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Big Bend: Big Country, Big Views, Big Experience. 2/25-28/14 OML Solo Trip Rep

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Offline BuckeyeMark

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I have always known I wanted to experience Big Bend, and thanks to great timing and the information/assistance obtained from this forum, I was able to have a most excellent time last week.

A few general observations:

- IMO, BIBE is a life-lister.  The place is so diverse, pristine, enchanting, spectacular, challenging, unique and majestic, it is something any serious backpacker MUST do.

- Everyone I met along the way was very friendly and helpful.  There exists a natural bond for anyone who has the interest and will to make the effort to take in this special place.

- While I didn't get great sunsets or sunrises, or a lot of stars, I am very fortunate with how the weather worked out.  The 60 degree-overcast day on the Dodson helped out tremendously.  I feel bad for goatlegs (or whoever) had to do it in the 80's a couple weeks ago.

- Another benefit of the guidance of this forum was that I became much more anal of pack weight, going as far as purchasing a single-person, lightweight tent and weighing everything I own.  A lot of self-awareness obtained by this simple step.

- I went with 8 Liters for every two days while on the trail, had reasonable weather, and barely made it. I didn't really concentrate on conserving until the last day, but I also didn't feel like I over-hydrated along the way. This is something first-timers really need to take into consideration.

- While I couldn't get a cell signal (Verizon), I found that I could tap into the Basin Lodge WiFi at the restaurant and Basin Parking Lot.  This helped keep in touch with the family (texting and Facetime).

For reference, prior to this trip, I had done four, three-day solo backpacks in Ohio/WV/Virginia, and four Llama-aided 5-6 day trips in the Southern Wind River Mountains.  My plan was to do a clockwise trip starting at the basin, camping on the Dodson, Blue Creek Canyon and Colima 03, hitting the South Rim on Day 3 and Emory Peak on the way back on Day 4, hopefully getting back as soon as reasonable for the long drive back to Austin (flight back to Columbus, Ohio early Saturday).  I started out with 8 Liters of water at the Basin, and picked up 8 more Liters at HWR.

Here is my detailed trip report. 

Monday, 2/24:

I was staying in Fort Stockton, so I awoke at 6am and filled out the permit and solo hiker form on El Campo.  Straightforward and quick.  I was on the road by 6:30am, and easily made the PJ Visitors Center by 9am (the views starting at Marathon were gorgeous).  Not too many people there, and my permit was handled very quickly (I am sure aided by completed El Campo forms).  Pictures of my face, backpack and boots were taken in case of rescue purposes.  Despite expectations of getting no water details, the nice Ranger who took care of me actually gave water information (dripping at Boot, reliable at Upper Juniper and Fresno).

I headed over to the Basin and got a camp site for the night and set up my tent.  By 10:30am I was on my way down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive for caching at HWR and site-seeing.  I cached 2.5 gallons of water and food. 

I hit Sotol Vista, Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff, Tuff Canyon, Mule Ear Overlook, Castolon Visitors Center, Santa Elena Canyon, and Old Maverick Road.  The Pouroff, Tuff Canyon and Santa Elena are “must sees”, IMO.  I took in the Ranger talk at the lodge at 5:30pm (informative and entertaining) and had dinner.  The Space Station flew over the campground at 8:15pm that night, which was pretty cool.

Tuesday, 2/25:

Up at 6am to try to get an early start.  I was poorly organized, and didn't hit the trail until 8:30am.  Nice morning, not too warm.  I made it up the Pinnacles Trail by 10:15am no worse for the wear, beating most of the sun on the trail.  After a short break, I went down Boot Canyon Trail.  I found Boot Canyon to be very cool with the wash filled with big boulders.  As noted in a prior post, there was no water dripping at Boot, but a nice pool just above the pipe, and two decent sized pools on the ledge above it.

I headed up the Juniper Canyon Trail, surprised at the steepness and slipperiness of the initial part of the trail.  Also, (a common theme), I was surprised at how prolific the vegetation was along the trail.  Dry, but to the point of being overgrown.  I thought this was the desert!   I took a break for lunch at what I thought was the peak right before JC1, but found out another little rise after JC1 to the clear top of the trail before the long descent.

