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Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip

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Offline gglauser

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Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« on: January 04, 2018, 12:52:50 PM »
Mesa De Anguila (An-gee-ya)

I am attaching a 3 part backpacking trip report that I took over the Christmas break. It was written for my family, but I hope that others will enjoy it as well. I also want to thank everyone who chimed in while I was planning the trip. The saying posted at the top of this forum, "Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death," and that is very true out on the mesa. There terrain was tougher and the sun was hotter than I originally planned, but overall it was a great trip.

After work and dinner on Thursday, I left home to return to Big Bend for yet another adventure. This time, I was headed for the Mesa De Anguila. A 14x3 mile long mesa on the southwest corner of Big Bend. I drove all the way to Marathon, and just after midnight I pulled into a rest area to sleep in the bed of the truck under the moonlight until morning. The darkness that encompasses you in the Big Bend region is unlike anywhere else I have been. There is absolutely no light pollution! I awoke early the next morning, cold and tired, and drove the rest of the way to Panther Junction to get my backcountry permit. Whenever going into the back country alone, the rangers make sure to take your glamour photos; ie: they take photos of you and your pack and the sole of your shoe in case you go missing. Just after 10am, I was on my way to Lajitas, where the trail head begins.

If you think Big Bend is remote, just wait until you get to Lajitas. It felt like I was at the end of the world. Even the park ranger had a hard time explaining how to get to the trail head. It took some searching, but I found it. After buying 2 cokes and saying hi to the town mayor, a beer drinking goat named Clay Henry and his girlfriend, I was off on the trail. Clock said 12:10. I met 2 other backpackers at the start that were going to do 2 days on the mesa, but I never saw them after this. At the start of the hike, my pack was just over 40lbs and I was carrying 8 liters of water. Less than a quarter of a mile in, I lost the trail, and just started heading straight for the saddle, a 1000 ft climb which would take me up on top of the mesa. It took me just over an hour to make it to the top, but there was no time to waste if I was going to make it to Entrance camp for the night. Since I had started an hour later than I had planned, I had to make haste for fear that I would loose daylight. So off I went, across the mesa, a barren piece of rock with no shade, and unrelenting sun. It may have been freezing in Austin, but here it was 80 plus degrees. The trail was a up and down and rocky, but I made good time and made it to camp close to 5pm. Along the way, I did stop to explore the Tinaja Rana, a slot canyon form by water flowing off the mesa over thousands of years, and where water pools in large bowls. Little did I know that this would be my lifesaver on my final day.

As I approached camp, I was exhausted from the hike, and almost regretted my decision to camp here due to the amount of energy the last 2 miles required, but then I saw the river. The stark difference from the mesa above was astounding. The sand and the trees, the sound of the water rippling over the rocks. I thought this was the best camp one could ask for. After setting up camp and making dinner, I took off my shoes and walked on the soft sand to the river and stuck my feet into the Rio Grande. The icy cold water felt refreshing on my tired feet. As I stood there with my feet in the water, I stared across into Mexico. Just 20 feet and this river separated 2 countries. Simply amazing. I was going to turn in early, but then some people rafting down the river pulled up and made camp. One of the guys came over and invited me over to their camp. He said they had beer and whiskey they would share. Well that was all it took, and I brought my dinner over, and we sat around their fire telling stories of travels and camping. There were 2 couples named Pat and Cat, and Ben and Car who were teachers from Colorado on Christmas break. We sat around talking until almost 11pm. One of the guys was also a photographer and we took some incredible shots. Before leaving, I asked if I could have some of their water, as I had drank almost double what I had expected to drink today. Without this water I would have had to reassess my plan due to drinking at least 3 liters on the first day. When my head hit the pillow that night, I was out.
Day 1 Stats:
According to my watch I hiked just over 8 1/2 miles in 4 hrs. Also climbed over 1000 ft onto the mesa and then descended 1000 ft back down to the river

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2018, 01:30:03 PM »
Great start, Gglauser!  Big Bend is known for knocking the wind out of you. Trust me, I speak from experience. And you were in some of the roughest of the rough - a part of the Bend I haven't yet made it to. Really looking forward to the rest of your report.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Robert

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2018, 01:47:21 PM »
Quote
Before leaving, I asked if I could have some of their water, as I had drank almost double what I had expected to drink today. Without this water I would have had to reassess my plan due to drinking at least 3 liters on the first day.

