Monday, May 12, 2008

Big Bend: Chisos Basin to Visitors Center

Finally a decent night's sleep. I definitely got at least a 5 hour stretch of shut eye and it felt great. I think the previous to nights I had some heat exhaustion and all the hydrating and rest along with the lower temperatures up here in the basin really helped me.

We hit the trail with our headlamps on our heads again. About 1 mile into the hike at 7:00am, Patrick and I split. Patrick was headed down the hill and I took a detour to attack Emory Peak. I was able to drop my pack in the bear box at the trailhead. With 1000ft to climb over 1 mile I had a challenge ahead of me. I hit it hard and was able to really push myself now that I was hiking solo and without a pack. I finally touched the benchmark at the peak at 7:40am and sat down to enjoy the first rays of light that hit the peak (haze and low clouds on the horizon delayed the sunrise). The last little bit of this trail was closer to rock climbing than hiking. The view, of course, was spectacular. The privacy allowed for some quite reflection. My heart turned to prayer and I felt so grateful for the beauty of our earth.

I was back at my pack at 8:05am (I pretty much bounced down the hill). I took off in hopes of closing the gap with Patrick since he was slowed by blisters on his heels. The way down was via the Pinnacles trail and the constant down wore my legs out. I still averaged around 3 miels an hour though and I was out by 9:15am. After chugging some Gatorade, I noticed a note that Michel had left on the front seat of the car. He had rented a room at the motel.... that meant shower! I met up with Patrick and Michel, rushed through a shower, and was still able to catch a biscuits and gravy breakfast before the restaurant closed at 10:00. Over breakfast, we learned that Michel had had a hard time hitching a ride and he ended up hiking back up the Blue Creek Trail and down the Laguna Meadow trail on that second day. Yikes! It was good to see that he had made it safely.

We hit the road by 11:00amd, fulfilled the burger craving in Ft. Stockton and made it back into Austin around 7:30pm after stopping for dinner in Dripping Springs.

All in all a great trip even though it was painfully obvious how out of shape I have gotten myself. It was my second time hiking in West Texas. Out here the hardest part is all the water you have to either carry or cache. This time I covered ~40 miles. I am glad I made it to Big Bend before I left Texas. Although it was beautiful, I have to admit, I prefer the thick canopies of the Appalachians and pine forests of the Northern Rockies to the dry desert. It also served as an excellent training hike for the Grand Canyon next month. I fully expect that hike to be easier than what we just finished.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Big Bend: Juniper Canyon to Chisos Basin

What a great day! After 2 hard days, this one made it all worth it.

Patrick and I woke up @ 5:00am, broke camp and made it on the trail by 5:45. That was such a relief after getting out so late yesterday. We hiked the first hour or so with headlamps but were soon able to take them off. After a few miles of hiking up the canyon wash, we finally started the 3000ft ascent. As the morning went on I felt stronger and stronger. I had made a point to hydrate as much as possible last night and it seems to have had a positive effect. On the downside, I never slept more than a 45 min stint last night. This bout with insomnia really got annoying last night. I ended up snoozing the best laying outside on my sleeping pad and taking in the stars. Anyway, none of that effected this morning's climb. There was a beautiful cool breeze and our decision to hike early really paid off. By 9:00 we had finished more than half of the climb. Along the way we ran into a number of critters (including people for the first time since the Dodson trailhead) including deer, a black squirrel, and a rattlesnake!

We finally reached camp by 11:00am. After setting up camp and resting for a bit, we headed over to retrieve our water cache (2 mile round trip) since we both had just run out... good timing.

This campsite and basin is beautiful and is especially so in contrast to the desert we spend all yesterday in. We see deer every hour or so. There are big trees providing shade and the temperatures are far cooler. Needless to say, I am much more comfortable.

After lunch and a few hours of rest (to avoid the early afternoon sun) we headed over to the South Rim. SPECTACULAR! That view alone made the whole trip worth it. You could see well into Mexico and the huge mountains that are just across the Rio Grande. I could have spent all day sitting there and soaking it in.

Tomorrow is our last day. We have a 4.5 mile hike to our car and I am going to take on a 2 mile (roundtrip) hike up Emory Peak. So we should be out by noon. The plan then is to shower in Marathon and a Triple Hunger Buster at DQ in Ft. Stockton..... ahhhh yeah!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Big Bend: Homer Ranch to Juniper Canyon

I had a pretty fitful night sleep last night. I felt like I was radiating warmth until well after midnight and this kept me more or less awake. Finally around 2:30am I think I fell asleep. The late sleep time correlated well with the late wake-up time..... 6:30am. I apparently just ignored the 6:00 alarm. No matter. I was still packed up by 7:15. Since we still needed to pick up our cached water, I left early to make two trips to the bear box and bring the water down to the ranch (then a 3rd trip to get a waypoint.... oops! I forgot my GPS in my pack the first two trips). After filling up my own water and getting ready to go I waited a little while for Michel and Patrick to arrive but I was expecting them to come a little late because Michel's tent was still up when I left camp.

We finally got started on the Dodson Trail at 8:20. Unfortunately, a little too late to avoid much of the heat of the sun. About 1.5 miles in, Michel decided to throw in the towel. It turned out to be a really good choice but Patrick and I were still sad to see him leave. He will be hiking to the road at Homer Ranch and then plans to hitchhike to the car.

