Preparing for the 100-mile Extended Mountain Loop
It’s been a while, but I finally found the time to make it back out to Big Bend National Park. If you are interested in our first trip to Big Bend, you can follow along here Big Bend 2015. I headed out for the trip around 2 pm on December 2, 2018, for what I’ve termed the Extended Outer Mountain Loop, which was a 100-mile backpacking trip over 7 days. The plan was to meet up with my dad, Bmo, in the Chisos Mountains, cache water, and then start the adventure.
|Planned 7-day route for Big Bend National Park|
Big Bend National Park Background
Location: 310, Alsate Dr, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834
Admission: $25 admission per vehicle, $14 campsites, $12 backcountry pass
Elevation: 1,800 to 7,832 ft.
Weather: Varied from rainy, cloudy, and sunny, 30 to 65 F
The Drive Out
I didn’t get to leave as early as I would have liked because I needed to finish up some work, and once on the road, I made a quick stop in Comfort to grab some water for caching. After that, it was almost 6 hours of driving, and by the time I made it to West Texas, it was extremely dark. Thankfully, I didn’t have any run-ins with wildlife. I quickly found Bmo in the Chisos Basin and his primo campsite. It was pretty chilly when I arrived, and we walked for a bit as I set up my tent. Because it was cold, late, and dark, we headed to bed pretty quickly after I arrived. This was also the first real night in my UGQ quilt, and it worked perfectly.
We had a quick breakfast and decided to place the caches at the hardest locations first while there was still sun out; however, we realized we’d spent the night in a stolen campsite, so we quickly found a new site for our basecamp and moved. Finally on the road, the first stop was down Juniper Canyon Road to cache at the Dodson Trailhead. It was a rough and slow ride at times in our truck, and we made it just fine without 4 wheel drive. After that, we headed out to the south end of Black Gap Road to cache at the Elephant Tusk Campsite. Black Gap is the most difficult/technical road in the park, but the southern section is passable with a high clearance vehicle. We wanted to make sure we could make it before we reserved that site, and we were able to make it to Elephant Tusk with a few scrapes to the truck’s undercarriage.
Finally, we headed back by the River Road to the main road in order cache at Homer Wilson Ranch. We made a quick stop at the Panther Junction Ranger Station so we could get our backcountry passes for the next few days. At first, the ranger thought I was just some gung-ho kid that, but I slowly explained my trip and how I would be supported by Bmo which calmed her down. With our passes in hand, we were back on the road heading towards Homer Wilson, which has a bear box just off of the Dodson and Blue Creek Trail intersection. Our last stop of the day was Mule Ears Overlook. There is no cache site there, but you can cache water anywhere in Big Bend as long as you have a bear canister and pack everything out. So I left some water hidden on Mule Ears Trail.
Our last stop before heading back was the Sotol Vista Overlook, which we took in a terrific sunset. Returning to the basin, Bmo cooked some amazing dinner while I packed up my gear. I’d decided to sleep in my car, so I could have everything packed up, and I could roll out with no fuss. I am notoriously bad at breaking camp, and I wanted to hit the trail as early as possible.
Backpacking Day 1
The day of the big adventure! I woke up, had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, woke Bmo up, changed, and finished all my last minute packing and reorganizing. I left my car at the overflow parking lot in the basin, and Bmo drove me to the trailhead. At the trailhead, I wasted no time and hit the ground moving. My pack was loaded up with 7 days worth of food and was definitely the heaviest I’ve ever carried it while backpacking. Because of the weight, I was using my REI trekking poles to help distribute the weight across my body.
As I started my hike, I reminisced about our trip 2 years ago and wished Jack had been able to make it on this trip. I took Pinnacles Trail and saw many of the same sights as before, but this time there were no clouds. I was able to take a few short stops to admire the views because the visibility was high. Ultimately, I made good time to Emory peak, where I spent a little time talking to a group before my stashing gear and heading up.
Once on the Emory Peak Trail, I immediately turned a corner and found a black bear 50 ft away. It was an intense moment as it turned to look at me. I fumbled to take a few horrible quick pics, and then beat my trekking poles together which successfully scared the bear away. Trekking on, the view from Emory was fabulous with no clouds, and I had the peak to myself for about 20 minutes; however, a guy caught me peeing just before summiting which was momentairily awkward.
|Enjoying the bright sun and amazing views from Emory Peak|
I quickly made it to my stashed gear. It was so nice taking my load off, but I needed to back after it. Next, I headed to Boot springs to refill my water. The spring was flowing nicely, and there was even water in the creek next to it. I made it to the turnoff to Juniper Canyon which lead me to another climb up and then a ton of switchbacks down. I never want to head up Juniper Canyon because the elevation profile is insane. On the way down I was starting to feel the fatigue with all the extra weight I was carrying but struggled onward. As I made it out of the switchbacks, I was able to have a much better appreciation of the landscape as I had made much better time and the sun was still up.
|Looking out over Boot Canyon. If you look carefully, you can see Boot Rock, which looks kinda like a boot|
Finally, making it to the Dodson trailhead and my water cache, I found the group I chatted with at Emory. They were set up in the parking lot and were busy cooking dinner. We talked a little bit about our plans, and they asked me what to expect on the Dodson while I filled up my water from the cache. I headed out again as I’m no stranger to night hiking, and I wanted to be as close to Elephant Tusk Trail as I could get. As the sun set and it was a new moon, I quickly realized that my headlamp was acting weird and shorting out.
I ended up stopping early because of headlamps issues caused by high capacity batteries. Normally, these work great and keep devices running longer (my handheld GPS), but they just didn’t play well with my headlamp. I set up camp in a hurry, made dinner, and fell asleep quickly from a hard day’s hike.
That’s it for the first few days of the trip, so make sure you come back to hear the rest. Also, Let us know your favorite or ideal place to take an epic backpacking trip. And If you like the blog or our videos, check us out on Patreon.
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