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Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML

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Offline bacon_on_top

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Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« on: November 11, 2016, 04:23:31 PM »
Hello all,  my boyfriend and I are heading to Big Bend for thanksgiving and with the closures in the chisos etc, we are looking for something other than the OML to backpack in the Sierra Quemada.  We are fairly experienced hikers/backpackers although mostly in colorado, not desert mountains.  We have already backpacked the south rim and marufo vega in big bend and are looking for something longer and more challenging.  We had originally planned on doing the OML but we want a back up itinerary or two in case the juniper and boot canyon zones remain closed.  We are also open to doing something in another part of the park.  Open to any and all suggestions and pointers!  Thank you!

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Offline VivaTerlingua

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2016, 04:34:57 PM »
Don't know what your vehicle/shuttle situation is, but one option is to hike the length of Smoky Creek.  You could start at the river road and hike to either Mule Ears or Homer Wilson.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2016, 04:55:36 PM »
And be advised that latest word from the NPS Rangers is that the Chisos and OML camping zones will probably reopen by the Thanksgiving holiday. Not a guarantee, but that's the latest word.  So you may have ALL your options available!  Check in frequently with the park staff.  Best of luck!
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline bacon_on_top

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2016, 04:57:31 PM »
we only have one vehicle, a subaru impreza (not a lot of clearance) but I've heard that some of the guide companies offer shuttle services?  is it possible to make a loop with smoky creek/dodson/ elephant tusk?  or possibly with dominguez spring?  What is the route over jack's pass like? and will I need a gps for some of these things?

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Offline bacon_on_top

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2016, 04:58:18 PM »
finger's crossed for those opening up!   :crossedfingers: but if not it's always good to have backup!

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2016, 05:06:42 PM »
we only have one vehicle, a subaru impreza (not a lot of clearance) but I've heard that some of the guide companies offer shuttle services?  is it possible to make a loop with smoky creek/dodson/ elephant tusk?  or possibly with dominguez spring?  What is the route over jack's pass like? and will I need a gps for some of these things?

I have hiked the Dodson several times, and done both Smoky Creek and Elephant Tusk as long out-and-back hikes from base camps on the Dodson.  This was several years ago, before I used a GPS, and I did fine.  They both require excellent good maps and good map-reading skills. Down wash is always much less confusing than up wash. Heading up wash, every incoming sub-drainage beckons and it can be difficult to always ascertain the main wash/route.  I haven't connected those two Quemada trails via Jack's Pass, but I know many other people have and it's certainly do-able. I'll let others comment on the ease or difficulty of that route.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2016, 05:10:01 PM »
Multiple options in the Quemadas from either Mule Ears over look or Homer Wilson.  Look at the trip reports indexes  (there 3) under Sierra Quemada and center of the park.

Depends on how many days you have, here is a 4 day trip report from Homer Wilson

Fortunately there should be plenty of water in the springs and yes you might need a GPS, depends on how good you are at maps and off trail route finding.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2016, 05:11:58 PM »
we only have one vehicle, a subaru impreza (not a lot of clearance) but I've heard that some of the guide companies offer shuttle services?  is it possible to make a loop with smoky creek/dodson/ elephant tusk?  or possibly with dominguez spring?  What is the route over jack's pass like? and will I need a gps for some of these things?

I have hiked the Dodson several times, and done both Smoky Creek and Elephant Tusk as long out-and-back hikes from base camps on the Dodson.  This was several years ago, before I used a GPS, and I did fine.  They both require excellent good maps and good map-reading skills. Down wash is always much less confusing than up wash. Heading up wash, every incoming sub-drainage beckons and it can be difficult to always ascertain the main wash/route.  I haven't connected those two Quemada trails via Jack's Pass, but I know many other people have and it's certainly do-able. I'll let others comment on the ease or difficulty of that route.

Also, for what it's worth, I think it's much easier to walk down wash in the Smoky Creek drainage and up canyon in the Elephant Tusk drainage.  From what I can tell, it's also easier to approach Jack's Pass from the west and descend it to the east.  So all pf that would argue for a counterclockwise trip through the Quemadas.  Again, what ever you wind up doing, best of luck!  Have a great trip.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline bacon_on_top

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2016, 09:03:00 PM »
Thank you for the pointers! How reliable are the water sources out there? Would we need to carry more than 1.5 days water at any given time? And any idea about mileage and timeframe (days/night) for this loop or something where we base camp on the Dodson? How does a trip like this compare to the OML?  Sorry if these questions are redundant or seem silly! Just trying to be prepared for several possibilities. And seriously, thanks again for the responses so far! I'm getting pretty excited!


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Offline Jalco

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #9 on: November 11, 2016, 09:33:40 PM »
Don't rule out Big Bend Ranch State Park next door.  Lots of backpacking options there as well.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2016, 11:10:58 PM »
Thank you for the pointers! How reliable are the water sources out there? Would we need to carry more than 1.5 days water at any given time? And any idea about mileage and timeframe (days/night) for this loop or something where we base camp on the Dodson? How does a trip like this compare to the OML?  Sorry if these questions are redundant or seem silly! Just trying to be prepared for several possibilities. And seriously, thanks again for the responses so far! I'm getting pretty excited!


