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

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Offline dprather

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Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« on: February 24, 2017, 10:01:48 AM »
My two very dear friends and trusted backpacking amigos Carl and Shannon and I did the Rancherias Loop (RL) at Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP) recently.  This is the extended report.  I'll do this in the following sections.

1.  Liberty Texas to Ft. Davis State Park
2.  A Day and a night in the National Park
3.  Day #1 on the RL
4.  A "Morality Tale"
5.  Day #2 on the RL
6.  Day #3 on the RL
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 #1 on: February 24, 2017, 10:14:06 AM »
Liberty to Ft. Davis State Park (enjoyable, but uneventful)

We met early (but not quite early enough) in Liberty, Texas on Friday, February 17, 2017 and hit a slow-down on I-10 in downtown Houston, but otherwise sailed along the 1-10 route.

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.

The distance simply evaporated as we enjoyed great conversation and chewed up the miles at about 90 mph+.  The 80 mph speed limit is pure fantasy.  Going 90, I was regularly passed. 

We got off I-10 at the Toyavale exit and enjoyed the beautiful drive up into the Davis Mountains. 

We spent the night at a tent camping site at Ft Davis State Park. 



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 #2 on: February 24, 2017, 10:36:26 AM »
A Day and a night in the National Park

Our habit has been to rush, rush, rush, drive all day, and then hit the trail immediately the next day.  This time we added a relaxed day between the long drive and the beginning of the hike.  This worked very well to lose the tension and the hurry of the drive.  Highly recommended.  We will do this again.

Our day in the Park included short hikes to Swirl Tinaja, Boquillas for lunch, and then Ernst Tinaja.

We caught the first big break of our trip by snagging the very last car camp site available (it was closed when we began our conversation with the desk ranger, but opened as we spoke).  The Park was FULL, and we ended up staying the night at the Gravel Pit. 

I'll not tell you the whole story about how we spooked ourselves into believing that we were surrounded by malos bandidos at the Gravel Pit and had to perform an armed midnight reconnaissance to clear our area (sheesh - we're grown already!). 

Speaking of grown (or groan), I'm 61, Carl is 62, and Shannon is 46.  Shannon is a Houston marathon regular, and his capability allows Carl and I to stretch some limits. 
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 #3 on: February 24, 2017, 02:56:11 PM »
Day #1 on the RL

Waking up at the Gravel Pit, showering and eating breakfast at Study Butte, and finally permitting at Barton Warnock prevented us from getting on the Rancherias Loop Trail (RL) until 11:00 A.M.  (it would have been better to have started at least an hour earlier).

The RL is more of a horseshoe than an actual loop.  The two ends of the trail (East and West trailheads) do not actually meet.  They are separated by 2-3 miles, with the East Trailhead located along FM 170 a mile+ east of Closed Canyon and the West Trailhead a mile+ west of Closed Canyon. 

We caught our first break right off the bat.  We decided to do the shuttle, taking our truck from the East Trailhead (the traditional beginning point) to the West Trailhead before we began because we knew we would be wasted when we finished, and because we assumed that there would be more traffic (for hitchhiking purposes) on Sunday.  We were correct.  Immediately after pulling into the West Trailhead parking area, I was able to flag a ride back east and arrived about ten minutes after I'd left. 

The first leg of the RL (East Trailhead to Reza Springs/Ruins) (i) begins by following a boring wash, but (ii) leaves the wash through a gap in a giant, ancient rock wall.  From there, the trail (iii) ascends to a gentle saddle before (iv) descending not gently at all into Acebusches Canyon.  The dangerously descending trail tumbles down a rock fall/boulder field. 

In Acebusches Canyon, (v) the trail follows the arroyo of the canyon bottom until it leaves the canyon by (vi) ascending the terrifying vertical canyon wall by means of narrow, crumbling switchbacks - even Parent says, in effect, that a false step along these switchbacks is the end of your trip, and the end of all your future trips.  My heart remained very high up in my throat through this tough, dangerous section. 

After the switchbacks, (vii) the trail rises between Acebusches and Panther Canyons on a high saddle before (viii) plummeting down into Panther Canyon.  The first leg ends at (ix) the Reza Ruins - where a guy named Reza and his eight-member family made a life around 1900 - and the audibly gurgling Reza Springs.

Three observations and a story (before the moral tale).