I'm assuming you had the ability to filter or treat water but just didn't want to drink the water out of the river due to warnings.


If you get your permit around 9:00, then drive out to the parking area, it will be 12:00 before you hit the trail. 

Looks like El Hombre's advice was spot on. It took me about 2 hours to get permitted and to the trailhead but I didn't make any addtional stops.

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Offline gglauser

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2018, 03:21:44 PM »
Robert: i could have filtered water and I had "purification" tablets, but I was slightly worried about filtering out of the Rio Grande. Plus, they had plenty of water that they didn't mind sharing.

Yes, El Hombre was right. Now, it's definitely possible to get to the trailhead earlier, but I was 5th in line to get a permit, I took my time getting out to the trail head, stopped at the general store and ate lunch, and re-packed my pack one more time before leaving. If I had gone straight to the trailhead, I probably could have made it by 11.

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Offline gglauser

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2018, 03:25:12 PM »
Mesa De Anguila: Day 2 "Roads? What roads? Where we're going we don't need roads!"

I knew from the start that day 2 was going to be my the toughest day. I just didn't know how tough. I had planned a hike out along the south rim of the mesa to check out the rock rapids overlook and the Tinaja De La Verga. It was a 2 mile hike to the rock slide rapids, then another 2.5 miles to the Tinaja De La Verga. After seeing those 2 I would traverse 3 miles over to the north rim where I would camp for the night. Oh, and did I mention that I would not be following any trails! I would only have a topo map and compass to guide me. It was going to test me mentally and physically.

I left entrance camp at 9am with high spirits, and was off trail heading east by 9:20. This was the last time I would see anything that resembled a trail for the rest of the day. Without a trail, the hiking was slow and grueling. The hike was a constant up and down, across valleys and washes, and over bushes and around cati. Most of the hike was on baseball sized rocks that kept me constantly looking down. Despite the dificult hiking, I found the area beautiful. As I came over the top of one of the hills, I startled two aoudad. It was amazing to see these huge creatures so close. By 11:00am I had reached rock slides overlook. This gave me a birds eye view down into the canyon that the Rio Grande winds through, and is one of the best views in the park. As I left the overlook, the path up the canyon wall become steeper, and more difficult to traverse. At one point I found myself on a ledge, unable to proceed forward, and had to back track a quarter mile until I could cross over a valley and continue my trek east. The path finally came to a point where the lower canyon wall and upper canyon wall met, and the only way up was a ten foot climb over a rocky ledge to get to the other side. I knew if I fell that that there would not be anyone coming to my rescue for days to come. So very carefully I made my way up and over. Once on top I could see the Tinaja in the distance, but there was no easy way to reach it due to several valleys in the way. I decided to skip the Tinaja and start making my journey across the mesa to the north rim. It was 3pm and the desert sun was beating down on me, and there was no shade. It took what seemed like forever to cross the mesa. Every time I would crest a hill I could see the ledge and think, "Just one more hill." Then I would get to the top of that hill and realize there was another, and another, and another. Finally, when I reached that final hill on the north rim, the world opened up beneath me and I was treated to panoramic views of the chisos mountains. I made camp on a the rocky ledge just 10 feet from a 3000 foot drop to the desert below. It was a mile and a half to "the point," which is where the Rio Grande emerges from the Santa Elena Canyon. This was one of my goals to see on the trip, but with water running low and my legs exhausted from the day, I didn't go. It didn't matter b/c the view from my campsite was every bit as amazing. As I ate dinner, I watched the sun set and the moon rise over the chisos mountains taking in the quiet and surreal moment. That night I fell asleep under the moonlight watching shooting stars as they passed overhead.

