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BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES

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Offline Peter O

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BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« on: January 31, 2018, 10:20:10 PM »
Several years ago I discovered some of the wonders of Big Bend NP while backpacking in the Chisos Mountains with my kids.  Although I had heard that the view from the South Rim was excellent, I was not prepared for what I experienced, gazing with wonder and awe at the majestic scenery stretching south toward Mexico as far as the eye could see.  Here's an example of that view from one of our Big Bend trips, with one of my daughters perched on top of the rim.



I found myself drawn towards the mountains and desert out beyond the South Rim, both intrigued and a little intimidated by the thought of exploring this remote and somewhat forbidding area.

I later hiked the Outer Mountain Loop with one of my sons-in-law, who is a trooper and was a delightful hiking partner.  We had a great experience and found the various trails comprising the OML to be relatively well-maintained and easy to follow.  But rather than satisfying my urge to explore this amazing area, it just further wetted my appetite to see more of the vast wilderness below the South Rim.  I was drawn to what lies beyond the Outer Loop.

This led to two longer hikes during 2017.  From February 2-6, 2017, I completed what turned out to be a 55-mile loop hike in the Sierra Quemada/Chihuahuan desert area, starting and ending at the Mule Ears Overlook.  I had intended to hike down to Mariscal Canyon and then up Mariscal Mountain, but I did not make it.  About a month ago, from December 9-15, I did a similar loop hike, this time covering about 64 miles.  This is the story of those two hikes.

Two things before describing my hikes.  First, I feel more than a little sheepish in writing about my February 2017 hike (almost a year ago now).  I had every intention of posting a trip report shortly after I returned.  Unfortunately, I quickly became caught up with my responsibilities at work, which often require me to work long past normal business hours at night and on weekends.  I kept putting off the trip report until things settled down at the office.  Things never did settle down.  After my recent hike, I resolved to set aside some of my night and weekend time to post this report.  I started working on it soon after returning home, but this has taken a lot longer than planned.  Oh well, better late than never (I hope).     

Second, I want to express my appreciation and admiration for the many folks who generously share their Big Bend experience and expertise on this site.  My sincere thanks to the many BBC contributors whose reports and posts have provided me with lots of enjoyment, information, and inspiration.  There are some really excellent writers who regularly post on this site.  Like many of you, I savored House Made of Dawn’s tale about his most recent adventure Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again.  There are others here who are great story-tellers as well.  Also, there is some amazing photography that is posted here.  Unfortunately, I am unable to enhance BBC’s reputation for writing or photography.  If any of my pictures are decent, all credit goes to the amazing natural beauty I encountered and to the camera on my iPhone.

In planning my hikes, I relied on information and advice posted by many BBC contributors—far too many to mention by name.  But I do want to express special thanks to several Benders who kindly went out of their way to help me, including Reece, Robert, and Badknees.  Early in my planning, Badknees generously shared his excellent Big Bend Topo map.  I will explain the contributions by Reece and Robert in describing my December 2017 hike.  Lance’s Big Bend Google Earth project was also a great resource.  Apart from the wealth of information and advice that is here, I greatly appreciate the good-natured tone of the posts on this site.  BBC truly is a place for “friendly advice from expert Benders.”  Many thanks to all!

The Plan
                   
In the Fall of 2016, I began planning in earnest for a hike in December 2016 to explore beyond the Outer Mountain Loop.  I had hoped that I could convince one of my sons to go with me.  As it turned out, I was unable to go in December 2016 due to work commitments, and I set my sights on early February 2017.  Unfortunately, this meant that there was no chance my son could join me (since he was in graduate school).

Although I borrowed segments of my planned hike from multiple reports posted on BBC, my main inspiration came from MetalMan (as he is known here).  He did an epic 7-day, 85-mile hike starting at the Sotol Overlook, hiking all the way down to Mariscal Canyon, up Mariscal Mountain, and eventually all the way up and around to the Chisos Mountain Lodge.  If you have not read his trip report and seen his great pictures, you should:    Big Bend National Park 7 Day Hike – Jan 2016.  After reading about MetalMan’s hike, I was hooked.  I really liked the idea of a hike that would span from the Outer Mountain Loop all the way down to southern end of the park at Mariscal Canyon.  Inspired by MetalMan and others, I planned a pretty ambitious hike— a little too ambitious for me as it turned out.  I was to discover that MetalMan is the Man (as are others on this site), while I am perhaps not quite there yet.

This was the plan, which would have been about 65 miles or so:
•   starting at Mule Ears Overlook, where I would leave my car;
•   hike the Mule Ears trail to the intersection with the Smoky Creek trail;
•   off trail to Jack’s Pass and over the pass to Dominguez Spring;
•   down the Dominguez Spring trail for a while;
•   off trail across the desert and down to the Mariscal Canyon Rim trail;
•   around the canyon;
•   off trail up the ridge of Mariscal Mountain (visiting Mariscal Mine on the way);
•   off trail up to the intersection of Black Gap Road and the Elephant Tusk trailhead;
•   up the Elephant Tusk trail to the Dodson Trail;
•   across Dodson to the Smoky Creek trail;
•   down Smoky Creek trail; and
•   back across the Mule Ears trail to the car. 
Here is an image map of my planned hike from CalTopo.



And this is the link to my CalTopo planning map.  My intended route is the darker blue loop, with the green and light blues lines reflecting shorter alternate routes in case I decided that Mariscal was too much to tackle this time.  As you’ll see, things did not go as planned.

I’m a big fan of CalTopo.  After planning my hike in CalTopo, I printed out a set of color topo maps covering my entire hike (based on USGS 7.5 topo map data at 1:24,000 scale).  (If you haven’t tried printing custom maps, here’s a helpful post by Andrew Skurka called Exporting and printing topographical maps from digital sources.)  I intended to navigate mainly using these paper maps, along with my compass.  (As a back-up covering a wider area, I also carried the USSG Emory Peak and Mariscal Mountain quadrangle topo maps, as well as a portion of the Big Bend Trails Illustrated map). 

In addition, I used the Gaia GPS app on my iPhone.  I also really like the Gaia GPS app.  I downloaded the same USGS map data that I used for my paper maps, and I imported the route I created in CalTopo—so I was looking at the same thing on my iPhone as I was seeing on my paper maps.  This worked very well for me, even though I am somewhat navigationally challenged.  The GPS location and tracking using Gaia on my iPhone seemed very accurate (almost too accurate, since if you zoom in, it embarrassingly—but accurately—shows me wandering off track from time to time). 

