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christmas mountains steep and sharp

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Offline sleepy

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christmas mountains steep and sharp
« on: March 04, 2009, 11:09:52 PM »
day 1.5

Getting out of Austin reminds me of the Edward Abbey line, how's it go? "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell." Oak Hill is a Japanese subway line. Squashing and squshing of humanity. Four highway lanes of the extra-jurisdicted funneled to two in the midst of "downtown" Oak Hill. I hope Oak Creek is better. I have gotten a late start and I'll be happy with Del Rio by nightfall.

Sometimes I think HWY 277 is a dark road. The deepest Hill Country spilling to the Trans Pecos mesas and Chihuahuan plains. Curves big then squeezing tight. Dangerously fast. vehicle encounters every quarter hour. Vinegarone, Loma Alta, Carta Valley. La migra is just outside of Amistad.

the moon and venus are a smile and a freckle. I'm counting on getting to Seminole Canyon by 8. Another Border Patrol stop. The increase of police presence is noticeable along HWY 90. Every year since 2003 has seen an accruement of humorless bodies in green. I don't even check my watch and pull into a crowded but civilized campground. I walk around and see a few folks. Very quiet. Very thankful.

I have a snack before bed. Over at the picnic table I see a web between the table top and bench. I check it out and a long black spider sprawls.. Closer. A distinct red hour glass on her belly. I take this as a good sign. I run back for my camera and when I return, she has retreated. I don't follow, because there are rules about dark places and poisonous spiders.

The clouds have obscured everything, the stars, venus, the moon. What is seen is the faint glow of lights. Comstock. What goes on on a Friday night in Comstock? It's mercury vapor, so I figure retail. I'm too tired and I want to get going early tomorrow. Inflatable mattress and windows open. The air is heavy enough to keep out dust. About 1 a.m., the norther blows. Giant gusts and dropping temperatures. I'm awakened by some very strong and sustained winds. I'm guessing maybe 50-60 mph. It felt like the tread left the ground on the passenger side.

I am up early before anyone stirs. I can get out without paying.  Last time I didn't tip the barista, bad mojo. I spilled my coffee on the floor board and it stunk for two weeks.  I put my cash into the envelope and head out. I really like HWY 90. Crews are working on the Pecos bridge, still. Edifying road cuts herald passing lanes. Marathon Mountains come into view. Santiago Peak that way. Persimmon Gap. For some reason I check out Hanold Draw camp. its a construction site. geer! Panther Junction. Permits. Lunch at Sam Nail. Backtrack to pullout.

Ranger Mark Fippo has sent me information and GPS waypoints. I know I'm probably not going to see anyone. 1.8 miles east of the turn off to Ross Maxwell is the "trailhead". There is a car at the pullout. An unpeeled banana sits on top of a Four Runner. Before I descend into the wash, I check the goal laid out before me. From here I follow Oak Creek to the confluence with Rough Run. Head directly to Little Christmas Mountain. Easy enough.



After passing an overhead line about 100 yards into the wash, Oak Creek is wide, flat and braided. Channels of easy walking end in thicket of creosote, grass, and acacia. Move across to the next open channel that will take you to another thick of creosote, grass and dagger. Ahead, always, is Little Christmas and the looming Christmases. But more immediate are sage cloaked Croton and the ferrous scalloped flanks of Slickrock.

At about 2 miles is the cut off to Silckrock Canyon. Just prior is a lone cottonwood tree in the wash. This made for a welcome rest on the way out. Just after the wash to the canyon, a nice sweet slice of water that would be the first of several along lower Oak Creek.



Further along, between 3-4 miles, Oak Creek cuts through some interesting formations. One is a sandstone topped limestone base. Another is mudstone(?) with calcite veins, and a third is apparent igneous shatterings. I know just enough geology to make me dangerous. Rangers told me the area is relatively young with some volcanic episodes in recent past ~65 mya. It's hard to piece it together, he says. It's a wonder for sure.





there was plenty of water below Slickrock cut off. Little Christmas continued to impose on approaching the confluence. No marking, no carins, just a dead end into an obvious north south drainage. Heading north into the confines of Christmas, Slickrock and the ridge. About 1/4 mile, a wash empties on the left (west) side. I figure this is the wash between the mountains, Little Christmas and Christmas proper. This would be a great area to explore. Ahead at about 1 mile is a sweet trickle of tasty tasty water.



