Big Bend Chat
Big Bend or Bust! => Your Trip Reports => Topic started by: Reece on March 11, 2019, 06:54:20 PM
It was HMOD’s trek around the Chimneys area, "An Unexpected Journey" (http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/an-unexpected-journey-to-the-chimneys-and-beyond/) that reignited my Big Bend wanderlust so late this season. Thanks pall. Like everyone, I try to adapt the trips I read about to fit my own goals and abilities. In the past, I’ve gotten myself into some serious trouble for failing at that, mainly by not taking into account my waning physical strength. My last misstep was a hike down Smoky Creek “Three Score and Ten.” (http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/members-only-photos-and-reports/threescore-and-ten-(a-cautionary-tale)/) Since my inspiration for that trip was El Hombre. He was very helpful but trying to match him was plain stupid so I decided to shadow someone a little closer to my own age. But it was only because HMOD was recovering from West Nile Virus, which had him mostly dead for about a month that I thought I might be able to match him step for step - might I said. HMOD’s complete ramble was too long for me, but his description and pictures of Linda and Red Ass Springs and his little alcove at the Chimneys really had me stoked. We had a few interchanges via PM and together decided on a tolerable 3-day, ~13 mile loop for me. As you probably know, HMOD is an excellent teacher and coach.
Beginning at the Chimneys West trailhead, I would hike southeast on the Chimneys trail to the wash heading northeast to Linda Spring. From there I would hike farther north and east to Red Ass spring. Next would be the short leg southeast to the Chimneys. From the Chimneys my route would take me west past Pena Spring and back to the trailhead. My plan was to decide in route exactly where to camp, depending on water availability and how much distance I could make in a day. We decided that there would most likely be water at Linda Spring and most surely at Red Ass and perhaps at Pena Spring. The rest were maybes - dig a hole in the most likely spot and see if it fills up kind of maybes. HMOD was careful not to give me any misleading information or false expectations to the point of suggesting I start out with a full gallon of water, like I said, good coach. And then there’s the risk of leading an old man with whom he has never hiked nor even met to an untimely death. Soft of heart as he is, he’d have trouble living with that.
The weather was forecast to be in the 40’s at night and 60’s during the day, perfect but for a little more wind than I would have ordered up. I’ve learned that if you wait until everything is perfect you’ll never go anywhere or do anything.
The schedule and weather window opened last minute so I had only the one week to prepare. My training consisted of making my standard 6:30 AM, 1-mile dog walk but with the addition of a 25 lb. pack. I had some gear to repair namely fixing a blown out zipper on my old REI pack and beefing up my Kelty 20° down bag. My dear wife sewed in the new zipper and I set to work on the bag. The sleeping bag’s last use was as a loaner to my granddaughter for a trip to Pedernales Falls. She returned it all right but after I washed it the down shifted somehow and wouldn’t move back. Three of the topside baffles were really thin on fill so I bought a quarter pound of loose down on down (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072QBNQ14/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_2Q5HCb6562KNK) Amazon and re-stuffed them a little. I just opened each baffle with a razor blade by cutting the stitching a few inches at the zipper. I stuffed equal amounts into each baffle one by one and then made a few holding stitches by hand to close the gap. Just an FYI, this is something you’ll want to do out of doors since down is very hard to handle. Then my dear wife expertly sewed them shut on her machine. I knew I’d need the extra warmth, even at 40°. As you age, you grow more susceptible to both extremes of heat and cold. You’ll understand when you’re older. And there’s no buying new gear at my age. Way too many men keep collecting when they’re past their own “use by” dates and wind up with a lot of wasted stuff. I know the temptation well. About the time you get really good at something and have all the tools, you’re past being able to use them. It’s the same old-man folly that forever dooms half finished classic car restorations to dusty garages. I keep my gear pretty much at the ready so all I had to do was plan my food, renew my InReach subscription and hit the road.
As it goes, the day before my departure, my lower back got to cutting up, spazing and cramping. I keep some Baclofen muscle relaxers on hand for these episodes but since I haven’t had any trouble for about half a year, my supply was low. I started my usual 3 per day regimen plus Indomethacin, also 3 per day and got some relief. If I’d been looking for an excuse to call my trip, this would definitely have been it. Like I said before, you can’t wait until everything is perfect.