As an aside, since taking up backpacking 8-10 years ago, I have discovered that my long years of working from an office chair has done little or nothing to hone my navigational and tracking skills.  And, sadly, even watching Bear Grylls on TV proved to be of little help, although I think his shows may have caused me to consider for a split second the possibility of eating a tarantula I came across.  (Just kidding—more on the tarantula later.) 

In addition to my navigation aids, I brought my inReach SE device.  I prefer to hike with family.  My fondest backpacking memories have been trips I have taken with my sons and one of my daughters.  But as my kids have gotten older—with college, careers, and families of their own—it has become increasingly difficult to coordinate hikes with them, particularly ones extending more than a couple days.  On longer solo hikes over the past several years, I have taken either a Spot device or, more recently, the inReach.  Both have worked very well for me.  Fortunately, I have never needed to use the SOS button.  But the ability to send “I’m okay” messages has provided some peace of mind for my wife and family when I am out hiking alone.  The inReach adds the ability to send and receive text messages.  I’ve also starting using the tracking feature, which gives my family and friends the ability to follow my progress on an online map.  The tracking has worked well.  Here is an image showing my February 2017 track from the inReach map page.



As you may have noticed, my actual track does not match either my planned route or alternate options. 

Here is an image of a CalTopo map showing the GPS track for my February 2017 hike (recorded using the Gaia app on my iPhone).
 


My actual track is in red, with the blue one showing my planned track.  And here is a link for my actual GPS track in CalTopo.  As you can see, I did not make it down to Mariscal Canyon.  More on that to come.

In planning my hike, I decided to cache some water north of Mariscal Mine near the River Road.  Although I had obtained good information from BBC about possible water sources along my route, I was hesitant to rely too heavily on my ability to find water, especially since I had never hiked in this area before.  To learn more about the River Road, I purchased a copy of “Road Guide to Backcountry Roads of Big Bend National Park,” which is published by Big Bend Natural History Association (in cooperation with the NPS).  This is a very helpful resource on the back roads of Big Bend; it also contains lots of interesting information about locations along the roads. 

A couple months before my hike I called the park to (among other things) confirm that I would not be violating any park rules by caching water in one or more IGBC-certified bear-resistant Ursack bags.  The ranger I spoke to initially agreed that this would be fine since the park’s Backcountry Regulations page states that “caching of food and water is prohibited unless items are stored within a bear resistant storage container that has been certified and approved by … the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC).”  Since the Ursack S29 bags have been IGBC certified, no problem.  Unfortunately, the ranger later called me back to say that he was mistaken and that Ursacks could not be used for caching food or water.  This was a big bummer since it meant that if I cached water, I would need to use a hard-sided bear canister, which would also mean that I would need to drive back down the River Road and pick it up after my hike.  I had planned to carry the Ursack with me in my pack after picking up the water, but I did not want to add an extra 2.5 pounds of canister to carry in my pack (and that’s assuming I could fit enough water in only one canister).

I brought my Ursack bags to the park anyway in the hopes that the ranger I spoke to was mistaken or that they would have reconsidered the use of Ursacks, particularly for a water-only cache.  But no such luck.  While I was waiting to get my permit at Panther Junction, I heard a different ranger tell another hiker that Ursacks were not permitted in Big Bend for food or water storage.  (One thing I did shortly after my February 2017 hike was to write to the park superintendent requesting that they reconsider their position on using Ursacks.  I plan to do a separate post on this issue.)

Oh well.  I enjoyed the drive on River Road.  I drove about 20 miles on River Road East to my cache site (near the northern-most section of the road above Mariscal Mine).  The road was dry, and I had no problems in our Subaru.  Along the way, I stopped and talked to a couple traveling back the other way in a Honda CRV.  They had camped at the Fresno campsite, and the gentleman had hiked to and climbed Elephant Tusk.  They likewise had no problem driving River Road East in their Honda.  There are a couple of spots where the road goes across a wash and a little extra ground clearance is helpful (though probably not required).  But otherwise it was pretty easy going.  Here's an example of what my drive was like along the River Road East.

 

One caveat: changes caused by weather conditions (such as water in the washes or muddy stretches) could dramatically alter the drivability of the road.  (I had a little more difficulty driving the road just after a snow/rain storm during my December 2017 trip.)

Other than hearing bad news about using Ursacks, my experience in obtaining a permit at Panther Junction was a delight.  The ranger who issued my permit and helped me complete the solo hiker form was cheerful, courteous, knowledgeable, helpful, and professional.  Basically, she was everything one could hope for in a ranger.  After returning home from my hike, I wrote the park superintendent a letter commending the excellent service rendered by this ranger and the other park employees who I interacted with during this trip.  The acting superintendent sent me a nice note acknowledging my letter.

Day One, February 2, 2017, 10.36 miles

My hike got off to a pretty good start.  I drove to the Mule Ears Overlook, parked the car, put on sunscreen, and started hiking by about 10:00 a.m.  My goal was Dominguez Spring, about 10 miles away.  I thought this would be relatively easy.  I was wrong.  The hike to Dominguez Spring kicked my butt.

My big mistake was that my pack was too heavy, due mostly to water weight.  Being unsure about the reliability of water sources and my ability to find them, I was carrying about 13 liters of water.  Despite this, I didn’t think the 10-mile hike to Dominguez Spring would be much of a problem (rookie mistake).  I had done a couple 75-mile hikes in the past where I had hiked much farther than 10 miles in a day.  While my pack was much lighter on those hikes, they were at much higher elevation (about 10,000 to 12,000 feet) and involved a lot more elevation gain and loss.  Since I live at sea level in south Texas, I thought the difficulty in carrying extra water in Big Bend would be essentially equal the elevation challenges I had on my other long hikes—wrong.  Another factor giving me (misplaced) confidence was that I had no big issues hiking the Outer Mountain Loop.  Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I think the difference on this hike was the additional water weight in combination with the nature of the off-trail terrain.

The Mule Ears trail is well marked and easy to follow.  Here is a picture from the trail looking out to the route I would cross heading towards Smoky Spring.
 


I cruised along for about 3.7 miles until reaching the metal sign signaling the intersection of Mule Ears with the Smoky Creek trail.



At this point, my route would take me southeast across the open plain toward the opening in the mountains that would lead to Smoky Spring.  I was expecting this next segment to be off trail, but I was initially confused when I saw several cairns that seemed to be leading in the direction I needed to go.  Maybe someone had recently marked a trail through this area?  After following a few cairns, I ended up wasting some time looking in vain for more cairns going in the right direction.  (With the benefit of hindsight, I think the extra cairns I saw were leading to the next wash where the Smoky Creek trail is supposed to be, as opposed to the point where the metal sign is located.)  Still, once I gave up on finding more cairns, the terrain was open and it was easy to follow a bearing toward the opening to Smoky Spring.  Also, the cactuses and thorn bushes were generally well-spaced apart in this area, and it was not hard to avoid them.  This would soon change.

