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Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario

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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« on: February 03, 2019, 05:24:17 PM »
Better Shutup Than Shutdown

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Jan 23-28, 2019

I had never given much thought to BBRSP as a backpacking destination, until around the first week in January when it seemed the government shutdown might drag on for a while. With my plan A in jeopardy and an inflexible travel window, I started looking hard at possible itineraries in the state park. I will admit I was not enthusiastic initially -- my vague impression was that the state park was the domain of jeeps and mountain bikes, and that serious backpackers went to the national park. My first look at the BBRSP website did nothing to alleviate these concerns --  plenty of literature for backcountry roads and bicycle trails, but nothing catering to backpackers. I was aware of the Ranchieras loop, but I expected that to be crowded given the shutdown, and plus I was looking for a 6 day/5 night route.

Nonetheless I plugged away to see what sort of trip I could cobble together. There were just enough trip reports on BBC to get me started, most notably the report by trtlrock on their hike across the park. In addition, I found that if you just search BBC on any particular feature in the state park, there are invariably a few threads providing some basic information. So I gradually began to patch together a caltopo map with various routes, points of interest, and potential water sources. I knew Fresno Creek had reliable water and was worth seeing, so I figured I'd start my trip there. The Fresno Canyon West Rim looked like a worthy vista, so I planned on that. trtlrock had lauded the splendor of Arroyo Mexicano, which also linked nicely with some water sources, so that was in. Since my east-Texas friend was timing his vacation with mine again, I had the option of a point-to-point hike, and figured I'd hike out a different route, maybe Monilla or even Tapado Canyon. But above all those points of interest, there was one area that kept drawing my attention.

The Solitario is the most distinctive feature in the park, and the few reports I read all indicated that the lower and righthand shutups were spectacular. If I could work those into my trip, I could really start to get excited. From an old Ranger Tim post there appeared to be permanent water in the lower shutup, and I convinced myself I could hike through the LSU thanks to a quick PM converation with BBC member Shroeder (who hiked the LSU as an out-and-back) and from the description in the 3rd edition of Parent's book. A brief trtlrock post indicated that the RHSU was thru-hikeable, and that was good enough for me.

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks before my trip, I posted to BBC asking for a water report, and within a week got two replies, one from Ranger Tim and another (via PM) from a trusted source. This was golden information and I started to think I could potentially put together a pretty interesting trip.

There were some other aspects to the route to figure out, like how to get from the RHSU to the Fresno West Rim, and Arroyo Mexicano to Tapado Canyon, with a minimum of road walking. I scoped out some seemingly feasible cross-country routes on Google Earth, put them on my map, and hoped for the best. I kept tweaking my itinerary up until just two days before my trip, when I decided to try to make it all the way to Auras Creek and take that as my exit route (based on another brief trtlrock post saying it was easily walkable -- again, good enough for me). Even two days before my trip I was still holding out for the national park to reopen, but if it had, I would have been faced with a tough decision. I had invested a lot in this BBRSP trip, started to get excited about it, and had some rare water intell I'd be unlikely to get again should I put the trip off until later. Then, just one day before heading to Texas, I finally had to commit, and printed out my caltopo maps.

It turns out that my concerns about hoards of people, jeeps, and mountain bikes were unfounded. I saw no wheeled vehicles and only one group of park visitors, an Outward Bound group whose leader actually confirmed water at three spots on my last two days, which allowed me to skip Ranchieras Spring and save a lot of pack weight. And despite having very little time to analyze the ins and outs of different segments of my trip, I managed to just about hit every campsite as planned and finish the trip on schedule, though not without a little drama along the way.

Here's my final route, including major water sources found.

Details to follow.
I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
   To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

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Offline Jalco

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2019, 05:37:37 PM »
Shazam, that's impressive!  Looking forward to the full report!

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Online House Made of Dawn

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2019, 08:10:00 PM »
Shorty, you so bad. I knew you’d pull it off in style. Looking forward to the full report.


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

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2019, 11:54:10 AM »
Great looking route DRS, can't wait to see pictures and hear more!
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 wotantx

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2019, 12:14:57 PM »
Oh great.  I've never heard of caltopo.  Now I have another time sink to waste my days with.

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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2019, 09:23:39 PM »
Day 1

Given the long lines at the visitor center during the shutdown, I got there 20 min. before they opened. Not only was I the first in line, but by the time I left 40 minutes later, I was still their only customer. While filling out my itinerary for the permit, which by the way cost $75, the Ranger offered me a map of the entire park, printed on nice water/tear proof paper, and with 80 foot contour intervals. I figured it would make a nice complement to my caltopo maps, and bought one. That turned out to be a wise decision.

