Friends of Big Bend National Park
Big Bend Conservancy

Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

+-Calendar for sale

 2019 BigBendChat Calendar on sale now!


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

  • 276 Replies
  • 23403 Views
*

Offline catz

  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 1025
  • Old enough to know better, but...
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #165 on: December 30, 2017, 04:38:11 PM »

Just curious:  you keep referring to the "former" Adams Ranch.  I didn't know it wasn't still that.  So what is it?
Wake me when it's time to go.

*

Online House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2854
  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #166 on: December 30, 2017, 05:15:03 PM »

Just curious:  you keep referring to the "former" Adams Ranch.  I didn't know it wasn't still that.  So what is it?

Good question. The Mexican multinational corporation, CEMEX, bought the ranch in 2006. They're cooperating with a number of conservation organizations in an effort to restore Desert Bighorn Sheep to Big Bend. Like you, I also didn't know this until I tried to arrange access to the eastern end of Telephone Canyon to begin my cross-park hike last year. Turns out CEMEX and its land partners have closed the ranch to all public access.  I tried everything and everyone I could think of, to no avail.

I'm including a couple of links about the ranch and the CEMEX project.

http://cbbs.sulross.edu/basics-adams.php

http://marfapublicradio.org/blog/nature-notes/el-carmen-land-and-conservation-restoring-the-big-bends-harshest-terrain/

http://www.cemexnature.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/15thAnniversaryReport_ElCarmen.pdf
« Last Edit: December 30, 2017, 08:17:48 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

*

Online mule ears

  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 4213
  • "He had to leave Texas but won't say why" McMurtry
    • 40 years of walking
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #167 on: December 30, 2017, 06:11:21 PM »

The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand (I have had one for a while). It's not much bigger than the AA battery that powers it and it's basically a data logger. It doesn't have a lot of features. But it's light and it works. It also last a surprisingly long time on a AA battery. The newest version has Bluetooth and will talk to a phone. Battery life - With Bluetooth and logging - 20 hours. 30 hours if it's just logging. Not bad.


Mine is (I think) a 2009 version and it does have amazing battery life, I figure 17 hours or so for a lithium AA, when logging I figure on battery for 2 days, sounds like the new version is even better.  We call it the magic film canister.

I will say that on this last trip I wasn't sure I was always getting the correct Lat. reading but then I could be the way the Caltopo printed out the coordinates, I am still trying to figure that one out.  The track was dead on in Google Earth.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

*

Online House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2854
  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #168 on: December 30, 2017, 11:29:04 PM »
Camp Blue Skies: December 5, 2017


I slept even better than I’d hoped. The morning of Tuesday December 5, the thirteenth of my trip, dawned cold but clear. Barely a cloud obscured the star-decorated sky. The air was as fresh as can be, and its chill burned my lungs with a sweet frisson as I inhaled it deeply. I was exactly where I wanted to be. No place on the globe could be better than here, now.


As the last stars were disappearing into the graying sky. I slid out of my sleeping bag – which had some condensation on it, so I set it aside to dry in the rising sun. I could have gotten moving quickly, but the spot I’d camped in was so beautiful, I decided to linger. After all, I might never pass this way again. 


I pulled out my messkit and set up my stove in order to brew the last of my Irish Breakfast tea bags.  A few minutes later, sitting in outrageously soft gravel with my back to a nicely sloped east-facing boulder, I enjoyed a hot pot of tea and a cold KIND bar while I watched the sun rise majestically over the distant Sierra del Carmen into blue, blue skies. I was a backpacker now, with a single focus: hike to my vehicle at the Mesa de Anguila trailhead in Lajitas. This new singularity of purpose was very freeing. I knew there was nothing that Big Bend might throw at me now that I couldn’t handle. (Well, OK…snakebite, but I chose not to dwell on that.)


Feeling flush with success, I reveled in this perfect moment. It’s a rare gift to be totally happy; it’s an even rarer gift to consciously recognize that you’re totally happy at the moment when it’s happening, to know that this will always be one of the happiest moments of your life.


In this moment, I knew it.


I’d only had a few of those moments: once in elementary school during a perfect day of creek play with my best friends; in college after the first kiss of a woman I nearly married; alone on the bow of a freighter late at night in the middle of the Caribbean during the Geminid meteor shower; standing in front of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona for the first time; watching the sun’s shaft of light move through the interior of the Pantheon in Rome; being awakened at dawn in Istanbul and hearing – for the first time in my life – the muezzin’s call while the sun rose over the Bosphorus; having a wild Eastern Phoebe land on my shoulder in a forest and hang there for a couple minutes while twittering in my ear; being awakened by and then almost immediately seeing my first Black-capped Vireo singing from a perch just a few feet above my sleeping bag early one morning; camping in a tiny, remote alcove in Arches National Park and watching the sun set over one of the wildest landscapes I’ve ever seen; discovering a previously unknown population of one of the world’s rarest birds high in the Andes; my wedding deep in the wilderness of the Wichita Mountains; reaching the summit of a few peaks including one with my young adopted daughter; and the moment my biological son was born.


Sitting in a soft gravel seat on a cold morning, wrapped in a comfy down sleeping bag, sipping a hot cup of tea, and watching the sun rise into a blue, blue sky over the remote eastern mouth of Telephone Canyon – which I had so long dreamed of reaching – was one of those moments.