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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2018, 04:57:23 PM »
Man, you definitely like a challenge! It's work getting out there but as you said worth the views. Any photos?
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 gglauser

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2018, 05:12:38 PM »
I've been trying to upload photos, then realized I would have to resize them... so here is the album. I hope the link works. Last day should be posted some time tom. Enjoy.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/l6Kpmk0n69RAwC963

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2018, 05:53:06 PM »
I've been trying to upload photos, then realized I would have to resize them... so here is the album. I hope the link works. Last day should be posted some time tom. Enjoy.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/l6Kpmk0n69RAwC963
Nice pano. :) Is that stitched or from a camera/phone app?

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Offline gglauser

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2018, 09:41:58 AM »
Thanks. That is from the pano mode on my camera.

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2018, 12:58:34 PM »
Enjoying your report including the pictures. Looking for more !
A couple of questions  - 1 - were you able to buy Clay Henry a beer and did he drink it ?
2- In the attached picture, is that the Rock Slide ? That looks like it would be somewhere between tricky and impossible to navigate thru on a raft from that view.

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2018, 03:18:33 PM »
Enjoying your report including the pictures. Looking for more !
A couple of questions  - 1 - were you able to buy Clay Henry a beer and did he drink it ?
2- In the attached picture, is that the Rock Slide ? That looks like it would be somewhere between tricky and impossible to navigate thru on a raft from that view.

That is indeed the Rock Slide. Everything down there is bigger than it looks. Even full-sized commercial rafts can run it at most water levels. I made it through just fine in my little 6-foot packraft. I think the trickiest craft might be canoes because of their longer length and relative fragility/susceptibility to buckling when hitting rocks. The day after I ran the Rock Slide last month, I heard stories from other boaters of canoes and long sea-kayaks getting stuck in the turns.

Of course, saying it's runnable, shouldn't be taken to mean it's not also pleasantly terrifying.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline gglauser

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #11 on: January 06, 2018, 07:12:58 AM »
Alan - I didn't try to buy him beer. They may not have sold it to me, since in Texas you can't buy alcohol prior to noon, but I didn't try. Also, it is my understanding that this is the great grandson of the famous beer drinking goat. So I don't know if he still drinks beer. Next time I'll check  ;)

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Offline gglauser

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2018, 07:16:17 AM »
Mesa De Anguila: Day 3 (final day)

The final day on the trail is always bittersweet. The idea of a hot shower, a cold coke, and a big meal is always enticing, but at the same time I don't want to leave the simplicity and beauty of the  wilderness.

I awoke on my 3rd and final day staring up at a sky full of stars. The big dipper was right overhead. I thought it was the middle of the night, but when I glanced at my watch, it said it was 6:00am. So I rolled out of my sleeping bag, made some coffee, and went over to my camera perched on the ledge. By this time, the sun was just beginning to cast a red/orange glow over the Chisos mountains and the desert below. I sat there, in silence, watching the sun rise for the next 30 minutes. After sunrise, I quickly made breakfast (apple, peanut butter oatmeal), and packed up for the hike back. At this point, I discovered that I had less than a cup/8oz of water to hike more than 10 miles back to the car. Considering that I went through 5L the yesterday, I was worried. This revelation gave me a strong, irrational urge to chug the remaining water all at once. So much so that I had to calm myself, and set a schedule for when I would take a sip of the water. As I left my campsite, I glanced one more time towards "the point" of the mesa, wishing I had enough water to make it the final 3 mile round trip. Instead, I turned back west and started the hike back. The hiking was tough, as there was still no trail, and was constantly up and down. Luckily, I had some cloud coverage today and the weather was cooler, but after 30 minutes I was starting feel dizzy. I didn't know if it was the lack of water or the 2 cups of coffee I had with breakfast, but I felt like I needed to lay down. I decided to slow my pace way down, eat some dried mangos, and take it one step at a time. Ten minutes later, I got a huge mental boost. For the first time since day 1, I saw what looked like a trail and a rock cairn besides it. The hiking instantly became easier, but I was still lacking water. After 4 miles, I came across of puddle of water in the Tinaja Blanco. I took this opportunity to fill up my water bottle. The only problem was I had to wait at least 30 minutes for the purification tablet to work. The hiking continued to get easier and easier, and as I could drink more water, I continued to feel better and better. Before I knew it, I was atop the saddle looking down at the desert and eventually my car below. I took one last glance back at the mesa and it's sweeping views of the Rio Grande, wondering if this would be the last time I ever see this view. Then I descended down the mesa, and made quick time back to the car, where I had 2 Mexican cokes waiting for me. I chugged them both, then loaded up and started my journey home. It was New Year's eve, and I wanted to make it home before the ball dropped ending 2017!

