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Early April Backpacking route suggestions

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Offline cmcg

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Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« on: February 04, 2018, 07:46:38 PM »
Hello!  I will be visiting Big Bend for the first time this April (in the early part of the month).   I'll be be there for 4 days, 3 nights (after driving from Austin and then staying overnight in Terlingua).  I was considering doing the Outer Mountain Loop, since it seems like that would fit my time frame, but it sounds like parts of the trail would be too hot during that time.  Also, the NPS site says you need a high clearance vehicle to cache water at Juniper Canyon Road and I will just have a rental car (not sure what kind), so that may not be possible.

I have a book (Hiking Big Bend National Park, Falcon Guide) that describes over 50 different hikes.  But I could use some help narrowing things down.  I'd prefer to backpack at least for part of the time, instead of just doing day hikes.

Also, if this has any bearing on the advice I might receive, I'm traveling solo.  I'm an experienced hiker, camper and backpacker.  I'm in very good physical shape.  But I've never been to Big Bend before and am cautious, given the terrain and heat, that I not bite off more than I can safely chew.

Thanks for any suggestions!


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Offline dprather

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2018, 10:18:17 PM »
Welcome to Big Ben Chat.

Weather in The Bend is unpredictable.  Early April stands a pretty good chance of being pretty good.  As you mention however, higher temps are possible, and can make the exposed desert sections difficult.  The best time I ever had on the OML was a mid-April solo trip a few years back - with unusually mild temps.  The only thing you can do (and we all do this) is to have a Plan "B" in mind.  Early April can also be a great time to enjoy several glorious days in the High Chisos as your backpacking alternative.

The official warnings are not to be ignored, but are not necessarily to be taken literally.  The road to the cache location at the Dodson/Juniper Canyon intersection can be difficult or not - depending of how recently it has been maintained.  My nothing-special Ford F150 makes it easy-breezy.  I did it in December in a Volvo.  I've done it before in my wife's Equinox.  Please do not take my Volvo or Equinox references as recommendations.     

 Some 2/3rds of those who begin the OML do not complete the OML (it is said).  The challenges are not insurmountable for someone who is reasonably experienced, reasonably prepared, and reasonably fit.  BUT, I have seen the OML whip young, healthy people who are not inexperienced, and plenty of them.  Please be honest with yourself about your ability to handle (i) constant ups and downs, (ii) rugged, uneven, and rocky trail conditions, (iii) possibly constant exposure to 360-degrees of sun and to very low humidity, and (iv) the fact that none of these challenges ever take a break

That said, the OML is also great fun.   

I suggest that you take advantage of this gtremendous site by reviewing the many excellent OML trip reports.  These will give you the flavor of the challenge.

If you choose to do a solo OML, please make sure that you memorize the map - have that thing hard-wired into your thinking.

Best of luck.

Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline catz

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2018, 10:01:41 AM »
While anything is possible, I guess, my experience is that temps in early April will be too hot for the OML.  The most difficult (and underestimated) part of that hike is the Dodson portion of the trail.  The exposure is relentless and it is the prime reason why so many people drop out only part way through the hike.

If you persist, be sure to do the Blue Creek portion in the morning.  It faces directly west and that sun, combined with the altitude change, will be a killer.
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Offline mule ears

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2018, 12:37:33 PM »
Good advice so far.  You will have to play it by ear and decide when you get there whether or not to do the OML.  I agree with catz that the averages are that it will be hot down on the Dodson but then again I did the OML the first time in April, it was hot as hell but we made it but not what I might normally recommend.  Here is the OML FAQ if you haven't found it yet.

Here are the trip reports indexes and of all the OML reports there are only 3 in April and one in May, you will find them illuminating.

As to alternatives you could certainly do a night or two in the Chisos but the SE rim will be closed for peregrine falcon nesting so it limits it some.  Otherwise if it is indeed hot you will have many morning dayhike opportunities.  Dog canyon/Devils den, Pine canyon, Mule ears spring and beyond, Chimneys, Grapevine Hills are all good.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline cmcg

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2018, 06:56:50 PM »
Thanks all for the detailed and honest feedback.  So, I think unless there's are colder than normal temperatures at that time, I'm likely to not do it.  I'm up for a challenge, but am not interested in being miserable--and it sounds like it could be.

So, are there recommendations for other multi-day backpacking routes?

