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Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys

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Offline Robert

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Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« on: January 31, 2009, 06:54:32 PM »
Big Bend trip Jan 19th-24th.
 
This year's trip was going to be a return to some familiar trails as well as some new routes that I've been wanting to try for a while. One of the guys on this trip has been with us twice before but never seen the South Rim so I thought we would include it in our planning. If we hiked down Blue Creek it would also mean that he would have hiked all the portions of the OML although not on one trip. Mitch and I hadn't up on the South Rim or down the Blue Creek trail in quite a few years so this would be fun for us as well (hopefully I won't be gushing about over going to the same places over and over but then I'm still clinging to the idea that the world is flat).
 
The plan was to begin in the Basin and hike up to our Laguna Meadows campsite, drop our packs, visit the South Rim and return to camp. Day 2 would begin by descending the Blue Creek trail and then head east on the Dodson trail to Smoky Creek. We'd hike down a ways on Smoky Creek and camp. Day 3 would resume by going down the wash taking the "blue portion" mentioned in Badknees post (rather than staying on the trail) and hooking back up with the SC trail at Sugarloaf Mtn. At this point depending on the time we would either hike the SC trail back to the east to the next drainage, hike down the wash, and then take the "Cut in hill NW of Smoky Springsroute down to Smoky Spring OR we would continue down the Smoky Creek trail until we hit water past Mule Ears at the point where the vast Smoky Creek valley narrows.
 
Day 4 would take us on the old pack trail that goes from the narrows section of Smoky Creek back to the Ross Maxwell Drive via the route that Travii99 described and then north toward Bee Mountain via Blue Creek. The last day would take us by Bee Mountain spring and then hook up with the Chimneys trail and back to our vehicle at the Chimneys trailhead on RMD.

We cashed food and water at the Blue Creek bear box and along RMD where the pack trail intersects it and dropped off a vehicle at the Chimneys trailhead. I was expecting to find water in upper Smoky Creek (just down from the Dodson turnoff), the junction of where the eastern and western arms of upper SC intersect (just below where the barb wire stretches across the wash), the "black rock section" of SC just before the wash opens up, Smoky Spring, the lower portion of SC where the wash narrows past Mule Ears, and Bee Mountain Spring.

More to follow.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2009, 07:02:31 PM by Robert »

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2009, 03:36:28 PM »
...hopefully I won't be gushing over about going to the same places over and over but then I'm still clinging to the idea that the world is flat...

More to follow.


It's OK, my world gets flat sometimes too. And now the rest of the story  :eusa_whistle:
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
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Offline Robert

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2009, 10:15:46 PM »
Mitch and I drove into the park late Monday afternoon in time to stop at PJ and get our permit. I had filled out the Backcountry Planning Worksheet before arriving to see if it would cut down on time but got the usual "you are going to do what?" response from the Ranger. I guess they deal with so many folks that need help that they are automatically suspect when someone comes in and plops down a trip plan all filled out and doesn't have a ton of questions. The ranger informed us about the bear activity in the Chisos and advised us to put as much as we could in the two bear boxes at our Laguna Meadow campsite if we going to leave the camp unattended.

Monday was a holiday for many and the Basin campground had more campers than we were used to seeing. We met up with our friend from out of state, Tom, when he drove up just as we found a campsite. After setting up camp we went on up to the lodge for dinner. The restaurant was also more crowded than usual but we didn't have to wait too long for our food. I can't say I noticed any big improvements in the quality of food, though.

The weather forecast for the week was for clear skies for the first of the week with increasing clouds towards the end but no rain. It turned out we had some of the best weather we've had yet for a January trip. The first couple of nights staying in the Basin and Laguna Meadows were down into the 30's but once we got out of the Chisos the nights were probably no colder than 40 with daytime temps in the 60's and 70's. Later when talking to some locals in front of the Starlight they mentioned how mild the winter has been. I believe Mule Ears had good weather on his trip as well.

Tuesday morning we got up and headed back to the lodge for breakfast. There was no buffet so we ordered off the menu. Nothing like having hash browns that had been cooked several hours (or was it days) ago. The rest of the morning was spent getting ready and dropping the two caches and a vehicle out on RMD.

We ended up heading up the Laguna Meadows trail just after lunch. I had forgotten that you really can't tell how close you are to the top until the last switchback and kept thinking that we were almost there when really we had a ways to go. We got to the top and over to our LM campsite about 4pm and put our food in the bear box. Unfortunately there was only the older small box and not one of the newer ones that the ranger had mentioned so we wouldn't be able to store anything else. But luckily there was a group at one of the other LM sites so I felt better about leaving camp for a while. There was an awful lot of scat around that I'm pretty sure was bear scat.

