The Hike Down

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5.6, 1/600 sec, ISO200
“The Boot” Big Bend, 2020

Today I broke camp and headed down Colima Trail to the Boot Canyon Trail. I decided to return to the Chisos Basin via the Pinnacles Trail, which is the same trail we hiked in January, but just in the opposite direction.

Pinnacles Trail is pretty steep towards the top, with some fairly large steps. I remember when we hiked up it, my thighs were burning since we were carrying all of our water. I think my pack weighed 43 lbs (19.5 kg). This time, I was traveling down (a trekking pole is very helpful) with a lighter pack (32 lbs / 14.5 kg) since I drank almost all my water and I was thoroughly enjoying it. Ideally, you want to finish your hike with no water left in order to minimize weight, and I did pretty good in that I ended up back at the car with .5 liters remaining.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO200
“Trailheads” Big Bend, 2020

On the way down, I passed a lot of hikers going up the hill, and a bunch of them were really suffering. I could fully empathize with them! On the first day, your pack will be the heaviest, but at least your legs are fresh. Anyways, I encouraged those hikers who looked most exhausted and kept on descending into the Chisos Basin. The trail went by quickly and after just ~2 hours I was back at the car.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5.6, 1/200 sec, ISO200
“Casa Grande” Big Bend, 2020

I really enjoy solo camping, and solo travel in general, and this trip to Big Bend National Park was a relatively safe way to satisfy my wanderlust during this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m so glad I went!

Relaxing Day Hiking in the Chisos Mountains

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/8, 1/400 sec, ISO200
“East Rim Trail” Big Bend, 2020

I woke up today looking forward to a relaxing hike around the East and South Rims of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. Compared to yesterday, my pack would be very light because I only would need to carry today’s water (not even tonight’s!) and also since I was staying at the same campsite again, I could leave my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and camp clothes in the bear box. The only thing I left set up at the campsite was the tent stakes which I didn’t think critters would mess with.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/4, 1/40 sec, ISO800
“Colima 2 Campsite” Big Bend, 2020

First, it was time for a bit of breakfast. I brought a Mountain House Breakfast Skillet for my morning meal, but I wasn’t very hungry, so I just had trail mix. But I was really excited to try out my new GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip coffee filter. Instant coffee is okay in a pinch, but real ground coffee beans are way better, and this lightweight filter makes fresh coffee on the trail super easy to prepare. It folds flat too, which makes it easy to store underneath the fuel cannister in my cooking pot. I ground some beans at home and put them in a Ziploc bag and my food bag smelled so good!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/4, 1/20 sec, ISO800
“Real Coffee” Big Bend, 2020

After breakfast, I packed the bear box with my excess gear and water, then hit the trail.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5, 1/90 sec, ISO200
“Bear Box” Big Bend, 2020

Last January, my buddy and I stayed one night on the East Rim at ER2 campsite, and the views from the rim were spectacular! But at that time of year, a large section of the East and South Rim trails was off-limits in order to protect the Peregrine Falcons as they nested. So I was excited to take in the parts of the trail I missed, and the views were amazing! I pretty much knew they would be awesome, but was happy to have very clear conditions. The South Rim is highly regarded, but I think I prefer the East Rim, especially the views of Elephant Tusk and then out towards Boquillas Canyon in the far distance.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/11, 1/950 sec, ISO200
“East Rim View” Big Bend, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/8, 1/180 sec, ISO200
“Elephant Tusk” Big Bend, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/8, 1/600 sec, ISO200
“East Rim Trail” Big Bend, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/8, 1/550 sec, ISO200
“South Rim Trail” Big Bend, 2020

While taking a little snack break on the South Rim Trail, I decided to take a self-portrait, but I didn’t like any of the photos of myself, so here’s one of my back as I went to pose. 😀

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/8, 1/680 sec, ISO200
“Self Portrait” Big Bend, 2020

It was interesting seeing the other hikers on the trail. There’s a big difference between day-hikers and backpacking campers. While almost everyone on the trail is friendly, the day-hikers tend to just say hello, whereas the backpackers are happy to stop and have a conversation. I guess there’s a greater sense of community since you are generally dealing with the same challenges and it’s fun to share similar experiences. Also, I like to chat (masked and at a safe distance of course) with the folks who have camera gear since they are always happy to “talk shop”. Then there are the solo backpackers like me who might be feeling a little lonely and are in search of a bit of conversation. 😂

I’m pretty knowledgeable about the different types of backpacking and camping gear so I find it interesting to note the range of gear and experience of the hikers on the trail. One one end of the spectrum are the ultralight hikers, who sacrifice some of the luxury items in order to minimize pack-weight. I chatted with one woman who was on the final day of her 5-day excursion, and she was definitely going ultralight. Her pack was tiny! On the other end of the spectrum was a group of young men who were hiking with inexpensive (and large, heavy) big-box sleeping bags, a cooler, and cups hanging of the backs of their packs. In the middle of the spectrum were those backpackers like me, who have mid to light-weight gear and some more “luxury” items. And by luxury, I’m talking about things like Kindles, a camp chair, and an extra set of camp clothes. One thing we all have in common, though, is our love for hiking and the outdoors. Like the saying goes, “Hike your own hike!” It’s all good.

