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Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?

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Offline mamro001

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Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« on: December 08, 2014, 11:50:03 PM »
Hi Big Bend experts,

I am thinking about backpacking through the Sierra Quemadas over New Year's weekend (have 3 nights and 4 full days). I have decent experience in on-trail hiking in Big Bend (done OML twice, Marufo Vega once) but this will be my first time off-trail (in Big Bend).

It seems like most people now are making a loop involving Mule Ears to Dominguez Spring (through Jack's Pass) up to Dodson through Elephant Tusk, then out Dodson to Smoky Creek and back to Mule Ears (or some other circular iteration of these trails/areas). My question was whether going from Mule Ears, through Jack's Pass and then to Dominguez Spring (and perhaps going a little farther east towards Elephant Tusk), then going out through the Sierra Quemadas (a different route from the one going in, likely a few miles north) instead of out through Dodson would be reasonable. The distance, of course, is shorter, but since I haven't been in this area of the park before I'm not sure how much slower going it is...

If anyone has any rough estimates of how much slower going through the trail-less Quemadas are than Dodson/Smokey Creek/Elephant Tusk, that would be awesome in my trip preparation. I'm looking for a little bit of adventure and have seen Dodson and Smokey Creek twice now, so I'm leaning towards going out through the Quemadas instead. But if this will be unreasonably laborious (in that it can't be done by an average backpacker in 3 nights/4 days), then I definitely will reconsider. There is very little information on line for the Quemadas other than the section from Mule Ears to Dominguez Spring, so it would be interesting to hear about the area a few more miles north of here.

Thank you (and first time posting here)! Definitely I will upload a trip report when I get back!

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Offline elhombre

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2014, 07:54:36 AM »
Have you gone through the trip reports for the area yet? 

http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/backpacking-trip-reports-index-2011/

http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/backpacking-trip-reports-index/

Making it up and over Jacks pass is a very long first day, especially with the decreased daylight hours.  Plan your trip to use the creek beds as your main trails.  Crossing over from one creek water shed to another is the most time consuming.  Actual trails like ET or smokey can be walked almost twice as fast.

If you have the car, I would start at Juniper.  Walk the dodson for 1.75 hours to the top of the saddle, then head down the creek past the base of Tortuga Mt.  About 3 hours walking.  Then pick up ET trail and get yourself over to Dominquez spring.  Then plan a route back up to the Dodson, and your car.

If you don't have the car, start at Homer and figure a path that way.  It's +2.5 hours to the intersection of Dodson and Smokey creek trail.  Head down Smokey and turn east for Fisk canyon once you get down to the east side of Surgerloaf mountain.  Walk to Dominquez spring.  Then head west over Jacks pass.  Get on smokey creek trail again but leave it when it turns east, and use the creek bed that travels on the east side of Goat mountain to take you back to Homer Wilson ranch house.
 
Walking off trail in the creek beds is much slower.  You are watching each step because it is nothing but rocks.  Poles are a must to keep you from breaking an ankle AND moving vegetation out of your pathway.
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Offline Robert

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2014, 09:14:04 AM »
So have you gone down the Smoky Creek trail from Dodson? If not, you should incorporate this into your trip. There really isn't much of a trail so this will have the feel for an off trail route. Then as Elhombre mentioned you can cut over to Fisk Canyon (canyon coming north from Domiguez) and over Jack's Pass (or the reverse). So the loop from Smoky Creek to Fisk to Jack's Pass to Smoky Spring can be done from either trailhead at Mule Ears parking or Homer Wilson.

Off trail in the Quemadas is probably somewhere between 1-1.5 mph and can vary greatly depending on conditions such as catclaw choked washes, pouroffs to skirt, water filtering, etc, and can be slowed even more if your route finding capabilities are not good. Many washes do not show up on topos so it can get confusing when your have to decide to take a right or left fork that doesn't appear on your map.

If you have a route in mind, better to post it here as someone will have hiked it and can provide feedback. Posting a map is always best as hikes are hard to describe without named peaks and washes to reference.

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Offline Geezer

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2014, 10:26:01 PM »
The traditional route "through the Sierra Quemada" is the one elombre alludes to when he says turn east when you get as far south in Smoky Creek as Sugar Loaf Mtn. (pt. 4685). This route runs over a broad saddle to north end of Fisk Canyon, which contains Dominguez Spring some distance to south. Getting down into Fisk Canyon is not all that easy. There are some old threads on this site discussing route over saddle and where to get down.