Cognitive dissonance is the human ability to hold two contradictory ideas in the mind at one time. At this moment I was experiencing a deep satisfaction that bordered on ecstasy. At the same time, underneath it was the lingering grief for the kitten, which I still carried in my mind and in my heart every day, even if not at the forefront of my experience.  The grief had played little part in my actions of the last three days, but it was there nonetheless, like a subliminal bass line below the happier music of my days. It was a low ostinato of regret. Humans are funny that way: two emotions, both were real, and valid, and intense, and totally at odds with each other, but neither cancelled the other out. They simply co-existed.  The story of the last nine days since abandoning the kitten had been one of me learning to manage my grief, to find the right place for it in my world.


I was trying.


But here's what made it so hard: the essential lesson I'd taken away from my last cross-park hike was how we - you , me, everything - are interconnected and how each of our personal judgments, decisions and actions reverberated through space and time. I completed that trip with a profound awareness of what it meant to be a responsible human being. In my epilogue I summed it up my epiphany with a song by the group Tenth Avenue.  Several days ago, wisely or unwisely, I had promised that kitten one thing: "I will protect you". Every night following my abandonment of the kitten, I lay awake, replaying the Tenth Avenue song in my head, chastising myself. I thought I'd learned a powerful lesson during my cross-park hike last year, but apparently I'd only traveled the first few degrees of the learning curve. I still had a long ways to go. In my current circumstances, the irony of the song was soul-crushing.





Cognitive dissonance being an inscrutable and mysterious thing, even in my grief, I still could have sat at my perfect campsite in the eastern end of Telephone Canyon all day, except…I couldn’t. I needed to reach the western end of Telephone Canyon by the end of the day. I would camp there, at pretty much the same place I’d camped last year, and then make the difficult climb out of Telephone Canyon, over the sparsely-cairned high ridge, and into Ernst Basin tomorrow.  I hated to say goodbye to this end of the canyon. It’s modest scale and narrow sheltering walls were just the thing for me. The eye candy of towering canyon walls, massive looming peaks, and endless deserts were always thrilling; but for comfort, I liked more modest surroundings. Small, human-scaled places like Tuff Canyon, The Chimneys, Ernst Canyon, or Hot Springs Canyon, always appealed most to my sense of place.  But today would be a march through ever higher canyon walls. Reluctantly, I packed up my gear, stuffed my now-dry sleeping bag into the bottom of my pack, then my messkit, my spare clothes, and lastly, my rainwear at the top of the pack’s main bag. The last weather forecast I’d seen – three days ago in Rio Grande Village – predicted a cold front would move in tonight and bring with it a small chance of showers tomorrow and Thursday. If tricky weather arrived early, I wanted to be ready for it.


I started upcanyon around 9am. The excellent weather remained unchanged, with incredibly blue skies and only a modest wind blowing from the east. Though the dawn had been cold, the day heated up fast. Some hikers find Telephone Canyon to be a difficult route to follow. I never have. It can be congested with plants, but usually a fairly easy route through them can be found. And basic navigation - in other words, staying headed in the right direction at any given moment - is a no-brainer if you know how to read a map: just follow the main canyon and stay between its walls. As one ranger said about Ernst Basin: "it's not a trail, it's a direction". There are cairns, but you don't need them. Partly because there are so many cairns put there by so many people at so many times. There's always a cairn to be found somewhere nearby, but they don't necessarily all fit together in one coherent route. But I was doing just fine on my own.


In fact, I was doing wonderfully. One of the things that had worried me most when planning this trip were my knees. Earlier in the year, I'd had to cancel a trip up onto the Mesa de Anguila when I developed crippling pain in one knee: first time in my adult life that I'd had knee problems. Turned out to be damage in both my plica AND a meniscus, and was almost certainly precipitated by the stresses of last year's cross-park hike on my 60-year-old knees. But the damage was not so bad that surgery was required.  Through a combination of physical therapy, targeted strength exercises, and diet, I'd eliminated the pain. Given that I was fairly certain the injuries had been caused by the extreme, prolonged rigors of my cross-park hike last December, the nagging question was: how would my knee hold up when I tried the hike again? Thankfully, the answer was: GREAT. I'd started out from the river carrying 56 pounds and I'd been hiking uphill for over a day now with absolutely zero issues with my knee.


By 9:30am, I was approaching North Telephone Canyon on my right. By 10:45am, I was passing Margaret Basin on the right and, on my left, the northernmost ridges of Cow Canyon – those descended by Mule Ears, Robert, and Mitch as they came out of their cross-country exploration of the southern Deadhorse Mountains this previous February. I knew they’d fought their way through tough territory, but until you’ve looked up at it with your own eyes, I’m not sure you can appreciate just how tough it is. 


By noon, when I stopped for lunch, I’d entered the narrow, angular, twisting section of the canyon which wended its way mysteriously and beautifully through high ridges bordering both north and south. The day was now positively hot and I was sweating under my 50+ pound load.  Reclining in a shady spot for lunch, I broke out my small tube of NUUN rehydration tablets and added one to a 1-liter SmartWater bottle, ate some Jerky and a caffeinated GU, and drank about half a liter of water. Then I resumed hiking, threading my way through, up, and over a small slickrock section of the canyon that featured at least one outstandingly beautiful and interesting cave low in the southern canyon wall.  I didn't realize it at the time, but that cave was the very place that the founders of the Adams Ranch lived in for a few years until they could build their first ranch house further east on the desert lands I'd walked through yesterday. You can see a grainy picture of the cave in this article.

http://cbbs.sulross.edu/basics-adams.php

As I passed the cave, I looked up the steep canyon walls and noticed wispy, high-altitude clouds dotting the sky. The first I’d seen today. Not a lot of clouds, but still a small discordant note in an otherwise harmonious day. Almost as a protective incantation, I began singing “Blue Skies” toward the sky as I hiked upcanyon. Work your magic, music: keep me safe and happy and dry.