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Offline gglauser

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #13 on: January 06, 2018, 07:34:06 AM »
As you all know by now, I made it home safe and sound. I did encounter the huge cold front that came through, and almost thought I may have to spend New Years eve in a motel in Junction. The ice/sleet was so bad I had to keep my defroster on high heat to keep the ice from forming on my windshield the entire drive home! Below are some of my afterthoughts about the trip.

- While this was not my longest backpacking trip, it was by far the toughest. The desert is an unforgiving place. Everything can cut, poke, stick, and scratch you. I feel lucky to have gotten through with only a few cactus pricks and scratches from my arch nemesis on the trail, the Lechuguilla. (google or look through photos to see photo/read description)

- Traveling off trail was fairly easy to navigate with a compass and good map, but the energy it required was immense. Had I known how tough day 2 was going to be, I would have changed my plans. I would still have gone to entrance camp night 1. Then the second day, drop my pack and hike out to the rock slides, and then hike back to the trail up to the top of the mesa and camp below Canyon Flag. Filter water out of the Tinaja, and then do a day hike out to the point, or possibly backpack out and camp where I camped on my second night. Then hike out. That would be a 3 night/4 day trip and would depend on filtering water out of the Rio grande and some of the Tinajas.

- I also underestimated my water requirements. I started the trail with 7 1/2 liters of water. I got 2 extra liters from the group on the river at Entrance Camp, and still probably could have used 2 more if I wasn't going to filter any water. Then maybe 1 more liter for the final hike out to the point. I would have filtered water out of the Rio Grande had I not encountered the rafters, but I was worried b/c people had mentioned there are metal contaminates in the water.
 
- The mesa is all uphill heading west with the sun directly in front of you, and then is slightly downhill with the sun behind you on the way back. With LOTS of ups and downs in between.

- Backpacking alone feels like you are heading into space. You have to plan for everything that could go wrong, and be able to fix it if it does. A lot of this should be address when planning the trip, and making sure you have a good first aid kit. While hiking I would find myself asking, "if this happens, what will I do," and usually it's the small things that would happen. Like falling and getting cacti in my arm. Or having to back track b/c I couldn't get down off a ledge. I did always worry about stepping on a big rattlesnake, but that never happened.

- Finally, I realized on this trip that in Big Bend, it was less about the destination, and more about the journey. While I did not see everything I wanted to on this trip, the journey itself, and the experiences I encountered more than made up for not seeing everything I wanted to see. It also means, that I may have to make another trip out to Big Bend in the future! 

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: Mesa de Anguila 3 days/2 nights backpacking trip
« Reply #14 on: January 06, 2018, 07:37:17 AM »
GG
  Really enjoyed the trip report. You look kind of young to be righting off another trip to the Mesa (and the point) !
   In the first picture , is that the puddle that made your day on your hike back ? On a related question  - have you (or anybody) ever used a "Life Straw" ? I wonder how well, or if, they work ?
  The second picture was taken about 30 years ago at the old Lajitas Trading Post .  I guess its not too nice, certainly not PC, but it was kind of fun and Clay Henry seemed to enjoy it.

 


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