Relieved of our packs we got up to the rim in about an hour and the view was well worth it. The view was as good as I could have hoped for. We stayed for about 15 minutes taking pictures and having a celebratory shot of an adult beverage.


Then it was back to camp for dinner and bed.

Day 2
Then next morning we were up and heading down the Blue Creek trail by 10. I've never been real gung-ho about getting up and going very early. We typically got up each morning just as the stars began to fade and made coffee and cooked a good breakfast before packing up. Since we stashed much of our food down the trail we had some extra room for a hearty meal. So breakfast was sandwiches made from eggs, canadian bacon, cheese, and english muffins.



Mitch and I hadn't been down the Blue Creek trail in over 10 years. One of the things that Mitch had commented on was how the OML seemed to be easier to follow than it was when first started backpacking back in the early 90's. I also think that some of the trails like Blue Creek are also in better condition than before. Don't get me wrong, the long descent is tough on the thighs but the trail in general is in better shape than I remember. Sure enough, we soon had two guys pass us on the way down to do some trail work and later we ran across a large group also doing trail work. Tom thought that they were from Americorp.

Once the trail hits the level of the wash the walking becomes a little easier as the grade lessens. The trail begins to enter the wash for longer and longer stretches. I noted that there were at least 3 good "campsites" along this stretch in the sections where the trail is not in the wash. I think one looked to be a "one dog" site (to borrow TWWG's terminology) and one was large enough for a group of folks. Then we hit the Red Rocks and few minutes later we were at the ranch house in time for a late lunch.

At the ranch house there was a group from Dallas taking a break. They were doing the OML in the opposite direction and at least one of them had been backpacking in BB several times. For some of the others it was their first trip. What was memorable was that one of the guys had some new hiking boots and the sole had almost completely come off.



He had done a field repair by tying some rope around the shoe. They had duct tape but he was concerned about the lack of traction. I hope he was able to finish his hike without any problems.

We retrieved our cache and took an extended lunch break. We found out that someone is now looking after the Homer Wilson bear box on a regular basis. No more water jugs with 6 month old dates in a jam packed full box.



The section of the Dodson around Carousel Mtn and up to the pass is always a tough slog. We seem to always hit it in the afternoon and there is no shade. Usually there is also no wind until you get to the top. Once at the top we took a quick break and kept going.

The Smoky Creek trail was just a little ways away. The plan was to camp down SC after we found some water. There was a nice camp spot on the Dodson just before the Smoky Creek trail junction but we decided to go on down the trail. We hit water about 10 minutes later and made camp a short ways down the trail just as we started to lose the light.
« Last Edit: February 02, 2009, 10:36:49 PM by Robert »

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Offline championbaum

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2009, 09:52:06 AM »
I am planning on taking this same route soon, but make it farther south after i hook up with the chimney trail, the report looks great, keep it coming.

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Offline Sanjuro82

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2009, 12:38:52 PM »
I always carry a tube of Shoe Goo, just incase...

« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 03:22:57 PM by RichardM »

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Offline catz

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2009, 03:47:30 PM »
I swear those boots look to be Vasques.  My first pair of serious boots were Vasques (got them in 1992) and they lasted me many years of tough desert hiking.  I estimate I put a thousand miles on them.  So, when they finally gave out, I got another pair of Vasques.  These were a piece of you know what--lasted only about three or four trips before both soles gave out.  No more Vasques for me!   :pissed:
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2009, 09:00:56 PM »
Every thing you ever wanted to learn about Hiking Shoes..... But were afraid to ask .
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline Robert

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2009, 09:54:21 PM »
The next morning we set out from camp around 10 and headed on down the trail. We noticed that someone had come through and done some trimming of some of the brush and even re-routed a portion of trail from one side of the wash to another. It looked recent so perhaps it was the group that we saw from the day before.



Soon we were down to the junction with the drainage that comes in from the west just under Picacho Peak. The canyon starts to open a bit more after this and then I came to a pouroff with no sight of the trail. Mitch caught sight of the cairn I had missed and we went up above the wash on the right side and then parallel to the wash a ways before descending back into the wash. This route is cairned but the tall grass obscures them. It doesn't matter because you eventually end up in the same place.