Rough Run alternates between eroded sand hoodooos, gravelly wash, boulder chokes and pourouffs. A couple of scrambles and one 10' drop keep things interesting. The larger drop should be bypassed, in my opinion. Up above you realize that an 8 inch wedge at the lip has separated almost completely and an inopportune grip would send it calving. At least sometime.

Pushing past lengthening shadows to a high flat spot in the midst of opposing ridges, looking down towards Slickrock's prominence and the back drop of the Chisos. It is one of the sweetest camps I've had in the park.  About 8 miles this afternoon. My hips are screaming, but tomorrow will be the test of ankles and knees.

view from camp east


difficult camp view
« Last Edit: March 05, 2009, 10:41:05 AM by RichardM »
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline Al

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2009, 11:24:45 PM »
sleepy, you need to be careful.  You are setting a high standard that might be difficult to exceed. 

Al

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Offline sleepy

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2009, 11:38:14 AM »
Full Day 2

I had a great night's sleep. The temps were probably in upper 20's to lower 30's. Big blanket of stars. The stiff wind of the previous day had become light and variable. It was deep morning shade in the canyon, but early light was illuminating the foothills to the north. I rolled out of my bag, had a some oatmeal and fig bars and hit the trail. Heading up Rough Run as the ridges decline, the appointed wash leads to the Christmas Mountains. It is only about 1/2 mile from my camp.

At this point, it is all cross country. I have been given some instruction. Leave Rough Run here, then work up to the ridge to access the mountains. It makes sense visually. A notch with a ridge approach is fairly straight forward. Looking at the map, the suggested route heads northwest to end of a dirt road, presumably on GLO land. From there it's fairly straight up the mountain.

The wash is tight. About 200 yards in, I find a small pocket of water. It looks like a javelina dance party happened here. Past that I began looking for ways to get up on one of the ridges. It seems like there may be better walking. I take the middle ridge (the one to the right would work, as well). This takes me right toward the notch and to the end of the aforementioned road. There is a barbed wire fence to cross. The end of the road is wide, flat and marked. Section A Camp 1. The maps say this is GLO land, at least as far as NPS is telling me.

water in approach draw


end of road camp area


At this flat spot, I can easily see the the way. Drop down into the wash, follow it to the first incline. Make my way up that to the next, then the next and so on and on. From my perspective it seems steep, but clear of any obstacle, except every sharp pointed rock and plant in the desert. I psyche myself up for this, because the walking, thus far, has been fairly easy. I want to set myself right for no stopping, as that would only give me pause for reconsideration. My goal is the top of the first ridge. Go.

route from camp area at end of road


leaving the wash to begin the ascent, I cross more barbed wire. By and large it's in good shape, but breach allows me to cross. Looking up at the incline is daunting, I give myself the goal of an outcrop before stopping.

first ascent


It is hard, sharp and steep. Luckily, the temperature is in 50's with a light wind. Perfectly azure sky. I worked my way up ridge to flat spots, rest, then proceed. What I realize is the opening of the gaping canyon between the southern peak and the ridge I'm on. A ridge to my left leads to that higher point, but it looks a much trickier proposition. It is narrower with more peaks and saddles. At this point, I'm in no position to cross over, the wash between is hundreds of feet below. I continue up past scrambles on scree, talus and outcrops. Past the apartments of rattlesnakes, false summits and escarpments. The canyon maw is growing. Looking back I can see views of the Rosillos, Onion Flats, distant Dead Horse, Tornillo Creek drainage, Croton, Slickrock, the mighty Chisos, the top of Little Christmas below and Santa Elena Canyon far to the south.

