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Mesa de Aguila advice

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Offline RedditLowlife

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Mesa de Aguila advice
« on: January 09, 2019, 04:56:53 PM »
This will be my second trip to Big Bend.  In July I did OML solo, this time I'm going with a friend and I'm thinking MDA.  I've been reading trip reports and such, of course there are no water reports for that area it seems...

I have found Lance's Big Bend Google Earth Project - IMMENSELY helpful!!!

Questions:

1) Will water be an issue? (Well, more of an issue than it always is in BBNP...)  I'm imagining with the wet year, and the fact that rain is in the forecast the week before, that the tinajas should be full and there may even be some pools of surface water.  Does that sound reasonable?

2) Do most all of the tinajas require rock climbing to access the water?  What level of rock climbing - are we talking 4-pt scrambling, or real climbing-type climbing? 

2a). Which are the most reliable tinajas?  Which are the most easily accessed?

3) What sights are the BEST sights (I know, I know, they're all good).  If I can't see them all, which ones should I make sure to see?  The Point, Smugglers Cave, Fern Canyon, Rock slide rapids, the sinkhole, the "peaks", specific gorges or tinajas?

4) Does anyone climb La Mariposa or Canyon Flag?

5) What campsites do you like best? I can't find much info on Metates campsite, is it worth walking out there to spend the night?  What about Entrance Camp, or the

6) What's up at Old Dam?  I see it on the map but nobody seems to have been out there (at least hasn't written a trip report that I've seen yet).

7) Is the Pack Trail worth exploring?

Thanks!

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Offline jim2

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2019, 05:09:52 PM »
The view from just above the saddle, about forty minutes from the trail head is one of my favorites. There's an oxbow on the Rio Grande, from just the right spot you can see the whole thing. Then the multicolored mountains around Lajitas are also beautiful.
Great spot

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Offline dprather

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2019, 05:39:22 PM »
The view from just above the saddle, about forty minutes from the trail head is one of my favorites. There's an oxbow on the Rio Grande, from just the right spot you can see the whole thing. Then the multicolored mountains around Lajitas are also beautiful.
Great spot

I agree.  That view at the top of the saddle make the saddle climb worth while.  It's a great place to rest and shake off the climb.  I like to go right at the top of the saddle and look over to the west.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2019, 06:41:14 PM »
Back in early 2010, I was part of a foursome who hiked the MDA to the overlook above the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon. We hiked during a fairly dry period, so finding water was an issue. Trip report is linked here:

http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/ay-chi-jeff-and-viper-meet-their-mesa/

Longtime BBCer Randell went a few months earlier and had better luck with water. His trip report is here:

http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/mesa-de-anguila-on-the-rocks/

Both of these may be instructive.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

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splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2019, 08:10:46 PM »
Look for my Lajitas to the Basin trip report from 2008 and several from Robert.  Should be good water in the tinajas.  Rana and lower Blanca require some rock climbing but most of the others do not.

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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2019, 08:20:10 PM »
There is a recent report by Cookie that should give you a sense of the current water situation. See also my report from March 2017.

As for sights, definitely try to get to the Mesa rim and an overlook of Santa Elena canyon. Fern point is great. No one has reported on the Smugglers Cave overlook to my knowledge, maybe you should do that and report back.

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« Last Edit: January 09, 2019, 11:50:57 PM by DesertRatShorty »
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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2019, 11:34:27 PM »
I haven't yet been up on the MDA (though not for lack of trying  :eusa_doh:), but I have kayaked and packrafted the river from Lajitas to the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon, so I can give you some feedback on the riverside campsites. Metates is a decent riverside campsite, and the terrain between it and the base of the Rana pouroffs is pretty interesting, but I most definitely would NOT hike all the way out there from the top of the mesa.  It's just not worth it. Same can be said for Entrance Camp. However, if you're dead set on getting up close and personal with the river, or if you need to make the trek in order to re-water, then - yeah - either of those might be worth tacking on to your trip. They both have "trails" of a sort leading down to them. Of the two, I'd probably choose Entrance Camp: it offers more decent places to set up a camp and also offers dramatic views into the beginning of Santa Elena Canyon. Metates is not really a campsite, but it does have a few hard rock shelves (though I'm betting that technically they're off-limits for camping because of proximity to the few metates there) and lots of nearby muddy, grassy banks covered in cowshit.
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Offline Ranger Tim

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2019, 08:28:32 AM »
On the upshot, it is raining right now in Lajitas.
"The greatest happiness possible to man ... is to become civilized, to know the pageant of the past, to love the beautiful,... and then, retaining animal instincts and appetites, to live in the wilderness"
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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2019, 09:07:03 AM »
Was there 10 days ago.  Water plentiful in most washes. Flowing in Blanca

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Offline catz

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2019, 10:36:58 AM »

We camped two nights at the base of Canyon Flag and climbed to the top one morning.  Nice views from up there but not worth it if it's really windy.   Canyon Flag is roughly halfway across the Mesa and makes a good spot to set up a base camp if you're planning on going all the way to the point.  The view from the point overlooking  the mouth of  Santa Elena and Tornillo Creek is definitely worth it.
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Offline RedditLowlife

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #10 on: January 12, 2019, 09:10:09 PM »
Thank you everyone!

