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Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version

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Offline badknees

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #15 on: February 28, 2017, 11:16:15 AM »
Liberty to Ft. Davis State Park (enjoyable, but uneventful)

Our new habit is to eat lunch a Lum's BBQ in Junction.  There is a Cooper's BBQ right on the access road, but Lum's is a local place and an old place.  You have to get off the highway to find it.  Highly recommended.  Ask for the medium rare BBQ brisket.


+1 on Lum's. We always stop there on the way to Sonora (hunting trips). Cooper's sucks. Lum's is about 1 mile SOUTH of Junction on 377 on the west side of the road. Family run...good BBQ
Not all those who wander are lost.
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Offline tandl

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #16 on: February 28, 2017, 11:49:19 AM »
It definitely sounds like after Casa Reza the OP did not see where the trail exits from the streambed to the right at the first big boulder/cascade to bypass all the scrambly bits.  We missed it too when we were there at Christmas: the markers at the exit were overgrow but the wife noticed cairns above us and when we backtracked we could see the exit  easily because of the different angle.  If you find yourself needing to climb up a boulder, you missed the turnoff.  You can definitely stay in the streambed, though; the main trail reconnects with it above the spring (Panther I believe) but from above it looked like there was a lot of boulder climbing (confirmed by dprathers report) which is probably why the main trail goes higher up.  If anyone reading this wants to go to Panther Spring, stay in the streambed; where the marked trail passes the spring is too high up and too steep to descend from.  Alternatively you could take the main trail past the spring and then work your way back down to the spring once the marked trail re-connects to the streambed.  That said, the spring is irrelevant from a watering perspective since it is only an hour or so past Casa Reza and you should still have plenty of water, and Rancherias Spring where you normally camp the second night is not all that far.

Speaking of Casa Reza, there are great camp sites on the other side of the spring from the actual casas.  When you get to the part of the trail that climbs up out the beginning of the spring to the casas proper, instead continue upstream toward the spring (it is a little brushy) and look for cairns on the right leading up a small wash onto higher and flatter ground.  There are multiple cleared campsites.  According to Ranger Tim (who tipped us off to these sites) the Casas themselves are also infested with mice, which is another good reason not to camp close to them under normal conditions.

Another observation I had about the Casa Reza area is that the drop into Panther Canyon is tricky, probably the second most dangerous part of the trail.  It doesn't look that scary, but there are a LOT of loose fist sized rocks, pebbles and broken slate and the trail is deceptively steep (although there is not a sheer dropoff like on the talus slope).  It was pretty overgrown in this area at Christmas making it difficult to stay on the path over much of the descent.  Add to this the fact that you are at the end of a hard day of hiking and probably very tired (we were) and that you can see the Casa across the canyon which will tempt you to hurry/be less alert since the goal is in sight.

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Offline tandl

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #17 on: February 28, 2017, 12:21:18 PM »
Relating to being tired during the drop into Panther Canyon, my number one piece of advice about doing Rancherias for the first time is: do not put yourself under time pressure on the first day.  The first day is both the longest and most physically demanding of the trip.  We started out 20 minutes after first light and got to Casa Reza with only an hour left of daylight  to set up camp and get water. (We did dawdle at lunch though.)  We were there just after solstice, but the days will inevitably be short during the times of year that the weather is cool enough to make the loop possible.  We did our check-in at the Ranger station the night before and then stayed in Lajitas  overnight so we could be up and on the road to the trailhead before dawn.  If you start at 10 or later you run a real risk of not making it to Casa Reza before dark.  The descent from the Acebuches/Panther saddle down to Casa Reza will take an hour and there is nowhere you could reasonably make camp until you get to the bottom, so if you are running out of daylight camp on the saddle and make the descent in the morning, even if you are short on water.  That is not a section of trail you want to try to do in a hurry.  If your logistics dictate a late or even borderline start it would be a good idea to bring more water than you think you will need in case you can't make it to Reza.   Just my two cents,

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Offline dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #18 on: February 28, 2017, 12:56:46 PM »
+1 on the temptation to hurry down into Panther Canyon and on the tricky trail conditions there.  The traditional schedule has you really tired at that point, and the scene below is very, very inviting, tempting you to go faster than the conditions and cautious wisdom suggest.