After returning to Study Butte for breakfast, a shower, and some final gear sorting, my friend dropped me off at the West Contrabando trailhead at 11 AM. I followed an old paved road down to Fresno Creek and headed north. The first couple of miles were nice enough.



They brought me to the narrows which was a pretty hard rock section with nice flowing water.



Passing the Wax Laccolith, I checked out a couple of ruins on the east side. Here's the view looking back down the canyon from the flotation mill.



Just a little further up the canyon I ran in to the welcoming committee.



Instead of staying in the canyon, I opted to follow the trail up on the west bank.





A word to the wise: if you're taking a trip like this, and you have a chance to walk a trail instead of a wash, take it. My calves were killing me by the end of the trip from so much walking on loose gravel.

A little further on I came to the Sleeper Cabin, which is just a small one-room shack with four bunks and a corral.



There was nice water in the creek below the cabin as Ranger Tim had indicated. There was also a set of ATV tracks which I found rather annoying.

A short ways later I came to the Cascades, which, perhaps because they were dry, were a bit underwhelming.



Leaving Fresno Creek, I jumped on a well-marked trail heading east toward Chimney Rock. Beautiful scenery.



As I was rounding Chimney Rock to the south, I discovered that none of my caltopo maps actually covered that area. Score one for the park's map.

The trail eventually dropped into a major wash which I followed around to the east side of Chimney Rock. I came to an impassable pouroff, and pulled out my map to scout out the best way around. As I was doing so, I heard a scuffling on the high ledge to the west, roughly 30 feet above me. I thought it might be some deer or javelina, but within a few seconds there appeared a backpacker. I instinctively waved and said "Howdy," to which he responded "Hi." With a Mexican accent. In a split second my eyes told me all I needed to know: dark skinned fellow, in full camouflage, with a camo backpack. A second dude, with the same outfit, appeared just behind him, and I said to myself "Time to go." (There may have been more than 2, I was not about to stand there and count them.)  I averted my eyes, headed east, and quickly ducked out of sight and scampered up around the pouroff. I believe they were heading south, perhaps just starting to move, and also looking for a bypass of the pouroff. I'm very glad we had a 30 foot cliff separating us.

On the bright side, had I not run into those dudes, I would have bypassed the pouroff on the west instead of east, and would not have stumbled on to my best campsite of the trip, a flat shelf above the wash with a sweet sunset view of the Flatirons.



There were virtually no clouds this entire trip, so the photos don't quite pop as much as they otherwise would. But I'm not complaining, I did get to leave the tarp behind.

ps In the photo above, you can see a V-shaped notch to the right of the wash. A short ways before that is the beginning of the cairned route that leads to the lower shutup. It is marked by a large cairn.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2019, 10:22:09 PM by DesertRatShorty »
I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
   To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2019, 07:04:48 AM »
Really enjoying your report. The more time I spend in "The Ranch" the better I like it.  The sleeper cabin looks like a pretty recent vintage, perhaps from one of the more recent ranching efforts, 60s or 70s ?  You suppose the 2 fellows you saw were coyotes or mules going back south ? I guess no way to know. I hope you stared at the wax factory laccolith for a minute or
two - its an impressive piece of geology !

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Offline congahead

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2019, 07:17:20 AM »
This is gonna be a good one.

But ... $75??!!
"The animals here will generally try to avoid you, but the plants will hurt you every chance they get."

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2019, 07:31:19 AM »
This is gonna be a good one.

But ... $75??!!

Yeah, I was shocked at the cost of a permit too!
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 wotantx

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2019, 08:28:40 AM »
This is gonna be a good one.

But ... $75??!!

Yeah, I was shocked at the cost of a permit too!
Is that a backcountry camping permit?

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Online House Made of Dawn

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2019, 09:10:13 AM »
This is gonna be a good one.

But ... $75??!!

Yeah, I was shocked at the cost of a permit too!
Is that a backcountry camping permit?

I bet it's an initial entrance fee, plus a backcountry camping fee for each day DRS was out there. 
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Online Flash

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2019, 09:12:13 AM »
This is gonna be a good one.

But ... $75??!!

Yeah, I was shocked at the cost of a permit too!
Is that a backcountry camping permit?
That's 5 x (10 + 5) = 75. See the following link:
https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/big-bend-ranch/fees-facilities/campsites

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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2019, 12:16:23 PM »
This is gonna be a good one.