The singing seemed to help. The clouds dissipated. Occasionally they’d return, I'd dance a few steps in my backpack and sing them away again. By 1:30pm, I reached the intersection with the Strawhouse Trail and its amazingly large, towering cairns. Real works of art and trailcraft, these are. I could have sworn I took a picture of them, but I can’t find any evidence of it in my iPhone. Pushing on, I reached the mouth of Heath Creek, under the towering massif of the Sue Peaks, around 2:45pm. This was the drainage I’d bailed into last December after escaping the freak winter storm that had trapped me up on the mountain, just below the peaks, tent-bound, for three days. Oddly, I didn’t recognize many of the landmarks I’d seen last year in my long, long hike south down Heath Creek and around the southern foot of Sue Peaks. The drainages had now become much more overgrown with vegetation than they’d been last December. I had been hoping to find water in the myriad tiny rock depressions and tinajas from which I drawn it last year, but I found neither the tinajas nor any other surface water. Fortunately, I wasn’t counting on those: with careful rationing, I had sufficient water to last me until Ernst Tinaja, two days from now.


About this time, as I exited the twisting sections of the canyon and approached Sue Peaks, the wind picked up noticeably. Fortunately it was at my back, blowing westward in my direction of travel. Up until now I’d only been walking at a 1-2 mile-per-hour pace. Not sure why: maybe it was the heavy pack, maybe it was the overgrown vegetation, maybe I was doing too much rubbernecking, maybe I was subconsciously protecting my knees, or maybe I was just out of practice. Now, with a wind-assist at my back, and the canyon floor opening up before me, I picked up the pace and reached the western end of the canyon by 4:30pm, making about 9 miles for the day. The clouds overhead had returned, and this time I couldn’t sing them away. They began forming into loosely organized mammatus. Never a good sign. And the wind was picking up in a very serious way. The sky was still blue, but a deep and deepening blue, heading toward an ominous dusky indigo.


I decided to make camp up on the low bluff at the mouth of the serpentine canyon that descended from the western shoulder of the Sue Peaks massif. It was the same place I’d camped last December. I trudged up the 30 foot slope, threading my way carefully through various cacti. Reaching the top, I was a little taken aback: it was completely choked with tall plants, most of them thorny. Again, this canyon was proving more heavily vegetated than I remembered from last year. Another complication then arose: the wind was now blowing at 20mph or more, gusts even higher. There was no way I would be able to cook dinner in that wind without a serious windbreak and I didn’t see any close at hand. Reviewing my options, I quickly decided to erect my tarptent. I needed shelter from the wind. And the forecast, so far as I knew, called for a cold front to move in that night, with a chance of rain tomorrow. Better safe than sorry. Some days everything suddenly seems to turn difficult, and this was apparently going to be one of them: looking around on top of the bluff, I could find no open space long enough or wide enough in which to pitch my 8-foot long Silshelter tarptent. With the wind continuing to pick up, the clouds gathering, and sunset approaching, I didn’t have much time to spare. Finally, I found an almost suitable spot, perched right on the very precipice of the 30-foot bluff, overlooking the western terminus of Telephone Canyon. I had to remove a few tufts of bunchgrass and one cactus, but there was just exactly enough room to stake out my tarptent. The substrate was iffy, but I had plenty of rocks at hand that I could use to weigh down my stakes. Quickly I put up the tent, stretched over my trekking poles, with the low end pointed downcanyon, eastward, to deflect the whipping wind.  The entrance, hard up against a large creosote bush, was best suited for a very skinny contortionist, but I would make it work. I would have to leave my packrafting gear outside the tent, so I found a small adjacent clearing that would hold the rolled-up packraft, along with my PFD and paddles. I weighted it all down with a couple very large rocks. Next, I folded back the two entrance flaps of my tent and secured them tightly to tent stakes along the sides of the tent, creating a large sheltered working space under the tent’s apex, facing away from the wind, where I could now make my dinner.


The sun had disappeared behind the western slopes at the end of the canyon, and the temperature was dropping, not to mention the windchill. I dug my fleece out of my backpack and slipped it over my hiking clothes. Setting up my messkit, with my stove and windscreen in the large open vestibule of my tent, I heated up water for a calorie-laden Pad Thai dinner. As I waited for the water to boil, I studied the western sky, alight with fiery streaks of sunset. The mammatus clouds had broken up and were blowing away. By the time the sunset faded, the sky was almost cloudless again, with just a few orange-blue wisps stretching from north to south. Maybe the weather would be fine after all. Temperatures had stabilized around 50 degrees. The wind, however, had not died down one bit: it still whipped my little tent with 20mph fury.


