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Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #15 on: December 12, 2017, 02:50:42 PM »
I met that Oregon Ranger last month!  Really nice guy and very helpful!  What a great report!

Glad you did, PTC. As a fellow cage-pacer, I'm right there with you. That Oregon ranger was one positive guy. He made every situation better just by being there.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Homer Wilson

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #16 on: December 12, 2017, 03:19:46 PM »
I saw your car at the parking lot.  We were up in the mesa for a quick expedition the week of the 2nd.  We figured it was someone just taking a leisurely trip out to the point.   When I saw the note on your sticker saying you repaid in RGV, I did wonder if it was someone doing a major trip.  Indeed it was.

And I met the Oregon ranger in October, really nice guy.  And helpful.

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #17 on: December 12, 2017, 03:49:06 PM »
10am the next morning, I parked my RAV in the trailhead parking lot for Mesa de Anguila, secured everything in my SUV, deep-sixed what I could and covered the rest liberally with dirty underwear and socks (“You want this? You can have it.”). Locked the RAV, slipped my car key, cards, and cash into my backpack’s top pocket zip compartment, shouldered my pack and packrafting kit, and marched off down a service road toward the fairways and, ultimately, the Rio Grande. Immediately I encountered a sign proclaiming, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I sort of expected that, but I figured I’d be on the water in half an hour before anyone noticed. But a few minutes later, a resort employee on a golf cart came rolling toward me, stopped and said, in no uncertain terms, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I tried to explain what I was doing, that I would be gone in 15 minutes and they’d never see me again, but to no avail. I was unceremoniously ushered off the property and back to my RAV. I sat there in the gravel and stewed. Flipping almost immediately into “PLAN B MODE”, I considered going directly to the resort office and appealing. But by this time it was almost noon and I wondered if it was even worth starting out on the rive so late in the day. I had ambitious plans for my first day – a short float and a long exploratory hike inland - and this wasn’t helping at all. Nope. I needed to start over fresh the next day. “PLAN B MODE” reminded me that I had multiple “grace days” built into my land plan; days that I set aside for special exploring or days structured to be “easy recovery” with low mileages. I could easily give up one of those days in exchange for starting my journey a day later than anticipated. So, that was it. All dressed up and no place to go, I got back in my RAV and headed to Terlingua, stopping at Desert Sports along the way to chat with Kathy, who’d provided my shuttle rides last year. Could she shuttle me from my vehicle at the MDA trailhead to the Lajitas put-in tomorrow morning? Yep, 9am. And the deal was done; see you then. Next I drove to the Chisos Mining Motel and reserved a room for that night, then walked over to the Iron Bucket Barbeque next door and had a good big pity sandwich. With extra sauce, pickles, peppers, and onion. It was delicious. Despite how I felt.
I see LaHideous still is...

Did you mean DB's Rustic Iron BBQ?

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #18 on: December 12, 2017, 04:27:40 PM »
10am the next morning, I parked my RAV in the trailhead parking lot for Mesa de Anguila, secured everything in my SUV, deep-sixed what I could and covered the rest liberally with dirty underwear and socks (“You want this? You can have it.”). Locked the RAV, slipped my car key, cards, and cash into my backpack’s top pocket zip compartment, shouldered my pack and packrafting kit, and marched off down a service road toward the fairways and, ultimately, the Rio Grande. Immediately I encountered a sign proclaiming, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I sort of expected that, but I figured I’d be on the water in half an hour before anyone noticed. But a few minutes later, a resort employee on a golf cart came rolling toward me, stopped and said, in no uncertain terms, “PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSING PROHIBITED.” I tried to explain what I was doing, that I would be gone in 15 minutes and they’d never see me again, but to no avail. I was unceremoniously ushered off the property and back to my RAV. I sat there in the gravel and stewed. Flipping almost immediately into “PLAN B MODE”, I considered going directly to the resort office and appealing. But by this time it was almost noon and I wondered if it was even worth starting out on the rive so late in the day. I had ambitious plans for my first day – a short float and a long exploratory hike inland - and this wasn’t helping at all. Nope. I needed to start over fresh the next day. “PLAN B MODE” reminded me that I had multiple “grace days” built into my land plan; days that I set aside for special exploring or days structured to be “easy recovery” with low mileages. I could easily give up one of those days in exchange for starting my journey a day later than anticipated. So, that was it. All dressed up and no place to go, I got back in my RAV and headed to Terlingua, stopping at Desert Sports along the way to chat with Kathy, who’d provided my shuttle rides last year. Could she shuttle me from my vehicle at the MDA trailhead to the Lajitas put-in tomorrow morning? Yep, 9am. And the deal was done; see you then. Next I drove to the Chisos Mining Motel and reserved a room for that night, then walked over to the Iron Bucket Barbeque next door and had a good big pity sandwich. With extra sauce, pickles, peppers, and onion. It was delicious. Despite how I felt.
I see LaHideous still is...

