Trip Report: Big Bend Round 2 – Day 2

Rugged Trail Through the Canyons

As I’ve said before, I’m notoriously bad for breaking camp in the morning and ended up getting a slow start. As I was haphazardly packing up camp, I saw the group from the Dodson Trailhead in the distance. This got me to kick it into high gear in an attempt to start walking before the group was able to spot me. I was quick enough to avoid detection, but eventually, the group caught up to me. The group ended up breaking into 2 groups, and we leapfrogged each other a few times before making it to Dodson Spring.

Sunrise
An amazing sunrise in Big Bend


At the spring, we talked for a bit, and they asked me a few more questions about what to expect. I ended up heading out before them, and we met a few minutes later at Fresno Creek where everyone took a break and filtered water. During my break, I wandered around a bit, which led me on a walk down Fresno Creek. I found a little canyon with some fast flowing water, and I took a few pics before heading out again.


After hiking for a bit and over a vast climb, I found the turnoff for Elephant Tusk Trail. The sign kind of points you in the wrong direction if you follow the actual direction of the arrow. It took me a minute to get my bearings as I had to explore the area to find any trace of the trail. Ultimately, I located elephant Tusk Trail and started on my way, but just like the ranger said, Elephant Tusk was not maintained and ended up being extremely difficult to follow at times.

elephant tusk
Looking at Elephant Tusk in the distance


Frequently, I couldn’t find the actual trail, so I had to just do my best to head in the direction I thought was where the trail went. This led me to just hard-charge through the brush and up steep hills. There were also multiple times when I’m sure I was supposed to be on switchbacks. Since I couldn’t find any switchbacks, I just went up and down where it felt right (where there was less brush). Eventually, I made it down into the canyons where my tired legs were hoping everything would become easier, and it mostly was. There was plenty of water flowing, which was so peaceful and relaxing to listen to, and the canyon walls amplified the sound of flowing water. However, all that water made it so much harder to traverse the canyon at times.

6 foot pour off
One of the smaller pouroffs I had to maneuver around


The canyons took me through some interesting terrain where I had to fight through trees, vines, cane, tall grass, and bushes at narrow choke points all while dodging water. And I swear almost every plant in Big Bend has thorns, needles, or prickers just waiting to rip you up. After some time of heading south, The trail takes you by a colossal pouroff. It had to have been at least 50 feet tall. Thankfully, there is an easy way around, and I scrambled down to continue my adventure.


narrow canyon
One of the narrow points in the canyon


Another interesting section of the canyon leads you down a narrow passage, and of course, there was plenty of water. I scrambled down that section successfully and managed to stay dry. A little further and I had Slide down an 8-foot pouroff that ended in a 5-foot deep pool with a large sand mound in the middle. I tried to walk across the sandbar and just sank into the muck. I repeatedly said “no, no, no” as I dredged through the muck to the safety of dry land. This ended up being a significant delay as I had to take a break to clean sand off of my lower body, socks, and shoes. I was not about to risk getting blisters from wrinkly wet feet and sand friction!

tarantula
Just a tarantula hanging out

As I neared the end of my time in the canyons, I discovered a narrow point with a boulder wedged in overhead, I decided scrambling down was not worth the effort. After a short break to assess my options, I realized I missed the trail. I climbed up about 30 feet of the canyon wall to a ledge. From this vantage point, I decided I couldn’t get up the 300-foot walls to get out and would need to backtrack. To make matters worse, my headphones went missing on the climb down.


The Basin from elephant tusk
Looking back at the Basin near Elephant Tusk


I Backtracked less than a mile and found a way out, but night set in quickly after I escaped the canyon. To complicate matters, It was a new moon and ended up being extremely dark. Because I couldn’t see much even using my light, I had to rely heavily on GPS to navigate. This resulted in me taking a unique path that I wouldn’t recommend. The path I took was not even slightly close to the actual trail, so I spent at least an hour walking before finally making it back to where I needed to be.

Belatedly back on the trail, I made it out of the canyon section and into more of a scrubland area. It felt like I was flying with how fast I was moving compared to scrambling around the steep canyon walls in the dark. This area had a trail that was moderately followable with plenty of cairns to mark the way. This all helped me navigate without needing GPS and eased my comfort level. As I crested a hill at one point in the flat area, my light hit a bush just right, and I thought I saw a man crouching down behind it. It spooked me for a second, and after I realized my mistake, I kept moving. Eventually, my GPS indicated the trail was coming to an end. I got overexcited looking for BMO and possible lights that I got off trail again. I had to fight through some thick brush and ended up adding to my collection of scratches before making it out to Back Gap Road.

Finishing up Elephant Tusk trail near Black Gap Road
Finishing up Elephant Tusk trail near Black Gap Road


I quickly found Elephant Tusk Campsite, but BMO was nowhere to be seen. At first, I was extremely disappointed he wasn’t there to provide a hot, cooked meal. Then I was worried he thought I was late and went to get help, so I started cooking dinner and waited. After an hour, with no one in sight, I began to worry that he was in trouble or hurt. I ended up quickly making camp and prepared a plan to get as much water as I could carry before and the quickest route to hike to the Ranger Station.

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