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Smokey Creek Backpack

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Offline randell

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Smokey Creek Backpack
« on: January 22, 2014, 12:41:32 PM »
This past weekend myself, my 10 year old, a good buddy of mine, and two of his coworkers who are new to Big Bend, did some backpacking in Smokey Creek.  The plan was to hike 6.5 miles to the NE side of Sugar Loaf Mountain and make base camp, then do a 11 or so mile loop around Sugar Loaf Mountain the next day, then hike back to the car on day three.  We would then head to Study Butte for a shower, Terlingua for dinner, and camp at Croton Springs before heading home.

We arrived at the park a little after noon on day 1, got our permits at HQ with no issues, then drove to the Mule Ears trailhead.  We were the only ones there.  The weather was perfect.  My 10 year old had hiked the South Rim a year ago with me as a one-nighter and he had done well.  This would be his first two night backpacking trip and his first trip with a real backpack.  The previous trip he had a very small kids pack that could only hold a couple of sleeping pads and water.  This time I found an adult small pack that fit him, the Black Diamond 50 Caliber.  This enabled him to carry a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, down jacket, water, and a few other personal items.  His pack weighed just under 15 pounds full, so it was not too heavey.  It also saved me from having to carry the light but bulky items, which would have required a larger, heavier, bulkier pack.


At the trailhead

We hit the trail at 2:10pm.





We had a multi-cultural group.  One person was from India and wore a fedora for the trip.  Another was from the Ukraine.


We saw around 20 tarantulas over the course of the entire hike.  Most were curled up like this.  Some seemed dead while others just looked cold.  Only one was lively.  As we surrounded the lively one, he charged towards a prickly pear which happened to be on the other side of my son, causing him much distress, which was highly entertaining.




We made basecamp at 6pm with just enough time to set up camp and get relaxed before the star show started.


It was a pretty chilly night and there was frost on our gear in the morning.  There was some condensation on the tent my son and I slept in which froze shortly after we opened the tent and got out.  The sun warmed things up quickly though.

We started our long dayhike pretty late, at about 10am.

Red rocks area along trail.




It was a fun hike with lots of small canyons and pouroffs to climb.






Picacho Peak to the left.


We at lunch around 1 at the old dam to the far NW of Sugar Loaf Mountain.


After lunch we continued on, following a faint trail in a southwesterly direction.


A little after 3pm we reached the spur trail that would have taken us North and back to the trail we crossed earlier in the day and back to camp.  We decided to press on and attempt to work our way down a canyon that would have allowed us to circumnavigate Sugar Loaf Mountain.  There were rocks across the creek that we considered as a sign not to go on, but we decided to press on anyway.

We found a 6' or so coachwhip skin and climbed down more pouroffs.




Around 4:30 we came to an impassable set of pouroffs, but the view was great.




We backtracked a short distance to what is labeled as "old trail" on the topo map, but found no trail.  While I was considering backtracking to the spur we crossed earlier in the day, my friend Matt started bushwhacking uphill, hoping to see the trail or get past the thick brush a short ways up the hill.  We followed, but found no trail.  The brush did thin out after a short distance, though.  We decided to continue on cross-country in the direction of camp.  The going was slow with lots of drainages to traverse.




Just prior to starting our bushwhack, we came across a tinaja.  The water was not the cleanest, but I decided to stop and filter some.  The rest of the group was pretty hesitant as the water was somewhat green, but I insisted I was getting water for myself and my son at the very least as we were out of water.  Eventually everyone took some, despite the greenish hue even after pumping.  It tasted fine and everyone agreed it was a wise decision in the end.

Sunset neared, then passed and we became nervous.  Each of us had different concerns.  Our friend from India was exhausted and concerned about just surviving the night as this was a completely new experience for him.  Our friend from the Ukraine was concerned about being hungry.  My buddy Matt was concerned about getting cold.  I was just concerned about how slow the hiking would become if I had to start navigating in the dark by headlight.  I had a very bright headlight, but only one other person had a headlight, and it was no bright.  My son was really not concerned since I was not.  He was just poking along looking at rocks.  I had to encourage him by reminding him that daylight was running out and it would not be fun to find a route in the dark.  Just as it was about to become dark enough to require a headlight we found a way to the trail, only a hundred yards from camp!

We celebrated our adventure and ate while watching the stars before retiring.  We had hiked almost 13.5 miles that day.  While eating, we heard movement in the bushes and spied a ringtail.


