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Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

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Marufo Vega Trail for the first time

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Offline South Texas Gal

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Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« on: January 04, 2015, 12:11:23 AM »
Hello,
I am trying to get information on the Marufo Vega Trail.  I was wanting to know what the trail conditions are usually like in late February and if there are outfitters in the area that offer guided hikes to that area.  I am not an experienced hiker and do not want to do a hike like MV on my own and from what I have found it can be difficult to follow.  I am fairly active but know enough that a hike like that may be too much  for me which if why I choose February to go to the park.  I would like to evaluate all the information I get and make a sound decision. I have done some research on the MV and have not found out much regarding the difficulties this trail encounters. I have several BIBE books and only one mention the MV trail which leads me to believe there may be a good reason for that just like Cattail Falls is not mentioned due to it being an environmentally sensitive area.  I am aware it is a strenuous hike but would like to know in what ways.  I am not planning to do the whole 14 miles but I would like to know how far of a hike it is to where you can see the Maderas really close.  What is the lion population like out there?  Any information and suggestion will be appreciated.  Please be frank I don't get my feathers ruffled easily. :ecomcity: :celebrate: :icon_biggrin:
Nature in its infinite beauty can be very unforgiving..

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2015, 07:05:22 AM »
Welcome to the board South Texas Gal.

There are many threads here on Marufo Vega and yes it seems that folks regularly get in trouble down on it.  That being said it is actually very well marked and the most difficult/strenuous parts are the climbs, up and down from the upper mesa and the north and south forks to the Rio Grande, especially the south fork with many small rocks that you could easily slip on.

The main reason folks get in trouble is the heat and it does get hotter down there than many other areas of the park.  February can be mild or really hot so you will have to play that my ear.  There are many good trip reports here in the trip reports indexes to give you an idea of how it is.

We did it last Feb. and while it was in the low 80's at RGV it got pretty warm on parts of the MV.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline Robert

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2015, 08:38:29 AM »
It would help if you could explain your level of fitness and what types of hiking you have done in the past and where. The two main reasons why this hike is strenuous is due to the length of the trail and the elevation gain/loss. Add to that the elements of heat, steep sections (very few switchbacks), and remoteness and it is easy to see why people get into trouble.

Last year at this time, I hiked out to where the trail began the descent to the river. There are a couple of photos from this point in my trip report. See if that is what you wanted to see and if so, that hike is 11 miles round trip without the 1,000 feet climb down to the Rio Grande and back up. Keep in mind as you read the report that I took a side trip to see Randell's Overlook but this section is off trail and not marked. The 11 miles round trip does not include this section.

But I would not encourage anyone to do this trip solo unless they had more experience in the park and/or desert hiking experience. The likelihood of a lion encounter is very very slim.

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Offline South Texas Gal

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2015, 11:04:30 AM »
My fitness level is good. I am not a marathoner but I workout with a trainer about 3 times a week and he does like to put me thru the wringer and part of my regiment is stairs "as fast as I can go" and a lot of weight lifting.  This has been going on since July but before that I was not active. I am proud to say I have come a long way and since then I have gone a a couple of hikes to Lost Maples State Natural Area and their trails have some fairly steep climbs. Im don't know how those would compare to ones at MV trail but those I experienced at LM I felt like I was rock climbing in some spots and found out I need to get me some trekking poles  :icon_eek: :icon_eek: and be kind to my knees. I went to BIBE last February and quickly realized that if I was going to be doing any hiking out there I needed to start getting in shape and conditioned for that terrain so I didn't attempt any hiking.  I am also the kind of person that like to research things extensively before getting stuck in a bind :D so when I went to LM I knew they would be some "rock climbing" involved.
Nature in its infinite beauty can be very unforgiving..

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Offline South Texas Gal

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2015, 11:09:35 AM »
And thank you for the links to the trip reports. I found them after I posted. The pictures and personal accounts really help.  Do any area outfitters offer guided hikes to that area that you know of?  I have found likes to River trips and off road tours but not much else.
Nature in its infinite beauty can be very unforgiving..

