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Smoky Creek Trip Report

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Offline stevebo

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Smoky Creek Trip Report
« on: November 19, 2016, 09:36:31 AM »
Although the "original" route was to start at the Chisos Basin, head up to the South Rim, down Blue Creek, to the Dodson, to Smoky Creek to the Mule Ears, due to bear activity, I had to break it into 2 halfs ... the Chisos portion and the Smoky Creek portion.

Mostly I just want to report on Smoky Creek.  We (a group of 4) started in the afternoon at Homer Wilson Eastbound on the Dodson Trail.  Having done the OML a few times, there were no surprises.  We turned down the Smoky Creek trail and found a wash to camp in just before the canyon walls got steep (and I figured there wouldn't be any places to camp). I'm not crazy about camping in A) a wash or B) on the trail, but it seems like those are the only options for a group of 4.

The next day was pretty eye-opening.  The trail was much harder to follow than I had imagined.  The permitting ranger warned that people sometimes (or frequently?) would go down the wrong washes because they'd miss the cairns marking turn-offs.  We did this once, but caught the mistake quickly and turned back.

But the biggest issue by far was the lack of trail and difficulty of following cairns when we were out of the wash.  Many of the cairns were small, obscured by grasses, knocked over or non-existent.  We spent a lot of time looking at the distant landforms and following the contours that seemed to go to where the trail should be.  Fortunately, with 4 of us spreading out looking for cairns when they were ambiguous, we were usually able to find the way pretty quickly.  Only 2 or 3 times did it take more deliberation.  And one time it took probably 20 minutes before we finally figured out the way to go.

There was water in the upper canyon, but by about halfway down to the Mule Ears, the water was no more.  Even in the upper canyon, you can tell that the water supply is starting to dry up.  But this was only 2 days ago so I would imagine water is pretty reliable for the short term future.

By the way, that other post about looking for the Shark Fin looking rock to turn onto the Mule Ears Trail was excellent advice, even though you can't really see it from the wash.  You actually have to get out of the wash in order to see it.  I was lucky because we were walking on the left side of the wash approaching the Mule Ears and I thought it looked like about the place to turn.  So we crossed over to the right side of the wash and not 50 paces further, the trail turned off to the right. Just lucky I guess.

Once we turned out of the wash, maybe .1 - .2 miles later, there's the trail sign.  It not only seems like really poor placement, but if you're hiking up towards the Dodson trail, it's really misleading.  When you face the sign, it sends you up some minor wash even though there are cairns to your right. 

The trail was rugged but the experience completely engaging.  It was very adventurous and quite beautiful as you obviously know already.  I'm guessing most people do this with a GPS, but it was kind of cool to do it without the technology.

Oh by the way, the Trail Illustrated map is wrong.  The map shows that you turn out of Smoky Creek after an enormous butte, but you actually turn out of the wash (steeply I might add) before the butte. 

We ran into almost no one (not dprather) but we did encounter an Outward Bound Group heading upstream.  I don't have photos at the moment, but when I do I can post them.



Offline dprather

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Re: Smoky Creek Trip Report
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2016, 11:09:16 AM »
Great report.

Maybe I'll see you next time.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.



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