As you can imagine, it is not difficult to get lost in this area. You do not say how experienced you are off-trail elsewhere, but some caution would be prudent. (Emory Peak Quadrangle shows this area.)

Keep asking questions!

Geezer

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Offline Talusman

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2014, 07:41:45 AM »
Geezer, I will also look up the Fisk Canyon posts. Have you ever been in there? It is still one of many places I would like to hike into as well. Thanks for mentioning it!
"To Think is easy. To Act is difficult. To Act as one Thinks is the most difficult!"

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Offline mamro001

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2014, 09:15:48 AM »
Thank you for all of the advice so far! Based on what I am reading, I will incorporate more actual trails into my hike (like ET and Smokey Creek), since it seems like the route I originally was thinking of likely would take longer and I would miss some interesting scenery near the trails. I might scout out some interesting peaks close to the trails to explore if I feel like I am taking it too easy (not likely!).

I'm still planning the route but will definitely post a map if I come up with anything too different from the norm. I don't have extensive experience off-trail but will definitely bring my handheld GPS unit for this just in case (along with topo maps, of course).

Thanks again, and I look forward to posting some pictures here once I get back!

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Offline Homer67

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2014, 02:45:44 PM »
I've done the Quemada Loop 3 times ("Jack's Pass" is a colloquial name with meaning only on this site), starting at the Mule Ears TH. It's not too bad, but I would not recommend it to anyone without extensive desert experience. The ET trail can be hard to follow at times; also, make sure you know where the turn E is N of Dominguez, where the drop into the arroyo leading to Double Spring is and where to get out of the Double Spring arroyo (S of Double Spring) to make the unmarked arroyo to the ET trail. It's all pretty easy to see from the sat photos. We avoided climbing down at Double Spring and made the hill directly adajacent to the spring and hiked E up and over it; there is another connecting arroyo on the otherside of the hill.

Filtering water may be an issue if your filter becomes clogged; some pre-filtering is probably a good idea. Your water sources will most likely look something like this, although water gets better along the ET trail (looking N in Fisk Canyon shortly as one enters from Dominguez Spring, Dec 2013):
image by Superhomer670, on Flickr

Here's a photo of the mountain pass from the Fisk House:
image by Superhomer670, on Flickr

Here's a random shot taken while we were hiking N back toward Double Spring, NE of Backbone Ridge:
Nice tree and grass south of Double Spring  Nov 2013 by Superhomer670, on Flickr

Good luck
« Last Edit: December 10, 2014, 03:24:47 PM by Homer67 »
Ah Big Bend, we will soon return to reacquaint ourselves in our ritual of blood, exhaustion and dehydration. How can we resist the temptation to strip ourselves of the maladies of civilization?

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2014, 03:29:40 PM »
I don't know why people say this; ET trail I've always found to be easy to follow, even at night.  It has the giant metal poles every now and again if you do miss the cairns.  The worst thing about this area are Backbone and ET themselves.  Loose and crappy.  And even if you did get off trail, the major point you are heading for is tough to miss; just head to the right of ET; or, if you wan tot go to Dominguez without going north of ET, once you have traversed past the big berm on your left and then hang a left once you go down into the giant wash; that wash takes you past Backbone and almost all the way to Black Gap (the "other" Black Gap); go through that and you are to the West of BB and Dominguez is right there in front of you, west.  On the other side of it is Dominguez Springs; or hang a right and go up Fisk.

Fun area.  Best views, IMO, are from Pt 5168 just above DS; great views South to the Punta; west to Mule Ears, Goat and Trap, Santa Elena, castallon; east to Dominguez, Dominguez's Boy and BB/ET; North up Skullmaker's Traverse to Picacho and the Rim

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Offline Geezer

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2014, 09:24:21 PM »
When you read Steelfrog's critique of Homer67's comment that "The ET trail can be hard to follow at times," remember that Steelfrog is a very strong hiker who can enjoy many miles of off-trail hiking in the roughest terrain. I've seen a hiker who has been down ET trail dozens of times twice wander off the trail in its upper reaches. True, he found it in a few minutes, but for the inexperienced, that could be a few hours. There are not enough cairns, and some are hidden by vegetation. Much of ET trail is a goat track. When Sfrog wandered off ET trail, he didn't even notice.

Talusman, I once spent a few nights sleeping under the stars at Dominguez Spring. A great experience. Also, there are several other springs in the Fisk drainage which are worth checking out. Some old threads mention them. We went in and out over what I describe above as the traditional route. I did get a look from a distance at Jack's Pass while we were there. Looks like something a geezer would be more comfortable going up than going down.