February 18, 2019, Houston, up at 3:30 AM and off to Panther Junction by 4:00 PM. 5:30 PM saw me setting up my car camp at the Chimneys West trailhead, just off Maverick road. Thankfully I was alone though I did hear a few vehicles pass by in the twilight. I set up my little summer tent against the wind and once supper was finished, had myself bedded down pretty cozy. I have redundant gear for backpacking and car camping - one big plastic storage box for each. I had just drifted off to sleep when I was awakened by another car on Maverick road. Kind of late for a park tour, “he’ll pass on by,” I thought. Then he pulled off and right up to the turn around a few yards from my camp. That got me out of my tent for a look see. I was a little spooked actually. I’m not accustomed to receiving uninvited late night guests in the Big Bend wilds. This was a man and woman in a Subaru, looked like they were prepping for a hike. Fair enough I thought, the full moon was already up and shining bright. To their credit they were very quiet with only a bare minimum car door closings and no music. I learned next morning the guy is on Big Bend Chat, goes by “salukicolt.” Nice folks and like I said very considerate. It turns out they were just walking off into the desert to sleep for their last night in the park.
Not surprisingly, my back was even worse after a night on the ground. Having only three Baclofen tabs left, I made an old-man decision. I would leave my tent erected base camp style and try for a single overnighter to Linda Spring. I loaded my pack and hit the trail. Included were 2 lunches, one supper and one breakfast, plus enough water to make it back same day in the event that Linda Spring was dry.
The hike out Chimneys trail is mostly flat and over-cairned in my opinion. The northeast turn up the wash to Linda Spring is unmarked. I used Gaia GPS on my iPhone with HMOD’s route and waypoints created in
Google Earth and preloaded. With Gaia, you can download maps or follow the route while you have a data connection to get the necessary map tiles loaded into the temporary cache. The off trail portion though relatively short was still very rewarding for me. I have come to regard off trail hiking as the “real thing” and any more, the only kind of hiking I’m really interested in.
As I walked along, I had a rather nice epiphany. As I dial down my hikes to fit my advancing age, I’m inadvertently designing good hikes for the young and inexperienced. I could easily imagine taking a youngster on this hike. So far, I’ve backpacked with four of my five grandchildren. It would be a perfect teaching hike. A child could route find all the way, easily following the abundant cairns on the Chimneys portion as a warm up. Then, with the iPhone savvy they’re all seemingly born with, she could also navigate via the GPS track leading up the wash to Linda Spring. It would be a great wilderness survival experience, making her responsible for finding water in the desert. With a less broke-down adult, the whole loop should be doable for any willing and fit kid over ten. The out and back to Linda Spring could be done by a hearty six year old.
I started at 11 AM and made the 2.5 mile hike to Linda Spring in just 2 hours, good time for me. So Here I was at my destination with an aching back and plenty of time on my hands. I was hoping the little canyon would afford some respite from the wind but it acted more like a tunnel, channeling the torrent right up the middle. I tried erecting my Tyvek tarp as a windbreak but that was folly. Now I know why people make kites out of this stuff. Mine nearly took flight a couple of times before I got it folded back up and stowed away. It was hard enough work just anchoring my ground sheet. I guess I could have camped on higher ground but I doubt it would have been any better, maybe worse.
Linda Spring Canyon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNJlrbRmqbk)
The little Linda Spring Canyon
Tracks at water's edge
White Tail deer?
The white mineral ring had me a little worried but the water was fine with only the very slightest alkaline taste.
Between sunset and moonrise I was afforded a few hours of stargazing along with the ever-present satellites making their orbital sweeps. The full moon in it’s rising rivaled the setting sun for glory and once overhead was so bright that I couldn’t gaze directly at it without squinting; the brightest I can remember. The glory of the heavens brought to mind a hymn based on Saint Patrick’s Breastplate. Since Saint Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, here follows a portion of it.
I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray; the whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea around the old eternal rocks.
I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River, his death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb, his riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom, I bind unto myself today!
