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First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01

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Offline alpinerockfiend

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First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« on: April 14, 2016, 01:39:54 PM »


I have returned from Big Bend, and cannot stop thinking about the experiences I had.  I have never been so gripped by a place.  We begin our trip Friday, March 25 in St Louis Mo, driving to Springfield Mo to stay with family for the evening.  A 4am start had us arriving at our reserved site in RGV before sundown.  I was very lucky to have reserved a site several weeks ahead of time online.  We drove to Boquillas overlook for our first glimpses of the Rio, and also the Caballos Muertos.  Also saw the Marufo Vega parking lot.  I was a little nervous about securing permits, so awoke at 7am and walked over to use the free WIFI at RGV store.  I was able to access el campo on my phone, and submit a worksheet successfully.  When the RGV visitor center opened at 8:30am I was first in line, and out within 10 minutes.  The itinerary for the week was E08, E08, PG1, SW4, SW3.  I was super pumped to get what seemed to be the most coveted sites on the south rim.  The temperature was still mild, but the wind was picking up quickly.  Back at camp, we sorted gear, and prepared for our first 2 nights out on the Marufo Vega.  Between the 2 of us we had 5 gallons of water, 2 nights of food(mary janes farm meals), 5 probars, small cameras, sleeping tarp, 6 beers, an alcohol stove, and sleeping gear.  I estimated my pack weight to be around 40-45lbs. 

After some feedback from this board, I was planning a late afternoon launch to avoid the heat, and only planning to make a few miles on the trail before camping out.  With no exaggeration, the wind was blowing 40's and temps still mild, so we departed the MV trail head at 2:40pm.  The strong wind gusts managed to blow over a full 6 gallon water tank, blow my shoes completely under the car in the parking lot, but kept us well cooled as we walked up the wash.  Since we had the time and felt good, we pressed on to the famed split rock campsite.  It took just under 3 hours for us to make the split rock.  Split rock was great, my girlfriend really loved that place.  The reward for the evening was sunset views of the Sierra del Carmens leading to a full high def starlit night.  As I sipped my warm beer, I could not think of another thing that I would rather be doing. 

The sleep was subpar for me that night, the wind had finally died down around 4am.  In an attempt to save weight, I was using a zrest sleeping pad.   We were on the trail by 10:05, heading down to the Rio.  At the river spur, we stayed on the MV trail going down to a wash, then took a short detour up and right, to a ridge to reveal a nice view of the Rio from a few hundred feet above.  Back on the trail, I was getting stoked I let out a woop, and thought that I started some kind of rock slide above.  To our delight, 2 big horn sheep were running across the base of the cliff above us.  I felt sorry for disturbing them, but it was also a first chance to see big horn in person.  I had read about the trail being hard to find as it turns up from the river into the north fork.  We found it to be well marked, but I could see how one could get turned around in the thick brush closer to the river.  The heat of the day was upon us, I could feel its intensity ramping up as we began our ascent up the north fork.  We grabbed the first good shade spot, and watched the mules from across the wash.  The shade lasted for about an hour, so we continued.  By this point, we had gone through one of the gallon jugs in our packs, so I swapped the full one in my girlfriends pack for an empty one.  I was back up to almost full pack weight as we got into the meat of the canyon ascent.  Having experienced some mild heat exhaustion on a hot/humid Missouri day in the past, I was being pretty cautious on the exertion level.  The North Fork is steeply stepped, and somewhat loose.  Through past experiences, we have found that we prefer to climb the steeps and descend the more mellow terrain.  We came out of the canyon and on to some flatter terrain, and the heat/sun was in full scorcher mode.  We were both very happy to make it to the canyon fork, finding shade and a nice place to sit.  Again, we popped the zrest out, and took another hour and fifteen minute break.  Packs off, shoes and socks off.  During this time, we recalled a nice flat spot above the 2nd junction saddle, with a nice vista of the Ernst Valley, Boquillas Mexico, and even a small glimpse of the car in the parking lot.  It was about an hour walk we estimated.  It was a HOT hour walk to the vista, not much to report about this stretch, other than HOT.  Total time for the day was 7.5 hours.  At the vista, the view looked good, the ground looked good, but there was still full sun exposure for at least another 2 hours.  Luckily, just down a small ramp was some shade behind a tall rock.  This was enough to shelter from the sun for a few hours.  The beers were warm, and our spirits were high.  Just around sunset, the wind kicked up again.  Not so much solid wind, this time it was more punchy gusts.  Cooking with a cat can alcohol stove required advanced skill, but we got it done.  Soon it was bed time, we took extra care to make sure no gear or trash blew away.  Again the stars began to appear, and another spectacular show was put on. 

