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The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008

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Offline walkingman06

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The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« on: December 14, 2008, 01:50:15 PM »
I made it through my solo hike of the Outer Mountain Loop last week. It was a great trip with excitement and some terror, lots of solitude and more exhaustion. I'm glad I went, and am already planning the next one.

Many thanks to this board for information on campsites and water availability, especially Jeff Blaylock and your report of your trip. I learned much from you, and also Wild West Guy, your info on Fresno Creek and the campsite there saved me on Tuesday..more on that later.

I had been planning for this trip since last yearís hike to the South Rim, so by Sunday, December 7 I was aching to leave. I left Tulsa at 10 am and took off for Fort Stockton to stay for the night. I arrived around 7 pm and got settled in so I could leave early on Monday. My plan was to get to the park by 7, stash my water and extra food at Homer Wilson Ranch and then make it to Panther Junction to get permits as soon as they opened.



This all went pretty much as planned. I got everything cached and met Ranger Flippo (nice guy) who put me through the solo hiker routine. I have been planning my agenda for weeks now, and thanks to BBC, I was adequately informed. He checked my water supply and informed me that Boot Spring was dry but Fresno Creek was flowing. Night One was zone camping in Lower Juniper (CO3), Night Two was at Fresno Creek (CO4), Night Three was in the Blue Creek Zone (CO5) and Night Four in LW1.

Ranger Flippo took pictures of me with my pack and also of the sole of my boot, then I was off.

I got to the Basin and hit the trail a little after 9 am heading up the Pinnacles Trail with a full load.

I prefer to get the tough part of the hike over with early and this was difficult with 8 liters of water. Temp was 65 degrees and I broke a sweat early. I took my time however and got several pictures of Casa Grande and the Pinnacles.




Last year I hiked this part predawn and so had not seen the view. Wonderful.




After an hour on the trail I puffed around a bend and saw a mother bear with two cubs. Actually we surprised each other. Mama went right with one cub and the other cub went to the left of the trail. I was busy trying to get my camera out and missed getting the bears but got some good shots of cactus. The bears disappeared quickly, and my heart was pounding! Bear sign was everywhere on the trail throughout the day as they seemed to be enjoying the juniper berries and pine nuts.

I may have missed the bear, but I did get a shot of a deer!



Iím always amazed at how tame they are.

At Pinnacles Pass I was encountered a group of teenage hikers from England and Australia who were headed up to Emory Peak. I had a good to visit with them as I got my breath. A short mile later I arrived in Boot Canyon and took a pack off break for lunch.



 I checked Boot Spring but no water. There was one pool but not enough to bother with pumping since I still had adequate supply.


Next was the Juniper Canyon Trail.



The first section made me glad that I took a break earlier. Very difficult and rocky climb out of Boot Canyon, but once I got out this was the view:


http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/U1qeett0f6MyDv_Q3r9TRA?authkey=FUKJ_Kfia4I

I headed down Juniper Canyon, grateful for the break, but this trail was steep and rocky and was very overgrown. I was wearing convertible pants rather than cotton so I was hoping they would handle the trip. I saw no water on the Juniper trail, and I chose not to look for the springs. I was still carrying enough water for tomorrow.

I came to the stone steps




and passed Juniper Camp, then began looking for a campsite for the night. I had gone nearly 9 miles and wanted to get settled before dark. I found a good spot just into the zone camping area.





Here was dinner- my Esbit stove did well for one person.



The moon was nearly full and the temperature was in the 60ís so I was able to sleep without the fly. The wind blowing through the canyon this evening was quite peaceful. The stars were beautiful once the moon was down, and I got a great nightís sleep.

To be continued....
« Last Edit: December 14, 2008, 02:53:12 PM by RichardM »
Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the holy land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?
James Taylor
Posted from Tulsa, OK

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Offline Ay Chihuahua!

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2008, 03:29:19 PM »
Quote
Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the holy land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?

Well, the leaves have come to turning
And the goose has gone to fly
And bridges are for burning
So don't you let that yearning
Pass you by
Walking man, walking man walks
Well, any other man stops and talks
But the walking man walks

Well the frost is on the pumpkin
And the hay is in the barn
An pappy's come to rambling on
Stumbling around drunk
Down on the farm

And the walking man walks
Doesn't know nothing at all
Any other man stops and talks
But the walking man walks on by
Walk on by

Most everybody's got seed to sow
It ain't always easy for a weed to grow, oh no
So he don't hoe the row for no one
Oh for sure hes always missing
And something is never quite right
Ah, but who would want to listen to you
Kissing his existence good night