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Offline catz

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2015, 12:16:17 PM »
I am not aware of any of the Terlingua outfitters offering guided hiking.  But they might--for a pretty hefty price.  You could also try to hook up with some other hikers.  This trail gets a fair amount of use--nothing like many of the hikes in the park but I would guess a group or two sets out pretty much every day. 

If you decide to do this (whether or not with others), I recommend hiking poles and decent boots.  The trail is rough in spots.  A couple of miles from the start, the trail splits (there is a sign there).  I recommend doing the South Fork, up to where it overlooks the river and then back the same way.  The view is spectacular and the trail through the Dead Horse Mountains is beautiful.   This is very doable in a single day (maybe 10 miles round trip).  Leave out the descent to the river.  It really doesn't add much (I think) other than a whole lot of climbing and time.

The trail is generally pretty easy to follow; it is generally well-cairned and, after you leave the wash, is pretty easy to follow visually with or without cairns.  Just a couple of spots where it may be a little difficult.  The hike starts out by following a shallow wash.  The first potential difficult spot comes very early in the hike (less than a mile), where the route leaves the wash off to the right and heads up into the hills.  As you hike along the wash, keep to the right and you should be able to see the cairns that guide you out.  The other is about half way up the south fork where it makes a sharp left just as you approach an old dam.   If you actually get to the dam, you have missed the turn by about a hundred yards.  It would help if you had a map so that you can gauge when you are approaching these areas.

In terms of difficulty, I would classify it as "moderately difficult" (more so if you do the entire loop).  There is one very steep section, but it is quite short (a couple of hundred yards, if that).  The rest of the trail, after you leave the wash, is pretty much a steady climb all the way to the Rio Grande overlook, and of, course, a steady downhill on the way back.

The weather in February is very hard to predict.  It could be quite cold or it could be quite warm to downright hot.  As with almost all desert hiking in the park, the route is almost totally exposed so there is very little shade.  I would expect wind.

Good luck!

Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2015, 01:19:35 PM »
There are one or two guides; google it, you should find them.

The trail is well-marked and with a  GPS you shouldn't have any problem, but if you don't feel comfortable going solo then of course you shouldn't.

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Offline South Texas Gal

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2015, 01:40:35 PM »
hmmm...MV doesn't sound too bad and I am by no mean underestimating the trail/terrain. I have read some interesting accounts from hikers that have gotten lost on MV one on a hiking trail rating site and in "Death in the Big Bend" the one in the book lived to tell about it (Feb 2002).  I am not uncomfortable using a topo map since that is what I had at LM and was helpful but given the remoteness of the trail my biggest concern is the weather and the difficulty of following the trail. Im glad to hear the trail is well marked as from what I had read the trail was difficult to follow which is why I was considering a guided hike...what parts of the trail fit that description? As far as essential equipment I just needs some poles and possibly a sleeping bag should I decide to enjoy the sunset :D
Nature in its infinite beauty can be very unforgiving..

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2015, 02:11:16 PM »
It sort of meanders at first, in and out of washes; my guess would be that this could be where people get off base; once you get to the saddle before the "big up"(400'), it's a pretty clear trail and no rabbit trails.

Starting on trail, heading to the gap in front of you (trail goes up there to the right)


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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2015, 02:15:13 PM »
On top of "big up", clear trail as you can see:



Going down the north fork to the Rio Grande del Norte:




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Offline South Texas Gal

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2015, 02:50:37 PM »
Thank you for the pictures! I have been inspired.  :icon_lol:  and keep the stories and suggestions coming.  It seems I have found a wealth of knowledge here in addition to that on the Friends of BIBE on FB. Many thanks  :)
Nature in its infinite beauty can be very unforgiving..