I say is was good that Michel left because today was much hotter, drier and harder than we had expected. Patrick and I averaged around 1 mile/hour (including breaks and lunch). We took frequent breaks (every 45 min or 1-1.5 miles). It was hard to find shade but when we did we would throw down our packs and catch some rest. The hope was to keep the body temperature down and prevent exhaustion. In the end we were exhausted anyway but we made it at 6:00pm. The first thing we did was lay down and try to get our body temperatures to normal.

During the hike we saw a dead skunk, a snake (pink/orange body and about 5 feet long), and believe it or not... about 4 white tailed deer near Dodson Spring. The highlight was easily the Fresno Creek (near Elephant Tusk trailhead). We were lucky to find a trickling stream of water. We sought out pools to cool ourselves off by dipping our clothes in it and we even collected some water. The was the recharge we needed and I worry what the afternoon would have been like without that oasis.


The Dodson Trail was easily the most desolate, rugged 10 miles I have ever walked. It is amazing that anything lives out there!

Tonight we are camping in Juniper Canyon 2 campground (technically a car campsite). We plan on getting up early to hit the trail before 6:00am. Tomorrow is a 8.5 miles (3200ft) hike up the Juniper Canyon Trail.

I thought about Soren and Sy today because I saw the moon and remembered last week how Soren kept asking me to sing him a song about the moon. I don't know any songs about the moon! After telling him that a few times, Sy came in the room and made one up on the spot! Impressive. He one up-ed his Dad!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Big Bend: Chisos Basin Visitors Center to Homer Ranch

What a day! Once again, I am beat! We woke up at 6:30 in the Marathon Motel & RV Park camping site, packed up, and were on the road by 7:30. The drive to Big Bend from there was ~65 miles and it punctuated how remote and desolate this national park is. I saw a bunch more animals during the drive (vultures, rabbits, and a couple of falcons/hawks)... This time I think I made road kill though. The vulture just wouldn't get out of the way in time and I definitely hit part of him as he flew away.

We finally reached park headquarters around 9:00 and got our backcountry pass. Then we went to go buy water (Michel had an allergic reaction to the plastic that held the water he had brought). Next it was over to Homer Ranch where we hauled 6 1/2 gallons of water to the bear box for a pick up the next day. Time to back track! We finally reached the Chisos Basin Visitors Center around 11:45 and after a pack check (mine turned out to be the heaviest) we were off.

Starting out this time of day turned out to be a real challenge. It was hot (high 90's) and we were all just getting our legs beneath us. The first leg was a 3.3 mile climb up 1500ft to Laguna Meadow. After reaching it around 2:30 we ate lunch, then went up to the Colima Trail intersection to leave water for Sunday (.8 miles each way). Believe me, I was glad to get rid of that water! I had been carrying a 1.5-2 gallon bladder up the Laguna Meadow Trail and it had really taken a toll on me. I was getting pretty light headed and winded. Slowing my pace seemed the best way to help this. After taking care of the water logisitics, we headed down the Blue Creek Trail (a 5.5 mile trail to Homer Ranch).

At this point, I should probably pause to talk about an important development. We had budgeted 1 gallon water/person/day. Michel drank a little more than 2 today! Not a problem for today but this is going to a be a real concern for the next two. Patrick, Michel and I have already had a few debates about how he could ration himself or drink less of the OJ he brought (it might be making him more thirsty) or stop chugging water..... but it has been to no avail. Michel is concerned his body is still dehydrating and thirsty despite the amount he has already drunk. This puts us in a difficult logistical spot since he is drinking twice the water we have brought for him. In the end, I volunteered to give up 1/2 gallon of my next days 2 gallons. This will be hard for me but the alternative is to pack out the way we came tomorrow. I am not excited about that! Anyway, this is part of the learning that happens when you head out with new companions.


The Blue Creek Trail was very nice. For a long while it followed the dried up river bed occasionally ducking beneath huge trees completely out of place in this desert. Eventually we came to a narrow canyon that was almost like a very mini Bryce Canyon. There were a bunch of balanced rocks and other cool formations formed by the water's erosion.

By the time we came out of that canyon, all 3 of us were wasted.... it had been ~10 miles of hiking in hot, dry weather and we picked up a back country campsite at 7:30pm (1/2 mile shy of Homer Ranch). I think I got a little sunburned today.... I am writing at 9:20pm and my face is still radiating heat. I applied SPF 30 twice but it looks like I may need more tomorrow.

Tomorrow's goal is Juniper 11 mile hike from here along the Dodson Trail. We will pass an intermittent water source at Dodson Spring (around mile 6). For Michel's sake, I hope there is water there! Good night. I am beat... typical day 1 on the trail.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Big Bend: Austin, TX to Marathon, TX

Headed back to the trail!..... finally! After waiting a few weeks/month, I am finally on my way back to the mountains. Today I left work @ 4:00pm and met Patrick Webb and Michel Azarian (NI employees) in the parking lot. We threw our gear in the car and took off.

I only wish getting out of Austin had been easier. We hoped to have left early enough to miss the traffic but unfortunately we soon found ourselves stuck on southbound Mopac in heavy traffic. It took us just over 2 hours to make it to Fredricksburg where we stopped for dinner at the local DQ. The rest of the drive was smooth though. Conversation bounced between work topics, impressions about NI, life goals, etc... Mostly we are all just excited to hit the trail tomorrow morning. We have stopped to camp in Marathon, TX about 60 miles north of the park entrance. Tomorrow morning we will finish the drive and hit the trail.

On the drive (particularly between Ft. Stockton and Marathon) we saw dozens of jackrabbits, dozens of deer, 4 wild boar (havalenas?), and even a couple of porcupine. Luckily there were no fatalities! The sky is clear and packed with stars. I am loving this already.