Fully resigned to an intermittent sleep pattern on this bright sacred night, I kept occasional watch to see some if some nocturnal wildlife might pass by on way to the spring but I suppose they either gave my noisy and smelly camp a wide birth or walked quietly in their passing. This night was for me painful, cold, windy and torturous by any standard of decency you might name and by the breaking of day I had completely sworn off the miserable sport of wilderness backpacking for good. In my imagining, I had all my gear sold or given away and my Jeep traded in for a more versatile pickup truck.
There's something to be said for a large ground sheet.
In the early morning twilight I pulled all my clothes into the sleeping bag with me to warm them up to a tolerable temperature. Then I shivered my way into the warmest of them and brewed some coffee from fresh spring water, first one cup…and then another. Then I boiled more water for a hot breakfast of oatmeal and hard-boiled eggs. Feeling slightly better, I broke camp and began the lovely solitary trek back to my Jeep, enjoying the beautiful terrain and plant life, all the while planning my next trip. I think I’m beginning to understand; a measure of suffering has become for me the price of admission to this magical place we call the Chihuahua Desert. You’ll certainly understand when you’re a bit older.
I believe that is Cerro Castellan.
What is that peeking up over the Sierra del Carmen?
My LifeStraw commercial. It would have been better if I had actually gotten some water but the dang thing was clogged. A little soaking in warm water opened it back up.
" I think I’m beginning to understand; a measure of suffering has become for me the price of admission to this magical place we call the Chihuahua Desert. You’ll certainly understand when you’re a bit older."
Don't need to be older to understand the truth. The truth can always stand alone! Great to hear of your success!
Warms my heart to read of your journeys out into the desert, Reece. Funny how the torments and vows of the night dissolve away with the beauty of a new morning and a new day. These trips can be such a mixed bag that we can ponder on for months afterward.
Warms my heart, too, Reece. It’s 1am in New Mexico, and my 13-year-old son is asleep a few feet away from me in our hotel room while I fine-tune the loading of our backpacks before heading into Bandelier National Monument tomorrow. I love it that you made it to Linda Spring. To the best of my knowledge, you and I are the only two people to make it out there in at least a decade and maybe several. Sorry you didn’t make it to my alcove in The Chimneys. Try it again from Ross Maxwell. Thanks for the kind words, and even more for the great report. There are, for me, no better trip reports than a Reece trip report.
Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Reece, I am beginning to understand the coming limitations of getting older and can see in my somewhat distant future being limited to overnight trips and I think that will be just fine when the time arrives.
"And there’s no buying new gear at my age. Way too many men keep collecting when they’re past their own “use by” dates and wind up with a lot of wasted stuff"
I am not sure I completely agree with this, especially if if allows one to keep doing what they dream of even if only a few nights a year, it is only money and you can't take it with you. If you had had a warmer sleeping bag and thicker pad think about how much better you would have slept and you can always give it to the granddaughter when you are done with it for good.
Great report and I am really excited to see Linda Spring on my next trip!
An engaging, enchanting trip report! Your bivouac at Linda Spring looks cold. Even the sleeping bag, left to itself, seems trying to assume a fetal position. Does your air mattress provide much insulation against the ground?
I agree with Flash, I loved and can identify with that determination, in those frigid windswept hours before dawn, to swear off the whole wretched business, but then a few hours later all is right with the world and you're planning the next trip!
If a measure of suffering is the price of admission, perhaps an occasional purchase of a bit of gear is one of the small subsidiary pleasures of admission. After all, none of it could ever be justified on purely practical grounds, at any stage of life.
Then too, the pleasure of fixing your gear, enabling it to serve a little longer, also counts as joy. It's all good. I do hope to understand better when I'm a bit older.
Inspirational. Let's keep raging against the dying of the light.
Your bivouac at Linda Spring looks cold. Even the sleeping bag, left to itself, seems trying to assume a fetal position.
Perfect. That says it all, BP56. Few things valuable are easily won.
After all, none of it could ever be justified on purely practical grounds, at any stage of life...... I do hope to understand better when I'm a bit older.
Reece keeps showing us why it IS justified. The thing I love soooo much about your reports, Reece, is that you provide us a portal into the future, through which we can catch glimpses of our own future (better? best?) selves.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
"There's special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all."
Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2