Dinner was good. I lingered over it. It takes a long time to eat almost 900 calories of Pad Thai, no matter how much you like it. Once done, I cleaned up and repacked my messkit, spread out my bedroll, brought my backpack into my tarptent’s vestibule, and sealed everything up tight for the night. With the relentless wind pummeling my little refuge, I worked on my journal by the light of my headlamp until my eyes grew heavy. Peeking out through a crack between the flaps of my entrance, I could see stars in the sky. We’d see what kind of cold front, if any, blew in overnight. I slipped off my headlamp, and then my glasses, put both into my boots beside my bedroll, snuggled down into my bag and fell quickly asleep despite the wind's military tattoo.


Tomorrow: up and over the last of the Deadhorse and down into Ernst Basin’s beautiful canyons.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
« Last Edit: January 23, 2019, 12:45:31 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

*

Offline Jonathan Sadow

  • Coyote
  • *
  • 189
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #169 on: December 31, 2017, 01:38:43 AM »
I just spent the better part of an evening reading through this missive.  Once again, a ripping yarn!

Not to make you feel any worse than you have, but if I'd been paddling down the Rio Grande and encountered a kitten, I would've bailed on the remainder of the trip and gotten the kitten to civilization.  Then again, I love cats, and I'd never dream of paddling down the Rio Grande the length of the park and then walking back to my vehicle, so I'd never be in the position you were in and have to make the decision you did.

I'm sorry to hear about your twins.  As an identical twin born two months prematurely and who spent the first two weeks after birth in the neonatal intensive care unit, I can sympathize.

I was in the park at the same time you were during your ramble through Telephone Canyon, and it appears we came within about five miles of each other.  That's why I have a pretty good idea of how your story is going to end....

*

Offline DesertRatShorty

  • Diamondback
  • *
  • 257
    • Who was Desert Rat Shorty?
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #170 on: December 31, 2017, 11:38:30 AM »
Was the interesting cave the one where Apache Adams' parents lived for a couple of years?
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

*

Online House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2854
  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #171 on: December 31, 2017, 11:56:56 AM »
Was the interesting cave the one where Apache Adams' parents lived for a couple of years?

Holy cow canyon, Shorty!!! That never occurred to me, even though I’d read that article a couple of times before beginning my trip. It HAD to have been the same one. Now I really regret not having taken a picture of it.

Edit 1/15/2017: Yep, that's the cave. I added a link in my trip report to the article about the Adams Ranch that DRS referred to above. The article includes a picture of the cave. Thanks, Shorty!


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
« Last Edit: January 16, 2018, 11:44:11 AM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

*

Online House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2854
  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #172 on: December 31, 2017, 12:02:08 PM »
I just spent the better part of an evening reading through this missive.  Once again, a ripping yarn!

Not to make you feel any worse than you have, but if I'd been paddling down the Rio Grande and encountered a kitten, I would've bailed on the remainder of the trip and gotten the kitten to civilization.  Then again, I love cats, and I'd never dream of paddling down the Rio Grande the length of the park and then walking back to my vehicle, so I'd never be in the position you were in and have to make the decision you did.

I'm sorry to hear about your twins.  As an identical twin born two months prematurely and who spent the first two weeks after birth in the neonatal intensive care unit, I can sympathize.

I was in the park at the same time you were during your ramble through Telephone Canyon, and it appears we came within about five miles of each other.  That's why I have a pretty good idea of how your story is going to end....

Thanks, Jonathan. That you understand the twins and the kitten actually makes me feel better. I’m mostly a dog person, but I think the readers that are most disturbed by the kitten’s fate are most likely to understand my story and why I’ve presented it the way I have.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

*

Offline presidio

  • Soaptree Yucca
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 3431
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #173 on: December 31, 2017, 12:13:22 PM »
The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand

What model do you have?
_____________
<  presidio  >
_____________
Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.
--No Country for Old Men (2007)

*

Online House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2854
  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #174 on: December 31, 2017, 12:36:48 PM »
The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand

What model do you have?

I have the Holux M-241. I bought it a month or so before leaving on my trip, so I assume it's the latest iteration. Mule Ears has the same model, though his is several years older. Not sure about iCe. And, yes, it does look almost exactly like a roll of vintage 35mm film.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

*

Offline iCe

  • Random Pixel Generator
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 1812
    • Wild Light Imaging Studio
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #175 on: December 31, 2017, 12:38:12 PM »
The Holux easily fits in the palm of your hand

What model do you have?


It's an older version. I bought it a long time ago. The plan was to use it to log where I was and then xref the location and time with the time that I took a photograph. That turned out to be a colossal waste of time. Since I take the photograph I typically know where I am (and if I don't I'm not too concerned about it)
 
Holux M-241






*

Offline iCe

  • Random Pixel Generator
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 1812
    • Wild Light Imaging Studio
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #176 on: December 31, 2017, 01:07:43 PM »
The M-241 Plus that shows up on the Holux website with the M-241 isn't available anywhere that I can find. The manual link is to the M-241 Plus and the manual says M-241 Plus. But nobody seems to carry it. Mine still works great but I was going to compare prices.

*

Online House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2854
  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #177 on: December 31, 2017, 11:45:12 PM »
Happy New Year's y'all! I skipped the party. Here's my next installment. I want to wrap this up soon.