I reached Smoky Spring with no problem.  In seeing the ruins at Smoky Spring (and later at Dominguez Spring), I marveled that people had tried—and apparently succeeded for a time—to make a life in this beautiful but harsh environment.



Those must have been some tough and determined folks.  I did not drop down into the wash to check the water in Smoky Spring (since I was carrying what felt like a ton of water), but it appeared from above that there was only a trickle of water and a small, slimy green pool.

Leaving Smoky Spring, I initially had some trouble getting down into the wash where I would need to be for the next part of the hike.  I made the mistake of continuing too far above the wash.  I finally realized that I would have a hard time getting down and had to backtrack to near the ruins, where I could more easily descend diagonally down to the wash.  Once in the wash, I anticipated that I would need to be careful to stay on course to Jack’s Pass, since there are lots of twists and turns and a number of converging washes along the way.  But I thought that the hiking itself would be fairly easy.  I was wrong—again.

The hiking was pretty easy at first, with a nice open path in the wash.  Although there were several nice stretches like this along the way, this would not continue.  Often the path was choked with cactuses/thorn bushes that I had to try to maneuver around or through.  This seemed to require a lot of additional effort that—combined with my heavy pack weight—really tired me out.  My legs felt like pin cushions from all the spines and thorns that I failed to avoid.  To make matters worse, I also fell a couple times.

TO BE CONTINUED ...



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Offline Peter O

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2018, 10:31:21 PM »
continuing on Day One, February 2, 2017, 10.36 miles

I don’t recall ever falling all the way to the ground during any of my many prior hikes.  While I certainly have had my fair share of stumbles, in the past I have been able to recover and avoid hitting the ground (often with the help of my trekking poles).  But not on this hike.  To my consternation, I fell and hit the ground several times.  I’m pretty sure this resulted from a combination of factors.  Most significantly, I was carrying a lot more weight than I usually do.  I don’t weigh a lot to begin with (5’ 10”, 150 lbs.), and once thrown off balance with the heavy pack, gravity took over and it was much harder to recover and avoid a fall.  Due to the profusion and density of cactuses and thorn bushes, I was often doing various contortions to avoid them.  Related to this problem, in many places the brush was high and thick, making it difficult to see where I was placing my feet.  Another factor was the abundance of loose rock that I encountered; here again, slipping on the loose rock had much more dramatic consequences due to the heavy pack.  (My theory for why I fell so much was validated to some extent by my more recent hike; after significantly reducing my pack weight, I did not fall once during my December 2017 hike.)

Despite these difficulties, I trudged on.  Somewhat surprisingly, I did not make any major navigational errors, and I found myself in the gully leading up to Jack’s Pass.  I was more tired than expected, a bit battered from a couple falls, and bleeding from multiple spine/thorn punctures in my legs.  But at least I was in the right spot.  From the pictures I had seen and from the topo map, the route up Jack’s Pass seemed neither particularly steep nor difficult.  You just follow the old fence posts up to the top.  Piece of cake.  Wrong, yet again.



Although I had read reports by others about the difficulties in climbing Jack’s Pass, for some reason this did not register with me until I labored up there myself.  I think Badknees said it best in one of his trip reports in which he described contemplating the climb up to the top of Jack’s Pass with “dismay.”  For me, this soon turned into something more like despair.  Once Jack’s Pass comes into view, you need to make your way up a gully and then up the pass itself.  The gully and most of the slope up the pass are choked with cactuses and thorn bushes.  Making matters worse, the gully is essentially an overgrown wash with lots of large rocks so that you really need to watch your step to avoid having your foot drop through a hole.  I am probably not describing this very well, but for me … every … single … step … was a chore.  I found that the steeper section near the top of the pass was actually easier since the rocks, cactuses, and thorn bushes had thinned out a bit.

Finally at the top of Jack’s Pass, the views were great.
 


But by now it was getting to be late afternoon.  I did not spend too much time at the top for fear that it would get dark before I could reach my intended campsite near Dominguez Spring.  I was a little concerned about finding a safe way down the east side of the pass.  From the reports I read from others who had done it, there was no set route and you just need to carefully work your way down.

Heading down, there seems to be a faint use trail that angles a bit to the right.  So far, so good.  Unfortunately, the faint trail disappears pretty quickly.  After initially heading to the right, I then starting angling to the left of the large rock outcropping.  From the GPS tracks of others I had seen, this seems to be the way most folks have approached the descent.

Going down Jack Pass’s presents similar challenges to going up it.  While there are not as many cactuses and thorn bushes, there are still plenty.  In choosing the best path, I was constantly taking into account the need to avoid the spines and thorns.  But the loose rocks are what makes this most difficult (at least for me).  There are some pretty steep spots, and it was difficult for me to take a step without the rocks sliding out from under me.

This is where things really went wrong.  I was trying to skirt some cactuses while crossing a slope, and the rocks slid out from under me.  As I was falling, the side of my head smacked hard into a cactus.  Luckily—and somewhat surprisingly—I was able to catch myself with my hands and did not slide very far down the slope.  After coming to a stop, I realized with some relief that I had not injured my legs during the fall/slide (although I had almost done the splits) and that the cactus I hit did not have any long spines.  But that’s when the side of my head starting hurting—a lot.  I couldn’t understand what was wrong until I touched my ear and the side of my face (and neck) that had hit the cactus.  That area seemed to be covered with what felt like peach fuzz, although very painful peach fuzz.

I think the culprit was one of these guys:



Although it had appeared harmless to me (especially compared to some of the mega-spines I had encountered), I later learned that the peach fuzz I got from the cactus was hundreds of tiny hair-like barbed spines called glochids (which I understand are found in the reddish areoles of the cactus I hit).

With the side of my head throbbing with pain and still somewhat shaken from my fall, I slowly continued down Jack’s Pass and made it to the bottom without further incident.  It was still a bit of a walk to Dominguez Spring, and I followed some more old fence posts until reaching my intended campsite.  Here is a view looking back at Jack's Pass.



I found a really nice spot with a great view of Dominguez Mountain from my tent door.  Here is what it looked like in the morning:
 


Despite the beautiful setting, I spent a miserable night.  After setting up camp and eating some dinner, I tried to figure out what to do about the mass of tiny cactus spines on the side of my face and neck.  I had some small tweezers, but they were useless against hair-like spines both because there were so many and because I could not see them on the side of my head.  Using my small emergency signal mirror, I was able to grab a few of the spines, but they seemed to just break off each time I grabbed one—and there were hundreds of them (or so it seemed).  Not knowing what else to do, I finally used some hand sanitizer as an antiseptic and then spread on some antibiotic ointment, mainly hoping that it would sooth the irritation a bit.  This treatment did not help much, at least that night.  All night long, I was repeatedly jerked awake with a burst of pain whenever I moved my head. 

