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Big Bend Mesa de Anguila Trip Report Jan 2019

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Offline RedditLowlife

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Big Bend Mesa de Anguila Trip Report Jan 2019
« on: January 22, 2019, 02:59:43 PM »
Dates: Jan 19-21, 2019 (3 day / 2 night)
Conditions: Sunny & clear skies, High temp = 79F, Low temp = 36F
BPW: 9.46lbs

I’ve been desperate to go back to Big Bend since previously doing Outer Mountain Loop in July 2018.  I finally got a chance to go with one of my best friends in January 2019.  We decided to do a 3-day-weekend trip to the most isolated part of the park, the Mesa de Anguila.  The (road)trip started for him in Houston after work on Friday.  We departed my house in San Antonio at 7:30pm, and after a couple unscheduled stops we finally arrived in Lajitas, TX at nearly 4:00am.  We parked the truck at the trailhead and grabbed a few hours of sleep.

I had packed trail breakfasts for Saturday, but we both agreed that a hot burrito and coffee sounded like a good idea after the short night’s rest so we headed to the Lajitas General Store instead of getting started on the trail right away.  We met Clay Henry the 4th, the town Mayor (he’s a goat – literally), and learned from the General Store employees that most of Lajitas is owned by the billionaire owner of Sunoco fuels, including the Golf Resort that is the primary destination for most visitors.

We didn’t start hiking until 10am, and immediately made one of the most devastating and critical mistakes a hiker can make – we forgot the whiskey in the truck.  This mistake would come back to haunt us over and over….  We quickly hit “the” big climb from the desert floor up onto the Mesa, across the Saddle.  The first 9 or so miles of the day were on-trail, and the last 3 would be off trail.  The trail was mostly rocky desert filled with dozens of varieties of sharp and pokey flora, but we did cross a few unique bits of terrain: one that we nicknamed “quicksand” because you’d sink 1/2” every step, and one that we nicknamed the “badlands” because it was completely barren of rocks and plant life – just dirt for a good quarter mile or so.

The year has been very wet, and there was even rain last week, so the tinajas were all full.  But there was so much water that we only had to go off trail to one of them for water – most of the time we just grabbed water when we saw a small pool near the trail.  Definitely not typical for the desert out here, though.

We intended to camp on the north rim of the Mesa, so we had to do about 3 miles of off-trail hiking to get there.  The Mesa is so isolated that there are only a couple primary trails and access to most of the scenic locations requires off-trail travel.  We quickly learned how difficult the off-trail terrain of the Mesa de Anguila really is.  A Mesa is frequently thought of as flat, but in reality the top of this one is covered in hundreds of 40ft tall rippling ridges and washes.  You are ALWAYS either side-hilling, or walking straight up or down - there is literally no flat land.  And on top of that, we were loaded up with water since this was a dry camp.

Arriving at the North rim is exhilarating because the scenic landscape you are hiking towards does not come into view slowly as you walk towards it; you never even get a glimpse of it.  You are always walking uphill as you head east towards the North rim, and you see nothing but rocky, cactus-infested Mesa until the very last second when you come over the crest and THERE is the rest of the world sprawled out for miles 2000 feet below.  It is a spectacular view, and the way it is revealed only adds to it.  We pitched camp (cowboy camp) and watched the sun set to the west, as it turned the Chisos Basin exquisite colors to the east.

Sunday, Day 2, was all off trail and we had to alter our plans somewhat due to the difficulty and slow speed of travel.  The plan was to go to the point, then Smugglers Cave, then Fern Canyon, then Entrance Camp on the Rio Grande, and then back up onto the Mesa to camp, a total of about 15 miles (14 off-trail).  Instead we wound up skipping the Entrance Camp and heading back towards the Sinkhole area of the trail to camp.  The day started with a 1.5mile hike to the Point – the easternmost point of the Mesa at the mouth of the Santo Elena canyon, with spectacular 360deg views.  Next we hiked to smugglers cave which was neat, but not exactly breathtaking.  Fern Canyon on the other hand, was amazing.  Three giant canyons merging at one point, and the viewpoint is a vertigo-inducing 1500ft straight down.  After that we headed for the only tinaja we had to specifically search out as a water source (again, due to the wet year).  We saw a herd of wild horses, some Aoudad, and lots of little critters and birds.  We saw the sinkhole and then hiked a mile or so eastwards to a campsite for the night.  10miles total, 9 off trail and 1 on trail.  Sunday night was to be the lunar eclipse, but we were too tired to stay up that late and watch – BUT we both woke up randomly during the night and caught parts of it.