Camp Déjà vu Too: December 6, 2017


I really hate sleeping in a tent. I’ll only do it if I have to.  It’s not claustrophobia, it’s the separation from nature. I love being able to open my eyes and immediately see the stars and the moon (or the clouds), feel the wind, judge the time, and hear the sounds of the night or early morning.  When I woke up Wednesday morning inside my battened-down tarptent, I couldn’t tell what time it was, other than that it was after dawn; nor could I tell what the weather was like, other than that it was damned cold and the wind was still blowing hard. I looked at my watch: 7am, and its barometer showed the pressure was dropping like a rock. I listened closely for a moment: no rain, not even a drizzle. That was good: the rain, if it was coming at all, hadn’t arrived yet. Not yet feeling ready to climb out into the cold, cold morning, I lay there in my snuggy sleeping bag and contemplated the upcoming day.


A minute later, the rain came. Not with a whimper, but with a bang. Suddenly the sound of my tent walls snapping in the wind was entirely drowned out by the sounds of thousands of big fat cold rain drops assaulting the wafer-thin sheet of nylon tarptent, the only thing that stood between me and the killing rain. 


Well, I said to myself, I guess it wasn’t such a bad idea to put that tent up after all.


I was smack dab in the middle of what my old Lubbock buddy, Bob McVay, would call “a good damn rain.” I knew then that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. The thought of packing up and hiking out over the mountain ridge in this driving cold rain was distinctly unappealing. I’d give it awhile to blow over. A while turned into an hour. And the rain still hadn’t let up. My tent site was level, and my tent was secure, so I was good, but a small leak did develop at the apex of my tent, just below the cordura cup that cradled the handles of my two trekking poles. Last year, a seam had separated right there under extreme tension: it’s a common complaint about the Integral Designs Silshelter, the only weakness I’d ever found in this tent. I had intended to repair the tear sometime during my trip, using the specialty tape I’d brought as a repair kit for my raft – the specialty tape that had slipped off my pack at my initial put-in into the river and was accidentally left behind. Rightee-oh. Though the rain continued to pound down, I was able to insert a small Ziploc bag into the tear in the seam and divert the drip to the outside of the fabric.


The larger issue, of course, was: when would the rain end? Or would it end at all? I lay there in my (thankfully warm) sleeping bag, bathed in dim gray light filtering through my gunmetal-gray Silshelter, mulling over these questions, listening to the thrumming staccato of the rain. “Slight chance of rain,” I muttered. Never trust an old forecast. Of course, I knew that, but my mood was darkening. I wanted to be on foot again. Fortunately, I’d planned for today to be a short one. My goal had been simply to climb the three miles up and over the last shoulder of the Deadhorse Mountains, drop down into Ernst Basin, and hike to a camp in Passionflower Canyon – another three and a half miles down the basin. Things could be worse: one of the earliest versions of my trip had me climbing the Sue Peaks today, in order to visit the point where I’d bailed off the mountain last year. I thought to myself, I may be trapped in my tent by a rainstorm today, but at least I’m not trapped in my tent by a rainstorm up on top of a knife-edged mountain ridge. Been there, done that, don’t need to do it again. And, frankly, I had to admit the weather on this trip had been outstanding: virtually perfect for every one of the thirteen days leading up to today.


I really had no basis for complaint, but still, I found the mood inside my tent becoming grim and grimmer. And then it hit me: this was day fourteen of my trip; but it was day ten since I’d abandoned the kitten. At the time I’d figured the kitten – with all the challenges it faced – had, at most, ten days to live. Those ten days were used up today. I did not take that thought well: my heart broke. I closed my eyes and a few tears squeezed out. The beating rain ran down the sides of my tent in cold, meandering rivulets - every trace a quiet accusation and an evocation of my grief. And then I thought of the old Elmore James song…





« Last Edit: February 04, 2019, 12:11:08 AM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

*

Online House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2854
  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #178 on: December 31, 2017, 11:45:49 PM »
Olivia Felix was dead. I knew it.


At 11am, the hard rain ended, almost as suddenly as it had begun. Pessimistically, I waited: the wind still blew wildly, the thermometer still read 40 degrees, and I could hear light rain, but the worst of it really did seem to be over, at least for now. I had had my fill of being tentbound – I wanted out – and decided to make a break for the ridge and Ernst Basin. Contorting, I wriggled into my raingear. I put my hat on over my hood. I struggled into my boots and laced them tight, and then rolled up my RidgeRest groundpad and lashed it to the bottom of my backpack. All that was left to do now was to step outside, take down my tarptent and then retrieve my sodden packrafting gear from its nearby clearing and stow it on the outside of my pack.


I hadn’t looked outside my tent all morning: a creosote bush completely blocked the entrance/exit. Crouching at the entrance flaps, I undid the little elastic cord that held them secure tight across each other and squeezed my way painstakingly through the thin gap and out into the open air.


“G*d d*mn.”  Déjà vu all over again.


The landscape was buried in thick fog. Visibility of thirty feet or so. A cold wind blew the light rain sideways into my eyes; it felt more like ice crystals. It was the Sue Peaks ridge all over again. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but I still had three miles of steep, imposing, lightly-cairned ridge to climb and descend. I would need to see those cairns if I was going to make it up and over in this gray, grim weather.


Stumbling around in the wind and rain and fog, I found my packrafting gear with the now-soaked paddling gloves that I had, stupidly, neglected to bring into the tent last night. I slipped them on and they felt like cold tripe. I returned to my tent, quickly dismantled it, being careful to work with the wind and not against it. I also had to take care not to accidentally step off the 30-foot precipice that formed one border of my campsite. I had – literally – no room to spare on that side: the tent wall ran exactly 3 inches from the edge. Eventually I wrestled the flapping tent into the top of my packbag, then switched my attention to stowing my packrafting gear onto my pack. That done, I grabbed my trekking poles and leaned them against a creosote bush so I could easily retrieve them, hoisted my pack of 44 or so pounds onto my back, grabbed my poles, and headed gingerly through the blowing mist, down the steep and slippery bluff, toward the narrowing end of Telephone Canyon and the ridge I would now have to climb in the fog. It was just about noon. Today, I would be skipping lunch.