(By the way, after returning home and reading about glochids, I discovered something that I wish I had tried.  A couple sources mentioned that duct tape was useful in removing them.  I kicked myself for not thinking of that since I had some duct tape with me on the hike in my repair kit.  I still had lots of those buggers imbedded in me when I got home, so I tried the duct tape.  It worked pretty well in removing most of the remaining glochids, although not all.  I also learned that I was fortunate not to have had a worse reaction to them.  Although I was pretty miserable for a couple days, some folks apparently have severe skin reactions, including lesions that can last months.  In case you’re interested, here is a link to an article called How to Remove Cactus Spines From Your Perforated Body.

Day Two, February 3, 2017, 12.1 miles

The next morning I had a very difficult time getting going.  Once I did get moving, I filtered some more water from a nice pool near the dam ruin. 


There were several small pools in this area.  One of the reasons I was carrying so much water and why I filtered some more is that I hoped to avoid the need to get water from the Rio Grande River below Talley.  Here are some of the ruins near the spring (looking back towards Jack's Pass:



It was late morning by the time I headed south on the Dominguez Spring trail.  I was hopelessly behind schedule.  Given the number of days I could spent hiking, I would need to make it down to Mariscal Canyon that day.  I somehow convinced myself that I could make up the lost time.  This was pretty much impossible given my capabilities, but I did not want to give up on my plan to hike down to Mariscal Canyon and then back up Mariscal Mountain.

Once I got started, I was able to make good time hiking along the Dominguez Spring trail.  I did not see any cairns marking the trail, but you just stay in the wash (sometimes parallel washes) and the hiking was easy.
 


When I left the “trail” and headed across the desert, the hiking was again easy and I continued to make good time.  It’s easy to navigate with the open vistas, and the cactuses and thorn bushes are spread out and easy to avoid.  The desert terrain was interesting and beautiful in its own way, with occasional craters that made me feel like I was on the moon.





It soon became obvious that there was no way I was going to get down to Mariscal Canyon that day.  What to do?  I decided to keep going as far as I could that day and then decide.  In the area marked as Y Spring, there is a good-sized patch of green bushes and even a few small trees.  I searched around a bit, but could find no pools or even wet spots.  Not far from Y Spring, I hit the River Road.  By this time, it was almost dark.  I decided to walk along the road for a while.  When I stopped, I moved a ways off the road to camp for the night. 

That night I was a bit bummed out.  It was clear that I did not have time to hike down to Mariscal Canyon.  And, while the side of my head did not hurt as much as it did the night before, it was still very uncomfortable, and I did not sleep well (to say the least).

TO BE CONTINUED ...

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2018, 10:52:47 PM »
This is a brilliant trip report, Peter.  Wonderfully, honestly, fascinatingly written. Thank you. Really looking forward to the rest of it.   :notworthy:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Peter O

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2018, 10:55:15 PM »
Day Three, February 4, 2017, 13.5 miles

After packing up camp in the morning, I continued on River Road with the intention of following it until I reached my water cache.  In looking at the map during a break, it occurred to me that I could still go explore the Mariscal Mine.  So I left the road where it was nearest to the mine, headed across the open country, and then climbed the hill on the other side of the mine.  I came out directly above the mine.  I spent some time exploring the mine and the various buildings and shafts.







I was not entirely alone while exploring the mine, as I saw a coyote trotting among some ruins.  (You can just barely see his tail as he is ducking behind a building on the right side of this picture.)



It was fun to imagine what life would have been like for the people who worked the mines.  I quickly decided that, while working there back-in-the-day might be interesting for a few days or so, it was probably very hard work and rough living conditions.  Leaving the mine, I followed a well-used path above the mine and walked along the tail end of Mariscal Mountain ridge line as it descended to the River Road near my water cache.







After picking up some water, I walked back along the River Road a short distance before heading north across the desert to an opening in the hills where I would then head northwest toward where Black Gap Road intersects with the Elephant Tusk trailhead.  Just as I was about to leave the road, two guys came drove by in a super nice Jeep.  They were really surprised to see me and even more surprised when I told them where I had been and where I was headed.  I got the distinct impression that they were glad to be in the Jeep (and may well have been wondering about my sanity or intelligence level—or both).

Here again, the off-trail desert walking to the Elephant Tusk trailhead was easy to navigate over mostly open country.  I stopped for a snack at the trailhead, and, to my amazement, another really nice Jeep happened to drive by while I was there.  The two gentlemen in this Jeep also seemed surprised to see me out there, and they kindly offered me some water (although I didn’t need any since I had picked up my water cache only about an hour before).



The south end of the Elephant Tusk trail is extremely well marked.  There are prominent cairns at appropriate intervals, which are easy to see since the brush is not too high or thick in this area.  You can easily see one of the nice cairns in this picture.



There are also tall metal fence poles (painted brown), which are also easy to spot and are helpful if you lose track of the cairns and need to get your bearings.  The Big Bend NPS folks did a great job marking several miles of the ET trail leading up to Elephant Tusk itself.  It was enjoyable to be able to follow the trail and hike quickly through this area.

Unfortunately, the ET trail becomes far less well-marked as it gets close to Elephant Tusk, which is also where the trail gets trickier and the need for clear guidance increases.  The cairns become much smaller (sometimes comically so) and appear less frequently.  The metal posts also mostly disappear—just when you need them most.  It seems like whoever did the great job on the initial portion of the trail ran out of time, energy, and/or money.  Another possibility is that different trail crews marked the trail in these areas at different times.  Whatever the reason, it was not easy to follow the trail as it rose above the wash next to Elephant Tusk.



If you zoom in on my GPS track through this area, you will see that I lost the trail a couple of times and wandered around a bit before figuring out where I was supposed to be. 

Once the trail descends down into the wash just past Elegant Spring, the going is easier for a while.  Not because the trail is marked well, but because you just stay in the wash for a while.  There was very little water at both Elf Spring and Elephant Spring.  It was starting to get dark, so I was on the lookout for the point where the ET trail exits the wash.  This was lucky because the exit point was poorly marked, and I likely would have missed it if I had not been so anxious to get out of the wash and find a campsite.  I found a spot on a hill above the wash.  Although it took a bit of work to clear off the sharp stones (or at least most of them), there was a great view of Elephant Tusk from my tent.  The pain from the glochids had also subsided a lot, so all in all it was an enjoyable night.  These shots show my campsite (taken in the morning):





TO BE CONTINUED ...


