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Sierra Quemada Water Report Dec 1-4, 2018

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Offline Peter O

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Sierra Quemada Water Report Dec 1-4, 2018
« on: December 08, 2018, 09:42:57 AM »
This is a water report from my hike in the Sierra Quemada area this past week (Dec. 1-4).  To give some context to my observations, I will summarize my route.  I intend to post a more detailed trip report with some pictures and a CalTopo map link (showing my actual GPS track), but I will not be able to get to that right away due to work demands.   

Starting at the Mule Ears Overlook, I hiked the Mule Ears trail, crossed the intersection with the Smoky Creek trail, and headed southeast to descend into the Casita Spring/ruins area from the northwest (rather than following the wash all the way in).  I then hiked up into the Punta De La Sierra, following a route previously taken by Lance, Picacho, and steelfrog during their awesome summit of the high point (4885) in 2013.  Mule Ears and Robert also took essentially the same route when they descended the Punta De La Sierra (after climbing the high point (5168) on the ridge south of Jack’s Pass).  A highlight of my hike was camping on the saddle underneath the Punta De La Sierra’s high point, although I did not climb point 4885.  From the saddle, I descended northeast down the other side of the Punta De La Sierra and ultimately made it down to a wash that I followed out to intersect with the Dominguez Spring Trail.

My original plan was to head out into the desert (after a detour to Dominguez Spring for water), explore the Cow Heaven area, and return via the wash to the west of Backbone Ridge.  Unfortunately, the start of my hike was delayed a couple days (as I will explain in my report), and I took a shorter route for my return loop.  On the bright side, my revised route took me through Fisk Canyon, which I had never seen before.  After exiting Fisk Canyon, I headed north and then west to pick up the Smoky Creek trail, which I followed back to the Mule Ears trail. 

To help visualize my route, I am attaching a PDF image of the map page showing the tracking points sent by the inReach device that I carried. 

Note that the water I saw during my hike (December 1-4) was before the significant rainfall yesterday (December 7).  I was blessed with gorgeous weather, with highs during the day in the upper 60s and lows at night in the mid-40s.
As others have reported, there is a LOT of water running right now, at least in most of the areas that I observed.  Compared to my stop at Dominguez Spring last year (December 2017), the water flow there is much more robust, and there are better pools for collecting water (although I did not have any trouble getting enough water there last year).  There is also a good flow of water running almost the entire length of Fisk Canyon (other than a short stretch of about .2 mi.).  Based on prior reports by others, the amount of water I saw in Fisk Canyon is quite unusual.  Other than a short (.1 mi.) dry section just before Carney Spring, the water flow continued in the wash about a mile north of Fisk canyon.  The water running in the wash through this area was not there during my hike last year.  The water flow stopped at the point where the wash heads northwest (at the 15-foot rock wall that has good handholds to climb up).  From that point, there was little water over the next 2.4 miles, until after the big pour off that is about .4 miles from the intersection with the Smoky Creek trail. 

The amount of water running along the Smoky Creek trail was even more surprising.  Last year, other than a couple of small pools and short flows, there was little water along this section of the trail.  This year, though, long stretches of the wash had a good flow of water (other than, of course, where the trail leaves the wash to skirt Sugar Loaf Mountain).  The running water gave the trail a different feel, which was great to experience.  The water along the Smoky Creek trail continued until about 1 mile before the intersection with the Mule Ears trail. 

A word of caution.  Although right now there is a lot of water in the Sierra Quemada, that doesn’t mean that there will necessarily be water in every spring marked on the map.  For example, Casita Spring (near the ranch ruins) was wet and muddy, but it would have been difficult to get water there.  Lance reported that their group found some water at Casita Spring and the tinajas below it during their approach to the Punta De La Sierra (in 2013).  I found a small pool at Triangle Tinaja and was able to collect and filter water there, but it was not easy.  There was also a small flow of water in the wash between Triangle and Boulder Tinaja, where there was another small pool.  Given the water reported in other areas, I was really expecting to see more water through this area.  Just another reminder to always heed the advice in red lettering on every page of this site: don’t underestimate the terrain and use the information here wisely.

As with my other hikes in Big Bend, I left the park feeling grateful for the privilege of experiencing some of the amazing beauty of this special place.  I was also again reminded of how indebted I am to those who maintain and contribute to the BBC site.  Thank you all!
« Last Edit: December 08, 2018, 09:55:08 AM by Peter O »



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