If you’ve read my earlier trip report, Round the Bend in 14 Days, you’ll remember that I’m no fan of hiking over the ridge between Telephone Canyon and Ersnt Basin: it’s steep, rocky, sometimes slick, and covered in the full complement of Big Bend’s pain-inflicting plants. Add to that the fact that there really is no trail to speak of, just a series of wildly varying cairns at unpredictable intervals, and you have a real challenge. Don’t get me wrong: I am profoundly grateful for the NPS staff and volunteers that erected these cairns – the work involved must have been almost unimaginable. Much of the terrain is tortuous; the route through it is not intuitive; and hikers must keep their eyes constantly peeled for cairns, even in the best of weather. Making this crossing in heavy winds, cold rain, and thick fog was not my idea of fun. For days, I had known a change of weather was coming; I just hadn’t expected it to be so sudden and dramatic and daunting.


At the western end of Telephone Canyon, just below the Sue Peaks massif, the canyon appears at first to come to a stop, but actually bends to the left, southward, narrows dramatically, and starts climbing up to its head in the ridges of the western Deadhorse Mountains. The trail to Ernst Basin threads its mostly-invisible way up this narrowing defile choked with boulders and plants for a few hundred yards before turning westward up a side drainage and then up along a steep canyon wall. This year, heavy growth made this passage more difficult than usual. So did my packrafting gear. With the large bundle of my rolled-up raft sticking out on each side of my pack, the shafts of my disassembled paddles sticking up high above my head, and my bulky PFD strapped to the rear of my pack, I required a lot more clearance than usual to move around, under, or through trees, shrubs, succulents, and boulders. More than once during the ensuing afternoon, I wondered if I’d ruined my raft by piercing or tearing it.


It took about another hour to negotiate the various drainages and reach the flatter section of the ridge, 450 feet above Telephone Canyon (maybe 29 22 28N, 102 59 55W). By then the rain had picked up again and continued to intensify by the minute. The fog was much thicker up here: vistas would open up briefly and then just as quickly visibility would be reduced to a few yards. Often visibility would be less than the distance between cairns, and then I had hard choices to make: 1) press onward, assuming I knew where I was going, 2) establish a search protocol with safeguards to prevent me from getting lost if I failed to find any subsequent cairns, or 3) sit tight and wait for visibility to improve. It was slow, touch-and-go hiking. It required steely nerves. Occasionally mine grew rubbery. More than once, I completely lost the route and had to take a break to calm myself and reassess. What always drove me forward was uncertainty: I really didn’t know what the weather would do. It was bad enough now, but it could get a lot worse and I didn’t want to be up here on this ridge if it did.


One little grace note: last December I’d learned a nifty little trick. Mature yuccas are excellent sources of drinking water when it rains. Their desert adaptation is your gain. Find a yucca head high, with leaves inclined just above the horizontal, place your mouth just below the tip of the leaf and gently pull it downward toward you: 2-4 ounces of (mostly) clean, cold, fresh drinking water. Be ready for it, though. It can come rushing out so fast you can’t catch it all and you’ll wind up with a yucca bath. A cup, if you have one, is better for catching the water. I didn’t have a cup, but I made do that afternoon and probably scored an extra quart of water without ever having to break out bottles or bladders. I also was able to squeeze in a couple of GU gelpacks. That was all I ate that day.


As luck would have it, things just got worse during the afternoon. Up high, temperatures dropped below 40 degrees, the wind stayed wild, and the fog got even denser. The rain returned to its heavy downpour but, as best as I could tell, my raingear was keeping me dry. I still had my fleece pants on under my rainpants, and though I could feel the ankles were soaked – as well as parts of the socks underneath – everything else felt dry. The paddling gloves were an iffy choice: better than nothing, but occasionally my wet fingers were so cold I couldn’t quite feel them. My Oboz Bridger boots were great: not only were my feet dry, I’d maintained traction on any number of very gnarly and dangerous bits of wet rocky terrain.


It was close to 3pm when I finally spied Ernst Basin. That was a welcome sign: Ernst Basin was fog-free. I began to drop down the very steep and slippery route leading down to the basin, descending through the thick fog on the high ridges, following cairns as they appeared, back and forth across narrow, precipitous, rock-choked drainages.  Normally, this is a fairly quick descent, but this day it was a real challenge. Thank god for trekking poles, or I surely would have taken several bad falls. As I descended the west-facing slopes to Ernst Basin, they shielded me from the worst of the eastern wind…another blessing. On the descent, fog gave way to thin mist and even the rain lessened. Things were looking up.


My boots touched down on the floor of Ernst Basin around 3:30pm and I immediately turned south, heading through the basin’s wide open washes toward the Alto Relex, and pushing toward Passionflower Canyon, some three-and-a-half miles away. That was my planned campsite for the night. Within thirty minutes, the light rain turned to heavy rain again, pounding my hat and raingear. My thermometer registered 42 degrees. The heavy cloud cover and low fog had turned the skies dark and 4pm looked more like 5pm. I approached the first of the Ernst Basin trail’s low, meandering canyons and headed inside. The rain just kept getting more intense. At least the wind had abated. But by 4:15pm, I was done. I could feel my rainhood starting to wet out, and water was wicking its way down through my socks and into my boots. My fingers were numb. And the rain was just getting harder. This was it. It was time to stop for the day (best guess: 29 20 49N, 103 00 15W).