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2015, 03:06:10 PM »
First time I did MV, I didn't use GPS, I took 5 kids including 5 and 7 y.o. girls; we went around the north loop and up the south one to Split Rock in I want to say 5.5 hours or so; full packs, etc; we camped at Split Rock though we were probably 2.5 hours from our car.  I have no doubt this can fairly easily be done as a day hike with light pack.  In fact, when we did it (Thanksgiving) we ran into a guy running it in nothing more than shorts, shoes and a liter bottle in his hand.  Not to say you can't get in trouble back there.  As recently as 2 years ago, two people died there--college students I believe.

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Offline catz

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2015, 04:54:21 PM »
Because there is so little shade, the most dangerous time is after it starts getting hot, which is pretty much guaranteed to occur mid-March through October.  But be prepared for at least warm weather in February and, because of the lack of shade, it can feel much warmer than you might otherwise think (having said that, it'll probably be in the twenties with a high wind!).   Assuming you start by mid-morning, if it's already warmish then, then it's going to be plenty warm by the time you get back. 

I would assume windy conditions.  Not that you can do much about that and barring a full gale it shouldn't affect you all that much since you won't be carrying a full backpack.   

Or would you?  You mentioned a sleeping bag ("to watch the sunset").  That's another thing altogether.  You don't want to be hiking that trail in the dark, even if it's the same way you came up, even with a light of some sort.  This isn't your local hike and bike trail.  And if you are planning to spend the night, that adds a considerable amount of complexity and difficulty. 

Other than the two moderately potentially confusing points I mentioned in my previous post (exiting the wash and turning left near the dam), I think the only confusing parts involve going down to, along, and up from the river, especially to/from the North Fork.  This, I think, is where people say the trail is hard to follow.  Because it is.  I think for your first trip, you shouldn't bother doing that.  If you insist on reaching the river, the South Fork trail is much clearer and straight forward than the North.   If you insist, when you reach the river, turn around and be sure you can readily identify the trail going back up.   Don't get ahead of yourself and try to find the North trail.

Be sure to carry at least three liters of water.  At least 5 if you intend to spend the night.
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline alanmalk

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2015, 05:44:49 PM »
Hello South Texas Gal,

My wife and I have backpacked the MV trail twice, most recently this Thanksgiving.  I can't add much new to the previous posts but will note that you hear/read references to "Split Rock" on occasions.  This is an informal name, not marked on maps but known to most MV hikers as a very nice place to set up a tent for the night.  It is right at the start of the steep descent to the river (South Fork trail).  It receives its name from the 10' high boulder that is cracked vertically and is quite obvious as you hike towards the river.

As others have noted, the weather may be your biggest concern.  We once ran into a full gale with sand blasting up the canyon - to the point where we had to take immediate shelter and pitch the tent in a canyon bottom.  Other than that, no problems except the outrageous amounts of water we carried in (not out!).  We used a GPS - not so much for route finding but to document the distances traveled and remaining, and to find our way back to the trail in the unlikely event we wandered off.  But again, wandering off the trail is unlikely in the daytime.

Enjoy your hike!
--
Alan

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Offline Geezer

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Re: Marufo Vega Trail for the first time
« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2015, 11:44:28 PM »
STG, I admire your drive and determination, working with a trainer to whip yourself into shape for BBNP. It does strike me, though, that there is a quantum leap from hiking at Lost Maples to the MV trail.

One thing the various posters have mentioned in passing is maps and GPS. These are important because no matter how clear and well-marked the trail, it's always possible to get off it. Then what? A tenth of a mile off the trail is no better than the far side of the moon. From what you've told us, it sounds like you are not experienced navigating off-trail with map, compass and GPS. This supports your intuition that you may need a guide on this remote trail. If I'm wrong and you are expert at orienteering, there's probably no reason why you shouldn't do this hike.

There are lots of hikes at BBNP where the possible consequences of getting off-trail are not so negative. I'm thinking of the various Chisos area hikes like Laguna Meadow, the Rim, Emory Peak, etc. Doing some of those first would provide some experience with map and compass and allow more gradual entry to the back-country hikes.

But do keep working out and planning for BBNP!

Geezer

 


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