Friends of Big Bend National Park
Big Bend Conservancy

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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BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome

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Offline Jay M

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BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« on: December 02, 2015, 07:31:58 PM »
Greetings everyone, I have been lurking for a few months now gathering information for my first visit to Big Bend in January. The information on here is top-notch and has already been very useful in planning my itinerary.

Ill be visiting with my girlfriend the week after new years and we will have 7 full days in the park. We are from New Jersey and this will be our first visit to Texas and BiBe. Wed like to see as many of the corners of the park as we can. Here is what I was thinking any feedback, advice, words of caution or encouragement would be much appreciated.

We fly into Midland at ~4:30 Wednesday afternoon on January 6th.  After picking up the rental car, camp fuel, and any other supplies, plus the drive to the park, it will be pretty late by the time we arrive at the park. Is there any way to legally camp in the backcountry if you arrive at the park in the evening? Is Basin campground likely to be full this time of year mid-week? Id love to camp out on the first night.

On Thursday morning, we will pick up backcountry permits and day hike around the Basin area. Id like to do Lost Mine Trail, Summit Casa Grande, and explore the Windows trail if time permits. We will cache water at Homer Wilson that evening, and make camp at either Grapevine Hills, or the Basin.

Permits in hand my plan is to do the OML starting Friday. If there is water reported in Boot Spring, my plan was to spend the first night on the south rim, stock up on water in boot spring, and take the remaining three days to complete the loop. Any advice on how to break up the loop and the best camp sites would be excellent. My girlfriend and I are both 21, in excellent shape, and have backpacking experience in the Northeast. The major difference will be water and the amount we need to carry. I have done some day hiking and mountain biking in Utah, but this will be her first time in the desert. We will each carry a 6L Dromlite bag, 3L camelback, and probably a water bottle to ration out / mix electrolyte drinks into. I was figuring to carry 4L / day and to adjust the amount pending water reports I really dont want to carry more than 8L, if that is reasonable for this time of year. We are renting a Ford Focus so Id rather not risk caching water at the Juniper Canyon trailhead. How reliable are Juniper Canyon and Fresno Creek this time of year?

After finishing the OML on Monday afternoon we will be in need of some celebratory dinner and beers. Where are everyones preferred post hike refreshments? What about a place to take a shower?

From Tuesday and Wednesday I want to see the other corners of the park. Id like to get down to the canyons on both sides of the park, spending a rest day Tuesday driving down the scenic drive to Santa Elena. I was thinking we could do short day hikes to Santa Elena, Tuff Canyon, Mule Ears overlook, and Buro Mesa Pouroff. If Im spending one day on this side of the park, what are the must-dos?

For Wednesday, I was thinking of finishing with a big day hike of the Marufo Vega trail, if we are feeling up to it. This part of the park looks spectacular. Is it worth condensing Tuesday to allow an overnight in Marufo Vega Tuesday Wednesday? Ive read to steer clear of filtering river water, so we will carry in all the water regardless of an overnight or day hike.

We will need to camp somewhere Wednesday night near the car so we can get an early start Thursday. I figure we need to leave by 11am to make the drive to Midland, return the car, and be stress-free. Is there anything last minute we can see on Wednesday morning near the Basin or the road out of the park to stretch the most out of our BiBe experience?

Thank you guys so much for all the help, this site has been invaluable and I cant wait for the trip.

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Offline elhombre

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Re: BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2015, 08:01:54 PM »
Too much for one trip in my opinion.  Do a 5 day OLM with the first and last day on the rim if in fact you are up to it.  Park nannies say 2/3 don't complete the OLM, and after meeting many of them on the trail, their pace is the problem.  Fresno and Homer are your good friends.  Watch this web site for current info on other water sources.  Too many people blow themselves out trying to do to do to much.  It's vacation!  Not a 4G experience.
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Offline Jay M

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Re: BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2015, 08:25:17 PM »
Thanks for the reply elhombre. I expected this might be too ambitious, though I do want to find a balance between a realistic game plan and making the most of our time in the park. I'm going to break down the mileage / sites and come up with a more specific OML plan to make sure the mileage is realistic for each day.

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Offline dprather

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Re: BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2015, 09:19:45 PM »
You will LOVE Big Bend...provided that you approach the Park with respect.