After a couple miles down the trail, I ran into the first hikers of the day, one guy coming up the trail destined for SW4, and two other clockwise hikers that came from SW4 this morning.  I forged ahead, getting leap-frogged by the two younger guys after a couple more miles.  The heat started picking up (although it was still overcast – not a good day for pictures), and I started slowing down considerably around the 8-9 mile mark for the day. I started taking more frequent breaks, and admiring what was frequent initial blooming of a wide variety of plants (another surprise!), as well as the beauty of Juniper Canyon.  I ran into hiker79 and three others coming up Juniper that afternoon.

I made it to Dodson about 3pm, just as the two younger guys departed.  There was one car in the lot, with what looked like one batch of provisions in the bear box.  I took a little break, and headed west, hoping to make some distance on Dodson.  This lasted about 0.7 miles (4pm) as I found a camp site on the left that was too good to pass up (and still had an excellent view of the South Rim and Juniper Canyon).  I set up camp, created a little back rest out of the largest rocks to gaze at the mountains, and enjoyed the rest of the evening.  Unfortunately, clouds were coming in from the west, and there were no stars this night.

11.9 miles on the first day.  GPS track of the day can be found:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/454587810

Wednesday, 2/26:

By far, the best night's sleep I have ever had in the backcountry.  I was out by 9pm, slept straight to 2:30am, and didn't get out of the tent until 7am.  The clouds turned into rain, with a steady drizzle early in the morning, and lasted until 9am-ish.  Someone reported that the area got 0.2”, which was well received given the dearth of rain for a month.  I was back on the trail shortly after 8am, still drizzling and very thick cloud cover.

The weather conditions were a blessing given the reports of 80+ degree struggles along the Dodson.  I made excellent time in the 60 degree temps, cruising the Dodson pretty well, making it to Fresno by 11am.  There was a good flow of water in the Fresno just south of the trail, and plenty of pools.  Up at the top of the next hill just above the Elephant Tusk Trail intersection, a young couple from New Hampshire caught up to me and we chatted awhile.  I forged ahead and soon was walking in clouds once I reached the 5,000' elevation.  I NEVER expected that coming into this hike!

Soon after the clouds and the high point of the Dodson, I entered a really neat little alley that was almost lush with different vegetation, seemingly a little oasis.  Again, just amazed by how much growth there is.  I had a pre-conceived notion it was going to be like the desert I saw in Breaking Bad or No Country For Old Men, however, it would be difficult to find a spot to camp outside of a wash if it wasn't for the prior camp sites.  Very pristine.

During this stretch, I ran into stevebro and half his Fitpacking group (12 total).  I trudged further and stopped at Smoky Creek Trail for a lunch break.  During this, the Fitpackers and the NH couple leap-frogged me.  I caught up to the Fitpackers at the top of the next rise, the last peak on the Dodson before the descent to HWR.  Fortunately, the clouds started to clear a bit to enjoy some of the exceptional views.  I ended up hiking the next mile or so with stevebro chatting about his guide business and various places to backpack.  The hike down to HWR was pretty easy, and the sky started clearing and by the time I was at HWR (2:30pm), it was mostly sunny.

The NH couple was there and left shortly.  I was pretty much out of water, so I completely filled up and gave the rest of my water to the Fitpackers.  I also took the opportunity to dry my fly.  A nice little break, and then back on the trail around 3pm, hoping to knock off as much as I could on the Blue Creek Canyon trail to alleviate the climb the next morning.  I also knew I had more left in the tank given the mild temperatures on the Dodson.

The beginning of the BCC trail was very frustrating, as it was almost completely on the wash (as was the last mile of the Dodson), and I just hate walking on the loose rocks/gravel, especially with the new additional weight added to the pack and the rising temps.  I also was unsure whether I was following the right path, but fortunately I met a couple day-hikers coming down that gave me confidence that I was on the right path. For future hikers who might have the same uncertainty, stay on the far right of the wash and keep on trudging toward the red-rock formations.

The scenery of the red-rock formations motivated me, as they were really neat to take in, and resulted in one of the best pictures of my trip.  Another thing that continually amazed me about this place is all the different and diverse geology and ecological zones.  This was like ten parks wrapped up into one.

I was starting to wane quite a bit (over 13 miles for the day by this point), and was really struggling to find a camp site.  One of the day-hikers gave the tip of where they saw a site to the left of the trail as it left the wash, so I kept plowing ahead waiting for that moment.  I had one of those “if I don't see it by the next turn, I give up” moments, and sure enough, the site was just before the bend on the left of the trail.  This is right next to Cedar Spring on the map, and is a fantastic site.  I followed the path up to the ridge, and snagged the site overlooking the Spring.  Absolutely beautiful!  13.8 miles hiked (including getting the cache), and done by 4:20pm.