As far as the second most dangerous section, we thought the trail down into Acebusches from the first low saddle was hard, and is a solid candidate for #2 (Carl has it as #1, even worse than the talus slope out of Acebusches).  The trail simply tumbles down a boulder field of fallen rock.  In addition to fairly large steps off of boulders, and steps (potentially) into ankle-twisting/leg-snapping gaps between boulders, there is also much unstable footing and loose, large rocks.  Our experienced eyes repeatedly misjudged large rocks as stable when they were, if fact, loose and "rolly."  The descent is also quite sharp, with a near-vertical fall angle (check the topo).

I write about the Rancherias Loop with trepidation.   Some people read tough and automatically think that they are tougher.   The RL is not for spring-break college rookies who get it in mind that they want to be tough guys on the fly.  I strongly recommend that those who have not hardened their core on several other of the Bend's tougher trails not attempt the RL - yet.  In addition to its other challenges, the RL has no "bail-out" points mid-trail (i.e., Homer Wilson).  If you roll an ankle back in any of the tougher places, going back or going ahead are your two choices, and neither are easy.  While we were there, we were the only backpackers in the entire BBRSP.  If you roll your ankle, there will be no friendly trail angels happening by any time soon.

As far as missing the trail above Reza - we're guilty (so much for the previous entry regarding ease of following the marked trail).  But I staffed this last night over the phone with my two amigos.  We seem to recall cairns in sequence that were at least as close together there as in other parts.  I'm glad we missed the "real" trail.  By remaining in the Panther Canyon bottom, we got to see the long-used cave, we got to see the other well-watered areas, and we got to climb the pour-offs as if that was the thing to do.  Note: we had studied the trail map and were following detailed topos, and we knew were going in the right direction - we thought there was little room outside the canyon bottom for any kind of trail up higher.  Making this mistake doesn't get you lost - Panther Canyon runs higher and higher until it plays out in the high "meadows," and by that time, the jeep road is in view.  This is no complaint - the round metal disks used by TPWD to mark critical trail locations are just not remaining glued to rocks, and we saw several just laying in the trail.     

Regarding Acebusches (which refers, I think, to the wild desert olive bush), we renamed it "ouchie-bushes" and spoke of the ouchie-bushes often.  With VERY limited trail maintenance, the many thorny plants crowd the RL and are always nearby to scratch, impale, and harpoon (I'm still pulling thorns).  We encountered a new ouchie-bush on the RL about which we were previously unfamiliar.  There is a plant that allows you to swish by without too much pain, but after you pass, the limb whips back against the back of your leg leaving several needle-sized darts.  It is as if the darts are blow-gunned off of the plant and into your flesh (the darts even resemble tiny blow-gun darts - after my first experience with them, I thought that Lilliputians were after me).  The darts penetrate deeply and have to be removed one by one - they do not brush off.   

The stark contrasts of the RL remain with me as pleasant memories.  There are tough, tough (even terrifying) trail sections - that lead you to beautiful, restful oases underneath cottonwood groves.  There are dry, dry and exposed sections - that lead you to many sweet water sources.  There are very few people - yet the history and prehistory of human occupation is very evident.   

 
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #19 on: February 28, 2017, 12:59:16 PM »
Relating to being tired during the drop into Panther Canyon, my number one piece of advice about doing Rancherias for the first time is: do not put yourself under time pressure on the first day.  The first day is both the longest and most physically demanding of the trip.  We started out 20 minutes after first light and got to Casa Reza with only an hour left of daylight  to set up camp and get water. (We did dawdle at lunch though.)  We were there just after solstice, but the days will inevitably be short during the times of year that the weather is cool enough to make the loop possible.  We did our check-in at the Ranger station the night before and then stayed in Lajitas  overnight so we could be up and on the road to the trailhead before dawn.  If you start at 10 or later you run a real risk of not making it to Casa Reza before dark.  The descent from the Acebuches/Panther saddle down to Casa Reza will take an hour and there is nowhere you could reasonably make camp until you get to the bottom, so if you are running out of daylight camp on the saddle and make the descent in the morning, even if you are short on water.  That is not a section of trail you want to try to do in a hurry.  If your logistics dictate a late or even borderline start it would be a good idea to bring more water than you think you will need in case you can't make it to Reza.   Just my two cents,

Absolutely - we began at 11:00 AM and constantly wished for at least an extra hour that first day. 
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline tandl