Our third morning on the Marufo Vega was short and sweet.  We had about 1.5 miles to the car, and it was all downhill.  For the walk down, we had about 2 liters of water to share, and finished it up before we hit the parking lot.   During this entire hike, we saw zero people.  We immediately hit the road for the hot springs, did a little exploring there, but did not sit in the river.  Our priority at that point was a shower in RGV, and to resupply ice and water in the campground.  I also was able to launder my trail shirt in a bucket, and clean some dishes during this stop.  By early afternoon, or hunger was growing, so we headed to Terlingua.  I was pretty impressed with the food and beer selection at the general store.  We had some time to kill before the Starlight opened, so we checked out the ghost town cemetery, and some of the ruins.  The Brisket tacos were some of the best I’ve had.  After dinner, we set our sights on the Max Rosswell Scenic drive.  The clouds had moved in pretty thick by late afternoon, so no sunset was to be had at Sotal Vista, but we did get a nice view of Mule Ears to our self.  The Santa Elena overlook was also empty, save for 8-10 Javelinas that walked right by us.  This was a pretty cool end to our evening.  By sundown, we were tired, and headed to our camp, Paint Gap 1.  It gets pretty dark on those roads, but we eventually made it. 
I wish we would have spent more time at this site, it had great views of the Chisos.  We had other ambitions though.  By 9am on day 4, we were in the basin, having breakfast at the parking lot picnic tables, and sorting gear.  A nice day was on tap, and we enjoyed chatting with people and snacking until 12:30.  With SW4 our objective, we hit the trail, going up Laguna Meadows.  Our packs were set up very much the same as they were for Marufo, with a few differences.  Given the wind, we decided to take the tent up into the Chisos, no rain fly.  We also took a meal each per night, and each added a down vest to our “’warm clothing”.  Going up Laguna was a pleasant walk, but we could feel the fatigue accumulating in our bodies.  At just over 3 hours, we arrived at SW4.  We were both expecting a view straight from the campsite, but this site is nicely out of view from the trail to the downhill side of the south rim.  A quick trip up to the rim confirmed why we had come all this way.  WOW, that view is amazing.  We had some time to kill before sunset, so we headed back to camp to plan our next day.  We were hoping to have an “easy” day hike in the morning, then move down to SW3 for our final night.  Emory peak kept coming up in conversation, but we could not found a solution as to where to leave the packs.  Our scenario 1 was getting up super early, hiking Emory, and being back at SW4 before noon to get our gear from the bear box.  An early rise was not particularly appealing to either of us, so Scenario 2 was moving to sw4 first, then trying to do Emory.  By my count, either scenario was 8-9 miles round trip.  We tentatively agreed to scenario 2, cooked dinner, and then went to say goodnight to big orange.  It was pretty magnificent sitting there alone with that view.  We had not seen another person since walking by SW2 earlier on the trail. 