Surprisingly, the two young guys from the day before (from Connecticut and Philly) came up an hour later and camped in the lower section near the trail.  They stopped for a couple hours on the Dodson and took a break, allowing me to pass them without knowing it.  The reverse sunset was beautiful, and I was all stoked to sleep under the stars for the first time ever.  However, shortly before dark, ominous clouds formed and took over the sky, so I put the fly on the tent, and packed it in around 8pm. Sure enough, by 9pm it was drizzling again (but did not last too long).

GPS log of the day:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/454587811

Thursday, 2/27:

I woke up at 6:30am wanting to get an early start for the climb up Blue Creek Canyon.  I also wanted to be properly fueled, so I had two cups of coffee and a big breakfast (Pro Bar Meal and half a bag of Bacon Jerky).  The young guys were gone by 7:15, but I didn't rally until 8:00am.

The hike up BCC was very pleasant for the first mile or so, a pretty gradual ascent before the switchbacks for the last mile.  The Canyon was beautiful, with the cliffs and caves on the left, and the lush oasis along the creek (where the mangled conduit rises above the ground).  I was able to make it up the switchbacks easily enough with plenty of breaks, and fortunately, before the sun hit me.  I was on Laguna Meadows Trail by 10:40am, and in great shape.

After going down Juniper and up Blue Creek, I don't seen a material difference between the two, actually thinking that the climb up Juniper would be more strenuous for a longer period of time.  I do think I would rather like to climb down the rocky wash of Blue Creek, and, the views while going up Juniper would be excellent.  Maybe a six-of-one situation.

My original plan was to dump my pack at COL-03, then walk around the South Rim with just a water bottle, camera and snacks.  However, given how early I was due to the benefit of my trudge up BCC the day before, I thought I would keep my pack, go around the South Rim and then make my way to the Boot Canyon camp sites, figuring one would be open, and giving me a faster trip the next morning.  Of course, as I started up Laguna to South Rim, I also started hitting the day-hikers from the Basin.  The trail was not bad at all, and the views over the Rim made me forget I even had anything on my back.  OMG.  To die for.

I hit the “ramp” near SW4, and spent a couple hours with my jaw dragging on the ground along the rim.  I'm not sure pictures will do it justice. (Today was a typical clear, sunny day with temps around 70 degrees).  It ranks in the top-10 (maybe 5) of my most awe-inspiring vistas (Grand Canyon, Cirque of the Towers, Glacier Gorge from Mills Lake, Front Range from Twin Sisters, off the top of my head).  I love picking out the various ranges and spots I have been, and found it very neat to follow the path of the Dodson below.  Also, the ranges in Mexico became very clear, as well as the path of the Rio Grande.  I was mesmerized by Elephant Tusk, Dominguez Mountain, and Punta de le Sierra, considering those to be a future destination.

In case pictures did not do it justice, I attempted to do a panoramic video: 

Additionally, I tried to do a video that follows the path of the Dodson: 

Unfortunately, while I was on the “ramp”, there was also a large group of 15-16 year old kids on a day hike (St. John's school?) visiting the same area at the same time.  This disrupted my serenity to the point I turned crotchety old-man on them, telling them to not throw rocks over the rim, pee over the rim (I should have let that one go given the wind probably would have sprayed it back up in his face), and not to crawl onto ledges below the rim for photo-ops.  I realized I needed to hold off, given the fact that the youth are being exposed to such beauty at an early age is a rarity.

I had to pry myself away.  I can see why SW4 is so popular, as a matter of fact, I ran across the folks who reserved SW4 six of the seven nights from 2/24-3/2 during my hike!  I walked down Boot Canyon Trail, which, again, I found very neat and different than what I expected to experience in BIBE.  There were pools down in Boot Creek the entire way, the most inviting at the top, right where the trail first hits the creek.  The Ranger mentioned they don't like pointing hikers to these since they are the only source of water for the Bears and Panthers, and either you don't want to find them there or you might find a carcass in the pool.

I made it to BC camp sites by 4pm, and only BC01 was taken at the time.  I dropped my gear at BC02 (I was surprised how far the path was for the other BC sites), and started to get organized.  One thing I found out is that I used so much water coming up Blue Creek Canyon the afternoon before (as well as for breakfast), that I only had 1.7 Liters remaining.  Given that all I was doing was hiking up Emory Peak and then down to the Basin the next morning, I didn't need too much, so I was alright, but ended up having a dry dinner.