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Offline dprather

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2018, 07:32:10 PM »
Thanks all for the detailed and honest feedback.  So, I think unless there's are colder than normal temperatures at that time, I'm likely to not do it.  I'm up for a challenge, but am not interested in being miserable--and it sounds like it could be.

So, are there recommendations for other multi-day backpacking routes?

The High Chisos can be enjoyed as a multi-day adventure.  You can go up to one spot (say Colima #1) and use that as a base of operations.  You can also shift from one spot to another and spend different nights at different camp sites.  Although part of the Rim will be closed, there is an awful lot of the High Chisos to ramble around and see.  It is gorgeous up there.

Do not automatically assume that early April is a no-go for the OML...maybe yes; maybe no.

If the weather is too hot and sunny to do the OML, the Bend's other major trails will be similarly hot and sunny. 

Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline cmcg

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2018, 07:52:25 PM »
Thanks I'll look into the High Chisos.

I'll maybe keep OML on the backburner, depending on the forecast...what would be temps that would make it doable?  I have hiked in a lot in New Mexico in the summers, during hot days, but, as I've said, I've never been to Big Bend, and so don't want to overestimate similarities of past experiences.

Also--with water, is it recommended to carry in everything?  That seems like it would make a pack incredibly heavy, unless caching.  If purifying, where online could I check to see if water exists in various locations prior to my trip?  I'd assume some locations dry out.

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Offline elhombre

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2018, 09:27:17 PM »
If the forecasted temps are in the mid to upper 80's, I personally would say your in for a death march across the lower desert.  It can be done, and is done all the time, but there is a loss of joy in that kind of heat. 

The problem is that not many people will be traveling the trail so the water reports are hard to come by.  Fresno creek will be running south of the trail crossing.  Boot Creek will most likely have water in it, but it could be rather funky if the spring rains aren't there this year.  It's a tough time because the summer thunderstorms are usually a few months off from April.  Spring rains can be good or not good.  It wasn't more than 5-6 years ago the park only got less than 5 inches the entire year.

Upper Juniper will be the key to getting this done without driving out to Juniper trail head for a water drop.  It will most likely be running, but I'm more sure of Fresno creek running than Upper Juniper.  Should be some Spring break water reports you could watch for.

You have already found the only on-line source for honest water reports in Big Bend. 

If it's hot, another 3 day trip can be done up at Guadalupe NP.  Walk to Tejas sites, then down to Dog canyon for water, then walk south and do the trails on the south side of the mountains up to Blue Ridge.  Better chance of being cooler with the elevation.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2018, 09:38:29 PM by elhombre »
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Offline dprather

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2018, 09:41:49 PM »
Thanks I'll look into the High Chisos.

I'll maybe keep OML on the backburner, depending on the forecast...what would be temps that would make it doable?  I have hiked in a lot in New Mexico in the summers, during hot days, but, as I've said, I've never been to Big Bend, and so don't want to overestimate similarities of past experiences.

Also--with water, is it recommended to carry in everything?  That seems like it would make a pack incredibly heavy, unless caching.  If purifying, where online could I check to see if water exists in various locations prior to my trip?  I'd assume some locations dry out.

Regarding temps, to each his own.  But 90-degrees on the OML's exposed sections is AWFULLY hot.  The high-80s are even tough for those who are not accustomed to the relentless sun and terribly low humidity.  Cloud-cover is a wild card - a very cloudy 85 is a lot different than 85 with blistering sun.  My personal opinion is that 85 is the absolute top for an enjoyable OML.

There are two water options. 

Option #1
The OML is not a geographical triangle, but can be imagined as having three distinct sections with three distinct "points."  The three points, helpfully equidistant, are (i) the Basin, (ii) the Juniper Canyon/Dodson trailhead, and (iii) Homer Wilson.  Water can be had at all three points.  The (i) Basin has faucets and a store; the (ii) trailhead and (iii) Homer Wilson have Park-designated cache boxes where water can be cached (stored) before you get on the trail.  Many OMLers depend totally on these three points, loading up at those places and hauling all their needed water between them.  It us not unusual to hear of folks beginning at these points with 4-6 liters per person - oh my aching back

Option #2
Some of us have learned better, that there are some "found" water sources along the OML.  Some depend on these totally; others use these as supplements.  Several of these sources are intermittent at best.  This sight has tons of entries for how to find, access, and safely use these sources.  Elhombre mentioned some of these. 

Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2018, 10:20:51 AM »
I agree with everything elhombre said. Play it by ear, but I’d avoid the OML if temps are above 80. Hard to explain how hot that will feel out in the shadeless rocky desert. The sun comes at you from every angle, even bouncing up from below. If you do try it, chances are good you can squeak by using naturally-available water sources. Just read up on the reports on this site. Should be a few recent and reliable reports from Spring Break.

If it is too hot, then consider sticking to the Chisos Mountains. Gorgeous and cooler. Or, as elhombre pointed out, the nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park, if your schedule permits the drive. Anything else down low will probably be too hot too enjoy at +80 degrees, though you could always try a few dayhikes.


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Offline cmcg

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2018, 09:36:29 AM »
Thanks again for feedback!  Sounds like Chisos is a good option to focus on unless we have colder than normal temps that week.

Are there any 3-4 day routes there that people typically take in the Chisos?

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2018, 01:17:04 PM »
Thanks again for feedback!  Sounds like Chisos is a good option to focus on unless we have colder than normal temps that week.

Are there any 3-4 day routes there that people typically take in the Chisos?

First thing to note: a large section of the Chisos is closed to public between Feb 1 and May 31 every year to protect nesting Peregrine Falcons. The exclusion zone includes all of the Southeast Rim and most of the Northeast Rim (up to and including the NE-4 campsite).  But that still leaves a lot of the High Chisos to explore.

In order to stay cool, you'll probably want to begin and end your trip in the Basin. There are two routes from the Basin into the High Chisos: 1) the steep switchbacks of the Pinnacles Trail, and 2) the gentler, straighter, longer Laguna Meadow Trail. Both options top out in interesting areas with great views back down into the Basin. The Chisos trails available in April basically form a highly-deformed figure-eight with the Colima Trail being the middle connector, and the out-and-back trail to the summit of Emory Peak thrown in for good measure (you can find a good trail map of the Chisos on the NPS' Big Bend NP website). There are many, many ways to negotiate this figure-eight. No matter which you choose, a trip of 3-4 days should give you time to hit all the high points, which include: the lovely, narrow, rocky, shady Boot Canyon with its spring and pools of water; the stunning views of the desert from the cliffs of the South Rim, sunrise/sunset from a campsite on the Southwest Rim, climbing Emory Peak, and taking a few moments to peer back into the Basin from viewpoints in Laguna Meadow and/or the top of the Pinnacles.

You can only camp in NPS-designated primitive campsites (each with its own steel bear-box for securing your stuff, especially food and water). The NPS Big Bend NP website has a good map of these campsites, along with descriptions and photos. Basically, the Toll Mountain sites are near the top of the Pinnacles Trail but are surprisingly private, the Boot Canyon and Colima and JC1 campsites are all within walking distance of the water resources of Boot Canyon, the SW rim sites provide views or access to views of the desert, the Blue Creek campsites are shady with nearby views of the Blue Creek Canyon, and the Laguna sites are fairly open and close to the sweet open Laguna Meadow as well as the steep hidden secrets of Cattail Canyon (a challenging off-trail exploration).
 
There really is no right or wrong way to negotiate the Chisos trail system. Especially if you have 3-4 days. You should be able to experience all the high points no matter which way you go. You could hike up to a single campsite and do nothing but dayhikes from there, or you could move your camp each night. Just depends upon what you like. If it were me, I'd probably stay one or more nights at Boot Canyon and include a summit of Emory Peak, and then spend one night at a campsite on the Southwest Rim to take in sunset and sunrise. And you want to make sure you hike as much of the rim trails as you can: the view is always excellent and always changing. I'd definitely ascend from the Basin on one trail and descend down the other, just to get the full variety.

Edit: Here's a PDF of the HIgh Chisos Trail Map:  http://www.annestravels.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/HighChisos-Trails.pdf
« Last Edit: February 11, 2018, 09:19:58 PM by House Made of Dawn »
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Offline RichardM

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Offline cmcg

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2018, 08:55:03 PM »
Thanks for all the information.  Now that I've narrowed things down, I've started to do some readings on specific trails from a Big Bend book I have.  I'm just wondering: in early April, how crowded will it be up there in the Chisos?  It looks like there are a lot of campsites...if they all fill, that seems like a lot of folks up there!

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Early April Backpacking route suggestions
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2018, 12:51:27 AM »
I doubt they’d fill up in early April. The park will just have suffered through spring break (when all the Chisos campsites DO fill up). You’ll be there as the park is exhaling a sigh of relief.


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