But ... $75??!!

Yeah, I was shocked at the cost of a permit too!
Is that a backcountry camping permit?
That's 5 x (10 + 5) = 75. See the following link:
https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/big-bend-ranch/fees-facilities/campsites
Flash is correct, $10/night camping, $5 day use. I'm not sure why they didn't charge me $80 since I was there 6 days and 5 nights.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2019, 08:18:17 PM by DesertRatShorty »
I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
   To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

*

Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2019, 09:21:28 PM »
Day 2

Sunrise on Chimney Rock from camp.



My primary goal today was to get through the Lower Shutup. I continued up the wash I had been following the previous evening, and soon came to a large cairn on the right, marking a connector trail to the LSU. The trail could have used a few more cairns, but it got me in sight of an old fence which I followed to the shutup. This was the second time the park's mapped shined, because it shows all old fences from the ranching days.

Once in the canyon, I dropped my pack and scouted downstream to see if it was in fact impassable, and within a tenth of a mile there was a short slot section with a pouroff into a large, full tinaja. I don't think it would be too difficult to bypass and continue down the wash.



Continuing north, the canyon has low walls but is very narrow, and for several hundred yards you can touch both sides at the same time. The walls here are polished rock.



It was in this section that I encountered two of the more interesting obstacles in the entire canyon. The first was a scramble beneath a massive chockstone the size of a van.



Just around the next corner was another tricky spot. There were no good footholds, and the canyon was too wide to walk up the sides.



I needed every inch of my length (I'm 6-1 despite my handle) to reach a hand hold I could use to pull myself up, with my pack following behind on a rope. At this point I had already taken my pack off twice in a quarter mile, and I was thinking this could be a very long day. Fortunately there was only one more drop that required taking the pack off. Still, the lower half of the Lower Shutup was a serious workout, and there were a ton of brief scrambles.



There was a lot of water throughout the lower half of the shutup, so I dumped a couple liters of "just in case" water to lighten my load.

Beyond remarkable geology, the LSU sports a number of other attractions, including caves, a balanced rock, a palm tree, and this herd of Aoudad.



Gradually the canyon widened as the walls became taller, reaching as high as 800 feet above the canyon floor.







Eventually I came to the major pouroff. There was a huge tinaja at the base, and the water had a nasty film on top.



There was a cairned route up a short climb to bypass the pouroff to the east. The climb down the other side was a bit steep, but it was marked with some official-looking little arrow placards.

At the top of the pouroff was a smaller (but still large) tinaja, fed by flowing water. This tinaja was perfectly clear and I loaded up with six liters of water in my pack, plus another 1-2 in my belly.



Above the pouroff, the scrambling subsided and I was able to reassemble my trekking poles and make good time. The canyon walls again started shrinking, and the wash continued to widen, as I entered the interior of the Solitario. It had taken me about 5.5 hours to cover 4.5 miles.



At this point I would just like to pause and say that the Lower Shutup is spectacular. It was unequivocally the highest of several highlights on my trip. In the first couple of miles, I let out an audible "wow" as I rounded just about every corner.

After a short break, around 2 pm I set out along the Outer Loop trail, which is an old ranching road that, for the most part, runs along an old fence. The first landmark is Needle Peak which is reminiscent of Elephant Tusk.



The ranching ruins along this trail gave me a new appreciation of how challenging it must have been to work this land. There was a pipe than ran the length of the road and was occasionally exposed. There were also a few concrete troughs and abandoned equipment. The trail itself was clear and easy to follow. The hard packed footbed had yielded little to encroaching vegetation.



There were good views of the back side of Los Portales, and even a faint trace of a trail leading down toward it. But before you try backpacking it, check out this off-site trip report. The park used to have a brochure describing a geology hike through Los Portales and the Righthand Shutup, but evidently they did away with it as discussed here. But you can still find the brochure here, it has a good description of the geology of the Solitario.

Eventually I came to Papalote Ramon and Burnt Camp



where I called it a day as the old windmill spun quietly in the fading light.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2019, 08:22:47 PM by DesertRatShorty »
I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
   To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

*

Offline backpacker56

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Re: Fresno Creek to Auras Creek, Through the Solitario
« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2019, 07:40:43 AM »
Let me be first to say "Wow!" following your 2nd installment.  Awesome adventure!  Thanks for posting.
"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

 


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