Observation #1 - the RL is covered in evidence of prehistoric and historic human activity.

Observations #2 - the RL has TONS of water.

Observation #3 - the descent into Panther Canyon, coming down out of dry desert desolation and looking down into a verdant, winding oasis of cottonwoods is very, very beautiful, as beautiful as any I've seen in desert backpacking.  Adding to the beauty are the two stark geometric adobe cubes that are the Reza ruins.  The verdant green contrasts with the desert burnt; the crisp geometric cubes contrast with the normally random lines of desert and mountain.  Seeing these, Carl mentioned Shangri-La.

Story - I positively hate ascending a vertical canyon wall on narrow, crumbling switchbacks that are maybe 6" wide and crowded by thorny plants.  These are images of my second worst fear.  I was able to complete the traverse only because I did not want to fail my friends.  By the end, I was one pumping cauldron of adrenalin, frantic, but manageably under control.       

Wanting to bleed away the adrenalin, I then took the point as the trail continued to ascend to the high Acebusches/Panther saddle.  After taking the lead, within my first two steps, I almost stepped right on a Blacktail rattler - the first of my worst fears.  The poor guy was just trying to get a little sunshine - right in the middle of the trail.  He instinctively coiled a bit at first, but his discretion was the better part of his valor, and he retreated.  He was quite sluggish from the cool weather.

So in a matter of minutes, my two worst fears were encountered, and I survived - which was nice. 

Still, my first response to the Blacktail was to scream like a little girl.  Shannon and Carl assumed that I must have at least seen a panther because my little-girl scream was, to them, far too piercing and shrill for anything less.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2017, 03:35:58 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 dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2017, 03:32:16 PM »
A "Morality Tale"

Background.

Carl, Shannon, and I are "play by the rule" types, by and large content to do as we are told.  We are especially content to play by the rules in the wilderness where, we are prepared to assume, the powers that be are promulgating rules to protect the wilds and the heritage of the parks.

One of the BBRSP rules is: THOU SHALT NOT ENTER THE REZA RUINS.

The ruins are two adobe cubical houses of 100+ years age left by the Reza family who once lived by the springs in Panther Canyon.  Even though TPWD has recently replaced the old roof with a brand new metal roof, the adobe walls are not stable.  Interestingly, the adobe cubes contain relics of the Reza past, including a large iron wood-burning cook stove.  These are historical, heritage pieces and are worthy of every protection. 

Additional note: the front door of the larger of the two adobe dwellings had been taken off its hinges and left aside, (wide) opening the building.

Setting.

As we crossed the high saddle between the Acebusches and Panther Canyons, we could tell a storm was gathering behind us and coming our way.  We watched in awe as the storm first gathered as dark and boiling clouds, and then subsided, only to gather again with even more intensity.  We listened in awe as distant thunder boomed.  We could see fingers of lightening lace across the distance.  But we did not hurry.  We were too tired for that.  Besides, we're tough guys and a little rain is no big deal.

The tale begins.

Arriving at the Reza ruins, the storm arrived at the same instant.  Desert mountain rain storms are so cool - thunder, lightening, wind, and rain around you and not above you.  The rain fell in huge, piercingly frigid drops so big and hard that they almost caused you to buckle with every hit.  The drop hits fell slowly at first, but soon became a drumbeat, and then a torrent.  The cold drops were made even colder by the chilling wind.

We had not yet set up our tents.

Standing in the gathering torrent we asked ourselves if we should get inside the comfy ruins with their brand new metal roof and get out of the storm.  With the earnestness of Captian Kirk pondering the Prime Directive, we chose back and forth between entering and remaining outside, between doing as we were told and getting out of the storm. 

As the temps dropped, we could feel the beckoning, radiant warmth of the adobe walls.  As the ground outside turned to mud, the floors of the adobe buildings remained enticingly dry.  We could hear the soothing pitter-patter of the rain underneath the metal roof, wasted without anyone to protect.

Carl spoke for God.  Carl imagined God asking, "Why are you standing in the rain when I have provided you with a dry house and an open door?"

Then we...
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 #5 on: February 25, 2017, 08:02:10 AM »
Addendum: Route-Finding Along The RL

Older reports frequently mention route-finding as an RL problem.  We did not find the route to be hard to follow at all.

We studied the maps, read trip reports, including Parent's excellent report, and paid attention during the permit orientation.

