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A week of day hikes followed by a quick two-nighter

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Offline congahead

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A week of day hikes followed by a quick two-nighter
« on: January 06, 2019, 05:03:17 PM »
In early October, Mrs. Congahead and I spend a great week in Big Bend doing day hikes. A month later, I returned with my older son for a quick three-day/two night backpack. I’ve combined the trips into this one trip report. Nothing dramatic, spectacular or incredibly challenging; nonetheless I spent time with two of my favorite people in my favorite place so I figured I’d go ahead and record it for posterity.

I took several photos on both trips but did not include them here … I have not yet taken the time to figure out how to do so. Hopefully the words will suffice.

Trip 1 – October 8 – 12, 2018

Mrs. and I opted to hike in the day and live the pampered life at night, staying at the Big Bend Casitas. I was recovering from a nasty month-long URI so didn’t know how I’d fare. With the exception of the Chisos, all of the trails on our itinerary were ones we’d never done in our dozen+ trips to the Bend.

Monday, Oct. 8 – Chisos Mountains

We had intended to spend the whole day in the Chisos. Mrs. had never summited Emory Peak and wanted to do it. We got off to a late start because I spent the morning repairing a flat tire I’d gotten just outside of Sanderson on the way there the day before. I recommend Terlingua Auto Service if you ever need them. Finally started around noon-ish. About 1.5 miles up Pinnacles I realized I hadn’t recovered from the URI and that hiking that steep grade in my condition wasn’t any fun. So we retreated and headed back to Terlingua. Had dinner at the Starlight and got to bed early. Awakened at about 23:00 by a hellacious thunderstorm that came in from the south. During all my trips to the Bend, this was the first time I’d experienced a rainstorm. We went outside and watched from the porch for a while.

Tuesday, Oct. 9 – Slickrock Canyon

I’d been wanting to check out Slickrock Canyon since reading about it in Parent’s book and here on BBC. It’s pretty easy wash-walking all of the way, although some sections with larger rocks do present challenges to the ankles if you’re not paying attention. It’s about 2.5 miles from the Maverick Road pull-out down the Oak Creek Wash to an unnamed wash on the right, then another 1.5 miles or so to the canyon itself.

As we approached, a red-tailed hawk perched high above on the canyon wall let out its distinctive call. There were two huge tinajas and several smaller ones, all full of water, in the canyon itself. We also saw fresh, very clear and relatively large black bear tracks there, along with some crow tracks. We chilled (literally) in the shade for about an hour before we headed back.

Parent’s book mentions that it is easy to take the wrong wash when returning to the trailhead, and I think this concern is a bit understated. On the outbound portion, heading downstream, I didn’t really pay much attention to all of the side washes converging into the main wash. Thankfully, my wife did, and she set up a couple of small cairns at certain junctions to help us find our way back. At the time, I rolled my eyes and told her they were unnecessary. But on our way back, I told myself several times, “I don’t remember THIS intersection.” Our return trip was a bit slow because we paused to check our topos, check our GPS, look for our own footprints from the outbound trek, and look for my wife’s cairns. In the end, I ate crow and told her how glad I was that she set up her cairns. If we'd ended up in the wrong wash, we wouldn't have gotten lost and still would have made it back to our car, just with a lot of unnecessary mileage.

Slickrock Canyon is a neat place – wet, shaded and cool in the middle of otherwise dry, exposed and hot desert.

Grabbed lunch at DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ and ate it at the casita. Man, that is good BBQ! Dinner at Rio Bravo next door to the casitas. Meh.

Wednesday, Oct. 10 – Rancherias Canyon (Big Bend Ranch State Park)

Rancherias Canyon in BBRSP was on our itinerary this day. Grasses were really tall because of all the rain they’d had over the preceding months. About 1.5 miles into the (very beautiful!) trail, the grasses became about chest-high, covering the trail and hiding all of the cairns, rocks and potholes along the way. Our pace slowed to 45-minute miles. Very tedious and slow-going, trying to avoid stepping in a hole or on an ankle-breaking rock – and looking for a trail, the next cairn, or at least what seemed like a probable route. At this pace, it was turning out to be an all-day hike, which was not something we wanted to do. At one point as I stood front of yet another chest-high field of grass I was about to slow-dance my way through, I looked down and saw a four-foot long snakeskin and thought, “If I step on a rock and break my ankle or step on a snake and get bit, I have no one to blame but myself.” So we turned around. I’d still like to do that route someday … when the grasses are lower.

Lunch at the Lajitas resort, dinner at La Kiva.

Thursday, Oct. 11 – Upper Burro Mesa Pour-Off/Ward Spring

Despite our many trips there, and having done the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off trail more than once, we’d never done the Upper Burro Mesa Pour-Off. So we decided to knock it off our list. Let's just say it is now in our top five. Very beautiful and lots of fun, traversing boulders and pour-offs. I felt like I was a kid again, playing outside. We started at sunup and finished mid-morning.