Did you mean DB's Rustic Iron BBQ?

Yes! Thanks for the correction, Richard. DB’s Rustic Iron was perfect in every way. I wouldn’t want to get the name wrong. I hope he gets a lot of business out of this mention.


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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #19 on: December 12, 2017, 04:28:14 PM »
I saw your car at the parking lot.  We were up in the mesa for a quick expedition the week of the 2nd.  We figured it was someone just taking a leisurely trip out to the point.   When I saw the note on your sticker saying you repaid in RGV, I did wonder if it was someone doing a major trip.  Indeed it was.

And I met the Oregon ranger in October, really nice guy.  And helpful.

Ain’t it crazy? Like Slimkitty said: Big Park, Small World.

UPDATE 12/14: Homer, look what I found in my floorboard while cleaning out my RAV last night.


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« Last Edit: December 14, 2017, 08:47:41 AM by House Made of Dawn »
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Offline jasonmerlo

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #20 on: December 13, 2017, 09:59:03 AM »
HMOD, you should set up a wordpress blog and publish your stories there so you can keep the whole story continuous. Looking forward to the rest. One of my dreams is to float the river all the way through the park.


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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #21 on: December 13, 2017, 12:14:15 PM »
Camp Metates: November 23, 2017


I entered the river with a fair amount of nervousness. Though I’d been kayaking for years, and had even run Santa Elena Canyon by myself some 15 years ago, my Alpacka packraft was no kayak. It was reasonably good at many things but excellent at nothing, except perhaps packability. Over the fall, I had taken it out for many practice runs in my home town of Dallas, but Dallas is not exactly known for its whitewater. I really had no experience at all in maneuvering my new craft through rapids, and yet here I was, tackling the entire stretch of the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park. Alone. And, though I had run Santa Elena once in the past, I had zero experience of the remaining stretches of river below Santa Elena, and that included at least two major canyons and a number of smaller ones, along with several named rapids. My intelligence consisted of reading Louis Aulbach's two excellent river guides, The Upper Canyons of the Rio Grande, and The Great Unknown of the Rio Grande, as well as surfing the American Whitewater website guide to the Rio Grande. River flows during my trip were generally between 800 and 1000 cubic feet per second, a bit more than I’d hoped for when planning my trip. My thought was that higher flow level would push me through the difficult rapids too quickly for my skill level. I wasn’t sure how nimbly I could maneuver the packraft around and through obstacles, nor how the inflatable would react to hard collisions with stone and branch and thorn. Santa Elena’s Rockslide obviously loomed large in my imagination, but so did Mariscal’s Rockpile and Tight Squeeze, which I had never seen before.


The morning couldn’t have been more beautiful. Temperatures had risen from the low 40’s at dawn to a sunny, balmy 68 degrees by the time of my put-in. No wind to speak of, and calm but swift water. The landscape to either side was wide open, the river framed by distant mesas topped by erosion-resistant capstone.  I waved a paddle at the Texas bank as I passed the extreme western boundary of the national park, right where it met the Lajitas golf course. That was where I had hoped to put-in and begin my journey. As it turned out, the point was choked with Giant River Cane, an invasive non-native scourge that had come to dominate the Rio Grande’s river banks over the last decade or so. At times, the cane – 20 feet high – turned the river into a green and taupe tunnel with little or no view beyond it. Not a person in sight on either bank as the minutes rolled by. The only other humans I encountered during the first part of the day were a recreational group of canoeists from a UT San Antonio adventure program: two or three skilled instructors and a gaggle of inexperienced students, all having a blast. We jockeyed back and forth on the river for an hour or so, and then I beached to let them pass me, only to find them docking around the next bend, on a low narrow gravel bar on the Texas side. “Is that as far as you’re going?’ I asked. “For tonight,“ they replied. I never saw them again, but I heard rumors of their progress over the next couple days: they were headed all the way to the Santa Elena takeout. Meanwhile, I pushed downriver.