In retrospect, this was probably not the best place to make camp. I was several hundred feet into a narrow canyon, its walls perhaps 150 feet high and 50 feet apart, its floor a jumble of boulders ranging from beach-ball-sized to VW-beetle-sized, and – in between the boulders – thick soft beds of small gravel.  But my tank was empty and my will sapped, so here it would be. With the rain pouring down, I unshouldered my pack and removed my packrafting gear. I laid it aside: it would stay outside the tent tonight. I pulled my Silshelter tent out of the top of my packbag, then tossed the backpack underneath to keep it from getting any wetter, and began trying to erect my shelter. I’m sure you can guess the next part.


The gravel wouldn’t hold my stakes (I’d brought extra-light, read: “short”, stakes for this trip) no matter where I tried to lodge them. Not only was the gravel loose, it was wet. Thank god the wind wasn’t blowing like it had up on the ridge, or I might have driven one of the stakes through my own heart. I spent the better part of half an hour trying to get my tent up. My wet, frigid fingers barely felt the stakes or the rocks I pounded them with: I constantly fumbled things. Eventually, through frantic, desperate use of large impromptu cairns, I managed to pin the stakes – and in some case, the raw tent fabric – to the gravel and erect the tent over my trekking poles. All the while being hammered by rain. A quick look at my thermometer told me it was now 37 degrees. My fingers and a good part of my hands were now absolutely senseless.


I dragged my stiff, sodden self into the tent and began struggling to make a home inside. First, I unbuckled my single RidgeRest groundpad and rolled it out of the wet gravel so that I could kneel on it. Then I stripped of my boots and wetted rainwear and set them aside. Most of my inner clothing was dry enough. My socks were soaked, as were the bottom hems of my fleece pants, and the small of the back of my fleece sweater. Everything else was good. I pulled out my “layers and spares” drysack and dug through the contents. On went fresh dry socks, my Montbell down vest, and a microfleece balaclava. I sorely wished I’d brought some microfleece gloves but, as with my Seirus waterproof gloves, I’d left them behind to help offset the weight gain from my packrafting gear. Next, I removed my down sleeping bag from its drysack at the bottom of my pack and laid it out at the bottom of my tent, to fluff up. Then I pulled out my messkit and my 4-liter Dromlite water bladder, set up the cookset, added water, fired up the stove in the vestibule of my tent, and proceeded to boil water for a much-anticipated dinner of hot chicken ramen noodle soup with dehydrated vegetables. “This is it,” I thought, “come hell or high water, this is home for the next 12 hours.” My hope was that the storm, which had now been raging for almost twelve hours, would blow through overnight and leave me with clear skies in the morning.


Ten minutes later, I was sitting inside my Feathered Friends Winter Wren sleeping bag, hood tightly cinched around my head, arms poking out of the zippered arm holes, cradling a hot pot of ramen noodle soup in my hands, which I pushed up hard against my chin, greedily letting the heat radiate through my fingers, and into my neck arteries, brushing past my lips and up my nostrils. I was more interested in the steam than I was the food. But cold soup is not nearly so appetizing as hot soup, so after a minute or two, I spooned the noodles into my mouth and savored their long, hot slide into my belly. Alternating spoonfuls of soup with mouthfuls of homemade habanero-spiced bison jerky, I made my way through my dinner, gobbling up every last morsel and drop. I followed with several swigs of water carried all the way from Rio Grande Village, and a dessert of Peanut M&M’s. By now, I was operating entirely by headlamp. The rain was just wailing against my tent walls and the wind was starting to pick up. Good Lord, I was in a very inhospitable situation.  God help me if Ernst Basin flash-floods. In this narrow canyon, I would be flotsam in a heartbeat. Or worse, grist in the boulder mill.  Working the percentages, comparing today to last December, I didn’t think enough rain had yet fallen on the Deadhorse to flood this canyon, but working the percentages is never a recipe for a good night’s sleep.


My dinner done, I put away my messkit, arranged my wet clothes and boots to give them the best chance to dry overnight, put together a pillow made of my spare clothes and backpack, tightened up my entrance flaps, snuggled down into my sleeping bag, and waited for sleep.


Sleep didn’t come, but the wind did. The sun was down and the wind was up. Blowing from the east and north with a frigid ferocity. And here I was, self-situated in a high, narrow rock canyon, a constriction point in the Ernst Basin. Ahhhhhh…the old Venturi Effect. If the wind was blowing 20mph in the basin, it was blowing 30mph or more through the canyon. And in my exhaustion and haste, I’d stupidly pitched my tent facing upcanyon. Which meant the wind, blowing from the east and north, was assaulting the high entrance of my tent, not its low-slung foot. Dumb, dumb, and dumber. Soon, freezing rain was slipping through the battered entrance flaps of my tent, and the flaps were slapping and clawing at each other like two alley cats locked in a death struggle. Would I crawl out into the darkness, in the wind-whipped freezing rain and re-pitch my tent? No effing way. I’d make do. I propped my backpack up to form a windbreak behind my head. My drysack of depleted spares and layers would have to suffice for a pillow tonight. Then I noticed how cold my back was: the single closed cell foam pad I was using was insufficent for the ground temperatures. My body heat was leaching into the gravel via conduction through my one thin pad. The loss of my other groundpad on that beach along the Rio Grande was coming back to haunt me. But there was absolutey nothing I could do about it.