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Offline Peter O

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2018, 11:30:21 PM »
Day Four, February 5, 2017, 10.3 miles

In the morning, I planned to continue on the ET trail until it intersected with Fresno Creek, and then I would head down the creek to explore the Waterworks.  I found a cairn not too far from where I had camped, but almost immediately I lost the actual trail.  I knew from the map where I should be heading, but I wanted to follow the actual trail on the assumption (probably mistaken) that it would be the best course to avoid the increasingly thick brush, cactuses, and thorn bushes.  This was frustrating.  It seemed that every time I decided to give up and just follow a bearing from the map, I would stumble across a small cairn and continue looking for the trail.  This was to be the theme for my hike along the northern section of the ET trail that day.  It got to the point that several times I laughed out loud when trudging through high brush and looking down, I saw microscopic cairns that would have been invisible had I not been standing right on top of them.  My only solace was that I had read a number of trips reports by other hikers—all probably better at backcountry navigation than me—who had all also lost the ET trail in this area.

Although I’m pretty sure I was mostly not on the actual trail, I made it to Fresno Creek and headed down the wash to look around.
 


There were several good pools along the way, and I found a nice spot to filter some more water.  As many others here have reported, the Waterworks area was beautiful, with a number of nice pools. 







After spending some time exploring, I reluctantly headed back to the ET trail.  I had hoped the rest of the ET trail leading up to the Dodson trail would be better marked and easier to follow.  Those hopes were soon dashed.  I once again soon lost the actual ET trail, other than tiny cairns that I would occasionally stumble across in attempting to make my way as best I could.  Here again, I kept vacillating between wanting to follow the trail and deciding that it was hopeless.

When I finally hit the Dodson trail, it seemed like a superhighway compared to the ET. 



I decided that if I still live in Texas when I retire (I am three score and some change, to use Reece’s reckoning of years), I would try to organize some volunteers to work on the ET trail, especially the northern half starting with the area around Elephant Tusk. 

(It later occurred to me that perhaps I did not need to wait until I retire to try to help out.  When I returned home from my hike, I checked the BIBE website and called park headquarters to ask about volunteering opportunities.  My thought was that maybe I could go to the park to do volunteer trail work over a weekend every now and then.  The person I spoke to on the phone told me that they don’t use volunteers for trail maintenance and that he didn’t know if the ET trail was on the schedule for the park’s trail maintenance crew.  Oh well, I hope to try again when I have a little more time.)

Looking up toward the South Rim from the Dodson trail:



All too soon, I reached the junction with the Smoky Creek trail.  At this point I considered continuing on the Dodson trail to the Homer Wilson Ranch and then try to find a ride to my car at Mule Ears Overlook.  I was frustrated with my experience on the north half of the ET trail, disappointed that I had not made it down to Mariscal, and still feeling a bit battered from my cactus encounter.  I ultimately decided to stay with my plan to hike down the Smoky Creek trail.  I was really glad that I did! 

For me, going north to south on the Smoky Creek trail was a much better experience than I had on the northern half of the ET trail.  At the same time, I agree wholeheartedly with Mule Ears’ assessment discussed in his post Smoky Creek trail really just a lightly marked off trail route.  It is indeed not very well marked, and I would add the Smoky Creek trail to the list of trails that could use a lot of attention.

Not far along the trail, there was some water running and a couple of nice pools in the vicinity of Slickrock Spring.  I filtered some more water from a pool in this area.



The trail is a little tricky where it leaves the wash around Taza Spring.  Luckily, I spied the marker for the exit from the wash.  The trail was also faint as it went overland until dropping back down into the wash.  There were some nice views as the trail went above the wash.

 

I continued up the wash for a ways until finding a spot to camp in the vicinity of Witch Spring.  I had a nice dinner and enjoyed a wonderful night with tons of stars in the sky.  And very little pain from the cactus glochids during the night!

Day Five, February 6, 2017, 9.7 miles

I packed up and headed out with the intent to get back to my car at Mule Ears as early as possible.  From where I was camped, the trail leaves the wash, and it was again hard to follow until it finally dropped back down into the wash.  There were few cairns through this area, and they were typically small and hard to spot.  (But it was still easier for me than the north end of the Elephant Tusk trail.)
 
Not far after passing Hermoso Spring A (which did not have water when I went by), there is another tricky spot where the trail again leaves the wash (which turns south toward Hermosa B).  I saw a cairn suggesting that the trail left the main wash, but (as you can see from my GPS track) I did not initially see a small cairn leading up out of the wash and mistakenly headed up a side wash.  Once I realized my mistake and got back on track, I again had to pay very close attention to follow the trail until it descended back into the wash.  After that, it is pretty easy hiking.  Not that the trail is well-marked (or marked at all), but you just continue to stay in the wash (other than one detour for a pour off).

I made good time on the hike back to my car at Mule Ears overlook.  By now, the side of my head was essentially pain-free, and I was a pretty happy hiker.



(I really do need to ask one of my kids how to take a decent "selfie.")

Despite my mishap with the cactus and my failure to hike down to Mariscal Canyon, my principal thoughts (other than the cheeseburger I was craving) were how lucky I was to have been able to hike so far and to see so much of this ruggedly beautiful area.  For me, there is something peaceful and soul-satisfying from time spent in remote wilderness areas, especially Big Bend.

But alas, this hike did not satisfy my desire to see still more of Big Bend beyond the Outer Loop.  As I was hiking back along the Mule Ears trail, I was already thinking about when I could come back to Big Bend.  In particular, I really wanted to hike all the way down to the Rio Grande River, see Mariscal Canyon, and climb Mariscal Mountain.  But that would have to wait for another day.

Here is a link to a Flickr album for my February 2017 hike, which shows the pictures in higher resolution and includes a few other photos.

TO BE CONTINUED ...


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Offline Peter O

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2018, 11:58:20 PM »
Mule Ears – Mariscal Loop Dec. 2017: The Plan for a Second Try

The chance to hike in Big Bend again came sooner than I had expected.  Due to some circumstances at work, I could do another hike in early December 2017.  But if I missed that window of opportunity, it might be a very long time before I could again get away for an extended hike.

In planning my second hike, I decided to follow the first half of my plan for my earlier hike.  I wanted to see if I could do a better job of hiking to Jack’s Pass and descending safely down the other side.  From there, I would follow my original plan to hike down to the Mariscal Canyon trailhead, around the canyon, and up Mariscal Mountain.  I suppose it might sound dramatic to say something like “I had unfinished business” in reaching my goal to conquer Mariscal Mountain.  Really, though, it wasn’t like that.  I just wanted to see the amazing Mariscal Canyon, and it seemed that hiking Mariscal Mountain would be a neat experience with awesome views.