Some more info/questions:

1. Attached is my first sketch of a potential route. Feedback is appreciated. Forgive the childish tracing, it was the best I could do on my phone.

2. What is "Old Dam" and is it worth checking out?

3. What is the "pack trail" (most of day 3, green) like? Scenic/not so much? Easy hiking/Difficult? Waste of time/worth a look?

4. I'm bringing a 10L silnylon water bag and a length of cord to potentially access deep tinajas more easily. Does 50ft of cord sound good?

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Offline ghysdulkc

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2019, 10:19:23 PM »
I was up on the Mesa this past November and then again in December. Iíve been up there close to 10 times, not sure exactly how many I have a hazy memory.

1) water will most definitely not be an issue, assuming you know where to look. The Mesa can be teeming with water but if you stick to the trail without exploring tinaja a just off the path you can go by thinking there is absolutely no water. When I was up there in December there was more water than I had ever seen. All of the tinajas on lanceís Map will have water. Rana and Blanca require scrambling to get to but no actual technical rock climbing. Rana may or may not be dry in its upper reaches, the reliable water is from below, but Blanca will for sure have water.

2) Most of the tinajas can be accessed without technical climbing but sometimes only from above (Blanca) or below (rana, Lujan)

2a). Every tinaja on the map will have water. The lujan slot will have close to a dozen pools full of water.

3) I have not personally been to the point but I imagine it is the best. As others have said, the view from the top of the saddle is good, though the views from everywhere on the Mesa are good. Without a doubt the prettiest spot Iíve been is the rim of Santa Elena around rockslide rapids.

4) people have climbed canyon flag. Not sure about la mariposa.

5) entrance camp has nice views of the beginning of Santa Elena. Blanca is my personal favorite campsite. The views camping  on the rim or near the point are other worldly.

6) I have not been to the old dam but I imagine it is just a brick wall in a creek drainage and may not be worth the detour.

7) Technically everything on the Mesa is a pack trail.

1. Looks like a great, if not ambitious, complete tour of the Mesa! Not to say that your trip isnít doable, but each day is quite ambitious. Just be ready for travel to go a little bit slower than you might expect and for the ďtrailsĒ to not really be trails.

2. See above

3. The pack trail to the north of the Mesa is quite scenic, but no more than the rest of the Mesa. I enjoyed this section as you are walking below towering cliffs for a good part of it. Also, the tinaja lujan slot is worth checking out.  However it is quite rugged and the trail is virtually non existent. Be ready with a good map and gps, cairns are intermittent and will not get you the entire way.

4. You probably wonít need more than 10 feet of cord and, IF you know where to look, could probably find water every mile or so.

One thing I will add is that the topo does not always do the terrain justice. Particularly when following the rim of Santa Elena and on the pack trail to the north of the Mesa, the hidden slot canyons and short but steep elevation changes make a trip more strenuous than expected but also makes navigation with a topo map difficult for the uninitiated. If you have hiked the OML, that is a good start. But the Mesa has a reputation of being the most rugged and isolated part of the park for a good reason. That being said your plan is absolutely doable and would make a great trip!

Please excuse typos, my iPhone doesnít like my fingers.
It's amazing how quickly the human body deteriorates when you sit around indoors.

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2019, 10:41:49 PM »
One edit I would offer is your campsite 1:  youíre within less than an hour of hiking, and one major down/up, from the Santa Elena overlook. May as well camp there and catch sunset and sunrise from there. Awesome views.   

The last half mile or so heading easy along the rim, after the one drainage, is mostly flat

You will start to lose the pack trail a mile or two past the east end of canyon flag and then I found it best to navigate drainages and count our the hills as opposed to taking direct line up and down all of them

Blanca isnít the halfway point though it appears to be. Blanca is about 6 miles from th and the SE overlook is another 7.5.

Total gain to the overlook is about 13.7. Miles and  1800 but it is slow going for the last 5 or so

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Offline RedditLowlife

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2019, 08:43:24 AM »
Thanks again for the great replies.

Would Bruja canyon be a better use of time than Old Dam maybe?

The reason I chose the campsite on the north rim for night 1 was twofold:

First, I read in some trip report that although their plan was to sleep at the point, they found little to no ground suitable for sleeping and were glad in hindsight that they had slept at the marked campsite. My reservation regarding this piece of Intel however is that I believe they had to pitch two tents and we will be two cowboy campers so we would need much less of a flat area.

Second, we will be arriving late the first day (aiming for an 11am start) so I was ready to camp at the nearer location. If we have daylight enough to head to the point, we may.

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Offline ghysdulkc

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Re: Mesa de Aguila advice
« Reply #14 on: January 13, 2019, 09:10:27 AM »
I would say Bruja would be a better detour than the old dam. However I think your best option for the third day would be to take your time exploring lujan. In order to get to the most scenic part of Bruja you need a rope and harness. Lujan can be explored both from above and from below with approximately a 50í rappel in the middle blocking through passage from either direction. It is also much prettier in my opinion. It  also may be possible but difficult to downclimb the drop. Allow time to enjoy the narrow slot, then if you finish it sooner than expected and have more time you could take the short trip over to Bruja.
It's amazing how quickly the human body deteriorates when you sit around indoors.

 


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