Keep asking questions!

Geezer


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Offline Talusman

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #9 on: December 11, 2014, 08:47:24 AM »
Geezer, thank you!

I am going to add this to my bucket list for the area. Is Dominguez Spring a reliable water source. Seems I have heard that it is one of the most reliable. Where would your next spot after Dominguez Spring be if you were traversing across this area for a few nights? Thanks for the note.
"To Think is easy. To Act is difficult. To Act as one Thinks is the most difficult!"

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Offline Robert

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2014, 09:16:00 AM »
Talusman- which route are you considering?  Dominguez is a focal point because of the water source but there are many options for routes. Dominguez is semi-reliable and you should always try to get a recent trip report to validate. Earlier this year in February, water was trickling over the dam. But we saw lots of water closer to Elephant Tusk, the Elephant Tusk drainage above ET, and in one of the upper arms of the Fresno watershed.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2015, 05:00:01 PM by Robert »

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Offline Homer67

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2014, 12:36:06 PM »
A couple of years ago now, I think, I read this awesome report by Cookie telling of a hike in which she and El Hombre passed through ET to Fisk Canyon and N from there.  It sounded like heaven. It reminded me of the time in '93 when a buddy and I attempted to make the mountain pass, reach ET and return via the Dodson. I knew nothing of this sort of thing back then and it really was sort of a Don Quixote thing, but the key words and some time out there put the idea back in my head. I wanted to see the desert water and 'really be in it' for days - get away from the trails and earn my boots.

At the end of last year and in Mar of this year we did encounter water in the S part of Fisk canyon and in the arroyo leading to the drop into the arroyo to Double Spring in several spots; Double Spring had water each time as well, with some impressive (for the desert) water in the arroyo S of Double Spring. Water seems to be plentiful along the ET trail. Get a recent report - these could be dry.

I got turned around for a moment the first time I hiked the ET trail. We were hiking N and there are a couple of spots where the trail leaves the arroyo (in the part of the trail S of pt 4233) to get around some pour offs.  It was overgrown and we missed where the trail heads uphill and continued down an erroneous arroyo. On my last thike through there in Mar some buddies who were behind a good bit made the same move. I sort of expected it would happen.

If you have time perhaps check out this really cool spring near ET.  Continue S of where the trail turns uphill.  You'll go past a big tree a short bit and there will be a easy pour off to get down.  At the bottom will be some trees and and some thick growth.  On the way in I skirted the wall on the right which lead to an open rock area.  At the time I was there (Nov 2013) it was covered with slick green growth and I cold hear the water going over what seemed to be a pour off. There was a neat spot on the left wall just past the wooded part where water trickled right out of the rock:
Ah Big Bend, we will soon return to reacquaint ourselves in our ritual of blood, exhaustion and dehydration. How can we resist the temptation to strip ourselves of the maladies of civilization?

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Offline Talusman

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2014, 12:41:26 PM »
I have not decided on a route yet. I will be spending this year through lower and middle cattail canyon. I will also get in a Casa Grande Summit as well. If my summer opens up where I can get away a few more three day weekends, then I want to hit that area. Good Lord willing I will have next summer for sure. Would you mind recommending me what you consider the best route? One of two nights and two to three days. The more I explore this amazing BBC the more I realize I still have to cover. I get involved in a new area and can't leave it alone until I feel I have covered it all. After my last trip into cattail canyon above the falls up towards the big pour off, I can see myself spending the next 12 trips thoroughly covering that area. But I would love your suggestion to plan upon. Thanks!
"To Think is easy. To Act is difficult. To Act as one Thinks is the most difficult!"

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Offline elhombre

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2014, 03:11:35 PM »
Spending time in the Quemadas during the summer is simply a very bad idea.  The 2nd week in February of this year, we were chased out of the area with 90 degree afternoons.  Thermometer in the sun was 120.

If you are going out there, change your plans and go now, in the winter.  Save the Chiso hikes for when it gets warm.
For 2 years the Fake News Media, Obama's FBI, CIA & DOJ, and Swamp dwelling Politicians COLLUDED, Illegally Spied,and LIED to America about POTUS in order to overturn an election

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Offline Talusman

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Re: Alternative route through Sierra Quemada?
« Reply #14 on: December 11, 2014, 03:15:01 PM »
Thanks!, I'll plan on a winter hike in those areas.
"To Think is easy. To Act is difficult. To Act as one Thinks is the most difficult!"

 


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