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Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018

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Offline congahead

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Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« on: February 17, 2018, 08:41:59 AM »
The seeds of this trip were planted during our pre-Christmas December 2017 trip to Big Bend where we spent a great week of day hiking. We did Pine Canyon (saw a bear!), Mariscal Canyon Rim, the South Rim, Grapevine Hills (at night!) and a quick trip into the Sauceda Ranger Station at BBRSP.

I hadn’t done an overnighter at the Bend since my Mesa de Anguila fail with my older son about a year ago. Mrs. Congahead had been on the DL because of foot surgeries, but was now ready to tackle some tougher routes. I was itching to spend the night in the desert again and expressed this desire to the Mrs. She asked, “Do you want to come back out here in February for your birthday and backpack?”

Three guesses what my answer was, and the first two don’t count.

We decided to use this trip to fine-tune our off-trail navigation skills using only map and compass.

We chose the Chimneys area because it was flat(ish), we could go off-trail the entire trip, and it has good handrails and landmarks in case our navigation skills weren’t up to snuff. Also importantly, it has lots of potential water sources, so we wouldn't have to carry as much as we usually do out here.

We planned what would end up being an absurdly ambitious ~13-mile route that we’d cover in three days/two nights. We’d start at the Chimneys trailhead and make a counterclockwise loop that would visit, in order, the following springs: Heading Out, Tule, North, South, Red Ass, Wright Pool, Pena, Dos, Tres, Bee, unnamed just south of Chimneys, and Chimneys. Some of those are on the USGS topo and some are not. Most are not named; I filled in the blanks with locations and names from Google Earth. Our intention was to inventory all of these springs and provide a useful, up-to-date water report here on BBC.

We left on a Friday and took I-10/US90 from Houston. Stopped at Dzuik’s Alsatian Meat Market in Castroville for sausage and turkey jerky for our trek. This is fast becoming a Big Bend tradition for us. Highly recommended.

Checked in at the Chisos Mining Company Motel and had dinner at La Kiva. The next morning we prepped our feet, grabbed the breakfast buffet at Big Bend Resort and were at PJ when it opened at 9. Second in line; obtained our permit quickly from a very friendly, helpful, and efficient ranger. Within an hour we’re at the Chimneys Trailhead.

First stop, Heading Out Spring, which is not on the USGS topo but is on Google Earth. It’s about two miles in a straight line. Got the bearing off the map, applied it in the field, picked our reference point, and we’re off.

I’ve trekked a little off-trail in BIBE, but not much. It’s striking how much more difficult it is than on-trail travel – not just physically, but mentally. You are continuously executing macro, medium, and micro navigation simultaneously and having to think constantly. Conversely, when walking on trails, someone else has already done all of the macro and medium-term navigation for you.

We zig-zagged our way to the area of Heading Out Spring in about 2.5 hours, having been thrown off-course a bit by the terrain. We drop our packs. I set off to find the spring; Mrs. sits on the bank of a wash to rest. I wandered around for about five minutes and found what I thought was likely the spring, and it was dry. I return to report my findings.

“Do you smell something burning,” she asks.

“Yes. Smells like plastic or rubber.”

We sit and rest for another 30 seconds or so. Then Mrs. Congahead leaps to her feet. There’s an ember in her right shoe, and smoke is rising from it.

“It’s me! I'm on fire!”



She grabs her water bottle and douses her shoe, then sits down and rips off her shoe and sock.

There’s a hole in the side of her right shoe where the ember had burned almost completely through it. We go through her pack to see if any potential ignition source – iPhone battery, fuel canister, etc. – was the culprit. Everything’s in order. We examine her shoe again and finally develop a theory.

The gaiter she’s wearing has a metal grommet on the bottom right where the fire started. She had managed to sit still, in just the right position, for just long enough, in the blazing sun, for the grommet to get hot enough to ignite her shoe. I’m not sure what the odds are of that happening to anyone else ever again.

She rests for a bit – gaiters off – to let subside the adrenaline surge caused by her spontaneous combustion.



Okay, we’re 0-for-1 on springs. Next stop, Tule, a little over a mile away. We follow our pre-planned route almost to a tee, using nothing but map and compass. We arrive in about half an hour. We spend some time there knocking about the old ranching ruins. LOTS of water at Tule. We don’t gather any because we still have plenty and there are a lot more springs to go.