Monday, Day 3, was tentatively planned to be a trip down into Bruja Canyon, and then a return to the truck hiking underneath the north rim of the Mesa.  However, my friend wanted to see if he could get back to San Antonio for a business dinner so we opted to hike out the easy way along the trail we hiked in on.  (spoiler alert: he didn’t make it)  We woke up late and then took our time drinking cold beers back at the truck, and had a REALLY good lunch at the Lajitas Golf Resort.  We drove back to San Antonio and collapsed in bed.

What worked:

•   I fit 3 days food and gear, and as much as 6L water into an Osprey Talon 22L daypack, so I was pretty pleased with myself.
•   I did an extended “winter” (winter for a Texan, shoulder season for others) weekend with a BPW under 9.5lbs
•   If the forecast is clear and the moon is full, it was a good plan to leave the headlamp home (I had a cell phone if I really needed light)
•   Despite what I heard at least one person say, long pants are totally necessary in the desert unless you are some kind of masochist.
•   Foam Pad is absolutely necessary in the non-developed areas of Big Bend.  Air pad only would pop sooner rather than later.
•   Glad to be carrying back-up water treatment chemicals (see below).
•   MYOG Fanny Pack is good stuff
•   Gloves not needed for 36F low (dry)

What didn’t

•   Start packing earlier so I’m not rushed getting out – I forgot my pillow because of this.  Double check the checklist.
•   Friend’s bivy – attached pull-outs with cord instead of shockcord and got a tear when it was stressed.  Always use shockcord.
•   Big Agnes AXL Air – I know it’s an uninsulated pad (R=1.0?)  but thought it would be OK supplemented with a foam pad. Wrong.  Cold.
•   If I strap a foam pad outside my pack again, use shockcord instead of regular cordage.  Less fiddley.
•   Katadyn BeFree – I thought I had “solved” the clogging issue by using a 1.0 micron prefilter, but the silty tinajas killed it quickly.  Will be investing in a Sawyer Squeeze instead.
•   Nylofume bottom blew out with minor stress
« Last Edit: February 04, 2019, 12:45:59 PM by RedditLowlife »


Offline mule ears

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Re: Big Bend Mesa de Anguila Trip Report Jan 2019 (long)
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2019, 03:47:59 PM »
Thanks for the report, now you know what we were talking about as to the roughness of the Mesa, slow going on the off trail sections for sure.  Glad you made most of your route.  More to see next time.   :icon_biggrin:
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water


Offline RedditLowlife

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Re: Big Bend Mesa de Anguila Trip Report Jan 2019 (long)
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2019, 04:12:29 PM »
...slow going on the off trail sections for sure. 

Yup. I also forget that things take so much longer with more than one person, I still have yet to properly account for that (I hike alone more often).  In fact I'd say not twice as long, but longer.  Twice as many potty breaks, photo ops, water filtering time, etc, etc, etc.  But what makes it take more than twice the time of a solo hiker is that you always hike at the speed of the slowest hiker, not the fastest hiker (You're always the fastest hiker when solo).  One day 1 and 2 I could have gone faster and farther, but on day 3 I was the one dragging down the pace.


Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Big Bend Mesa de Anguila Trip Report Jan 2019 (long)
« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2019, 06:58:53 PM »
Good stuff, Lowlife! I’ve been looking forward to this one. Sub-10lbs is awfully impressive. Well done. And you’re def one up on me: I haven’t yet made it up onto the MDA.

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Online jeffblaylock

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Re: Big Bend Mesa de Anguila Trip Report Jan 2019 (long)
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2019, 12:41:26 AM »
We quickly learned how difficult the off-trail terrain of the Mesa de Anguila really is.  A Mesa is frequently thought of as flat, but in reality the top of this one is covered in hundreds of 40ft tall rippling ridges and washes.  You are ALWAYS either side-hilling, or walking straight up or down - there is literally no flat land.

That's what I recall. Our intrepid little group was amazed by the sheer number of ups and downs, the deep washes that appeared out of nowhere and the general slant of the MDA. As RedditLowlife says, there is "literally no flat land." What could qualify as "flat" is angled, sloping toward the south, and covered in razor-sharp rock edges. The reality of the MDA wipes out lots of grand plans. I'm happy to see yours were mostly intact and you got to see the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon (which we did) and Fern Canyon (which we didn't).
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey



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