We repeated this ritual the next morning, catching the sunrise on the rim.  We ran into a solo hiker on the trail coming from SW4.  He mentioned how great the view was from that spot.  Over breakfast, we talked about our poor sleep from the night before, and our tired legs.  We decided to hike all the way down to the basin that day, and cancel our last night on the trail.  We were looking to see more of the park.  We grabbed a lot of pictures on the rim heading over to the boot canyon trail.  Just before the pinnacles trail, we ran into a ranger that asked to see our permit.  I told her about our plans, and she was able to radio in our itinerary change.  At the time, I was relieved that someone else might have a chance at getting that spot.  About 20 minutes later, we came to the Emory trail and met a trio doing the OML.  They had just completed Emory, and were grabbing their packs out of bear boxes, located right at the junction.  I think this was the key to unlocking our original plan for the day, climb Emory with no packs, then go to SW4.  For a few seconds we thought about giving Emory a shot, but decided to continue down.  Just over 3 hours walking, and we were back at the car.  Without even stopping, we rushed over to the basin campground, and grabbed one of the last two remaining tent sites.  We felt pretty lucky about that.  With replenished ice and got some cold BB IPA, then headed to Homer Wilson’s ranch for a picnic lunch.  That place is simply amazing.  The longer I sat there, the longer I wanted to stay.  Next stop was Santa Elena Canyon trail.  We walked to the end, and at that point in the day, shade was already coming into the canyon.  I dozed off on a flat rock at the end.  The sound of the water, the wind, and the clouds passing by was an experience all its own.  We checked out the old store ruins near Castolon, and took a walk through Tuff Canyon.  After all of this, we managed to get the timing perfect, a sunset at Sotal Vista.  The tradeoff for the sunset was coming back to the basin in the dark.  I know we missed some good views in the basin. 
I was not disappointed in the end though, I did catch the moonrise over casa Grande, and the stars were beautiful.  Our last day in the park was short.  We packed up our camping gear and headed over to the balancing rock for some last photos.  Driving down that road had my full attention in a Honda Fit.  A quick stop at Panther Junction reveled that some others had not been so lucky in their off-road adventures.  Several people were looking for help regarding their car damage.  While in the bookstore, I got a full park map, river guides, stickers, patches, and the Death in Big Bend book.  I could hardly put this book down on the drive home.  To me, by far the scariest, most impactful story is the first one about Springer. 
I learned a lot about the park, myself, and our “team” on this trip.  It had been a few years since I was in real backcountry like that, and I remembered how much I love the feeling of simplicity and lack of external stimulus.  I certainly will be back. 

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Offline jim2

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2016, 01:52:50 PM »
Sounds like a great trip! Thanks for sharing.

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Offline alpinerockfiend

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2016, 02:10:50 PM »
https://goo.gl/photos/a3JZ7WKUXG3EN23Y6

This link will hopefully take you to some pictures of our trip. 

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Offline ambersdad

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2016, 02:27:43 PM »
Sounds like a great trip.  Thanks for sharing with us!
Having decent gear is nice, but wildlife photography is knowing your subject and getting lucky, and I love getting lucky.
https://www.facebook.com/randy.jones.33234
http://randyswildlifeandnaturephotography.com/

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Offline mule ears

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2016, 04:17:58 PM »
You have been bitten by the bug now!  You two really covered a lot of ground and got a real good taste of what is possible.  Too bad you didn't get to stay at SW3 and enjoy that view too, it is my favorite site on the rims.  Also sorry you or we didn't get you the info that there were bear boxes for packs at the base of Emory Peak trail but you got to see the best views from the rim.

When is the next trip?
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 dkerr24

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2016, 09:08:07 PM »
Thanks for sharing your trip report and magnificent photos!

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Offline Quatro

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2016, 10:49:05 PM »
Glad you enjoyed it.  You did a great job of planning the trip from afar.  I look forward to hearing about your next trip.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro - HST

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Offline tusker

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2016, 11:09:49 PM »
What a trip!  Thanks for the report.

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Offline dprather

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2016, 07:04:49 AM »
"I learned a lot about the park, myself, and our “team” on this trip."

What a great quote.  I don't think that any wilderness adventure is complete without that kind of learning.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline Casa Grande

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Re: First trip to Big Bend: 3.26-4.01
« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2016, 05:21:15 AM »
What a well planned, well executed first trip. Congratulations, y'all covered a lot of ground!

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