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Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08

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Offline mule ears

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Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« on: December 26, 2008, 09:41:55 AM »
Well the connection has been made. After obsessing over finishing the across the park hike, begun in 2004, I finally made it back to do the western half, the Lajitas to the Basin segment. The partner who made the eastern half walk could not make it this time so I brought yet another person to Big Bend who had never been there before. We had hiked together here in the east and in Utah; he had also completed a January solo 500 mile segment of the AT. Tough enough to take this trip and 20 years my junior.

This was to be a harder trip than the eastern half due to the terrain, the lack of water or information about water and the amount of off trail work to be done. I am still old school and donít use a GPS so my estimate is 74 miles walked, 65 with pack, 9 without pack. With all the zigzagging around in washes and around creosote bush and lechuguilla it certainly was more (or felt like it). Only about 18 miles of that on marked/established trails. All in seven of the shortest days of the year. Maps and other notes are near the end of this thread.

We also called it the springs tour as we were going to try and hit every spring west of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (RMSD) plus some east of it. In the end out of 21 tinajas and springs we planned to check out we actually saw 15 and a tinaja we didnít expect. We headed in without any water reports for the part west of the RMSD and ended up carrying more water than we needed just to be safe.

Thanks to everyone on the board for the bits and pieces of information on various parts of the walk especially trtlrock for his Mesa trip report and Robert for his on the wash/canyon east of Goat Mtn.

It is a long way from North Carolina and I left the farm at 5:00 am and flew into San Antonio, via Memphis, by 11:00; My checked bag with most of the equipment and food arrived too, sigh of relief. My partner ML arrived an hour late but with all his stuff as well. Pick up the rental car and off to get fuel canisters, water for the caches and a few last minute food items, eat some very late lunch and finally on I-10 west to Marathon by 3:00. It is 8:30 by the time we make it to the Marathon Motel (highly recommended) where we sort and pack equipment and pass out.

Day one was a very busy one just to get on the trail. On the road to the park by 6:15 and we arrive at PJ fifteen minutes before the visitor center opens to a magnificent sunrise.


First at the desk for a permit we had a very new ranger who took forever to get it all written down without ever really registering what it was we were planning to do. 8:20 we head the 54 miles down the RMSD to Terlingua Abajo (TA) to drop a food and water cache, then back up to drop water near Trap Mtn. and at the Homer Wilson box. 11:05 we arrive in the Basin where Far Flung Adventures is to meet us to shuttle us to the Mesa de Anguila (MDA) at 11:30. Cutting it close! (next time I will allow a whole day for set up and acclimation as I have done before, ML is a grad student who just couldn't take another day) Just enough time to fill our water bottles, 11 qts. each, call the girls and finish packing. John from Far Flung arrives at 11:20 and we are off at 11:30. He/they are concerned we arenít fully aware we canít get down off the MDA, I assure them we know people who have and if we canít do it then we will just turn around and head out.

12:30 and we are at the trail head, staring at the Saddle and our shuttle drives off. The great adventure begins. We are carrying 40 pound packs with nearly 23# of water and enough food to get us to our cache the third day at Terlingua Abajo.


The climb up the Saddle is steep but not too long or horrible and by 1:30 we are resting at the top taking in the views of Mexico. It will be the last time we see the Rio Grande until we are standing at the point over looking Santa Elena canyon.



Out over the mesa, through washes and up the ridges between them towards Mariposa. It is in the 70ís but with almost no breeze and mostly clear. The gap in the ridge behind ML is the Saddle.


We arrive at the tinaja Rana drainage and take a long break checking, from the top, for water all the way out to the edge overlooking the lower mesa. There are a number of holes with water. We head on over to tinaja Blanca and find the same situation. We look at each other, thinking about dumping out 10-12 pounds of water, pretty sure that there will be water in Bruja canyon tomorrow. Sure would make the up coming cross country section easier. In the end we decide not to, having never been up on the MDA, the other side could be totally different.

5:00 we head off trail past the edge of Canyon Flag towards the point over Santa Elena.


We actually find a pretty good trail with a few cairns but mostly horse and burro hoof prints. We make much better time and get all the way out past the last hills and find a great campsite on the shale/clay flats east of pt. 3473 and near the first A in Anguila on the map. Just at dark with great views of the Chisos in the far distance. About 8 miles today.


Tired from the hectic day but glad the trip was finally underway. A good sunset, the first of many.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2009, 09:58:51 AM by RichardM »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
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no shade, no water
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Offline Ay Chihuahua!

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2008, 09:57:30 AM »
Mule Ears,

Thanks for putting this down on "paper" for us.  Looking forward to the rest of your report.

AC

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Offline Burn Ban

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2008, 10:10:55 AM »
man, this sounds like the beginning of something awesome.

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Offline TexasAggieHiker

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2008, 11:32:09 AM »
bring it!!   :icon_biggrin:

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #4 on: December 27, 2008, 08:34:41 AM »
Day Two:

The moon had been full two days earlier and it was a clear and bright night out on the flats.