Once we started the descent into the wash we could see where the SC trail exits the wash on the opposite side and heads east. But we were staying in the wash and continued on downstream. There was water off and on throughout Smoky Creek all the way until the canyon opens up near Mule Ears. In the places were there wasn't any water there were signs that there had been water within the last few months. It must have been quite a site at the end of last summer's rains. However, there were some pools that looked to be drying out so I'd imagine that things are starting to dry out.



It is easy walking down to the junction of the western arm of Smoky Creek. No pouroffs or boulders to hop. Once at the junction the stream is flowing pretty good for a ways. There are a few small pouroffs to be negotiated in the canyon just to the west of peak 4620. Then the canyon opens back up again just before the Smoky Creek trail re-enters the wash.

At this point it was just after noon and we decided to continue down the trail rather than try for Smoky Spring via the "Cut in the Hill n/w of Smoky Spring" route. If we had gone this way I was concerned about getting into Smoky Spring late in the day and I really wanted to be further along before making camp so that we could pick up our cache on RMD the next day by lunch. So we just left that route for another trip.

We then picked up the trail heading downstream although you really can't tell you are on a trail as we continued to walk in the wash. We took a lunch break sitting in the shade of the canyon walls formed from tuff just after skirting left around a pouroff. There was a little bit of water running through the canyon. It was starting to warm up.

We got to the black rock canyon and there was water dripping down the side of the canyon walls forming a hanging garden with moss and ferns.



The last few times we had been this way there was water in the canyon but not dripping off the rock like this.

Once through the black rock canyon the walls open up and you enter the big broad Smoky Creek valley. The water flowed quite a ways before disappearing into the sand.



We got to just below Mule Ears by around 4 and I was out of water.

Now I knew there was going to be water down the trail where the braided washes come together. But there was just enough doubt in my mind to keep me worried and planning for what we would do if we didn't find any.

It was just two more miles of walking and long before we reached the narrows there was a good flow of water in the sandy wash. The sand was damp from bank to bank. We found a bench out of the wash to camp on about a quarter mile from the narrows. It was 5 pm when we stopped.


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Offline badknees

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2009, 11:25:40 PM »
Robert,

Thanks for the words and photos.

LGK and I camped just upstream of the "dripping garden" in November. Really nice area to set up base camp and explore. If you had enough food you could stay quite a while.

Keep it coming!
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Offline Robert

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2009, 11:45:49 AM »
Quote
Really nice area to set up base camp and explore. If you had enough food you could stay quite a while.


Agreed, you really have a lot of opportunities for hiking in that area. What's nice is that it is only a day to get there and then you don't have to lug a heavy pack with you. Another option would be to set up on the east side of Sugarloaf.

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Offline Robert

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2009, 12:12:49 PM »
That night was on the warm side for January. The low was probably in the 40's. This was the second night we skipped setting up the tent, a trend that continued to the next night.

If we had more time I would have liked to do some exploring. Just down past our campsite the drainage from the east side of the valley meets up with the one we came down. This is the drainage that Smoky Spring is in a few miles back upstream. At the junction there was water coming down from this drainage as well and the combined flow was moving along. About a couple hundred yards past the junction a black layer of rock forces the water over it creating a small series of waterfalls. 



That morning we got going just before 10. The skies were overcast as clouds had moved in overnight. It took us just a few minutes to get down to the waterfalls from where we camped. I knew from the map that the trail exited the wash on the right but I never saw the exit. So we climbed out and worked our way north and west until we spotted it. It looked like an old road and sure enough we later found an old rusted wheel.

The "road" sat on top of a flat ridge line and we tried following it but eventually we lost it when it approached  a wash. The trail climbs down into it just to the right of peak 2493 on the map but we were further to the north and ended up in the wash before the trail does. It gets a little confusing here as the route goes across the main wash and into another wash and then out just north of the 2493 pt. The road is visible in some of this and not at all in others. However, at one point there is a very clear marker indicating you are on the right path.



After leaving this last wash the trail climbs a short ridge and the road become visible again, but just for a while. The route is heading northwest and the ridge is flat so it is easy walking. We had lost the road again by the time we hit the big wash where the 2502 is on the map. But we were a little further north having lost the road and were forced to find our way up the big ridge without a trail.

Once at the top of the big ridge we found the road again. Let me just comment here that there were very few cairns along this entire route so you need to be confident of your ability to use a map and/or GPS. I had a few points plotted in my GPS that keep us going in the right direction and the 7.5 map. Up on top of the ridge the walking was tough with a lot of the "baby head" rocks, especially where the road was not evident.