At about 4:30am my son and I woke to the sound of a Mountain House meal being dragged around.  We poked out head out of the tent and the ringtail was attempting to drag an empty Mountain House bag into his burrow under a boulder.  I got out of the tent and tried to fling the bag to where I could reach it but after getting poked by cactus and getting cold, I gave up.  The noise persisted.  The person who had left the bag out accidentally continued snoring away in his tent, unaware.  Finally I put my jacket on and tried again to get the bag.  This time I was successful.  However, the spoon was still at the mouth of the burrow.

Several hours later we all woke up and I told our friend about the incident.  He apologized and then looked at me dubiously when I told him he how he could get his spoon back - by sticking his hand between cactus and grabbing it from the ringtail burrow.  I got the impression he would rather leave it so I grabbed it for him.  The ringtail had cleaned it for him which was a plus.

After breakfast we soaked up the views and took care of other business before heading back to the car.






Our camp mascot:


We broke camp around 10am and started off.




Along the way we saw the canyon we were unable to traverse the previous evening.


A few more pics from the hike






Picacho again


and again


Mule Ears again


About a mile from the trailhead we passed two couples and realized we had hiked 25 miles without seeing another person.

We got back to the trailhead safely and took one final pic of our group


As were preparing to depart the trailhead I noticed that my boots were both on the verge of falling apart


They had lasted 6.5 years but only had about 220 miles on them, which seemed pretty light.  I suppose the terrain I have used them on wore them out faster than normal.  At least they managed to survive this trip!

We set up camp at Croton, got our shower in Study Butte, dinner at the Starlight, and grabbed some beverages for camp and watched the stars until we were all tired.  The next morning we headed for home at 6:20am.  Everyone agreed it was a fun adventure.  Of course, it was a real adventure for the first time backpacker we had along since his first hike included cross-country hiking and route finding as darkness came, filtering water, a ringtail, and a lot of fun climbing of pouroffs.

Back at home I did the math on our cross-country traverse that a few members of our party had thought was a questionable idea.  It turns out it would have taken us an extra 45 minutes and 2.1 miles if we had backtracked to the established trail.  That extra 45 minutes would have been in complete darkness, so the cross-country traverse was a good decision after all.

Map of Hike. One blue track is the "old trail" that was on the map.  The other blue track is the spur trail that we declined to follow.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2015, 02:32:52 PM by RichardM »
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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2014, 01:08:02 PM »
Good trip.  Thanks for the TR Randell!

Here's a pic looking at Your Overlook from this past weekend:


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Offline RichardM

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2014, 01:12:21 PM »
Awesome trip!

As were preparing to depart the trailhead I noticed that my boots were both on the verge of falling apart


They had lasted 6.5 years but only had about 220 miles on them, which seemed pretty light.  I suppose the terrain I have used them on wore them out faster than normal.  At least they managed to survive this trip!
Brand?

What, no Travolta pose?
« Last Edit: November 16, 2015, 02:34:25 PM by RichardM »

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Offline randell

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2014, 01:23:18 PM »
How did I forget the Travolta!!! :banghead:

The boots were Vasque Wasatch.  It looks like they are no longer making them.

I got them after my Lowa's fell apart in the Chisos in August of 2007. 


On the plus side, REI allowed me to exchange my Lowa's and I only had to pay the difference of $30 for the more expensive Vasque boots.  I had the Lowa's for at least seven years before they fell apart.  However, I don't think REI will take these back since they have a new return policy now - 3 years I think it is.
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Offline RichardM

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2014, 01:38:29 PM »
The boots were Vasque Wasatch.  It looks like they are no longer making them.

Hate to say I told you so, but...

I've had my Vasque Wasatch GTX boots for several years and they are comfortable, fairly light feeling, and tough as nails.  I've hiked across the Grand Canyon, done 30 miles of hiking in Olympic National Park, done the Marufo Vega twice, the South Rim twice, and done lots of off-trail hiking in Big Bend.  I've stomped over rocks and cactus and never had my foot  stuck by cactus or hurt by rocks.  My wife has a pair as well and loves them.  I highly recommend them.

Everyone's experiences will differ, of course, but (according to reviews here & elsewhere) you may be the only satisfied Vasque customer in the last 10 years. A search on BBC for Vasque will reveal a lengthy litany of complaints...  :eusa_whistle:
Don't worry, with Vasques, it's only a matter of time before you'll need new boots.
Come to think of it, the last thing I bought at Whole Earth was my Vasque hiking boots...


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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2014, 01:56:58 PM »
Asolo Fugitives are pretty cheap and have stood me well; a bit bulky so I tried La Sportiva Boulder X Mids recently; they are good but get them even bigger than normal; small toe box

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Offline Summit

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2014, 02:26:16 PM »
Cool trip, Randell. 