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #20 on: February 28, 2017, 10:03:42 PM »
Yeah the drop into Acebuches was our pick for #3 most difficult/dangerous spot; it is more extreme than the drop into Panther Canyon, but we ranked it third because it was short.  (Yes, we spent the whole car ride back talking about our favorite parts, what we thought was the scariest, which was the coolest cairn, etc.)  Don't know how it was while you were there, but at Christmas the trail across the upper part of the Talus Slope (I think it warrants capitalization) was washed out in two spots so we had to get momentum and do the trekking-pole vault to get across, so for us it was #1.  That said, the Slope was also my favorite part.  Scary but exhilarating!  Also, the view in that spot is stunning, although I had to force myself to stand still to undo the tunnel vision for a minute so I could appreciate it once we jumped across.

I would agree that the trail was not that difficult to follow overall, we were expecting worse.  Basically for the first two days as long as you are in the streambed or on the jeep trail you are fine.  We used Gaia GPS on the iPhone, but it ended up being a security blanket more than anything, as it was surprisingly easy to stay on the trail, only backtracking a couple of times.  (Take a GPS or map and compass though, or better yet both!  As dprather said, there is no bailout or easy rescue in this area, if you get lost you could easily die.)

As a side note, another great BBRSP trip is to go up Fresno Canyon via the new Contrabando Dome Trail.  We did a two night trip there last Christmas, camping at the Fresno Cascades and hiking up onto Chorro Vista for a great view across the Canyon to Solitario and the Flatirons, with the Chisos visible on the far horizon.  Much less rugged than Rancherias while still being satisfyingly challenging; there is plenty of easily accessible water with many (early 20th Century) ruins to see along the way. 

 (Sorry for hijacking your great trail report, especially since I was apparently too lazy to take the time to write one of my own!) 


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Offline Jimbow

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #21 on: February 28, 2017, 10:25:48 PM »
I'm thinking the Talus Slope and my fear of plummeting to my death makes this trip an impossibility. Am I correct in that assumption?

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Offline dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #22 on: March 01, 2017, 09:08:14 AM »
Good for you for officially capitalizing Talus Slope.  With all of the authority vested in BBC, and with the genuine heart-pounding character of that traverse, it is now official.

Note that TANDL called it "scary, but exhilarating."  With the Talus Slope, you get a two for one.  TANDL also called it the "scariest piece of official trail" he'd ever been on.  But please also recognize that TANDL's group and my group are still talking about it with huge grins across our faces.

It's been done by everyone who ever completed the RL.  Since there is no Death In Big Bend Ranch State Park, I'l have to say that no one has taken a "disasterous" (Parent's word) crash and burn there - yet.

Can you do it?  Based on the successful experiences of those who have gone before, I'd say yes.  But let the backpacker beware.



 
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline tandl

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #23 on: March 01, 2017, 09:10:34 AM »
Don't necessarily rule it out.  Before you go ask yourself a few questions.  What is the hardest hike you have done?  Do you have experience using map and compass or GPS for wayfinding?  How physically fit/capable are you?  Have you followed cairn marked trails before?  Have you been on trails that gave you vertigo, and if so were you able to overcome it and function?  If you are happy with your answers to the above questions, give yourself plenty of time, and treat the trail with respect, you will get to hike one of the best trails in the state of Texas, maybe THE best.

Rancherias is definitely challenging and has some squirrely parts, but it is doable.  The "scary" parts are definitely scary, but not outside the range of what an experienced hiker can handle (or else they would close it).  It is the most challenging "official" trail I have ever done, but if you have ever done any bushwhacking or boulder scrambling in rough country you shouldn't have much trouble.  There is also the possibility of finding a way around the Talus Slope by attempting to follow the streambed.  You won't get lost that way, the main path rejoins the streambed after the Talus Slope, and based on the Open Hiking routes I have seen, others HAVE found a path over/around the  boulder falls in the streambed.  Just make sure to build an extra hour into your plans in case you are unable to make your way through and have to go back to the Talus Slope.  And bring more water than you think you will need in case you are unable to make Casa Reza the first night.  The second and third days are much easier than the first, and the second day is short, maybe six hours of hiking, so you will be able to make it to Rancherias Spring for the second night even if you fall short of Casa Reza on the first.