Walking man walk on by my door
Well, any other man stops and talks
But not the walking man
Hes the walking man
Born to walk
Walk on walking man
Well now, would he have wings to fly
Would he be free
Golden wings against the sky
Walking man, walk on by
So long, walking man, so long

Nice report.   :ranger:

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Offline TheWildWestGuy

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2008, 08:51:08 PM »
Great trip report Walkingman,  I love the stone steps in lower Boot Canyon - these are about 1/2 mile or less above Upper Juniper Springs "Juniper Camp".  To get the full Lord-of-the-Rings effect you need to traverse them solo at dusk.  It's one of those places where a solo hiker has to work hard to control his thoughts and fears as the shadows grow long and the darkness fills the canyon bottom with a gloomy mist.  I think it is one of the top spookiest places in Big Bend, it's hard to capture it on film and I think most of it is instinctive fear - lots of places here where predators could ambush you without warning... TWWG

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Offline Vince T

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2008, 10:24:34 PM »
Very nice report so far...thanks for sharing.
I have never done this trail...so I am interested in hearing your experiences.

Walk on, walking man, walk on.
JT is the King.

Vince

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Offline walkingman06

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2008, 11:50:56 AM »
Day Two 12-09-08

Tuesday morning broke warm and clear.  It had been a great night to sleep in the desert, enjoying the moon and stars.  Now sunrise was coloring the canyon walls.








I was rested and eager to complete Juniper Canyon.  I broke camp and took of at 8 am.  Juniper was very overgrown, shrub and cactus chest-high.  I pressed on and met a couple who were going to dayhike Juniper Canyon to the NE Rim.  We spoke for a short while and wished each other luck.  Personally, I was glad that I didn't have to hike back up Juniper this day!


I arrived at the Dodson Trailhead by 9:30



and took a short break before starting the Dodson Trail

I was planning to get to Fresno Creek for camping today and perhaps explore around that area, so I took off.  The beginning of the Dodson Trail was reasonably flat



but as the hike went on the trail became progressively more difficult-each draw being steeper that the previous.

The views of the South Rim were grand.  This was my first time to experience the Chisos from this perspective





I also developed a deeper appreciation for Harv Dodson and family.  They must have been hardy folks to survive in this environment.  I arrived at the Dodson Ranch



and poked around a little, but I was eager to press on.  I was using water fast this day as the temperatures were in the 80's.  I still have over a liter left, but my mind began to consider the possibility of Fresno being dry.  It's strange how my mind gets after minimal human contact!


After hiking up the draw between Dodson Ranch and Fresno Creek I topped the saddle and saw water in Fresno.  I was flooded with relief and hurried down the hill to fill my bottles.




Fresno was flowing well, in fact I went overboard and pumped more than I actually needed.  I drank plenty that evening.


I found the Fresno Creek campsite and like WildWestGuy said, it is one of the best on the OML.  I set up the tent



and admired the view



It was 2 pm by the time I got settled so I chose to rest and read in camp rather than take the steep hike out of Fresno.  I had dinner at 3 pm and by this time the clouds were heavy on the South Rim and it was beginning to sprinkle on me in camp.  The wind had picked up and I needed to use a wind shield to heat water.  I had left my pack cover in the van, so I took out my food bag and put the pack into the tent.

By 4 pm it was stormy and raining hard.  I was dry in the tent, but had some concerns over the wind.  What would I do if the tent shredded?  The tent did an excellent job of holding together!  Having the pack in the tent helped to stabilize things but I spent several stressful hours listening to the wind drop off the Rim and roll down the valley before hitting my tent again.

Along with the rain was a drop in temperature.  While it was dry in the tent the outside temp was in the lower 40's by now. I slept fitfully and sometime in the night the storm ended although the wind continued.

The nearly full moon came out and brightened things up, clear and cold.

To be continued...
Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the holy land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?
James Taylor
Posted from Tulsa, OK

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Ray52

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2008, 10:33:58 PM »
This hike is something I really want to do.  How difficult were the trails to follow.  You mention that Juniper Creek was overgrown, what about Dodson and Blue Creek?  Are they otherwise well defined?

Thanks,
Ray


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Offline walkingman06

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2008, 11:04:57 PM »
Day Three: December 10, 2008

I awoke the morning after the storm to 34 degree temperature and snow on the Chisos.



The views were even more incredible as the morning progressed. My tent was covered with ice and the water bottles that I had left outside were slushy. I made coffee, admired the view, then broke camp and prepared for the day.

I needed to get moving to warm up and the climb out of Fresno Creek did exactly that. By the time I got to the Elephant Tusk trailhead, I was warm and perspiring. The sun was beginning to evaporate the snow on the South Rim making for a neat picture



I was grateful that I was able to see this after the storm of last night. I had been on the trail for three days and had not seen a human for over a day. The relaxation I was seeking was beginning to happen. I was enjoying the feeling where my only responsibility was to be me. All I had to do today was keep moving, enjoy the sights and make camp before nightfall. Good stuff!