So here’s a few things I learned about my packraft in those first couple hours. Even in a swift current, it does not track well. If I stopped driving it forward with paddle strokes, it would almost immediately start to spin in lazy 360 degree circles. Not unpleasant, but a little goofy. On the other hand, even the tiniest of paddle strokes would keep its bow aligned downriver. Given that the first few miles of the river contained no real rapids, I didn’t yet know how the raft would function in those, but I did hit a couple riffles over sand bars and quickly learned that the raft’s lack of an inflatable floor was significant. The urethane floor was thick, but not so thick that my butt didn’t feel every rock, even though perched up on the inflatable “toilet seat”.  The potential for high-centering and grounding was something I hadn’t anticipated. This was not a raft that would slide easily across gravel bars or barely submerged rocks. Not with my fat butt weighing it down. And two loaded Dromedaries sitting on the floor. I’d need to read the river carefully and identify the deeper channels. The craft itself was plenty comfortable. I’d bought Alpacka’s larger Llama, rather than the Yak which was recommended for my height, because I figured 9-11 full days in the raft called for a bit more leg room. I wasn’t going to be using my packraft for quick river or lake crossings, I was going to be living in it for days at a time. I made the right call. I could rearrange my legs and torso in multiple different configurations throughout the day: straight legs, bent legs, indian style crossed-legs, legs stretched out across the gunwales and out across either side of the bow. I could sit upright and ride high, or hunch down low and drop my center of gravity, or I could lie back and use the extra PFD lashed to the stern as a headrest for leisurely spins in the middle of calm water.  These things matter when you paddle for 6-8 hours a day, day after day after day, often with no stops.


I kept packets of GU in the chest pockets of my PFD and a SmartWater 1-liter bottle of water in my belly bag. That was all I ate and drank while paddling. For breakfast every morning, I threw down a couple of KIND Bars. Dinner was my only cooked meal each day. My maps, inside a waterproof ziploc, were slipped underneath the tie lines that held my two RidgeRest closed-cell foam groundpads next to my backpack on the bow, immediately in front of me where I could easily read them.  I didn’t really need the maps to know where I was, but it was nice to have them there. A pair of sunglasses were also slipped into the tie lines, as well as a pair of paddling gloves which I wasn’t yet using.  My belly bag’s zipper pull had a tiny compass, tiny thermometer, whistle, tiny Princeton Tek light, and miniscule CRKT NIAD knife, all attached to it via two small carabiners.


Sometime in the early afternoon, I encountered the first significant rapid, Matadero (Spanish for "slaughterhouse"). The raft handled fine, though I took on a lot more water than expected. Shortly afterward, I rounded a bend in the river and spied a gravel bar ahead of the Texas side. On the bar was a rafting party unloading for the day.  I beached, disembarked, drained the excess water from inside my raft, and strode over to the leaders, Michael and Pam. They were from Angell Expeditions. It would turn out to be a fateful encounter. We chatted a bit, I told them my plans and they asked where I intended on spending the night. I had always planned on my first day to be a short one on the river. My goal was Metates Camp, an ancient paleo-Indian food-processing site situated where the drainage from the Mesa de Anguila’s Tinaja Rana eventually empties into the Rio Grande.  Pam quizzed me on my ability to recognize the spot. Did I know the landmarks? Never having been up on the Mesa de Anguila, the spot was personally unknown to me, but I’d planned so many eventually-aborted trips up there over the years, studied the topos so carefully, surfed Google Earth so obsessively, that I was pretty sure I would recognize the area as soon as I saw it. I explained, they seemed satisfied, and Michael waved goodbye with a warning about Entrance Rapid, some ways downstream ("it's rough this week"), and a reassurance that "Metates is just around the bend". And it was. A nice flat bank presented itself on the Texas side around 3pm and I pulled up onto it, disembarking and dragging my packraft up onto the highest, grassy shelf, well above any possible river level should it rise overnight. I would make my first camp here. I pulled out my tiny Holux M-41 GPS logger, set it out on the gravel by the river, turned it on, and waited for it to acquire the necessary satellite fixes. A couple minutes later, I had my coordinates. Metates Camp should be just a few score yards downriver of my campsite. I wanted to check it out, so I stripped off my PFD, took my water bottle out of my belly bag, refilled it, move the belly bag around to my fanny, reinserted the water bottle into the bag, slipped a map and compass inside as well, and headed downstream through river cane, tamarisk, and mesquite.


One thing the NPS doesn’t tell you is that the Rio Grande smells like cowshit, looks like cowshit, and feels like cowshit, because both its banks are covered in cowshit. You get used to it. I grew up around it, so it smelled like home. Wearing my VivoBarefeet river shoes (which, with their perforated uppers and surprisingly stiff soles, served excellently as desert walking shoes as well), I made my way through the foliage and in between the cow patties until I reached Metates Camp, and sure enough, there they were, a whole collection of metates excavated in the limestone shelves above the river. Paleo-Indians had ground meal here hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago. It wasn’t hard to imagine women, maybe some men, crouched down or kneeling at these holes, just above the river, with a good view in both directions along the river, slowly grinding plant material into food meal.