Ward Spring

While we were close, we decided to knock yet another untraversed trail off our list. Ward Spring Trail travels over unshaded desert for about three miles. It ends in a shaded area FULL of flowing water. What a treat to find this oasis in the desert. By the time we turned around to head back to the car, it was around noon, and temps were plenty hot.

Drove to the Basin for a late lunch at the restaurant. Dinner was leftover DB’s from a few days before.

Friday, Oct. 12

Up early and back to Houston. A great trip, discovering new (for us) places in the desert by day and living and eating in luxury at night.

Trip 2 – November 15 – 19, 2018

Okay, enough of this indoor plumbing, real bedding, restaurant food and climate-controlled air. Time to spend the night in the desert! My son and I returned to the Bend for a quick three-day/two-night trip. After seeing his Mom’s pictures of the bear tracks, he wanted to check out Slickrock Canyon. We also wanted to do something around Mule Ears/Smoky Creek. We couldn’t decide which, so we decided on both, in a somewhat unorthodox fashion. We’d spend the first night near Slickrock, return to our vehicle the next morning, drive to Mule Ears, then spend the second night there. One advantage of this plan would be that we could travel extra-light – leaving all second-day food and water in the car.

Thursday, Nov. 15

We drove to Marathon and spent the night at the Marathon Motel. We had a fantastic meal at the 12 Gage.

Friday, Nov. 16 – Slickrock Canyon

Breakfast at the Oasis, then to PJ for our permit. At the Slickrock Trailhead by about 11. Trip out was uneventful - see route description above. When we reached the canyon, there was just as much water as my wife and I had seen, but not nearly as many tracks. Alas, no bear tracks. However, we did see fox and deer tracks. We explored the old ruins just north of the canyon (my wife and had hadn’t gone quite that far) and set up camp in the wash about a half-mile north. Had a nice dinner of beans & rice with Fritos and then settled in for the night.

The forecast called for overnight lows in the mid-40s, for which we were well-equipped. As the night wore on, I got colder and colder, frequently checking the temp on my Suunto Ambit Peak (off my wrist) and watching the temps drop into the 40s, then into the 30s. Somewhere around midnight (I think) I ate some M&Ms to generate heat; it worked for half an hour or so. Even though I was REALLY cold, despite all my layers and my down quilt, and even though my Suunto has always been a reliable thermometer, I thought, “there’s no way it’s that cold.” Then at dawn, after another largely sleepless night on the ground, I reached for my Suunto and it read 24. No WAY it got below freezing, I thought. Then I reached for my water bottle – which had become my ice bottle. So whaddya know … my Suunto still works fine, colder air DOES sink, and even spot forecasts are not always 100 percent reliable.

It took us a while to thaw out, especially because the large bank to our east kept the sun away for quite a while. A breakfast of spud bomb and hot coffee (with Bailey's) helped.

Finally got moving and were back at the car before noon. Even used one of my wife’s cairns from several weeks before. Went to PJ for a potty break and then to Mule Ears.

Saturday, Nov. 17 – Mule Ears

I’ve always wanted to camp along the 3200' contour line, just north of Mule Ears Peaks, overlooking the Smoky Creek Plain. So that’s where we headed.  Along the trail I stopped and talked with a couple of backpackers heading back to the trailhead. Turns out they had also camped at 3200', and had been knocking around Smoky Creek and Jack’s Pass. I asked if either was on BBC and hunterhughes introduced himself. It was the first time I’d (knowingly) met another BBCer out there.

We stayed on Mule Ears Trail for about 2.5 miles and then headed south up a wash, around a hill and up to the overlook. I was again reminded how much more difficult off-trail travel is .. tedious, slow-going and not without risk. I recalled the opening sentence of Robert Moor’s On Trails: “It is impossible to fully appreciate the value of a trail until you have been forced to walk through the wilderness without one.” While no one was forcing me to do this, the sentiment still rang true.

But man, was the view worth the climb! We stayed gazing and taking pictures for an hour or so before we set up camp (a safe distance from the cliff) and made dinner (Thai peanut noodles). Then after dinner we once again visited the ledge, about a 200-foot drop to the Smoky Creek plain below, to admire the sun setting next to Mule Ears peaks.

Finally, when darkness fell, I crawled into my quilt, watched the spectacular night show, and drifted off to sleep with the aid of Benadryl. Mercifully, overnight temps tonight were in the mid-40s.

Sunday, Nov. 18

We had oatmeal and coffee (with Bailey’s again, of course) before heading back to the car. Drove back to Marathon and stayed in the Marathon Motel and ate at the 12 Gage again – yes, we spoiled ourselves. Slept great.

Monday, Nov. 19

Up early, breakfast at the Oasis and back to Houston.

Up next … considering Rancherias Loop in BBRSP in February with my son, schedules permitting …
« Last Edit: January 14, 2019, 07:20:38 AM by congahead »
"The animals here will generally try to avoid you, but the plants will hurt you every chance they get."