The tail of one of the many arctic fronts that has lashed the nation in the last few weeks brushed the Bend and we woke up to 24 degrees, no wind and a mostly clear sky. Little did we know that this would be the coolest and most comfortable day of the trip. What we did know was that with our full days, and a shortage of daylight, we would have to get with it early each morning so we were up cooking almost before light and on the trail by 8:30 which would be our pattern for the entire trip. Moon over pt. 3719


Sun clearing the horizon over the mouth of Santa Elena canyon.


The main trick to walking out to the mesa rim, efficiently, is to thread the sometimes confusing ridgeline that separates the washes that run SW towards the Rio Grande and the ones running NE towards Bruja canyon. The trail we were following petered out about half way to the rim but we managed to do a good job picking the right line and made good time despite the ďbaby headĒ rocks covering the ground.


We ended up hitting the rim just NW of pt. 3645 shortly after 10:00. You can see Canyon Flag, Mariposa and pt. 3719 far back on the right, where we started this morning.


We left our packs here and walked on out to the point overlooking the mouth of Santa Elena canyon. We had to work our way down and through a small side canyon on the way but it was basically walking the rim most of the way. We came across the huge cairn TWWG described on the highest point at 3664 just before the tip itself.


To describe the views and the sheer air from the point is hard to do. It is a 360 degree view and spectacular. This pano hardly does it justice but the scale of it all is apparent. Terlingua creek on the left, the Chisos in the middle, and the Rio Grande and Sierra Ponce on the right. I have also attached the pano if you want to see a larger size.


It was clouding up and getting cool (in the 50ís) so we only stayed for a while after shooting copious pictures. Back to the packs shortly before noon and we decided to head on down towards Bruja canyon a ways before stopping for lunch, scaring up a mule deer on the way. Bruja begins to appear to the right


and soon we can see the far saddle where we need to get to by dark (tinaja Grande is in the shadows on the left).


By 2:00 we are at the head of ďthe notchĒ of Bruja canyon where the washes flowing in from the NW and SE converge to start the tumultuous drop down to the desert. We dropped our packs and proceeded to climb, slip and wriggle our way down about a half a mile to the final big drops and pools which stopped us eventually. These narrow slot type canyons are always like Christmas, you never know what present is around the next corner.








At 3:30 we are heading NW up the big wash that really feeds Bruja. Tinaja Grande is to our left, its location is obvious on the big wall but we must make time up to the top by the end of the day so we donít go explore. We take the right fork climbing up the circuitous and ledgy wash NE of the tinaja Lujan drainage. Here we find several more large pools of water and some old candelilla wax processing equipment.

We finally top the saddle around 5:30 and pop out onto the trail between Canyon Flag and Dam tinaja. We find a nice campsite and settle in for another good sunset and a well deserved rest. Only about 7 miles today with packs and another 4 or so without but the walking has been rough and challenging at times. The point over Santa Elena canyon and upper Bruja canyon all in the same day, it will take some time to process all that.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2014, 01:08:51 PM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline Lorax

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2008, 03:01:20 PM »
Wow!  Great report and pictures.

Thanks!
Ted

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Offline sleepy

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2008, 03:54:45 PM »
Well, Alright!   
keep it coming. 
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #7 on: December 27, 2008, 04:08:59 PM »
Great report and photos! The Mesa is high on my list for 2009.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline trtlrock

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #8 on: December 27, 2008, 04:49:24 PM »
Great report!  Did you see any lights from the MDA your 1st night?  Any birds visit you at the point/overlook?  Any flowers anywhere?  Was there any water from the time you left camp near Canyon Flag to the time you delved into Brouja?

I remember being absolutely floored by the view out & down once we hit the cliff line near Pt.3645.  Obviously, you can see the Chisos at various points earlier in the hike, but am I remembering correctly this sudden & staggering view revealing itself?  Or am I suffering from revisionist embroidery?   :eusa_think:

Keep it up!
John & Tess

"...and I'll face each day with a smile, for the time that I've been given's such a little while..." - Arthur Lee

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2008, 05:25:21 PM »
Great report!  Did you see any lights from the MDA your 1st night?  Any birds visit you at the point/overlook?  Any flowers anywhere?  Was there any water from the time you left camp near Canyon Flag to the time you delved into Brouja?

I remember being absolutely floored by the view out & down once we hit the cliff line near Pt.3645.  Obviously, you can see the Chisos at various points earlier in the hike, but am I remembering correctly this sudden & staggering view revealing itself?  Or am I suffering from revisionist embroidery?   :eusa_think:

Keep it up!

thanks everyone.
You are not being revisionist. The view is amazing in it's size and drop, more so than encountering the South Rim for the first time I think.

We did not have any birds visit us but then the entire trip we only saw a few hawks, I think it was so still (no wind) there were not many up drafts for them to work, not even turkey vultures. No water on that stretch. Only a handful of flowers widely spaced. You definately hit it perfectly in 2000. We were so far out on the Mesa the first night that we saw no lights in Mexico, we weren't far enough out to see Study Butte either. The only lights we saw that first nigt were cars coming down the RMSD towards Castolon.
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Offline walkingman06

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #10 on: December 27, 2008, 08:06:12 PM »
Thanks for sharing your report with us mule ears.  There seems to be more to Big Bend than one can imagine!