View from top of ridge looking back into wash we climbed out of.

The route goes just to the west of point 2923 before entering the drainage system that head north to RMD. There are a few cairns in this section which is single track. We didn't see any more double track after leaving the ridge. Once in the drainage we continued to see some evidence of a trail where it went in and out of the wash but it wasn't easy to follow. After a while the valley opens up and we could see the Ross Maxwell Drive. It still was not the easiest of walking as there were lots of baby head rocks in the wash. It was 1:30 when we hit the road and a little ways down the road to our cache which was near a pullout.

Unfortunately the sun had burned off the clouds by the time we got to the road. We ate our lunch and refilled our food and water from the cache. A few cars drove by and one stopped and asked if we were OK. We planned for a dry camp and so packed up extra water and were on our way after an hour or so. We had to hike about a mile down the road before leaving it and it started to warm up.

This section of road was going northwest and where it takes a sharp left we exited the road and continued northwest until we hit Blue Creek. There was a steep bluff to descend into the wash and at this point it felt very warm as there was no breeze. We slogged on up the wash and took the left fork which angled back towards Bee Mountain. We hit a miniature version of the Banta Shut-in where we went through a narrow black rock canyon and after that we hit a narrow canyon made of tuff. I did see one boot print in this section . We had some good views of Kit Mountain as we got closer and closer.



When we got to where the wash angled west to Bee Mountain we headed north to drop into the drainage that winds around the north of the mountain. This area looked like it could be from another planet. There was almost no vegetation and the few rocks that were there looked out of place. It was easy walking but I wouldn't want to come through in a rain because it looked like the soil would be very sticky.
 
We stopped for the day in the main wash below Bee Mountain. I dropped my pack and headed up the wash that the spring is in and found it in about 5 minutes. The spring consisted of a few small pools and very little flow. That night was the warmest of the trip. However, about 11 pm it started to sprinkle and we got up and set up the tent. By the time we got it up the rain stopped and we got back into our bags and left the tent alone. Tom, who had his own tent, never heard the rain or us setting up our tent.


 
The next morning the skies were clear and we headed out at 10. We went up the wash past the spring. We noticed that someone had come through and cut down a lot of the vegetation with a saw. I asked later at the PJ on our way out and confirmed that it was part of a Tamarisk (salt cedar) eradication program. The wash was still pretty congested with vegetation and we headed up out of the wash on the left.
 
Once on top we could see Santa Elena to the west and the Chimneys with the Chisos in the background to the northeast. Looking back to the southeast we could just make out Mule Ears. We saw a couple of old fence posts and looking back into the wash there was a small cottonwood just up the wash from where we left it.

Looking back to spring and Bee Mountain


 
We headed towards the Chimneys and the walking was very easy. Flat with hardly any rocks to contend with. We kept angling towards the trail and eventually hit it. We reached the Chimneys around noon and stopped for lunch. After a 30 minute break we headed our and reached our vehicle by 2.
 
Then we had to go retrieve our two cache buckets. We then went to the Big Bend Motor Inn for showers which I will have to say are a step up from the showers at RGV. For $2 you get a long shower in a huge stall that is very clean. This will definitely be a place we return to. Afterward we drove over to the Starlight and had a few beers on the porch waiting for it to open. After dinner we went up to the Basin and spent the night in the campsite.



The next morning we went back to the lodge for breakfast and again there was no buffet and I got cold limp hash browns when ordering off the menu. We then said our good byes to Tom and headed home. All in all this was a great trip. We hiked 43 miles including some new routes and had fantastic weather.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2009, 05:02:51 PM by Robert »

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2009, 01:03:20 PM »
What a great trip report there,my man.....interesting to read. TUVM... :eusa_clap:
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline badknees

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2009, 08:11:25 PM »
Robert,

Do you have a waypoint for this spot?

Not all those who wander are lost.
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Offline billh

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2009, 06:59:50 AM »
I believe that's the same spot we hiked two, about two miles south of the Smokey Creek Mule Ears trail junction.Very pretty spot.

great trip report!

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Trip Report 19th-24th Basin to Chimneys
« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2009, 09:30:58 AM »
Robert,

Do you have a waypoint for this spot?



BK that spot is at the very top of the Smoky Creek quad. It is just above pt. 2946 where the spring is marked in the Smoky Creek drainage.
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