But I did not want to hike the entire Elephant Tusk trail again.  Once was plenty.  I started looking at the map for routes cutting across from Elephant Tusk to the Smoky Creek trail.  After drawing what seemed like an interesting route on the map, I discovered that Robert had reported on a hike a couple of years ago that included this same route segment, Feb 2015 - Sierra Quemada trekking.  I contacted Robert to see if he had a GPX file reflecting his track through this area.  Robert not only sent me a CalTopo link showing his route, but he also included some helpful notes on avoiding pour offs along the way. Robert’s track and his suggestions proved to be very valuable. Many thanks to Robert!

From my experience during my first hike, I knew that I needed to significantly reduce my pack weight.  The water cache from my first hike worked well, but I decided to expand that and use two water caches for my second hike. I would leave one cache at the same place from my first hike (where I would pick it up after hiking Mariscal Mountain), and the other one I would leave near where I would cross the River Road coming down from Dominguez Spring on my way to Mariscal Canyon.  I would pick up two days’ worth of water to hold me during my hike down to Mariscal Canyon and then up Mariscal Mountain, thus avoiding the need to get water from the Rio Grande River.  I know others have used river water with no ill effect, but I just preferred to avoid it if possible.  I would have my second cache waiting for me after coming off Mariscal Mountain and before heading across desert toward the ET trailhead.  This plan ended up working very well.  (I also put some of my food in the caches since I would need to use hard-sided containers either way; this further reduced the weight in my pack.)

In addition to the two water caches, I also decided that I could safely carry less water since I was more confident in the reliability of some of the water sources (like Dominguez Spring) and in my ability to find them.  This had the added benefit of enabling me to use a lighter pack. I will write separately about my pack selection (perhaps as an addition to the excellent gear reviews by Mule Ears following his recent hike: Equipment reviews after Dec. 2017 trip).  With my overall pack weight much reduced, I felt nimbler, especially when hiking off-trail and going across the mountain.  This time I did not fall once and generally enjoyed the hiking more.

My plan was to arrive in Big Bend early on Thursday, December 7, where I would spend the day getting my permit and leaving my water caches.  In the weeks leading up to my hike, I kept watch on the NOAA weather report for the specific areas where I would be hiking. During almost this entire time, the weather in this area of Big Bend was great, with highs typically in the low 70s and lows in the lower 40s. To my dismay, about a day before leaving for my hike, I discovered that a storm was moving into the area. I decided to go anyway since I would not have the opportunity to do the hike unless I went during that time. As I was driving on I-10 toward Fort Stockton on December 6, rain began to fall and so did the temperature.

As I arrived in Fort Stockton, the temperature had turned very cold and the rain had turned to snow.  In checking the forecast, the snow was projected to continue through the night and all the next day.  I stayed that night in Fort Stockton, hoping that the weather reports were wrong and that I could safely travel down to Big Bend the next morning.  But no such luck.  By morning the roads were covered with snow and ice; the snow was still falling and it was projected to continue through the day.  The NOAA forecast for Big Bend was for rain and snow all day and continuing into the night.

I decided to stay in Fort Stockton that day and see if the weather would clear enough for me to drive down to Big Bend on Friday, December 8.  If so, I would start my hike on Saturday, December 9.  I had plenty of work that I had brought with me, so I did not feel like the day was wasted.  Still, I worried about missing the opportunity to do my planned hike.  If I could not start by Saturday, I would not have time to hike down to Mariscal Canyon.

Waking early Friday morning, I was relieved to see that the snow had stopped and to learn that the sun would be coming out, although the early morning temperature in Fort Stockton was only in the mid-20s.  I set out for Big Bend, but the trip took longer than usual since most of highway 385 was covered by ice and snow, especially between Fort Stockton and Marathon.  I saw only a couple other vehicles on the road early that morning.  Fortunately, it looked like the highway had been sanded, which made the driving seem safer.

When I arrived at the park, I could see plenty of snow on the mountains.



My main concern was that with the snow and rain from the day before, I would be unable to drive the River Road to where I would leave my water caches.  To my relief, after traveling a few miles south on Park road 12 (from Panther Junction toward Rio Grande Village), I could see very little evidence of snow or water.

At the turn off for River Road East, the dirt road appeared nice and dry. As it turned out, the road was dry and passable for almost the entire 20 miles (or so) to where I would leave my water caches.  There were several muddy patches that made me nervous, but my Subaru was able to cross them with only a bit of slipping and sliding. Still, I would have felt a little more comfortable in an actual 4 x 4. The muddy patches were just north of the spur road to Solis.

Here is where I left one of the caches north of River Road and south of Y Spring:



After leaving my water caches, I drove to Panther Junction to obtain my backcountry permit. The ranger who helped me was experienced, knowledgeable, and professional. 

I asked him if they had access to my permit from February since my hike would be very similar this time. No such luck. Later, when he handed me their laptop to enter my solo hiker information, I asked him if per chance they had access to the information I had entered in February (thinking that it might be still be accessible even though the permit information was not).  He gave me a look as if to say, “That’s a dumb question.”  I started to respond but decided prudence was the better part of valor; I kept quiet and re-entered my solo hiker information.  I can see how the rangers and park staff could get tired of answering questions about things that they likely have no control over.  I just hope that the good folks at the NPS will find a way to make the permit process more efficient—both for the sake of park visitors and the rangers/staff.  Unfortunately, recent news about the shutdown of the  El Campo system is not encouraging.  But whether or not improvements can be made any time soon, for me the opportunity to explore and enjoy this special place is more than worth the cost in the form of any inconveniences in the permit process.   

After completing my permit, the ranger asked me if I had a bear canister. I told him that I had one in my car just in case (which was true), but I also said that I did not intend to carry it in my pack unless less required to do so. He said that it was not a requirement yet, but added that “we will be pushing hard” for it in the next several months.  After returning home from my hike, I sent a letter to the superintendent with comments about this issue.  I plan to do a separate post about that. 

One other curious thing.  Reece mentioned in his wonderful February 2017 report Threescore and Ten (A cautionary tale) that when he got his permit and filled out his solo hiker form, he was given a Big Bend emergency email to use in sending a message from his inReach device in the event he needed help.  Reece was told that someone would check the email until 10:00 p.m.  To me, it makes a lot of sense for the park to maintain and monitor such an email, which could allow prompt and direct communication between rangers and a hiker needing help.  For example, had I met up with Lud and Lone Hiker on Mariscal Mountain (during their hike several weeks before), I could have used the inReach to contact the rangers for help with the situation that Lud described in his report Chisos-Quemada-Mariscal Loop: Trouble in Paradise.