I hadn't visited this site since 2008, the last time I went to BIBE.  At that time, your trip report to Marufo Vega influenced my decision to do an overnight trip there.

Now I've come back to the board ahead of a trip w/ my soon to be 4 year old son, hoping to glean some advice on how to camp w/ a youngster and here you are again with a  trip report that includes your son!  It's like you're my mentor, without knowing it (or even agreeing to it!). 

Since my son is only four we plan to just do primitive car camping and do a combination of hikes, kayak outings, and mellow Mt. Bike excursions (I have a good carrier for him).  Any general advice for making this a successful trip?  We've done many, many one-day adventures, but he's never camped before or done successive days of "roughing it".  I know from experience to simply not be fixated on an end-goal (the peak, or wherever) and to be able to roll w/ the punches and adapt to his moods and such, but any concrete ideas about BIBE with a 4 year old?   

BTW, you may not want to hear it, but I also had a terrible experience w/ a pair of Vasques; same exact issue as you had.  I will never buy another pair of their boots.  I have absolutely loved my Danners though. 

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Offline Robert

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #7 on: January 22, 2014, 02:30:02 PM »
Did you see any water in the drainage on the southeast side of Sugarloaf below the cutover trail down to the pouroff? Last time we hiked that way there were springs just below the cutover trail junction (near the fallen tree) and water running through the narrow canyon leading up to the pouroff. BTW, the pouroff can be skirted on the left and Eric on his recent report went around on the right but not sure how he did that.

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #8 on: January 22, 2014, 03:06:45 PM »
I have 6 kids and they all hike and camp routinely since as young as 3. Snacks are critical.  And games for the tent time. And a guidebook or flower/tree book for the trail

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Offline randell

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #9 on: January 22, 2014, 03:47:03 PM »
Did you see any water in the drainage on the southeast side of Sugarloaf below the cutover trail down to the pouroff?

There was only a small pool of water.  There was not much water over the entire hike, relative to what I have seen posted before on the site for that area.  The best water was on the NE side of Sugar Loaf.

Since my son is only four we plan to just do primitive car camping and do a combination of hikes, kayak outings, and mellow Mt. Bike excursions (I have a good carrier for him).  Any general advice for making this a successful trip? 
It really depends on the kid.  Both of my boys have been raised with lots of outdoor activities from camping to paddling to backpacking.  They both prefer doing things outdoors to being indoors and neither of them have a problem roughing it.  The 8 year old dislikes hiking more than a mile or so unless there are other kids along.  Part of the reason is he is very extroverted while his brother is much more of an introvert.  My 10 year old had no problem being the only kid with four men.  My 8 year old would have been bored out of his mind with no other kids to socialize with.  Aside from that, I am of the opinion that kids love anything outdoors as long as they are raised doing it. 

As Steelfrog said, snacks are critical and cards and other games for the tent are nice.
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Offline Ranger Tim

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #10 on: January 22, 2014, 03:59:52 PM »
This country is hell on boots. I pretty much only hike in Asolos (mid-weight goretex) and use my Danners (Lite II) for trail work. Everything just seems to fall apart after less than 200 miles. The replacable soles are also key. I've had my Danners since 2005 and are on their third set of Vibram soles.
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Offline Lance

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #11 on: January 22, 2014, 04:15:42 PM »
Great report Randell, as usual!
I was worried about my boots this last trip out.  They're Keens and falling apart fast.
Steelfrog loves his Asolos, and now an endorsement from Ranger Tim. 
Will probably have to look at getting a pair of those next.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #12 on: January 22, 2014, 05:03:11 PM »
Did you see any water in the drainage on the southeast side of Sugarloaf below the cutover trail down to the pouroff?

There was only a small pool of water.  There was not much water over the entire hike, relative to what I have seen posted before on the site for that area.  The best water was on the NE side of Sugar Loaf.


Great report as always Randell.  I am surprised that there was such a little amount of water after reports of good water from almost all other areas of the park.  You never know.
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Offline Casa Grande

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #13 on: January 22, 2014, 05:38:38 PM »
Randell,  was this the X-man's first time on a man trip?

www.VirtualBigBend. com - now mobile friendly!


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Offline badknees

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Re: Smokey Creek Backpack
« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2014, 05:51:37 PM »
Nice report and great photos. Love Smoky Creek!!

Did you like the campsite?
« Last Edit: November 16, 2015, 02:35:15 PM by RichardM »
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