The route is pretty intuitive, and, as TPWD Ranger David Long said, who oriented us, the trail is "pretty burned-in by now." 

We had to back track after missed cairns only a couple of times.  We missed them due to overgrowth that shielded the markers from view.

Don't count on the Park's circular markers - many of them have fallen off of their rocks (the glue used just isn't working).
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline Jalco

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2017, 08:43:30 AM »
Excellent report.  This is a hike I've wanted to do for quite some time.  Looking forward to the rest of it.  Thanks!

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Offline tandl

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2017, 09:53:26 AM »
I agree, the traverse across the talus slope when coming out of Acebuches canyon is by far the scariest piece of official trail I have ever been on.

It might be possible to continue up that branch of the creekbed rather than ascend and cross the talus slope; the Open Trails track was laid down by someone who found a way through. You would still be scrambling up and around boulders so it might not be too much safer, and you would run the risk of finding it impassable and then having to backtrack on a section where you are already under a little bit of time pressure to make it to Panther Spring/Casa Reza before dark.   Getting lost wouldn't be an issue though since the marked trail rejoins that streambed a mile or so after the talus traverse.

Sent from my SCH-I435 using Big Bend Chat mobile app


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Offline dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2017, 12:16:55 PM »
I agree, the traverse across the talus slope when coming out of Acebuches canyon is by far the scariest piece of official trail I have ever been on.

It might be possible to continue up that branch of the creekbed rather than ascend and cross the talus slope; the Open Trails track was laid down by someone who found a way through. You would still be scrambling up and around boulders so it might not be too much safer, and you would run the risk of finding it impassable and then having to backtrack on a section where you are already under a little bit of time pressure to make it to Panther Spring/Casa Reza before dark.   Getting lost wouldn't be an issue though since the marked trail rejoins that streambed a mile or so after the talus traverse.

Sent from my SCH-I435 using Big Bend Chat mobile app

Thanks for affirming the fearfulness of that talus slope, and the reasonableness of my fears.  I had read Parent's warning about that section and had schooled myself in what to expect.  I was able to "kill-off" my peripheral vision (looking down was too much to stomach) and concentrate 100% on that next important step, one step at a time.
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 #9 on: February 27, 2017, 01:07:34 PM »
Day #2 on the RL (Monday, February 20, 2017)

After a very comfortable night, Monday dawned bright and clear.  The storm ("storm" is a bit too strong a word) the night before had freshened the atmosphere.  It was positively glorious in Panther Canyon.  No modern persons would make the Rezas's choice to live there, but Carl, Shannon and I envied them. 

We limbered up, ate breakfast over our ESBIT stoves, filled up on water from the spring (filtered, and chlorined) , and headed up Panther Canyon.

The trail above Reza is an up-hill ramble through the canyon bottom.  The trail is not bad, but there is a lot of boulder hopping and pour-off (8'-12') climbing.  The effect is pretty draining since there is very little hiking on pace and a lot of bounding, leaping, and climbing.  Most foot-falls are on hard rock - this battered our knees and the bottom of our feet. 

One of the pour-offs was extra interesting.  With a safety-net pool of water at its bottom, but with about 12' of slick climbing, it was all reach and grab for tiny foot and hand-holds.  The steepness of the canyon bottom made a by-pass less desirable than scraping knees and thighs against rock.

Note: although the RL is exposed (especially the last down-hill to the West Trailhead) we enjoyed lots of shade.  The canyon bottoms were generally shady.  We were also able to find shade by going off-trail into side washes.  In those washes, we were able to find overhanging trees.  Sitting packs-off in the cool shade of trees and on soft wash bottoms makes for great rest.

As mentioned, human history and prehistory are thick along the RL.  Above Reza, on the right side of the trail, we came to a cave/overhang that had the soot of a thousand fires on its ceiling.  It also had its uneven floor leveled-out by something like an adobe floor.  Outside its entrance was an Indian grinding stone. 

More recent human history was represented by several fence lines, and by a 300-pound hunk of iron that had been industrially fashioned into a sizable flange.  Lying in the bottom of the trail/wash about 95% of the way up from Reza, we are at a total loss to explain what it was meant for. 