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Water sources in the area should be reliable; this has been an extraordinarily wet year. Fresno Creek, Mule Ears Spring, Dominquez Spring, Double Spring should all be reliable, plus at least one or two others north of Elephant Tusk along or near the trail to the Dodson.  I doubt you'd ever have to carry more than 1.5 days of water.  As far as comparing it to the OML, I'd say a Quemada loop would definitely take more time (4-6 days depending upon exact route and how hard you push). And the route-finding will be significantly more difficult. Again, though, let me emphasize that I have only hiked the established trails and not the off-trail connection between Smoky Creek and Elephant Tusk. Others that have done it will hopefully weigh in with much better and more specific field knowledge.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #11 on: November 11, 2016, 11:15:56 PM »
Check out this report that just this minute came in!

Hi everyone, first time poster here.  Just finished a 4 day backpack in the Sierra Quemada today, and wanted to give back for all the great info from this forum.  I'm a long time hiker in the park.  The short version is that there is plenty of water right now.

My hike was Mule Ears to Dominguez to Double Spring to the Waterworks and back via the Dodson and Smokey Creek.

In the order of my trip:

Smokey Spring was flowing and filterable but a little green.  Dominguez is running strong over the dam.  Double Spring is also strong.  Elf Spring as well.  Elephant is marshy.  There is plenty of water above Zapato Tuerto, where the ET trail hits the wash from the south.  It's flowing like a creek from there all the way to Skip and Jump.  Smokey Creek has lots of water from above the dam to past Witch Spring.  Again flowing like a creek in many stretches, though it looks like the water levels aren't as high as they were recently, so that may not continue.  More water intermittently to Willow Spring, easily filterable.  Went to check out Rhyolite Spring, but there was too much vegetation to get close enough.

Again, a big thank you to everyone who posts regularly on this site.  It's a wealth of information on one of my favorite places.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline bacon_on_top

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Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2016, 04:32:50 PM »
okay, so what BradATX just did sounds pretty appealing! I have tried to map his route

Does this seem viable?  Also, will we be okay without ropes?  I'm not really interested in adding that particular type of challenge on top of the route finding.  I have a couple points marked in with question marks if anyone can confirm that those are correct and/or viable?  Also, any good campsite recommendations along the way?

If given a choice between this, and the OML, which one would yall recommend?

This site is amazing!
« Last Edit: November 12, 2016, 05:11:25 PM by bacon_on_top »

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2016, 05:22:19 PM »
I think your map might have shorted out.  Here is a rough attempt at his route with some springs marked. 

This is a pretty advanced off trail route in my opinion.  If you are comfortable with route finding and map reading then OK, if not I would not try it.  No ropes necessary, the drop down the east side of Jack's Pass is very steep and slow.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline BradATX

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Re: Sierra Quemada backpack routes. not OML
« Reply #14 on: November 12, 2016, 07:02:55 PM »
Mule ears route is very close, with the 1st and 3rd days being the same.  His route includes our Plan B route for day 2, if we were tired from the first day but OK to continue.  We did our more ambitious day 2 route which was to contour clockwise around Dominguez Mountain up to the saddle just north of the mountain, summit the mountain if safe to do so (it was), then head between points 4722 and 4310 for Double Spring.  Day 2 ended at the saddle above Zapato Tuerto.

This was a fantastic trip, and highly recommended for someone with the right skill level.  Given that, I have several big cautions:

1)  We had multiple bail-out routes pre-planned to shorten the trip if things weren't going well.

2)  My hiking partner and I are distance trail runners.  I prefer low profile trail running shoes + gaiters + tweezers to hiking boots in the desert.  We didn't run on this trip of course, but we probably move faster than most.

3)  We had multiple redundant navigation methods in case of problems: touchscreen GPS with topos, routes and springs loaded (very fast orienteering); a simple GPS as backup + marked up USGS topos (in waterproof case) + major spring exact UTM coordinates + UTM grid overlay (still reasonably fast); compass + strong map & compass navigation skills (slows you way down).

4)  The desert grasses have apparently enjoyed a banner year because they are taller than most of the cairns on the trails, making them harder to find than the usual level of hard.  This slowed us down.

5)  We had multiple filtration options, and extra water storage options in case of leaks.

6)  We had great weather, mostly cloudy with reasonable temperatures.  This made us faster.

7)  I carry a PLB, but try to stay conscious of the dangers of risk compensation: [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_compensation]

8 )  The day before I started my trip, there was a search-and-rescue on Smokey Creek where someone got in over their head.  The rangers at both the Basin and Panther Junction were grumpy about it, and the PJ ranger told me that my route was "very dangerous".  For the average hiker and without the proper preparation, she was probably right.

If this is within your abilities and you have the proper planning and preparation, then go for it.  But keep in mind that the OML is pretty awesome too.


 


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