In filling out my solo hiker form, I mentioned to the ranger that I would be carrying an inReach device.  His brief response was that they do not monitor devices like that.  It sounded like his comment was intended to end any further discussion about my inReach (although perhaps I misread him).  Of course, his response makes sense to the extent that they surely do not want to give hikers the impression that someone will be monitoring their status to insure their safety.  But, for whatever reason, he said nothing about the park having an emergency email that could be used.  Luckily for me, I had read Reece’s report and had already entered the BIBE emergency email as a contact on my inReach, so it was readily available had I needed it (which fortunately I did not). 

With my backcountry permit in hand, I was excited to begin my hike the next morning, Saturday, December 9.

TO BE CONTINUED ...


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Offline Peter O

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2018, 12:43:33 AM »
Day 1, December 9, 2017, 9 miles progress (but 11 miles hiked)

In planning both of my hikes, I was aware of only a few others who had hiked along the ridge of Mariscal Mountain.  As I later learned, Mule Ears was doing a very similar hike to mine and started on the same day that I did.  As he pointed out in his excellent trip report Walking from Mule Ears to Mariscal (and back), Dec. 2017, several other folks also did a similar hike this year.

Here is an image of the map page showing my track from my inReach:

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Here is an image of a CalTopo map showing the GPS track for my December 2017 hike (recorded using the Gaia app on my iPhone).




And here is a link for my December 2017  GPS track in CalTopo.  This time my actual hike was the same as the one I planned.  My track for each day is shown in a different color.

After arriving at Mule Ear’s Overlook, I put on some sunscreen and got ready to hit the trail. According to the GPS track I recorded, I turned on the tracking at about 9:40 a.m.  Mule Ears reports that he and his buddy left the overlook at 10:00 a.m., so we missed each other by about 20 minutes.  Unfortunately, our paths never crossed. They took a different, longer (and cooler) route, so that they ended up hiking Mariscal Mountain the day after I did.


Having learned my lesson from my last hike, this time I was carrying only 6 liters of water. I also decided that I would not hike all the way to Dominguez Springs the first day.  With a much lighter pack, I made good time hiking to Smoky Spring.  This is the view heading toward the opening that leads to Smoky Spring:



Although I did not need any water at Smoky Spring, I took a few minutes to drop down into the wash to check the spring. There was some water running and a couple of small pools, although one of them was green and slimy.







Looking back at Mule Ears from the ruin at Smoky Spring:



Bear scat near Smoky Spring.  This was to be a continuing theme in the off-trail washes during my hike.



Leaving Smoky Spring, I was in good spirits and ahead of schedule.  What could go wrong?  Well, of course, I managed to find something.

Before leaving Smokey Spring, I pulled out two pages from my map set to review the route to Jack’s Pass.  As with my prior hike, I had printed out custom paper maps using CalTopo.  I put the map pages for that day in my pants pocket so I could easily refer to them during the winding route to the pass.  I set off and initially made good time hiking through the relatively open washes. But about a mile after Smoky Spring, I reached in my pocket to check my map.  As you might have guessed, the map pages were not there.  Thinking that they had worked out of my pocket and fallen along my walk from the spring, I turned around to try to find them—fully expecting that I would discover them in the wash just around a bend or two.  (I printed my maps using both sides of the paper, so that the backside of each map page had another map for a different day; although I had back-up topo maps, I didn’t want to lose multiple map pages at the very start of my hike.) I kept walking and walking but of course did not see my map pages.

I ended up walking all the way back to Smoky Spring and found the map pages near where I had taken pictures of the pools. I had either dropped them or they had fallen out right there. So my second hike had not started out so great after all, and I hiked an extra 2 miles that day (11 miles rather than the planned 9 miles).   

On the bright side, my pack was comfortable, and I was able to make good time after that.  I also managed to stay on the right route to arrive at the wash leading up to Jack’s Pass.  I put an “+” marker on my CalTopo map at a junction of several washes that seems to have caused trouble for other hikers (who have ended up going a ways up one of the alternate washes).  At the marker, you take the wash to the left; then, a short distance after that, you go right at the fork in the wash.  As with my prior hike, however, trudging up Jack’s Pass—and avoiding the spines, thorns and rocks along the way—was still a bummer, although I found it a lot easier this time (despite hiking a couple extra miles to find my maps).



A couple months before my December hike, Reece posted a request for suggestions about a hike to Jack’s Pass, Bucket List - Jack's Pass.  He got some interesting and helpful responses, including one that really got my attention.  Badknees suggested camping on the pass itself—which was seconded by House Made of Dawn.  I wasn’t entirely sure if they were being serious, but I really liked the idea. 

I decided I would give that a try since it would also mean that I could get a good night’s sleep and be fresh in the morning for the descent down from Jack’s Pass—where I had so much trouble the last time.  Also I remembered from my prior hike—or thought I remembered—that there were some relatively flat spots at the top of the pass.  After making it to the top of the pass, I started looking for a good place for my tent.  What I had forgotten was that there are lots of sharp rocks, cactuses, and thorn bushes everywhere.  Although it proved to be a chore, I cleared out a spot (which hopefully will be there awhile in case someone else wants to give this a try).  It was worth it!

Here are some views from the top of the pass and my campsite there (taken that night and the next morning):









The top of the pass turned out to be a wonderful place to camp, and I had a great night there.  Luckily, the wind was mild that night; with high winds, it could get a little sporty up there.  Now, if I could just make it down the pass in one piece the next morning ...

TO BE CONTINUED ... (in a couple days)


« Last Edit: February 01, 2018, 12:59:21 AM by Peter O »

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Offline badknees

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #7 on: February 01, 2018, 05:06:42 AM »
Quote
Badknees suggested camping on the pass itself—which was seconded by House Made of Dawn.  I wasn’t entirely sure if they were being serious

Yes I was serious. Good for you. I like you, would be cautious if it was windy, but I always thought sunrise from there would be great.

Thanks for the photos and trip report - great stuff!
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Offline mule ears

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2018, 07:50:41 AM »
Peter what an awesome start and this report is certainly in the pantheon of great trip reports.  It is also never too late to post a trip report.   :icon_biggrin:  I love the detail, the writing and the photos.  It is a lot of work and we really appreciate it!

Good thing you did the Feb. hike when you did, we were there the 6th-10th and it was hot as blazes (some record highs in fact)!