Next stop, North Spring, 1.5 miles away. We’ll hit North, South, and Red Ass, gather whatever water we need, and spend the night in the vicinity of Red Ass. Or so we think.

Along the way, the temps really pick up. Temperatures would top out at 82°F today, despite a forecast in the 70s.

We again follow the bearing to our next destination like a couple of pros. In the distance we see a lone cottonwood standing tall; that’s where the spring is.

As we get closer, we run into some thick brush, so we veer right. More thick brush. Okay, let’s go left instead. More thick brush. The first route looked better; let’s go back to that and weave our way through it. Nope; too thick. Okay, let’s go left again. Okay, there’s no easy way toward the spring, so let’s just hack our way through all of this crap and see what happens. We fight our way through ocotillo and lotebush – my new least favorite Chihuahuan Desert plant – for about 30 minutes, snagging our clothes, hats, packs and skin the whole time. It is slow, frustrating, and occasionally painful. There’s a wash up there – if we can just get into it, I bet it’ll be smooth sailing. We fight our way into the wash. I fall once getting into the wash. Mrs. falls twice. The second time she falls, I am holding her so she won’t fall.

We finally make it into the wash. It is impenetrable in both directions. And the other side of it is a 12 foot, 60 degree wall of loose dirt and gravel. So the only way out is the way we came in. So we fight our way back out of it for another 30 minutes.

We finally make it to a small clearing. We are beat up, exhausted, and bloody. Bruises, scrapes, puncture wounds all over us.

Mrs. Congahead looks at me and says matter-of-factly, “Happy birthday.”

One thing we are very good at is calling an audible when we’re not having fun; the last hour had been anything but. And if North Spring is inaccessible without a machete and full body armor, what about South and Red Ass? And the others? So we decide on Plan B – find the nearest wash, walk east a bit, traversing known terrain, and find a place to camp. Then we’ll decide what to do. Using the topo and compass we quickly find and drop into the nearest wash. We tend to the worst of our flora-induced wounds and rest for about half an hour in the first shade we’d found all day. Then we walk for another hour; at about 17:00 we find a nice wide spot in which to set up camp. After supper we watch the magnificent Big Bend star show and talk about tomorrow. Then, per usual, we sleep in 20-30 minute spurts for the next 11 hours.

The next morning I use my inReach to pull down a weather forecast for the night. Just yesterday, it was for 37°F, which we are prepared for, but I wanted to see if it had changed. Indeed it had. Forecast is now for overnight lows in the teens. We discuss for a bit and realize that we’re not prepared for those temps and we’ll likely be miserable. Our three-day/two-night just turned into a two-day/one night.

So we follow the wash east as far as we can then cut cross-country and are at the trailhead by 10:30. A quick trip to Castolon to grab a Mexican Coke, then out of the park via Old Maverick Road, stopping to check out Luna’s Jacal.

We had birthday/Valentine’s reservations at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, so we call and move them up one night. We’ve eaten at the Gage several times but had never stayed there until this trip. Nice, although a bit pricey. Have a great meal at the 12 Gage. The overnight low of 11°F (!) validates our decision to bail a night early, without any guilt or remorse.

So while we didn’t come close to completing our planned route, this trip was still a success. We spent time together in our favorite place, had lots of Type 2 fun, and really refined a skill we’d hoped to work on, staying off-trail the entire trek. I now feel very confident in my map and compass skills.

Below is a link to a map of our route. Green is our planned route; red and blue are day one and day two, respectively. We ended up covering 11 miles in two days instead of 13 miles in three days as originally planned.

https://caltopo.com/m/MVEF
« Last Edit: February 18, 2018, 10:30:23 AM by congahead »
"The animals here will generally try to avoid you, but the plants will hurt you every chance they get."

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Offline Jalco

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2018, 10:08:57 AM »
Great trip report.  Mrs. Conga is a trooper!

