer Wilson Ranch.  By our estimation, we were very near the edge of zone camping so we called it a day. We set up camp around 6 pm and enjoyed the shade. After eating dinner and reading a while I decided to wander up the trail with the camera to see if I could catch some good views of rock formations in the setting sun. The downside to camping in the shade is that you donít get to enjoy the views. I watched the sun set, but our location didnít offer dramatic views. 

         Seth and I prepared for the following day by consolidating our water, and reviewing the map. We estimated that we had a 6-mile hike back to the car, a much shorter hike than we had anticipated when we planned the trip.  We were quite pleased by this because we had a 10-hour drive home followed by work the next morning.  We knew we were in for a good climb in the morning, and we each set aside 3 liters for the trek back to the car.  To be honest, I think we were more hydrated throughout this trip than we normally are in our daily lives. Seth and I both felt prepared for the climb back to the basin the following morning.

         Knowing Big Bendís reputation for an exquisite night sky, we were disappointed to realize that the moon was nearly full during our trip. This prevented us from admiring the night sky in all its glory. The moon was incredibly bright, even at night you could see quite easily.  Shortly after laying down for the night, I heard something big trampling up the riverbed next to our campsite.  I nudged Seth on the elbow, to cause him to remove his headphones. I was certain that a bear was walking up the riverbed; I later learned that there is an estimated 15-20 bears in the park making encounters unlikely. I whispered to Seth, ďI hear something bigĒ.  He sat up, looking down the riverbed and reported that two people were coming up the riverbed with headlamps on.  We said hello and they told us they were looking for a spring.  We told them we hadnít seen any water since Fresno and asked if they were in need. They told us no, they were looking out of curiosity and that one of them was an aspiring spring ranger.  Iím not even sure what a spring ranger is.  I fell asleep and slept well.

Sunday, April 9th

   Once again we rose at 7, packed up and hit the trail at 7:45 am. Immediately out of our campsite the trail rose steeply.  We quickly realized we had made the right call by camping where we did, as the rest of the Blue Creek trail was far too steep to camp on. We kept a steady pace up the trail, which was a combination of switchbacks, short flat stretches and steep grades right up the mountainside. This certainly got our hearts pumping. We took frequent short breaks to admire the view behind us as we climbed. The climb was shaded the whole way, and I imagined how terrible it would be to have climbed this in the late afternoon sun.  After an hour of climbing, we made it to the Laguna Meadow Trail.  There are a series of designated campsites in this area and compost toilet.  We saw what we thought was bear scat along the trail here. Shortly after this we came across a short side trail that led to a beautiful overlook.  There are many great views of Chisos Basin along the trail here. We slowly descended back to the Chisos Basin trailhead and reached the car at 10:30 am. Our first order of business was a celebratory beer, followed by a sink shower and change of clothes. We stopped in the visitor center to buy a patch and Gatorade before hitting the road at about 11:15 am.  Big Bend is a spectacular park with a great diversity of views.  I always enjoy the quiet and thoughtful state of mind that the backcountry provides me.  I will definitely be back. 



   In preparing for this trip I spent a lot of time wondering whether an April OML trip was wise.  For us, this was a very enjoyable experience with only minimal suffering. My advice to others is as follows:

-Be honest with yourself about your physical fitness
-Gather knowledge and plan your trip meticulously
-Cache water at the ranch and carry 4 liters per day
-Try to keep your pack as light as possible without forgoing essentials
-Move in the early morning and late evening while relaxing in the shade during the afternoon
-Enjoy yourself! Itís a privilege to get to experience this!

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Offline catz

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Re: OML Trip Report - April 7-9 2017
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2017, 05:52:53 PM »
Nice job, Goose!  And thanks for an excellent trip report, too.
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: OML Trip Report - April 7-9 2017
« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2017, 06:53:25 PM »
Goose, thank you for a great report and acknowledging our efforts here at BBC in trying to help folks have a good and safe trip.

Your final list of things to do for a hot weather OML is dead on.  My only addition would have been to carry even less water weight by using Fresno but I understand that folks are sometimes squeamish about natural water sources.

Glad you made it! :great:
« Last Edit: April 11, 2017, 06:31:22 AM by mule ears »
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 DesertRatShorty

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Re: OML Trip Report - April 7-9 2017
« Reply #3 on: April 10, 2017, 09:24:34 PM »
Glad you guys had a good time. Did you happen to carry a thermometer? Just trying to put the four liters per day in context.
I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
   To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

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Offline badknees

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Re: OML Trip Report - April 7-9 2017
« Reply #4 on: April 10, 2017, 09:25:54 PM »
Good to hear that BBC served you well. Good trip report.....
Not all those who wander are lost.
Ė J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
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Offline Goose1221

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Re: OML Trip Report - April 7-9 2017
« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2017, 09:32:57 PM »
Glad you guys had a good time. Did you happen to carry a thermometer? Just trying to put the four liters per day in context.

No, we didn't have a thermometer.  The only added context I can provide is that weather reports for Big Bend report that the temperature was between 91 and 96 on Saturday and Sunday, depending on the source.  I have no idea where these readings were taken from either. 

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Offline badknees

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Re: OML Trip Report - April 7-9 2017
« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2017, 09:38:50 PM »
Max temp at Panther Junction was 93 on Saturday. The Dodson was probably a bit warmer than than. Of course, out of the shade, the effect is much amplified.
Not all those who wander are lost.
Ė J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
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