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Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

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Chisos-Quemada-Mariscal Loop: Trouble in Paradise

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Offline Lud

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Chisos-Quemada-Mariscal Loop: Trouble in Paradise
« on: December 11, 2017, 01:42:09 PM »
First I want to thank everyone for their advice on our planned backpack.  All the advice was good.  Our trip was cut short on day four due to exhaustion caused, my physician’s assistant thinks, by the high amount of Advil I was prescribed combined with heat and exertion.  Here’s what happened.   I'm thankful I was with Lone Hiker who was more than a great help.

11/12/17   Hike from the Basin, through Laguna Meadows, down Blue Creek to the Dodson.    Picked up water and food cache at Homer Wilson.   

A ranger at the cache site told us firmly that food was not to be cached at that site, only water.  We told her we would note that to the forum.  She was very good about it and kindly took our empty containers back to the visitors’ center for us to pick up on our way out.

Heading up the Dodson we overshot the trail going up a creek bed.  It taught us to slow down, eyes peeled for cairns, while referring to the map often.  We also learned how short the hiking day is.  No twilight.  We camped in a creek bed about a ½ mile from Smokey Creek trail.  A good day, 14.3 miles.  +2795'   -3307'

11/13/17  Down Smokey Creek trail, taking it slower to keep on route.  We found water in most of the creekbeds.  At the junction with the Mule Ears route we shot straight to Smokey Spring using a GPS waypoint.  Got a quart of water from the spring.  I was a bit tired and rested too long there.

We went on to Jacks Pass using Metal Backpacker’s track log.  Once the creek bed ran out the going was tough, both of us bloodied by cactus, thorns and barbwire.  We were running late as well.  On the pass darkness was coming fast.  With no place for two to camp we hustled down toward Dominguez Spring.  Thankfully Lone Hiker spotted a hill of bare ground just before headlamps would have been required.  We were now a little behind schedule, ½ mile from the spring.  15.5 miles.  +1916'  -3136'

11/14/17  Down to Dominguez.  Good water.  Filled up 6 quarts each and hurried down the trail.  As things opened up we took a reading for the Talley waypoint, heading off trail, aiming for a “v” in a Mexican range.  Enjoyed the open country and a trek through some badlands but it was hot.  90 degrees was forecast for Rio Grande Village.  It was at least that warm in the desert.

At Talley we found a way down to river, filled up our 6 quarts and cooled off a bit.  I was fatigued and not making saliva but otherwise OK. We went up the Mariscal Canyon Rim trail just a half mile or so and found a flat place to camp before the ascent.  16.9 miles.  +387'  -2005'

Trouble was starting but I really didn’t know it.  With no saliva I could barely eat.  Only got down a bar or so.  I had had plenty to drink that day, with a couple of quarts of gator aide plus four quarts of water.  No headache.  Didn’t know what was wrong.

11/14/17  Felt better in the morning, got down a carnation instant breakfast with chia seeds and a meal bar, so we decided to continue the plan.  Hiked up to the Cross Canyon Trail then headed up to Mariscal Peak.  A tough climb and a challenging time skirting the wall to the right.  We then climbed up to the top of the ridge shortly before the summit, continuing down the ridge.

By lunch time I was beat.  My pace was too slow.  We tucked into the shade of a rock, ate and rested.  The situation was urgent.  Our goal was to get a half mile or so up the Elephant Tusk Trail.  We clearly weren’t going to make that.

While not delirious I wasn’t exactly clear-headed either.  After lunch we carried on.  The route was tricky and we often had trouble choosing the best ridge to follow.  There were a lot of downs only to come back up.  I was dragging.  While still sweating and drinking I was experiencing an exhaustion like nothing I had ever felt before.

We realized we had made a mistake to do the mountain in my condition.  We were certain I couldn’t continue the backpack assuming that I would only be worse the next day.  But we had to get down to the road at Mariscal mine where we hoped to get a ride out.  We were still 5 ½ miles away from the mine waypoint.  Checking the GPS I could measure our progress, counting off the miles.  That helped keep me going.

At ½ mile there was one more big hill.  Following in Lone Hikers footsteps I reached the mine road at sundown.  Strangely I was never anxious even though I knew I was in some danger.  I’ve learned it takes energy to be anxious.   We set up camp near the parking area.  13.3 miles.  +2841'   -2562'

A cool wind rushed in that night.  I got some instant breakfast drink down and a food bar.  Neither of us slept much as we wondered what to do.  We had one quart of water between us.  While we thought it was likely someone would be visiting the mine the next day we had no way of knowing for sure.