I want to follow-up on the two-thirds OML failure rate.  I do not know about the exactness of the numbers, but I can offer this story about a young couple that did not complete the OML. 

Last spring (April) I helped a very young, very fit, very experienced (on Northeast trails) young man and wife from Boston who were not able to complete the OML.  Among their failure factors; (1) the dry air and intense sunshine, (2) the intensity of the ups and downs, and (3) the ruggedness of the trail.  The young wife also freaked out about "predatory" wildlife.

(1) West Texas is remarkably dry.  The humidity is very low.  Even in the winter months, the sunshine is draining and comes at you 360-degrees.  People who are accustomed to humping many miles in damper conditions (even East Texas)  are surprised by how the sun and low humidity pull you down.  These can be and must be managed with waterwaterwater and with rest in whatever shade you can find.  Many of the folks who get in trouble have ignored hydration.

(2) The OML has very little level ground.  As you know from your experiences, the downs are as tiring as the ups.   

(3) Trail conditions are not necessarily crude, but you will not find the groomed, smooth, cushy trails that you find in many national forests.  Almost every step is taken on rocky-rolly, chalky, and somewhat gravelly trail.  Add #2 to #3 and the conditions add up to a tough grind. 

As mentioned, #1 can be managed with water and rest stops.  #2 and #3 can be managed by a reasonable pace and with rest breaks. 
 
I suggest that you go for the OML (provided you have the experiences you describe  and quality, light-weight equipment).  I suggest, however, that you (1) consider the OML the centerpiece of your trip, and (2) not stress yourself with too many other plans for your time in the Bend.  Done right, the OML is a fantastic way to get a grip on 2/3rds of the park's zones,  thedesert and the HIgh CHisos.   After you successfully, safely, and enjoyably complete your OML (celebrate at the Starlight) then you can decide about what else you might be down for.

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

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Offline RichardM

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Re: BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2015, 10:57:31 PM »
We fly into Midland at ~4:30 Wednesday afternoon on January 6th.  After picking up the rental car, camp fuel, and any other supplies, plus the drive to the park, it will be pretty late by the time we arrive at the park. Is there any way to legally camp in the backcountry if you arrive at the park in the evening? Is Basin campground likely to be full this time of year mid-week? Id love to camp out on the first night.
No way to camp legally in the backcountry without a permit. The campgrounds have you pay via iron ranger, so they are your best bet when arriving after the permit office closes. The Basin campground should have some open sites at that time of year. With your relatively late arrival in Midland, you'll already be driving in the dark most of the way. If you have your heart set on camping that first night, you might consider the Marathon Motel's campground (bring earplugs for the train). That way you could drive in to the park in the early daylight hours instead of in the dark. While the night sky can't be beat in Big Bend, the view is a bit better in the day for things not quite so far away. ;)

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Offline andrwtzel

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Re: BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2015, 09:09:14 AM »
Couple of thoughts

Your Thursday is pretty aggressive, especially with the OML on deck. My personal opinion, the Lost Mine Trail is great hike it would also be just right in terms of length/difficulty for someone with the OML the next day. Climb it to the top, eat lunch, and take it all in. If you did that in the AM and wanted to squeeze a short afternoon hike in you could, but I for one would opt to go relax at our site.

You can grab a shower at the Rio Grande Visitors Center.

For Tues/Wed after the OML I cant recommend Santa Elena enough. One of my favorite parts of the park.

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Offline Jay M

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Re: BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2016, 04:09:59 PM »
We are back from our trip last night after spending an unforgettable week in the park. We ended up being extremely well prepared for the trip and were able to do everything we planned thanks to lots of great information on this site.

I'm currently combing through 23 gigs of photo and video I took while out on the trail, and I'll be sure to make a condensed gallery and trip report available in the coming week.

Here is a shot from the southern terminus of Juniper Canyon Trail looking back at the Chisos, taken on the 2nd day of our OML journey.


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Offline Andreas

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Re: BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2016, 06:27:25 PM »
Looking forward to your TR & more nice photos as the one you've posted above. Glad you enjoyed your visit to the park!
"Any time you're throwin dirt you're losin ground."

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Offline mule ears

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Re: BiBe first-timer 7-day trip planning -- Suggestions Welcome
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2016, 08:30:39 PM »
Looking forward to your TR & more nice photos as the one you've posted above. Glad you enjoyed your visit to the park!

Same here, happy to hear it went well.
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