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Offline Jalco

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Re: A week of day hikes followed by a quick two-nighter
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2019, 06:14:48 PM »
Great report, Conga.  That motivates me to do some quick, in-and-out trips this year.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: A week of day hikes followed by a quick two-nighter
« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2019, 06:54:55 PM »
Sounds like two great trips, thanks for the telling.  I too love that camp over looking the Smoky Creek plain, it is one of my top 10 campsites ever!
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline hunterhughes

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Re: A week of day hikes followed by a quick two-nighter
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2019, 04:45:45 PM »
Nice meeting you!  I am glad you and your son found the spot!  I learned of it on this board and was glad I could share it with another member.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: A week of day hikes followed by a quick two-nighter
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2019, 10:02:54 AM »
Nothing dramatic, spectacular or incredibly challenging; nonetheless I spent time with two of my favorite people in my favorite place

And that is, I think, one of life's greatest gifts.  Glad you got to enjoy it, Congahead!

We also saw fresh, very clear and relatively large black bear tracks there, along with some crow tracks.

IIRC, Mule Ears also saw large bear tracks nearby during his December hike through that part of the park. Methinks there's a bear there, staking a claim in that neighborhood.

Parent’s book mentions that it is easy to take the wrong wash when returning to the trailhead, and I think this concern is a bit understated. On the outbound portion, heading downstream, I didn’t really pay much attention to all of the side washes converging into the main wash. Thankfully, my wife did, and she set up a couple of small cairns at certain junctions to help us find our way back. At the time, I rolled my eyes and told her they were unnecessary. But on our way back, I told myself several times, “I don’t remember THIS intersection.” Our return trip was a bit slow because we paused to check our topos, check our GPS, look for our own footprints from the outbound trek, and look for my wife’s cairns. In the end, I ate crow and told her how glad I was that she set up her cairns. If we'd ended up in the wrong wash, we wouldn't have gotten lost and still would have made it back to our car, just with a lot of unnecessary mileage.

I think I've said this before, Congahead, but I'll say it again. You hit the jackpot with Mrs. Congahead.

Grabbed lunch at DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ and ate it at the casita. Man, that is good BBQ!

+1 to that!  I love DB's!

Despite our many trips there, and having done the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off trail more than once, we’d never done the Upper Burro Mesa Pour-Off. So we decided to knock it off our list. Let's just say it is now in our top five. Very beautiful and lots of fun, traversing boulders and pour-offs. I felt like I was a kid again, playing outside. We started at sunup and finished mid-morning.

Amen, man. Well said. I think that's half the reason many of us go out into the wild. It's one of the few, and certainly one of best, ways to recapture that sweet feeling. I know it's certainly true for me.

The forecast called for overnight lows in the mid-40s, for which we were well-equipped. As the night wore on, I got colder and colder, frequently checking the temp on my Suunto Ambit Peak (off my wrist) and watching the temps drop into the 40s, then into the 30s. Somewhere around midnight (I think) I ate some M&Ms to generate heat; it worked for half an hour or so. Even though I was REALLY cold, despite all my layers and my down quilt, and even though my Suunto has always been a reliable thermometer, I thought, “there’s no way it’s that cold.” Then at dawn, after another largely sleepless night on the ground, I reached for my Suunto and it read 24. No WAY it got below freezing, I thought. Then I reached for my water bottle – which had become my ice bottle. So whaddya know … my Suunto still works fine, colder air DOES sink, and even spot forecasts are not always 100 percent reliable.

It took us a while to thaw out, especially because the large bank to our east kept the sun away for quite a while. A breakfast of spud bomb and hot coffee (with Bailey's) helped.

Dang....AGAIN?  You're apparently as much an attractor of unexpected bad weather as I am.  Sounds like you applied just the right medicine for the wound.

I’ve always wanted to camp along the 3200' contour line, just north of Mule Ears Peaks, overlooking the Smoky Creek Plain. So that’s where we headed.  Along the trail I stopped and talked with a couple of backpackers heading back to the trailhead. Turns out they had also camped at 3200', and had been knocking around Smoky Creek and Jack’s Pass. I asked if either was on BBC and hunterhughes introduced himself. It was the first time I’d (knowingly) met another BBCer out there.

Yet another testimonial to the amazing resource that is Big Bend Chat. Thank you, David and Richard. I agree with what so many others have said: we need some sort of secret handsign or tattoo that identifies us to one another.  :icon_wink:

We stayed on Mule Ears Trail for about 2.5 miles and then headed south up a wash, around a hill and up to the overlook. I was again reminded how much more difficult off-trail travel is .. tedious, slow-going and not without risk. I recalled the opening sentence of Robert Moor’s On Trails: “It is impossible to fully appreciate the value of a trail until you have been forced to walk through the wilderness without one.” While no one was forcing me to do this, the sentiment still rang true.

Again, well said. And here's a salute to all the staff and trail volunteers (and Mrs. Congahead) that put and keep the trails and the cairns where we need them.

Up next … considering Rancherias Loop in BBRSP in February with my son, schedules permitting …

Godspeed, Congahead (and Congahead, Jr.).  There is nothing better than a wilderness trip taken together by a parent and their child.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

 


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