I spent a nice chunk of the sunny late afternoon just chilling at Metates Camp. From there I could see, up on the sheer walls of the Mesa de Anguila, what I think is the ominously gaping mouth of the unnamed canyon identified much earlier in the year by Lance and elhombre as “interesting”. It certainly lived up to that description. That one would make for an epic descent. Eventually, the lengthening shadows across the river reminded me that I needed to move, so I returned to my raft, unloaded it, and established my night’s camp. I unrolled my RidgeRest pads, pulled my Feathered Friends Winter Wren bag out of its drysack and spread it out across the pads, changed into warmer clothes for the coming evening (the sun was sinking fast behind the Mesa de Anguila), and fired up my little Snowpeak titanium stove.


My cookset and meals were so dialed-in for this trip. I was using my old Vargo 1-liter screw-top titanium pot, inside of which I stored my stove (already attached to its Gigapro 110g fuel canister), and MSR plastic folding spork, a Bic lighter, and a bandanna which I used as a potholder and dirty-water strainer.  Wrapped tightly around the outside of my Vargo pot was a handmade titanium windscreen, exactly the same height as my pot. When dinnertime arrived, I would open the pot, slip out the spork, lighter, stove, and bandanna, and find a nice stable surface for my stove. Then I’d walk down to the river, fill the pot with two or so cups of raw river water, using my bandanna as a strainer to exclude sediment and larger impurities, return, light the stove, place the pot onto the burner, place the top back onto the pot, slide the windscreen down over the stove which was set on low simmer, and wait 5-7 minutes for boiling water. For dinners, I alternated freeze-dried or dehydrated commercial backpacking meals with various ramen noodle soups. Entrée one day, soup the next. On ramen nights, I would usually augment the soup with some extra ingredients like fat-rich chia seeds or vitamin-rich dried vegetables, and complement it with homemade jerky and a small packet of M&M’s for dessert. Either way, each night’s dinner was usually between 600 and 800 calories. Which was just right for me. I was usually consuming another 600-800 calories a day in KIND Bars and GU gel, so my daily calorie intake was somewhere between 1200 and 1600 calories. That seems to work for me. And my daily food rations only weighed about 1.25lbs per day. I ate to live; living to eat would come later, when I hit civilization again.


If dinner was an entrée, the boiling water went straight into the foil meal bag, and I ate out of that, slipping the finished, empty foil bag into my trash Opsak when done. If soup was dinner, I emptied the crushed noodles and contents of the spice packet from a Ziploc, directly into the pot of boiling water, eating my meal out of that, every last morsel and drop, and counting on the next day’s boiling water to sanitize the pot. Either way, no fuss and no mess. As soon as dinner was done, everything went straight back into or around the pot, the top screwed back on, and it all went back into its little stuffsack and back into the Basecamp odor-proof food bag in my backpack. The entire messkit, including all the accoutrements, weighed right at 13oz, even less of course as the fuel in the canister was used up. I had extra fuel canisters stored in each cache, each of which were about 7-9 days apart – about the burn-time for one canister. So at each cache, the new canister came out and the old used canister went in. I never carried more than one fuel canister at a time.


I slept great that night. Cowboy camping, which I always prefer. It takes a lot for me to retreat under a ceiling or inside a tent. Temperatures didn’t really matter, because my Winter Wren Nano bag is so supremely adjustable. Alone, it’s rated to 25 degrees. If I expect colder weather, I wear more layers to bed. If I expect warmer weather, I wear less. But, more importantly, it has endless venting possibilities: a center zip that goes from face to crotch, two zippered arm holes, and a drawstring bottom on the footsack. It’s not the lightest bag by any means, but I sleep like a baby in it, fully able to move and shift into any position that suits me, and that level of comfort and relaxation and recovery more than makes up for any extra weight and size. It is a down bag, a top-of-the-line down bag, but that does mean moisture is an issue. That’s why my down bag always traveled in a top-quality drybag, and why I always tried to air it out in the mornings before packing it back up.