Like I said before, consider trying out the upper Fresno Canyon area first (on the Western side of the park) to give you a taste of the conditions you will face and get practice following desert Cairns.  The trail up to the Fresno Cascades is easy, and at that point you can base camp and check out some of the more difficult short hikes into Arroyo Primero and up onto Chorro Vista near Madrid Falls, into Arroyo Mexicano, or up onto Chorro Vista from behind the Crawford House.  Fresno Canyon (via Contrabando Dome) is my third favorite hike in the State, (1. Rancherias 2. South Rim 3. Fresno Canyon Complex 4. McKittrick Canyon 5. Guadalupe Peak) and is worth doing regardless of your Rancherias plans.

 
« Last Edit: March 01, 2017, 09:26:01 AM by tandl »

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Offline dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #24 on: March 01, 2017, 09:14:59 AM »
 (Sorry for hijacking your great trail report, especially since I was apparently too lazy to take the time to write one of my own!)
[/quote]

Not at all!  I am greatly enjoying your contributions to OUR thread. 
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #25 on: March 01, 2017, 09:37:57 AM »
"We had to get momentum and do the trekking-pole vault to get across."

Yep - still there.  By that time, I was so strung out on adrenaline that I didn't notice those leaps as extra awful.

As I recall, one of those wash-outs was also especially crowded by a thorny bush, thus making that step even more challenging.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2017, 02:54:55 PM by dprather »
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline miatarchy04

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #26 on: March 01, 2017, 01:46:04 PM »
First post by a new member.

Its an amazing coincidence discovering this thread, because my hike of the Rancherias Loop overlapped yours. The final day of your counterclockwise hike (Feb. 21) was the first day of mine. If you drove East when you left the West Trail head you probably say my blue-green Miata parked at the Eastern Trail head.

Though I agree with everything written here about this trail. I had a very different experience. I should note that I'm 64 years old and was hiking the trail solo. I consider myself in excellent physical condition and that proved to be a very good thing. I meant my hike to be a 3 day, 2 night event like yours but it ended up being a 2 day one night out and back from Casa Reza because of equipment failure.

I didn't have any problem making Casa Reza on day one though it was a full 9.25 hour hike. People who hav'n't done this hike may find it difficult to believe that a 6-7 mile hike takes that long, but as everyone has said it is very rugged, and I was hampered by a 55 lb pack. I was unsure about the availability of water and had 10+ liters of fluid in the pack. In hindsight that was a mistake. I should've trusted the Ranger who told me there was water in the spring at Casa Reza. But I had a new, untested method of water purification (Sterilite) and wanted to pack a 2-day supply.

The mouthpiece to my Camelbak was wedged in a 1 inch crack in a boulder during a rest stop. When I lifted my pack to resume my hike it pulled out and fell down the crack. The end of my tubing turned into a fountain of flowing water. I eventually stopped this flow by tying it in a knot, but I lost an undetermined amount of water. Failure number two I didn't realize until I got to Casa Reza and made camp. My sleeping bag, which was strapped to the bottom of my pack, had worked loose and fallen about halfway into my hike. I know this because that is where I picked it up the next day. I'd packed long underwear, and had a flannel bag liner. Since it wasn't too cold that night I was able to get a good night's sleep, but I had a decision to make the next morning. Did I want to finish the hike with a defective Camelbak and no sleeping bag? I don't like littering the trail, especially with expensive pieces of my own equipment. I decided to backtrack.

I assumed the hike back would be easier than the hike in. I'd lost about 12 lbs of pack weight (water, food, sleeping bag). I'd be descending instead of ascending, and I should know the trail, having just hiked it the day before. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way. I made several mental errors, probably because of fatigue, which made the hike out much more of an ordeal.

Like everyone here who mentions it the steep descent into Panther Canyon made quite an impression on me. Unfortunately it made too strong an impression on me. I kept waiting for the super-steep ascent out of the canyon and onto the "saddle" between Panther and Acebuches Canyons. Because I never seemed to reach this ascent, I convinced myself I was on the wrong trail. I was descending instead of ascending and although I was following cairns, they looked nothing like the ones I'd seen the day before. When I saw a cairn with a goat skull on it, I knew I hadn't seen that before and started doubling back. In retrospect it is ridiculous to think the Park went to the trouble of marking a totally separate and unmapped trail out of Panther Canyon but that is what I convinced myself.  By consulting map and compass I finally realized that I was on the right trail the whole time but I lost at least an hour. The cairns did look different because I was seeing them from the opposite side. The goat skull was on the east side of the cairn and wouldn't have been seen by anyone approaching from the West.