The trail above Reza intersects an unimproved jeep road.  Some have criticized the RL for including this jeep-road section.  But the road is not smooth or easy, and the road travels through some gorgeous high meadow-like features.  The wilderness experience is perfectly maintained, so we didn't think that following this brief section detracts from the RL at all. 

Carl and I are 60+.  Shannon is 45 and a regular marathoner.  Shannon is solicitous of our (relative) limits.  We occasionally set him free to follow his faster pace. 

We set Shannon free when we came to the jeep road and told him we'd see him at the Rancherias Springs.  This began a humorous and very pleasant part of our trip.

To let us know that (i) he was on the right trail ahead of us, and that (ii) we were on the right trail behind him, Shannon left a collection of "trail art" (he's also an artist).  This trail art included a couple of smiley faces complete with odd rocks for eyes, our names scratched in the trail, and other really fun additions to a portfolio that the wind will soon wear away. 

Arriving at Rancherias Springs, we were surprised by their extent.  We spoke of them as a "spring complex" because the trees follow the canyon bottom for hundreds of yards.  The groves contrast abruptly with the rest of the desiccated desert and create their own inviting ecosystem beneath their multi-layered limbs.  Birds chirp; butterflies dance; cottonwood seed feather in the wind.  The smooth gravel, the cool shade, and the gurgling water (yards and yards on the surface) demand a nap.  We obliged.

Note: the RL is traditionally done as three days and two nights.  Although the days are only about six hours of hiking per, these are tough hours.  On our second evening on the RL, after arriving at Rancherias Springs, we went to bed at 7:00 and did not wake up until 7:00 the next morning (note that we crashed for 12 hours - we were that tired).  We liked the three days/two nights arrangement because it (i) got us to springs at the right times, and (ii) got us to very nice camp locations at the two springs at the right times.

That evening we feasted on my wife's instant potato soup.  An excellent cook, she prides herself on filling us up on the trail.  She has looked over several instant potato soup recipes and created her own hybrid that uses only the highest quality ingredients.  What's not to like - great friends, a great campsite, and a great meal along the great adventure of the RL?

That night we died in our sleeping bags (until early morning) and dreamed that we had the worst of the RL behind us - we were wrong.

 





   




« Last Edit: February 27, 2017, 03:58:45 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 dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #10 on: February 27, 2017, 03:05:48 PM »
Day #3 on the RL (Tuesday, February 21, 2017) - conclusion

We did a lot of good due diligence in preparation for our RL adventure.  I have mentioned before the help provided by BBRSP staff, especially Tim Gibbs and David Long.  These guys were obviously invested in our safety and enjoyment.  Thanks to them.

We were not prepared, however, for the weather on early Tuesday morning.  We were so tired that the plummeting temps didn't disturb our sleep (I disturbed the sleep of Shannon and Carl with a noisy post-Rattler snake dream), but we were surprised that we awakened to a light freeze.  With tent condensation crusting and with fingers numbing, Tuesday morning packing was tough.  I had to talk my fingers through the usually mindless process of buttoning my shirt. 

Note: our trip included, then, a nice desert mountain thunder/lightening/rain storm, freezing nighttime temps, and then blasting sun on the last day (although temps on that day did not exceed the low 80s).  On our first day, we were protected with the shade of the gathering storm.  We did not get the full RL exposure treatment except on the final afternoon. 

We were also surprised by the trail challenges that remained on the RL.  We had, foolishly, convinced ourselves that the last day would be down-hill all the way and easy.  Not so.

Filling up on Rancherias Springs water, we set out on the last leg.  There are two pretty good sized ups before the RL begins the long wind-down toward the West Trailhead.  The trail is not difficult (even though we had one long back-track after a missed cairn), but the long down-hill is very exposed, and the traditional schedule gets you there in time for maximum exposure to the afternoon sun. 

The sunshine burned all the way through the three liters of yummy water we had when we left Rancherias Springs.  The trail is complicated by the presence of lots of loose rock and fallen boulders (much of the trail follows an old wagon road that often hangs on mountainsides, and boulder fall is very much present).  The trail is also steep in places, but not treacherous.  The broad vista view of the lowlands below is stunning and dramatic (think Dodson toward Elephant Tusk or Mesa de Anguila over toward Mexico).  Evidence of human presence takes the form of (i) several old concrete stock tanks, (ii) the wagon road, and (iii) very prominent, very large, very old historical cairns. 