Good job,
 :eusa_clap:
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Say, who is this walking man?
James Taylor
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Offline mule ears

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2008, 07:21:54 AM »
Day Three:

Much warmer this morning at 35 degrees and I hear owls calling in the very early morning hours. Up and cooking by 6:45 as we could have a long day getting down the face of the mesa and back around to Terlingua Abajo. The first rays of light come up over Bruja canyon and the tip of the MDA.


We quickly make it down to Dam tinaja which sits in a very narrow cleft and must be 40-50 feet high. Built of concrete, the ranchers really had to work to make this thing. Water was trickling into the silt behind the dam and disappearing. We take a break to check out one of the 3 rock shelters that we can see.


The trail begins to curve back to the SE down the face of the mesa and it is very well cairned and easy to follow. At one point it moves back NW and we soon realize it is heading down to the park fence, a gate and the end of a dirt road that comes in from Lajitas way. Not what the map indicated. Oh well, we just curve around and head SE along the front of the mesa.


The goal is to work our way along the base of the mesa, avoiding as much as possible, the tiring in and out of wash crossings that are inevitable as they run NE down from the mesa. This was made much easier with packs less than 20 pounds. We make it around to where the map indicated the trail came down and we do see some cairns on large boulders but no real sign of a trail. Just before noon we make it to the gap between the mesa and pt. 2662 (and Sierra Aguja).


From here on in it is easy wash walking, the hard part is past. It is getting hot, in the 80ís, I thought this was December. We find shade for lunch under a bush and relax knowing we are in for an easy afternoon.




We consider heading up to check out the mouth of Bruja Canyon but opt for heading for Terlingua creek and our cache. We round the set of hills that are between TA and Bruja canyon and the ruins of the old farming community begin to appear. Some of the graves have been recently decorated, probably during the recent Day of the Dead. As a farmer I think what a hard place to try and coax a crop from the ground.


We finally see Terlingua creek, 15-20 feet wide, six inches deep and shimmering cool in the hot sun. A view the farmers I am sure enjoyed too.


3:30 and we cross the creek, drop our packs and go to find our cache. A five gallon bucket with four days food, spare maps and some extra clothing. Along side it were 4 gallons of water and a fuel canister. It is right where we hid it under the shade of a mesquite tree. We carry it further out into the flats east of the creek and find some shade under some bushes to avoid the unseasonably hot sun until it dropped behind the MDA. This would be our only short day of the trip time wise and in theory only 9 miles today. Some one slipped a couple of Shiner Bockís into the bucket too!


Separately each of us headed down to the creek to wash up a little, it is amazing how just washing your face makes it all better. It was so warm there were some pesky gnats flying around and a few mosquitoes. It was still in the 60ís after the sun went down and this was the only night we didnít get an incredible sunset. We did sit and watch a mysterious light that would appear from time to time for an hour or two right at the point of the MDA at Santa Elena canyon where we had been just yesterday. Hmmm?
« Last Edit: April 10, 2009, 07:17:17 AM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline sleepy

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2008, 11:56:25 AM »
did ya'll descend MDA/Bruja Canyon using ropes at all?  I was under the assumption that it required ropes.


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

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2008, 12:22:44 PM »
did ya'll descend MDA/Bruja Canyon using ropes at all?  I was under the assumption that it required ropes.

On the second day when we descended/explored the upper part of "the Notch" of Bruja we were able to down climb (no ropes) all the way to what appeared and I understand to be the point just above the last two or three large drops (didn't appear to be anything over 40-50' each drop) which do require ropes. The last picture of Bruja on the second day is standing at the that point and you can see the desert below is not too far out there.

On the third day when we actually descended the MDA to Terlingua Abajo we went by the most northern route that is shown on the topo map and the Trails Illustrated map too. It is very near the park boundary and the map shows it curving back SE towards Sierra Aguja and TA and just ending at the base of the mesa.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline TheWildWestGuy

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Re: Lajitas to the Basin 12/15-12/21/08
« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2008, 02:32:58 PM »
Good trip report Mule Ears, thanks for posting  :high5: :eusa_clap:.  A few years ago I was solo backpacking up on the Mesa and exploring around the Dam Tinaja area.  I also ended up getting a bit lost and had a hard time finding the trail down from Dam Tinaja to the (new) airport.  It seemed like there were several cairned trails criss-crossing the area that were not marked on the map and it was a bit unnerving.   There was water behind the dam at the Dam Tinaja but I could smell some dead animal that must have been down in the slot below the dam which kind of spooked me a bit.  I tried to climb around near the rockshelter to see what was causing the stench and noticed a lot of illegal alien trash (like big Fresca bottles) in the rockshelters.   It was one of those situations where as a solo backpacker I had to take a few deep breaths and fight the urge to run/panic.  Do you have any pictures of the rockshelters?  Was there any evidence of illegal alien trash? TWWG

 


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