About 5pm, the BC04 campers arrived, on their first night of a two-night mountain trip (SW4 the next night).  Nice guys who spent a few days canoeing the river earlier in the week.  I was feeling pretty good about my chances for BC02 when around 6:15pm, a couple from Rochester, NY showed up with the BC02 reservation.  They were very gracious, and volunteered to just go to BC03 since it was open.  They were on a three-night mountain trip (SW4 in two nights), if they figured out their food would last.  Since I didn't finish my last dehydrated meal, I gave it to them, and hopefully they made their third night.

The weather was great, and I was able to sleep under the stars.

GPS for this day:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/454587812

Friday, 2/28:

Up at 6:30am, and on the trail by 7:30am.  Since I can't take any fuel with me on the plane, I gave the rest of my Iso to the campers from Houston in BC01 (it was probably ¾ full).  I was at the Emory TH shortly after 8am, dumped my pack in the bear box and headed up.  It was windy all night and this morning, so I grabbed my rain jacket to help combat the winds (and this was helpful).  I made it to the top in about 45 minutes, and there was a young man in a boy scout uniform in the left pinnacle (the high point is the right one).  The climb up was not too bad (but not recommended for someone who is not confident), and good advice from the BC04 camper to keep track of the path you take up so you can get back down.

Pretty awesome from up top, and a beautiful, clear day.  I was able to get a Verizon Extended signal, which allowed me to check in with my wife, insure her I was alive, and catch up on the family news.  Another set of photos and long period of serenity on top of the mountain, and I headed back down.

On the way down, I was energized.  I ran into a bunch of day hikers headed to either Emory or the South Rim, and a few backpackers.  I gave some advice to some of the OMLers, however, I am not sure I could help enough a group of six that wanted to do pretty much the same trip as me, but were only a mile from the Basin by 11:30am (and one of them was already struggling).  One of the first two I ran into was a father and son from Houston, which the boy had a shirt on for the small College my son will be attending in August (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology), and he happened to attend the same pre-college summer program there last year that my son attended!!!  Wow, small world. 

I have never had this much adrenaline at the end of a trip like this.  I attribute it to how amazing an experience I had.  I reached my car at Noon, washed up, changed, got some ice for the cooler, checked in with the Ranger at PJ and headed for Austin by 1pm.

GPS for the day:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/454587813

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Offline mule ears

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    • 40 years of walking
Awesome job Mark!  Great detail and insights.  The few pictures are really nice, is there link to the rest somewhere?  Amazed at the number of folks you ran into.  Thanks!  :eusa_clap:
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 steelfrog

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Great work Mark!  Thanks for sharing.

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Offline Andreas

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  • A gun gives you the body not the bird. HD Thoreau
Thank you for posting your TR, enjoyed it very much!  :eusa_clap:
"Any time you're throwin dirt you're losin ground."

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

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Offline elhombre

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Nice trip report!  Glad the weather worked out for you.

I do have a question for someone who did this as your first hike in Big Bend.  From all the info you got from this site, do you think the advice/info about the difficulty of the OLM is overblown or just about right? 

« Last Edit: March 04, 2014, 09:47:51 AM by elhombre »
If other countries on the planet want to see America suffer and ultimately destroyed, who are they cheering for right now?  Trump, or the leftist democrats and their media supported hate machine?

Seek out the facts for yourself.  Begin by using Startpage.com,  not google.

May God Bless America!

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Offline BuckeyeMark

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I have uploaded my best 42 photos (about 15% of the pics taken!) on Flickr:  http://flic.kr/s/aHsjTRnocU

The advice and information on this forum has been invaluable and incredibly accurate.  I think I could have survived without it, but in no way would I have been as prepared or enjoyed it as much.

The only major surprises to me were the incredible diversity of geology, ecosystems and foliage (my ten parks in one comment) as well as how much foliage there was.  These were the nice kind of surprises to have.   :icon_smile:

Mark

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Offline okchiker

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Excellent report, thanks for sharing!

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Offline Andreas

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  • A gun gives you the body not the bird. HD Thoreau
I have just visited your flickr-account. Outstanding photos, thank you for sharing!
"Any time you're throwin dirt you're losin ground."

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

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Offline Buck

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Well done, sir  :eusa_clap:
"Hey, how 'bout a Fandango..?"

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Offline Lance

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Great work Mark!  Good photos too!

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Offline tjavery

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Excellent report and photos! You got some really nice, calendar-worthy shots!

 


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