Resting at the top of the second up, we encountered something we had not seen in 48 hours - other people.  Shortly after beginning the RL on Sunday morning, we had encountered three young airmen from San Angelo - they were coming out.  Other than the ghosts of the Rezas, our entire world had consisted of us three and no more for the two days since.

When a 40-something married couple came into view, their presence was very odd to us.  It wasn't that we did not welcome them.  It was just that they did not fit.  Especially the wife and her feminine voice.  For 48 hours, we had lived a man's adventure in deep baritones.  It took an odd uncomfortable second to fit them, and her, back into our world.

Note: the airmen were day hiking close to the East Trailhead; the couple were day hiking close to Guale-2.

Tough never takes a holiday on the RL, and the final mile just will not end.  Seeing HWY 170 below and even seeing cars pass by seems to stretch that final mile.

Reaching the trailhead, we shared handshakes.  We all knew that we had accomplished a special, special trek.

Then we hit the reset.  Quickly to Barton Warnock to check out, the Study Butte for a shower, to Ft. Stockton to spend the night, and then back home on Wednesday. 

I know it wasn't a dream because I still have scars and I'm still pulling out thorns.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2017, 09:58:02 AM 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 dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2017, 03:43:22 PM »
Rancherias Loop - PostScript

The reset hasn't worked.

Someone said it is re-entry trauma.

Every trip into the wilderness, underneath a backpack, meeting challenges, and coming back in good order has changed me.  My wife encourages these trips because she sees that they have changed me for the better.  They bring calm confidence to me.  They touch and restore a deep and important part of me.  They affirm a deep and important part of who and what I am.  Maybe they have become what I am, and maybe I've become something else and something better because of them.

But my RL adventure has changed me more, and I haven't changed back.   

Perhaps it is the cumulative effect of many adventures.  I don't know why.  But returning from the RL, perhaps because it was so tough and so much a challenge, and perhaps because of the two fears I faced, I'm just not the same.  It's different enough that I'm a little bit concerned.

-It's like I've crossed some Rubicon.

-It's like Capt. Willard, "When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle", er, Bend - but in a good way.

-It's like I've experienced warp, and I'm just not comfortable with impulse any more.

I noticed it almost immediately, but not immediately.  I love my wife and was hungry to see her.  My bed was soft and I was happy to let it take me in.

But the next morning was weird.  The road from home to office, my office, my secretary, and all of the rest of the old normal just didn't seem normal.  There was a distance between me and all that.  I functioned well enough, but I was at arm's length and "through a glass darkly." 

There's even something like a ringing in my ears that separates me audibly from where I am.  In my spirit, it is quiet back on the trail.  Is that my new normal? 

The distance hasn't closed; the ringing hasn't stopped. 

I do not recall the rain storms and the freezing temps as being uncomfortable.  The backpack is not a heavy burdened memory.  I do not recall the tent, and the sleeping bag, and the Big Agnes Air Core (my wife has never adjusted to me sleeping on top of Big Agnes) as being anything other than just as restful as my bedroom.  The physically demanding up and downs or the terrifying moments do not remain as negative memories at all.  It. Was. Great.  It was greater. 

I wanta go back.  I wanta be back.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2017, 08:20:17 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 mule ears

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2017, 03:55:49 PM »
Beautiful report dprather!  The Rancherias Loop is beautiful and well watered and has all those hard parts you talked about.  Yes, that last stretch down the old road seems to go on forever and is baking hot too.

I am not sure you didn't lose the trail a bit on the second day in Panther canyon, I have read of several folks doing the same.  You should not have had to do any climbs up pouroffs from what I remember but then again it was 17 years ago.   :icon_eek:

I am sure you will re-adjust but then do you really want to?

Thanks.   :great:
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 dprather

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #13 on: February 27, 2017, 04:05:37 PM »
I think you might be correct about losing the trail.  We thought we noticed trail segments above us at times, but they didn't seem any more distinct than the canyon bottom.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline elhombre

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Re: Rancherias Loop (2-19-12-17) Extended Version
« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2017, 08:44:47 AM »
I sense a priority shift:

Before
1. God
2. Family
3. Work
4. Vacation/ Backpacking

Now
1. God
2. Family
3. Vacation/ Backpacking
4. Work

 :great:
The older I get, the more I realize what freedom really means.  May God bless America

 


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