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2018, 01:02:10 PM »
Congahead, I'm sitting in my living room with both my kids talking to me at once and my wife debriefing me on her terrible week, and me trying to read this report amid the chaos. I've only gotten through the first few paragraphs so far, but I had to stop and respond immediately:

I hope you write many, many, many more reports.  They don't get any more fun than this.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Quatro

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2018, 02:04:24 PM »
Yes, very nice report.  "It's me.  I'm on fire." is just a great line.  I'm not sure if Ms. Congahead is a board member.  If not, I'd suggest Girl on Fire would be a great user name.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro - HST

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2018, 02:08:48 PM »
Yes, very nice report.  "It's me.  I'm on fire." is just a great line.  I'm not sure if Ms. Congahead is a board member.  If not, I'd suggest Girl on Fire would be a great user name.

 :icon_lol: +1
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2018, 02:09:37 PM »
1. You and Mrs. Congahead should present a "Successful Marriage Seminar".
2. There is wry funny, slapstick funny, clever funny, acerbic funny....and, in your case, beautiful funny.
3. That was a very ambitious trip for so many reasons, no shame in not completing it. I love the way you contextualized it. You guys have a magnificent attitude.
4. This is the weirdest backpacking story I've ever heard.


There’s a hole in the side of her right shoe where the ember had burned almost completely through it. We go through her pack to see if any potential ignition source – iPhone battery, fuel canister, etc. – was the culprit. Everything’s in order. We examine her shoe again and finally develop a theory.

The gaiter she’s wearing has a metal grommet on the bottom right where the fire started. She had managed to sit still, in just the right position, for just long enough, in the blazing sun, for the grommet to get hot enough to ignite her shoe. I’m not sure what the odds are of that happening to anyone else ever again.


Looking forward to the next trip and the next trip report.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2018, 05:09:58 PM »
Great report and I love the proposed route and plan but I think you made a good call.  Those springs will still be there and I loved the fact that you were doing it partly to give us a report.  Learning confidence in off trail travel is worth a lot and practice is the only way to perfect it, this was great practice!  Thanks

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temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
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Offline congahead

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2018, 06:45:55 AM »
Glad you folks enjoyed reading it ... I enjoyed writing it! In fact, parts of it were more fun to write about than to experience! :-\
"The animals here will generally try to avoid you, but the plants will hurt you every chance they get."

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Offline nuggetf5

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2018, 08:42:36 AM »
Thanks for the report. Great trip.

I've been watching for a water report on Pena Spring but haven't seen anything in awhile. Maybe I missed it but did you pass by it? My sense is it's reasonably reliable but I'll carry enough it won't matter for just an overnighter. I know you can do this all in a day but I wanted to get to Maverick Road and turn around and spend plenty of time exploring and just enjoying myself. Hoping to get back in late March or April. Anyone with info on Pena and how to find it? I've heard it's not terribly difficult to find and don't anticipate a problem but the reports on it are few and far between.
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Offline congahead

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2018, 10:29:30 AM »


I've been watching for a water report on Pena Spring but haven't seen anything in awhile. Maybe I missed it but did you pass by it?

No, Pena Spring was on the itinerary, but we never reached it.
"The animals here will generally try to avoid you, but the plants will hurt you every chance they get."

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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2018, 12:22:35 PM »
The next morning I use my inReach to pull down a weather forecast for the night. Just yesterday, it was for 37°F, which we are prepared for, but I wanted to see if it had changed. Indeed it had. Forecast is now for overnight lows in the teens. We discuss for a bit and realize that we’re not prepared for those temps and we’ll likely be miserable. Our three-day/two-night just turned into a two-day/one night.
https://caltopo.com/m/MVEF

Score one for the inReach.
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

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2018, 12:48:42 PM »
The next morning I use my inReach to pull down a weather forecast for the night. Just yesterday, it was for 37°F, which we are prepared for, but I wanted to see if it had changed. Indeed it had. Forecast is now for overnight lows in the teens. We discuss for a bit and realize that we’re not prepared for those temps and we’ll likely be miserable. Our three-day/two-night just turned into a two-day/one night.
https://caltopo.com/m/MVEF

Score one for the inReach.

+1.  I don’t use one, but I think it’s value-added features are significant. Anyone thinking of buying PLB should take a close look at the inReach.


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

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Offline fartymarty

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #12 on: February 18, 2018, 03:30:58 PM »
Great trip report.  Mrs. Conga is a trooper!
Seconded! ..on both counts.