Worse was to follow. I actually lost the trail at the worst possible moment: during the very steep descent into Acebuches Canyon. I probably missed a switchback and continued on what I thought was trail. I saw something ahead that "sorta" looked like the trail, and something that "sorta" looked like a cairn. I worked my way over to them clutching to very precarious hand and foot holds, some of which broke lose under my weight and took a disconcertingly long time to reach the Canyon floor.  I'm not sure how high I was above the floor because I didn't want to look down.  This was way more drama than I wanted, but I eventually made my way to a talus slope that I thought I could butt-slide down. This assumption proved to be correct but I was pretty cut up (by thorns) and my shorts ripped up (by rocks) by the time I reached the bottom, shaken but with no broken bones. I was about 25 yards upstream of the point where the trail ascended out of the canyon and it was obvious why it did. The canyon had a few 4-5 foot pour offs and numerous difficult boulders. It wouldn't have been that difficult for a person without a pack, but that person was not me.

I've already gone on too long with my adventures. I made at least 2 other navigation errors, and was stung by a wasp, but I'll leave those stories till later. My advice to anyone attempting this hike is pretty much what's already been said. It may sound too obvious but follow the cairns and you'll be on the trail. If you havn't seen a cairn in 35 yards (maybe 50 in the stream beds) you are off the trail, and need to double back to the last cairn you saw. Plan on 40 temperature changes. Listen to the advice of the rangers. Bring the best map you can. The Warnock center no longer sells USGS topos so don't plan on purchasing one there. Bring a compass and no how to use it. You can do this if you are in good shape. You can do it if you are by yourself. You can do this without a lot of desert hiking experience, But if you lack all of these advantages, I wouldn't try it.


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Offline dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #27 on: March 01, 2017, 02:08:46 PM »
Greetings miatarchy04 .  Welcome to BBC.  Thanks for your valuable contribution to this thread.

We did notice your Miata.  It stuck out by itself and because it's not a pickup truck.

I wish we had hooked up before your less-than-fortunate experience.  We'd of loved to have had you as company.  As mentioned, I am 61 and one of my amigos is 62. 

We can most definitely confirm that the traditional day #1 of the RL is a full, full day.

I admire your solo attempt.  I've done the OML solo and the Eagle Rock Loop in Arkansas solo.  I enjoy solo, but I don't think I'd enjoy the RL solo.  I don't want to overplay the treacherous aspects of the RL - it's not THAT bad.  But there are enough tough places, and places where false steps could be really bad for you, that I'd rather not take the extra risks.

We saw the goat skull and the cross bones.  Someone had time on their hands and a quirky sense of humor.   

Your experiences generally confirm that the RL is doable, but very challenging.  Those "sorta looks like trail" places are everywhere.

Wanta try it again?

« Last Edit: March 01, 2017, 02:21:16 PM by dprather »
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline Jimbow

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #28 on: March 01, 2017, 02:31:30 PM »
Thank you Tandl. Your list and mine overlaps almost completely.  The RL is missing. I've been forced through vertigo situations and each time they seem a little less worthwhile. I love the South Rim from 10 yards away. The drive through Rocky Mountain NP had me kissing the ground. Lol. I'm not a mountain goat.

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Everything is in walking distance if you have enough time.

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Offline tandl

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #29 on: March 01, 2017, 03:25:24 PM »
Jimbow, you have been to Fresno Canyon?  I can't say enough good things about it, apparently :icon_smile:.  If you have done McKittrick Canyon, the sketchy spots on Rancherias will not be too bad, the saddle at the top of McKittrick is comparable in scariness to the Talus Slope, especially with the 40-50 mph gusts we had there on Christmas Day. 

miatarchy04:  That is pretty gutsy, not sure I would be comfortable on Rancherias alone!  One advantage to having two or more people on a cairn-marked trail is that you can do the"leave one person at a cairn and send the other out to look for the next" technique.  Nothing worse than realizing you are off trail, turning around and not being able to find the last cairn.  Also, having more than one set of eyes helps a lot for finding the next cairn even when not lost.

Sounds like you had a pretty tough time, but were able to get yourself out of it effectively.  Whenever I make major trail errors the hardest part for me is getting over my frustration at myself and keeping my head in the game.  It helps that my wife is my hiking partner, she is more level-headed than me.






 


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