11/15/17  At dawn we split the water and Lone Hiker left to road walk to Solis Landing to fill up our 15 quarts and to come back, about a 13.7 mile haul.  Perhaps he would meet someone along the way.  But if no one came along we would have the water needed to wait another day.

I rested in the shade of an old concrete residence.  Reading, dozing.  I could walk but not hike.  I had visual hallucinations; the sky was full of sparkles, as if tiny mica flakes were hovering in the air.

At 11:30 some dirt bikers came in, then a jeep.  The driver of the jeep gave me ¾ of a gallon of water.  He said they would check out the mine and then go to Rio Grande Village to tell a ranger.  The bikers were headed to Castolon and said they would tell a ranger there.

About 1:30 Lone Hiker came back with water.  What a pace, 13.7 miles in 6 ½ hours, the return loaded with 22 pounds of iodine treated Rio Grande!   We waited.  Another jeep came and left.

At 2:30 a Park Ranger came in his big white SUV looking for us.  He was terrific, driving us back to my car at Chisos Basin.  No scolding.  I was embarrassed.  In 40 years of backpacking I’ve never not been able to walk out of something I walked into.

We drove to Alpine to stay for the night.

11/16/17  Drove home to Cheyenne, WY.

11/17/17  I went to an urgent care to assess my condition.  A blood test revealed very high kidney numbers.  The PA asked about any meds I was taking.  I was taking a high dose of Advil (aka Motrin/ibuprofen), 1,800 mg per day, the equivalent of 9 brown pills, and had been doing that for about 30 days.  (I had a rotator cuff surgery in June.  It was not healing well and the surgeon prescribed 2,400 mg per day and told me to take it for 30 days no matter what.)

The PA explained that Advil stresses the kidneys.  Combined with the heat and exertion it was more than they could handle.  My age may have contributed.  I’m 64.  She told me to stop all Advil immediately and follow up with my family doc in a week.

A simple web check confirmed this with warnings all over the place.  “Here is the science behind the problem. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs inhibit prostaglandins, and that can cause a problem because prostaglandins dilate blood vessels leading to the kidneys. Inhibiting prostaglandins may lead to kidney ischemia (dead tissue from decreased blood flow) and thus acute kidney injury.”  It is generally recommended not to take Advil for more than ten days.

Damn.  No one had told me about this.

11/24/17  Follow up at docs.  Kidney function numbers were back in the normal range.   Feeling ok except at the gym.  My stamina is still poor but climbing.

Hope this is useful to someone.  We loved the park and had some great moments.  Flock of Barbary sheep on Mariscal.  Just past Smokey Spring were bushes with thousands of butterflies.   It was great to walk to the Rio Grande.  And the night sky was fabulous.

Of course we missed the South Rim, having saved that high point for last.

Lone Hiker is going to be coming back in January to do the route again, probably starting at Homer Wilson.  I can’t take the time off and will test myself in heat at a less remote locale.

We're interested in your thoughts and comments.

Here’s a link to our route:

And photos:


Offline mule ears

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Re: Chisos-Quemada-Mariscal Loop: Trouble in Paradise
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2017, 01:57:45 PM »
Lud, glad you made it out, I just completed an 80+ mile trip that included walking down Mariscal mtn, not for sissies, even unimpaired!  I thought you might be the folks the ranger mentioned having troubles out there. I was afraid the heat might be a problem for you, fortunately for us it was cool and some overcast.

Thanks for giving us a report!

Sent from my Nexus 6P using Big Bend Chat mobile app

temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water


Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Chisos-Quemada-Mariscal Loop: Trouble in Paradise
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2017, 02:07:42 PM »
Lud, glad you made it out, I just completed an 80+ mile trip that included walking down Mariscal mtn, not for sissies, even unimpaired!  I thought you might be the folks the ranger mentioned having troubles out there. I was afraid the heat might be a problem for you, fortunately for us it was cool and some overcast.

Thanks for giving us a report!

Sent from my Nexus 6P using Big Bend Chat mobile app

ME, out early in the day, I see. Congrats!!!

Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."


Offline horns93

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Re: Chisos-Quemada-Mariscal Loop: Trouble in Paradise
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2017, 08:19:04 PM »
Great pictures. I have to see Mariscal Canyon the next time I'm in the park.



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