After several hill crests, I came to a point, I believe, where a traverse to the southern higher ridge exists. It is before the final push up along the cliffs and drop offs of the canyon. The traverse looks to be about 1/4 mile or less. To get up onto the ridge itself, there would be some scrambling. I don't think ropes would be needed, but there appears to be some exposure. It seemed a little risky for my solo tastes. So, I decide to continue up the northern flank.

traverse and routes. red is the approximate route I could see up southern escarpment.


Now I would push as far as could as high as I could. My limits were daylight and water. Earlier I had made a slight detour hoping to gain easier access, but that only put me an hour behind. Still, I climbed, thinking here is where I'll stop, only to convince myself to go on a little further. It is beautifully rugged and difficult climbing. I left camp at 8 a.m. and decided to stop at 12:30. I had travelled only about 2.5 miles. I found a wide flat spot, had lunch and took it all in.

beautiful obstacles up and up



looking north/east note the drainage between the yuccas that is cub spring. also, across onion flats is the straight line of a volcanic dike cutting across the desert.


Moderator note: Great report as usual, but all those   tags keep cluttering it up. Avoid double spaces and they should disappear.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2009, 12:21:57 PM by RichardM »
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline sleepy

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2009, 12:46:05 PM »
After a lounging lunch, I decide my route back down will take me to the edging vertigo along the canyon walls.  Going up I stayed mostly about 100 feet from the drop, because it seemed faster.  Certainly there was less scrambling over outcrops.  From up high it is easy to see the way down, Rough Run and the approximate sight of my camp.  The views from up here are wider than my eyes.  Despite a bit of haze, a great portion of the park was laid before my feet.  I began to plan future trips along that wash, across those flats, between those mountains.  This canyon before me is quite impressive.

across canyon


down canyon with Little Christmas


up canyon from vertigo edge


What did I forget this trip?  my hiking poles.  Never have I missed them so much as on my descent.  I would stop frequently to kick my heels in order to wedge my toes away from the confines of my boots.  More than on the way up would I stumble, twirl, scurry.  Never did I fall, but not for the lack of trying.  I made much better time going down and was out of water by the time I made it to Rough Run. 

Along the way, I came upon about six javelinas in the wash.  Normally they scatter when they hear me.  However, they seemed to be feeding on something, a fat dagger bloom.  It looked like a giant white asparagus.  One individual seemed intent on having it all to itself.  It aggressively kept the others away.  At one point it laid down in the wash, its forelegs across its meal.  It then proceeded to  chew and rip the fleshy stalk.  I decided to cut around the scene, rather that press my luck with this bold one.



I made it back to camp in time to fully watch the evening sun go down.  I feasted on tuna casserole and a brownie.  good times, my friends, good times.



It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline sleepy

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2009, 01:15:45 PM »
day 3

Got an early start because the expected highs were to be near 90. I made very good time up Rough Run to the delicious water there. I got a few last looks at Little Christmas before turning east on Oak Creek

Like I said earlier, there is a lone cottonwood about 1/4 mile east of Slickrock Canyon Draw. It provided much needed shady rest. Then back across the braids and up to the road and my waiting truck.

I headed to Study Butte for a cold beer, some nacho doritos and a bar of soap. Partay time! After a six minute $1 dollar shower (worth every penny), I headed to Terlingua for some porch sitting. Not much happening and that was fine by me. A fellow watering some plants had some kind words for me. At one point though, talking to no one in particular, save himself, he says "Moon's out.......Stupid Moon."
Gave me a chuckle. After a couple of cold ones, I headed back to the park and checked in at PJ. It was late afternoon and a bit warmish, so I decided to head to the Basin. I got there right around 5 p.m. just in time for the Lodge Restaurant to open. Me and many early bird diners. Had a fat cheeseburger that tasted so good. However, I regretted it later. I'm not much on eating cow these days and it didn't sit well. Another beer helped the situation and I drove back down in the evening light hoping for a bear or panther to cross my path. Still hoping. Got to Paint Gap 1 just as the stars were beginning to shine.