I headed down Smoky Creek. The ranger had warned that hikers often miss the Dodson junction with the Smoky Creek trail, so I was being especially watchful since the creekbed was very overgrown. I didn't need to worry. The cairns at the junction were hard to miss.

As I left Smoky Creek I came across two hikers who were doing the OML counterclockwise. They had spent last night in Blue Creek Canyon, telling tales of hearing and then seeing a mountain lion. We swapped stories of making it through the storm (they had snow) and moved on.

The climb out of Smoky Creek led to the saddle that overlooks the Homer Wilson Ranch. As I topped the saddle the view was outstanding




I spent some time taking pictures from this vantage point and getting prepared for the long decent to HWR.

The hike from the saddle to Homer Wilson Ranch, although beautiful and downhill, seemed endless. It was nearly 1 pm by the time I got there and to the bear box to the cashe. I had over packed for the trip. I offloaded extra clothes and other uneeded supplies to make the hike up Blue Creek Canyon the next day as light as possible. Once reloaded I was ready to start Blue Creek and find a campsite for this night.



With my pack about 15 pounds lighter I was off. Hiking in the rocky creek bottom was a lot like walking in sand, very tiring and tough on my calves. In a short while I had come to the Red Rocks area



And then past



I had read reports of good campsites 2-4 miles up the canyon, so I pressed on wanting to make as much distance up today to make tomorrow's hike as short as possible.

By 2:30 I had found a good spot and set up camp.



By now the temps were in the 60's and I changed clothes and dried everything out after yesterday's ice. It felt good to sit in the sun and complete my journal. As the sun began to go down the temperature dropped considerably and I needed to get inside the tent. The moon was full this evening and the night view was incredible. It was bright enough to cast a shadow, and I spent quite a while admiring the sky.

to be continued...
« Last Edit: December 17, 2008, 03:11:08 PM by RichardM »
Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the holy land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?
James Taylor
Posted from Tulsa, OK

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Offline TexasAggieHiker

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #7 on: December 16, 2008, 11:09:32 PM »
This hike is something I really want to do.  How difficult were the trails to follow.  You mention that Juniper Creek was overgrown, what about Dodson and Blue Creek?  Are they otherwise well defined?

Thanks,
Ray



I did the OML over Thanksgiving.  Even in the overgrown spots, the trail is fairly easy to follow.  It's well marked with rock cairns the whole way.


Awesome report so far walkingman!
« Last Edit: December 16, 2008, 11:16:51 PM by TexasAggieHiker »

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Offline walkingman06

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #8 on: December 16, 2008, 11:36:55 PM »
This hike is something I really want to do.  How difficult were the trails to follow.  You mention that Juniper Creek was overgrown, what about Dodson and Blue Creek?  Are they otherwise well defined?

Thanks,
Ray



I did the OML over Thanksgiving.  Even in the overgrown spots, the trail is fairly easy to follow.  It's well marked with rock cairns the whole way.



I agree, the trail was easy to follow, well marked with cairns both into and exiting the washes.  The overgrown areas were tough on clothes and limbs however.  Go for it!
Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the holy land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?
James Taylor
Posted from Tulsa, OK

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Offline Al

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2008, 12:00:33 AM »
Walkingman, you are on the short list of best trip report authors.  Please don't stop!

Carry at least one walking stick and wear gaiters and you'll be all right.  I can only speak for zone camping coming in on the Dodson Trail from Juniper Canyon or cross country from the Elephant Tusk campsite to Elephant Tusk, but generally when hiking the desert, a good pair of gaiters to protect your lower legs from thorns and burrs plus a hiking stick to push back the brush are most useful. 

Al
« Last Edit: December 17, 2008, 12:05:10 AM by Al »

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Offline walkingman06

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2008, 01:06:05 PM »
Day 4: 12-11-08

Another chilly night with temps in the low 30's.  The bright moon made it a beautiful night, but the cold kept me from sleeping well.  As I broke camp this morning I was beginning to reconsider my plan to spend another evening out, especially if the High Chisos were snow-packed. 

I headed out up Blue Creek and saw the caves in the canyon wall



I started to climb and at first thought "This isn't so bad. I've probably gotten used to the trail by now. Maybe Blue Creek is not so tough after all"

I caught my first glimpse of Emory Peak



with Santa Elena behind me



These views improved as I climbed.  By now I was into the switchbacks and feeling the strain.  Blue Creek is really that tough!  I found myself resting at each turn, very thankful I had lightened my pack yesterday.