We are beat up, exhausted, and bloody. Bruises, scrapes, puncture wounds all over us.
Mrs. Congahead looks at me and says matter-of-factly, “Happy birthday.

Not only a trooper, she's funny too!  :icon_lol: :icon_lol: :icon_lol:
Fort Worth

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Offline congahead

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2018, 08:48:53 PM »


+1.  I don’t use one, but I think it’s value-added features are significant. Anyone thinking of buying PLB should take a close look at the inReach.

[/quote]

I highly recommend it. A couple of years ago I pulled down a weather report while backpacking through the Canyonlands Needles district. It let me know that a rainstorm was heading our way one day earlier than expected. So we altered our route to avoid hiking over steep slick rock in the rain, which would have been really dangerous.

And during last year's MdA failure, when we had to bail a day early (gee, I'm sensing a theme in my treks), I used it to contact my wife and ask her to call the Chisos Mining Company Motel and move our reservation up a night. She did and confirmed it with me via the inReach before we even got off the mesa.

I also use it to check in nightly with the home base (usually my wife or my sons, depending on who I'm trekking with) just to let them know I'm still alive. Not sure how much value my sons find in it, but I know Mrs. Congahead appreciates getting these updates when she's home and I'm backpacking.

My older son also does lots of solo paddling trips through the Everglades and elsewhere. We bought him his own unit a few years ago, mainly for our own peace of mind. He checks in every night when he's on one of his paddles. We bought him the Explorer, which also has the functionality of a handheld GPS unit. Comes in handy on the featureless terrain (e.g., water) where he often travels. I have the SE, which does not have the GPS functionality. (I use the Gaia GPS app on my smartphone when I need GPS, but mostly just use map and compass.)
"The animals here will generally try to avoid you, but the plants will hurt you every chance they get."

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Trip Report – The Chimneys – Feb. 10-11, 2018
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2018, 11:53:38 AM »

+1.  I don’t use one, but I think its value-added features are significant. Anyone thinking of buying PLB should take a close look at the inReach.


I highly recommend it. A couple of years ago I pulled down a weather report while backpacking through the Canyonlands Needles district. It let me know that a rainstorm was heading our way one day earlier than expected. So we altered our route to avoid hiking over steep slick rock in the rain, which would have been really dangerous.

And during last year's MdA failure, when we had to bail a day early (gee, I'm sensing a theme in my treks), I used it to contact my wife and ask her to call the Chisos Mining Company Motel and move our reservation up a night. She did and confirmed it with me via the inReach before we even got off the mesa.

I also use it to check in nightly with the home base (usually my wife or my sons, depending on who I'm trekking with) just to let them know I'm still alive. Not sure how much value my sons find in it, but I know Mrs. Congahead appreciates getting these updates when she's home and I'm backpacking.

My older son also does lots of solo paddling trips through the Everglades and elsewhere. We bought him his own unit a few years ago, mainly for our own peace of mind. He checks in every night when he's on one of his paddles. We bought him the Explorer, which also has the functionality of a handheld GPS unit. Comes in handy on the featureless terrain (e.g., water) where he often travels. I have the SE, which does not have the GPS functionality. (I use the Gaia GPS app on my smartphone when I need GPS, but mostly just use map and compass.)

Excellent examples, Congahead!  Accurate weather updates, alone, are a game-changer. I certainly could have benefited from them many a time, and in certain circumstances they could be lifesavers. Another advantage of the inReach we've discussed here on BBC is its ability to communicate specifics of an emergency. For example: specific location descriptions that can often be more helpful than GPS coordinates, especially if one's GPS unit is having trouble perfectly locking onto satellites; or details on injuries and mobility status; or observations of criminal activity.

I use an old McMurdo FastFind which is simply a PLB emergency beacon. Activating it sends a signal directly to federal authorities and they take it from there. It also produces a local homing beacon and a flashing light. It's not necessarily the best unit now available, but it's competitively compact and light, extremely reliable, and produces a very accurate fix. However, unlike the inReach, it gives me absolutely no ability to interact with the internet or send/receive text. On the plus side, it requires no subscriptions or additional costs. I'm too cheap to replace it while it still works, but someday I may.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

 


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