Very good call to camp at the pass, I love high campsites with great views (assuming the wind is tame).  That is an interesting looking cuben fiber tarp, I don't recognize the manufacturer.

Can't wait for the rest.   :great:
« Last Edit: February 01, 2018, 08:45:29 AM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2018, 10:58:33 AM »
Peter what an awesome start and this report is certainly in the pantheon of great trip reports.  It is also never too late to post a trip report.   :icon_biggrin:  I love the detail, the writing and the photos.  It is a lot of work and we really appreciate it!

Good thing you did the Feb. hike when you did, we were there the 6th-10th and it was hot as blazes (some record highs in fact)!

Very good call to camp at the pass, I love high campsites with great views (assuming the wind is tame).  That is an interesting looking cuben fiber tarp, I don't recognize the manufacturer.

Can't wait for the rest.   :great:

+1 on everything Mule Ears said. I'm particularly interested in hearing more about your tarptent; it looks good. I'm afraid I'm going to have to replace my beloved 13oz. Integral Designs Silshelter in the next year or two. It's been off the market for years, so I'm actively scoping out alternatives.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline rocketman

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2018, 08:45:09 PM »
Wow Peter. Great writing and pictures! Thank you!
Making ice cubes FROM THE SUN!!!

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Offline Jalco

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2018, 09:18:41 PM »
I am enjoying this trip report so much!  Thanks a bunch!

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Offline Peter O

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #12 on: February 02, 2018, 12:28:13 AM »
Day 2, December 10, 2017, 9.6 miles

The next morning I woke refreshed and ready to descend Jack’s Pass—hoping not to make a mess of it like last time.  In planning my second hike, I had looked more closely at the routes that others had followed in descending Jack’s Pass.  I decided to try a different route that is shown on Lance’s Big Bend Google Earth project (which is awesome—thanks again Lance).  I had also seen it in one or two other trip reports (thanks guys). This alternate route involved swinging to the right (south) around the large rock outcropping. More about that in a separate post. 

This picture shows the start of my descent down the pass; the rock outcropping is to the bottom left, and I am headed to the right (about where the camera was pointed).



This is about half way down the pass.  I am passing the rock outcropping (which is to my left).

 

In short, this route worked WAY, WAY better for me and was much easier than the path I took during my first hike. I’m not sure if this is the best way to descend Jack’s Pass, but it was far better for me than what I had done the last time.  Whew!  It was a relief to make it down without incident.  Here is the view looking back at Jack's Pass.   



Continuing over to Dominguez Spring, there was a small flow of water for about 100 yards, with a few nice (but small) pools near the ruin of the old dam.  But the main thing I noticed in the wash around the spring was copious amounts of bear scat, along with lots of tracks from bears and other animals.





This picture shows the pool I used for filtering some water at Dominguez Spring, along with my Sawyer water filter kit.



Notice the white fabric funnel thing?  Reese had shown a pre-filter like this in his report Threescore and Ten (A cautionary tale).  I contacted him to see where he had obtained the filter material. Not only did he provide me with information about where to find the material, but he also went out of his way to send me one of his filters (which is shown in the picture). Thanks again Reece!  Lots of great folks on this site!

I really like using this pre-filter. As others have noted, when obtaining water from sources in Big Bend, it is often helpful—and sometimes essential—to have something to scoop the water with. I carry my Sawyer filter in the cut off plastic water bottle, which I also use to scoop up water.  I used the pre-filter when pouring the water into the dirty water bag, which I then filtered using the Sawyer filter. Reece’s pre-filter is very light (less than ½ oz.) and worked great during my hike, as it removed some of the gunk in the water that can clog up the Sawyer filter (although the water here was pretty clear). As Reese pointed out to me, however, I would not want to rely on the pre-filter as the sole means to purify the water, even though it is supposed to be 1-micron filter material.  (There is a discussion about using this material as a primary water filter at the BPL site, Homemade 1 Micron Filter?.)

As I was hiking away from Dominguez Spring, I encountered lots more bear scat and bear tracks.



Those are my size 10.5 shoes for context, but did you notice the the gaiters in these pictures?  I had never before hiked with gaiters, but I decided to try some after the experience on my last hike—where my legs felt like pincushions from the thorns and spines. These gaiters worked great, and I don’t think I will hike in this area again without them. After returning from my December hike, my lower legs were completely unscathed—although I had plenty of stab wounds beginning right around my knee where the gaiters ended. In a separate post I will describe my search for the right gaiters.  While I would not bother with them for hikes like the Outer Mountain Loop, gaiters are now essential equipment for me when hiking in the Sierra Quemada.

For a time I hiked along the “Dominguez Spring trail,” although again I never saw any actual trail markers.  Here is a picture taken along this section of the "trail."




The “+” marker on my CalTopo map shows where I left the “trail” and headed out into the desert.  As with my prior hike, the desert walking was easy and enjoyable. 



The difference in terrain from the previous day was remarkable, which is one of the cool things about hiking in Big Bend. 





When I arrived in the vicinity of Y Spring, I checked around a bit for water.  As with my prior hike, I could find no water here, although the green vegetation and presence of some small tress suggests that there may be water somewhere or at some times. 



Leaving Y Spring, I headed south in the direction of my first water/food cache.  I had set a waypoint at my cache site (using the Gaia app), and I had no trouble finding the spot.  Thankfully, my canisters were still there.  I had left a soda in one of the canisters, which was still cold from the cool night temperatures.  It tasted great after hiking across the desert.  I camped next to my cache location. 



From my tent, I could see the north end of Mariscal Mountain, where I hoped to be coming down two days later.



It was another great night—this time in the desert.  From a mountain pass to the desert in one day!  Big Bend is awesome.

TO BE CONTINUED ...

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Offline elhombre

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Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2018, 08:17:22 AM »
Is that a Zpack tent?  How did it do out there, and have you had it for a while?

I remember looking around Jack's pass for a good tent site.  Not much to choose from for sure.  Kicking out a spot is another nice advantage to wearing some sturdy boots.  Much less chance of tearing up your shoes.   :great:
First Russian Collusion, then Mueller, then Obstruction, then illegal payment to Stormy Daniels, then tax returns. Now no formal vote on impeachment for a 30 min. phone call to Ukraine

No crime. No evidence, just more secret investigations

Drain the Swamp.  America will survive.  God Bless America

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Offline Buck

  • Black Bear
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  • Jose' is Lonely
Re: BEYOND THE OUTER LOOP—A TALE OF TWO HIKES
« Reply #14 on: February 02, 2018, 10:15:02 AM »
Great report - it provided a nice transcendental trip from my desk to the Bend this morning as I prepare for knee surgery.
"Hey, how 'bout a Fandango..?"

 


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