First day on the river done. And a good night’s sleep. Not bad.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
« Last Edit: March 26, 2018, 01:34:07 PM by House Made of Dawn »
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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #22 on: December 13, 2017, 12:16:49 PM »
I woke up around 6:45am, while it was mostly still dark outside, with just a hint of the coming sunrise. I didn’t stay in bed long because I had big plans for the day. First, I wanted to find Winterrowd Spring which was up the Rana drainage; second I wanted to hike to the bottom of Rana just to check it out; and lastly, today was the day I would enter Santa Elena Canyon proper and run The Rockslide. I was nervous. But first things first: on to Winterrowd. I had GPS coordinates for the spring, and a map including them, though I didn’t know how reliable they would be. From the slopes above Metate Camp, I could see the drainage which I believed the spring was in, and a few areas of thick vegetation that might indicate a spring. It took me an hour or so to work up drainage to the spring, all the while taking location readings with my Holux. Eventually I stumbled upon what I believe may have been Winterrowd Spring. Not exactly where the coordinates said it should be (officially, in degrees, 29 13 02 N, 103 44 09 W), but close, and at a location that was geologically reasonable. I found a large, thick, impenetrable clump of mesquite, tamarisk, and other woody plants dominating the center of the drainage coming down from Rana, on a slightly elevated rocky/sandy shelf located right at sharp eastward bend in the defile. The geology showed a marked change in the drainage walls at that point. I could easily see how water might exit subterranean layers here. Unable to work my may inside the tight knot of foliage, I walked around the perimeter and then I saw it: a large circular stone arrangement, maybe 4 feet in diameter. This had to be a memorial to Jeff Winterrowd, the young NPS seasonal employee who died from a late-night accidental plunge off the sheer Mesa de Anguila cliffs near Tinaja Rana, as reported in Laurence Parent's book, Death in Big Bend. The spring was named after Jeff Winterrowd. I don’t know if this is the actual spring, but that is my presumption.


Next, I moved up-drainage for a few miles, all the way to the sheer cliffs of the Mesa de Anguilla at the outflow from Tinaja Rana. What a gash that it is. I got vertigo just looking up at it. I didn’t climb to the tinaja up cliff because I didn’t need the water and time was running short. Again, my funky little VivoBarefeet shoes rocked. I’d brought my boots with me in my backpack, just in case trouble forced to me to hike out to safety, but I do believe that in a pinch, I could have hiked out wearing the VivoBarefeet shoes. Anyways, I headed back down drainage to my camp, past Winterrowd, past Metates, and back to the banks of the Rio Grande. Time to pack up and hit the river. Santa Elena Canyon and The Rockslide were waiting.

[TO BE CONTINUED]
« Last Edit: February 04, 2018, 04:12:49 PM by House Made of Dawn »
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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #23 on: December 13, 2017, 01:03:05 PM »
HMOD, you should set up a wordpress blog and publish your stories there so you can keep the whole story continuous. Looking forward to the rest. One of my dreams is to float the river all the way through the park.

That's good advice, Jason. Maybe once I spool this tale out, I'll collate on Wordpress. As far as floating the river: do it! At the risk of sucking all the drama out of my narrative, I'll tell you right now that it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be (small but significant exceptions here and there).
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Offline Buck

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #24 on: December 13, 2017, 03:35:04 PM »
I'm enjoying your narrative.  It puts me there with you.  Well done.
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Offline iCe

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #25 on: December 13, 2017, 07:04:40 PM »
Loved the intro (not a fan of cats  :d030:  ) and the rest is as awesome as I thought it would be. 

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Offline badknees

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #26 on: December 13, 2017, 07:17:33 PM »
Keep it coming! You’ve got my attention.  :high5:
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

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Offline Reece

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #27 on: December 14, 2017, 09:05:07 AM »
I imagined waking up to a mangy stray sharpening its claws on the raft.

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Offline Homer Wilson

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #28 on: December 14, 2017, 11:32:54 AM »
This is awesome; already a great trip and you aren't even to the Santa Elena!

We were a couple of days behind you (doing "recon" on that canyon), but we found water at winterrowd spring.  It was already night when we hit it, so I didn't stop to mark the coordinates on my GPS, but it was a couple of shallow, slowly flowing pools to the left of the trail if you're heading away from metates.

Keep it coming!

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #29 on: December 14, 2017, 11:43:56 AM »
This is awesome; already a great trip and you aren't even to the Santa Elena!

We were a couple of days behind you (doing "recon" on that canyon), but we found water at winterrowd spring.  It was already night when we hit it, so I didn't stop to mark the coordinates on my GPS, but it was a couple of shallow, slowly flowing pools to the left of the trail if you're heading away from metates.

Keep it coming!

Homer, that's fascinating. We need to talk to more. I'm working on my next installment right now, but after I'm done, I may PM you for more details. I saw several good tinaja pools inside the deeply eroded and narrow channel in the middle of the broad hard limestone shelf coming down from Rana, but didn't see anything that looked like spring-fed pools. Did you see the circular stone construction that I thought might be a memorial to Jeff Winterrowd?
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

 


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