Windbreak in place, I sank even further down into my sleeping bag, cinched the face hole even tighter, leaving only my nose and mouth exposed, pulled my arms inside the bag and zipped the armholes closed, and settled in for what I hoped would be pu medium-night’s sleep. Shortly thereafter, I drifted off to sleep and found myself in dreamland. Dreamland was filled with water, and rivers, and kittens, and thunder, and organ-music, and rocks crashing down mountain slopes, and earthquakes, and suffocation, and then I awoke. The stakes holding my entrance flaps had worked free of the gravel under the relentless assault of the wind whipping downcanyon, and had slipped out from under the cairns I had built. The wet tent, laying close around my face, was collapsing. My trekking poles toppled onto my face. The wind was lifting the tent fabric into the air and away from me: I was about to be totally exposed to the driving rain. Instantly, adrenaline flooding my body, I scrambled from inside my sleeping bag, threw on my headlamp, and vaulted into the freezing rain. Cursing like a sailor, I instinctively tugged on tension points in the tent with one hand while searching for rocks to pile onto them, pulled and pulled and pulled my tent fabric against the wind, and re-positioned the rocks. Jamming and jamming the stakes beneath the rocks and piling on more rocks, I finally felt I’d secured everything again, and then I reached inside the tent, searching for my trekking poles, found them, and raised them until the Silshelter was stretched tautly over them.  I piled more rocks on the stakes holding the two entrance flaps, and then ever-so-carefully threaded my way through the two flaps and back into my tent.


I. WAS. EFFING. SOAKED. 


I considered changing out of my soaked fleece but decided I was better off climbing back into my sleeping bag and letting my body heat dry it out. I slipped back inside the bag, but left my torso outside. Then I dug through my backpack, found my food bag, and pulled out two GU gels. Body heat required metabolism, and metabolism required fuel, and I hadn’t had enough of that today. I lay there in my sleeping bag, on my single insufficient groundpad, cold and shivering. I could barely maintain my body heat in what felt like near-freeing temperatures. I began to tremble violently. Was it hypothermia, or was I just scared? I fell asleep before I could decide.
   

My tent collapsed eight more times that night. Every time, the same drill: furiously wriggle out of my ever-wetter sleeping bag, scramble out from under the collapsed tent fabric, into the freezing, wind-whipped rain with neither rainwear nor boots on my body, and then rebuild my pitch before my fingers froze. Inside the tent, I spent most of the next several hours trying to keep my little shelter erect with my own body: hands stabilizing my trekking poles against the ever-increasing winds that were beating and shaking my tent walls; knees propping up my waterlogged, sagging roof; all my senses alert to the first signs of a stake coming unmoored. I was exhausted, but I didn't dare fall asleep: my constant attention was all that was keeping my shelter from failing. My campsite sucked, the night was dark, it was raining, it was windy, I was cold, I was wet, I was shivering, I couldn't feel my fingers, Olivia Felix was dead, and I might be dead, too, from hypothermia, if my shelter failed before the night was out. It was, without doubt, the single worst stretch I've ever spent in my beloved little tarptent  - even worse than last year's harrowing thunderstorm up on the Sue Peaks ridge. During one of the last collapses, I emerged, manic, shivering, and sleep-deprived from my disheveled tent, and stood full upright in the rainstorm, shaking my fist and hurling curses at the weather, at the universe, and at death, like some demented King Lear: “F*ck you!  F*CK YOU!!  F***CK YOUUUU!!!!!!


Finally – around 3am – I devised another, better way of rigging my tarptent, mostly involving inverting my trekking poles so that the handles were on the bottom and the sharper points were dug deep and securely into the apex’s cordura cup. Around 4am, the rain – mercifully – stopped and the wind mostly did, too. “Hallelujah!” I sighed, “it’s over. I'm gonna survive.” I fell asleep for the final time with my wet fleece-clad arms sticking out of my bag’s arm holes, each naked hand wrapped tightly around a trekking handle, steadying its pole, just in case.


In the short amount of time I had left before dawn, I dreamed dreams I don’t want to share here.


[TO BE CONTINUED]
« Last Edit: January 23, 2019, 11:53:55 AM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

*

Online mule ears

  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 4213
  • "He had to leave Texas but won't say why" McMurtry
    • 40 years of walking
Re: Round the Bend in 16 Days: There and Not-Quite Back Again
« Reply #179 on: January 01, 2018, 06:56:07 AM »
I can only imagine trying to find the Telephone canyon trail in the fog.  It was hard enough to follow in full blazing sunlight in February (even though it was hard to see through the sweat pouring down my face) and coming down the 1000' drop into Ernst Basin would be death defying.  Then again survival allows for some amazing feats, well done.   :eusa_clap:
« Last Edit: January 01, 2018, 10:07:46 AM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

 


©COPYRIGHT NOTICE

All photographs and content posted by members are to be considered copyrighted by their respective owners and may not be used for any purposes, commercial or otherwise, without permission.

+-Calendar For Sale

 2019 BigBendChat Calendar on sale now!

Powered by EzPortal

Facebook Comments