The snow continued to get deeper as I gained elevation but thankfully there was no ice, so footing was secure.  I finally topped Blue Creek Canyon at 10:30 am very tired, but thankful for the experience. 



Now I had a choice to make:  stick with my original plan and camp in the snow at Laguna West 1 and visit the South Rim or take the 3 mile hike downhill to the Basin with a warm room and a bath.  What to do?

I bailed!  The South Rim will still be there when I return next!

I had anticipated a leisurely stroll down the trail but the snow had complicated matters.  While my mind was trying to say the trip was over the reality of the snowpack kept me focused.  I was committed to remaining "walkingman" and not becoming "fallingman"




Although somewhat slippery, the snow made for beautiful hiking.  I began to run into other hikers making their ways to the Rim and it was enjoyable to share stories with them. My body on the other hand was beginning to feel the effects of 4 days out and over 30 miles of travel.

I arrived at the Basin elated and exhausted. A young couple met me and asked to take a picture of them before they took of to climb Emory Peak.  I did and they returned the favor



Off I went to Homer Wilson to pick up my stuff from the bear box and then to Panther Junction to inform the rangers of my change of plan and that I had made it out safely.

I'm still in awe that I made it. 

Lessons learned on this trip:

1.  I packed too much stuff, I can really lighten my load
2.  I need to manage my water better.  I wound up carrying too much at times and at other times got a little close.  It probably would be best to cache at both Juniper Canyon and Homer Wilson in future trips unless Boot Spring or Upper Juniper are flowing well. Fresno Creek was a lifesaver and perhaps my favorite spot on the Dodson Trail.
3. December is an excellent time to hike the desert.  Even the storm didn't detract from the pleasant daytime temperatures and the nights were livable.

I have to admit I'm hooked on Big Bend.  I can't wait to get back.

Thanks for reading!
Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the holy land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?
James Taylor
Posted from Tulsa, OK

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #11 on: December 17, 2008, 02:31:44 PM »
Walkingman...what sleeping bag did you bring to your trip?...too bad you had to bailout,as you say the OML will be there for when you return.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #12 on: December 17, 2008, 02:53:10 PM »
Awesome trek walkingman. As I was reading your finale, I wondered when the realization that Blue Creek IS that bad would kick in.

As for your gear, put together a list of what you packed and I'm sure this crew can offer helpful suggestions.

As for water, you really never know until you go. The more experienced you become at desert hiking, the more you understand when during your day you need it. I try to drink my fill before hitting the trail, doubly so if I am near a water source. When I reach another source, I try to drink my fill again so I end up carrying a little less. Rationing water is not fun (nor especially good for you), so having too much is definitely the preferred error.

As far as caching water at Juniper Canyon TH, I agree it's helpful but don't think spending half a day or more to do it is a necessarily good use of time. Of course, it you expect Boot Canyon (not just the spring) and Juniper Spring to be dry, then caching is probably more critical.

Glad you had a great time!
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline catz

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #13 on: December 17, 2008, 05:02:17 PM »
Great trip report and really great pix!  I especially liked the one in lower Juniper looking up at the Boot.   :eusa_clap: I've been in Juniper a couple of times and never noticed that.  Duh.   :icon_redface:

Three of us hiked this trail last February.    Rather than starting at the Basin, however, we started at the Juniper/Dodson junction.  We had all hiked extensively in the Chisos and didn't see any need to hike the Pinnacles yet one more time.   We car camped the night before at one of the Juniper sites, thus allowing for an early start as well as having a full compliement of water.  In effect, we cached water at two places:  where we car camped and at Homer Wilson. We first followed the Dodson and spent the night just beyond Fresno Creek.  Spent the second night in Blue Creek, maybe a mile, mile and a half beyond Homer Wilson.  The next day we went up into the Chisos, took the short cut trail over to Boot Spring, then came down the Juniper, all the way back to the car at the Juniper/Dotson junction.  Made for a fairly long day--the Juniper trail seemed to just go on forever! 

I have been hiking in the deserts of west Texas, northern Arizona, and southern Utah for 15 plus years.  I have never bothered with gaiters but I would never go without my hiking stick.  I highly recommend one to all for many, many reasons. 
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline TexasAggieHiker

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Re: The Outer Mountain Loop Dec. 8-11, 2008
« Reply #14 on: December 17, 2008, 06:00:47 PM »
what time did you leave your camp to go up Blue Creek Canyon?  how long did the hike up take?  it took me 5 and half hours, including a 20 minute lunch stop, to get up Juniper Canyon Trail from the road up to where the trail hits the Boot Canyon Trail.

 


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