I awoke at 6:30, and took off. I began to head for home when at mile 7 outside PJ on the road to Marathon, I stopped. I've always wanted to just get out and walk across the badlands here. Now was as good a time as any. Long morning shadows and open ground were a welcome sight. Many many tracks and paths crisscross between gullies and flat expanses. This is a great place to take kids to look at tracks, I think. I wandered between fantastic shapes and hills littered with igneous ejecta. Wide areas where nothing grew and hills broken and soft underfoot. The bareness was comforting. I meandered for about an hour and a half.
many tracks

badlands look to rosillos


On the way out, just before Persimmon Gap, I noticed a plume of black smoke off to the west. I notified the ranger at PG, and he said there was some prescribed burns happening, but he would check with dispatch.

Fairly uneventful trip home. I did manage to avoid I10 except for about 12 miles. I headed east on 90, up 277, over to 377 past Rocksprings, onto 41 to Mountain Home onto 10, catch 16 to 290, backroads from Johnson City to Austin. Oh, and good bison jerky at Carven's Store at the junction of 41 and 83. Just so you know.

If you are ever in Del Rio and want something sweet, I may advise against the donuts at the Chevron.


that's all.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2009, 03:03:15 PM by RichardM »
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline championbaum

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2009, 02:56:59 PM »
thats a nice trip, still amazing how in the midst of a drought, there is water (albeit sometimes little) in every part of the park it seems. nice report.

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Offline catz

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2009, 03:54:49 PM »
Great report!   :eusa_clap:
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline trtlrock

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2009, 04:01:39 PM »
A wonderful report as usual Sleepy -- love your writing.

out of curiousity, did you see this tinaja/spring in Oak Creek shortly after leaving Rough Run, but before Slickrock turn-off?  What was the water situation here?


John & Tess

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Offline mule ears

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2009, 05:00:28 PM »
Great report again, sleepy. Did it look possible to go up the canyon instead of the ridge or were there drop offs visible? Is this the canyon that goes to RedHawks "window"?
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 sleepy

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #9 on: March 05, 2009, 07:51:22 PM »
trtlrock, 

I didn't see that big ol' pool.  I saw about 3 separate water holes west of Slickrock.  I saw one on the way back out that I hadn't noticed before that was more tinaja than flowing spring.

mule ears
parts of the canyon floor were not visible from my vantage at times, so I can't say for sure about drops.  If you look at the photos it does seem that the drainage is navigable deeper into the canyon.
not sure about Red Hawk's window, but it could be.  I'd have to go back to his report and see if I can figure it out.
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline Ay Chihuahua!

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2009, 08:59:23 PM »
Great read, Sleepy.  I always enjoy your choice of words.  Your cadence ain't bad either.  Best I can tell you're the first to take this route and post here about it.  Sorry about the cow aversion...unfortun ate.

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Offline badknees

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2009, 11:20:07 PM »
The way
« Last Edit: December 17, 2009, 02:37:12 PM by RichardM »
Not all those who wander are lost.
J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
http://mirrormagic.com

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Offline Al

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2009, 11:45:14 PM »
This will be the next area I'll zone camp in Big Bend.  Thanks Red Hawk and you for your trip reports on this area of the park.  The abundance of water within a few miles of the trail head makes this an ideal area to explore.

Thanks again,
Al 
« Last Edit: March 05, 2009, 11:48:02 PM by Al »

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chisos_muse

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #13 on: March 06, 2009, 07:45:58 AM »
Hey sleepy, I think there's an open space at the BBNHA bookstore next to "Desert Solitaire" waiting for you....

 :kaos-cactus06:

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Offline tjavery

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Re: christmas mountains steep and sharp
« Reply #14 on: March 06, 2009, 08:20:26 AM »
Most excellent! Well done! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Looks like an excellent way to see new territory and enjoy total solitude. Did any tobys get quaffed? :icon_lol:

 


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