If you care to see what my pack consisted of, here’s the list over at LighterPack.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5.6, 1/125 sec, ISO640
“Tent” Big Bend, 2020

After returning to camp, I decided to have another cup of fresh coffee (I need my caffeine!) before setting up my tent again. That coffee filter is great. Well worth bringing! Then it was time to have dinner, which I decided was going to be the Mountain House Breakfast Skillet. Let me tell you, the Breakfast Skillet made for a delicious dinner. I have to say, it’s my favorite Mountain House meal so far, even beating out the Beef Stroganoff. Delicious!

I read my Kindle until the sun went down and then I climbed into my tent and fell asleep for a couple of hours before waking up to take a few night photos. The sky was incredible and I was able to see a couple of shooting stars from the Geminid Meteor Shower as I was lying in my sleeping bag. It was one of those really cool moments… this is what camping is all about!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 15 sec, ISO3200
“Camp at Night” Big Bend, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 15 sec, ISO3200
“Stars” Big Bend, 2020

Here’s my Strava from today’s hike.

Solo Trip to Big Bend National Park

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/8, 1/500 sec, ISO200
“Sana in Big Bend” Big Bend, 2020

Today I started a 3-day/2-night solo trip to Big Bend National Park. This is my fourth time to visit, and second time to backpack and camp in the Chisos Mountains. Because of the current pandemic, I plan on not stopping to visit any small towns except to fill up gas. In fact, with the online reservation system for campsites, you can now print your backcountry permit at home and go straight to the trailhead, which was what I planned.

I started my drive at 3:30 am which wasn’t a problem for me because I was so excited. I chose to leave so early for a couple of reasons: first, there is road construction happening in the park right now, and the road I need to use is open from 11 am – 1 pm, so I wanted to make that window; and secondly I wanted to start my hike to the campsite early so that I could take my time and not push myself too hard.

The drive east was unexpectedly very wet and rainy and the rain stopped as the sun rose which made for some really nice cloud formations. 😊 I really enjoyed the drive, listening to music and podcasts, and looking at the scenery. Lots of people think this stretch of highway is mind-numbingly boring, but I love it.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/4, 1/680 sec, ISO200
“Morning Clouds” West Texas, 2020

My timing worked out great, and I arrived at the park at around 11 am and was ready to hike at a little after noon. That would give me plenty of time to reach the Colima 2 campsite, where I would be staying for two nights. The hike in would be the toughest of the trip because I have to carry all my water in with me, and I calculated that 6.1 liters would be a good amount to take. But that amount of water is heavy: almost 13.5 lbs! Also, the hike is mostly uphill, with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet. But with the early start, I could take plenty of breaks and go slow.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/8, 1/160 sec, ISO200
“Fork in the Trail” Big Bend, 2020

The hike was tough but fun, and I really enjoyed myself. I saw several other hikers on the trail, and almost everyone masked up when passing. My route took me up the Laguna Meadows trail, which is the trail we hiked in the other direction on my previous trip. It’s also the more gentle trail up to the campsite – farther in distance, but the elevation gain is spread out making it less strenuous.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/16, 1/250 sec, ISO200
“High Chisos” Big Bend, 2020

I arrived at the campsite at 4 pm, which meant I hiked for about 3 hours and 45 minutes, including breaks. I had plenty of time to set up camp and relax a bit before making dinner and settling in for the night. As expected, I was exhausted, and as soon as it got dark and the stars came out, I was asleep. 😀 A good day!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/4, 1/100 sec, ISO320
“Arrival at the Campsite” Big Bend, 2020

Solo Camping at Pedernales Falls State Park

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/7.1, 1/125 sec, ISO250
“Campsite” Johnson City, 2020

I’ve been wanting to go for a solo camping trip ever since I watched the shows Yurukyan and Hitori Kyanpu de Kutte Neru, which both feature a lot of solo camping. Since I had Friday off, I checked the campsite availability at Pedernales Falls State Park and saw that they had one site open for Friday evening, so I quickly grabbed it and decided to go for my first solo overnight trip!

I actually have a few new items of camping gear I wanted to try out before I head out to Big Bend National Park next month so this would be the perfect opportunity. My original plan was to hike to the campsite, set up camp, then hike some more trails before calling it a day. The following morning, I would break camp, return to the car and then bike around the park.

While I was checking out the cycling opportunities at Pedernales Falls State Park, I found a few videos on YouTube that showed people cycling on the trail that leads up to the primitive campsites where I’d be staying. So then I thought, hey, why don’t I try bikepacking, and load all of the gear onto the bike and ride to the campsite? Most of my camping gear is compact and light which make it easy to pack onto the bike. Even my relatively bulky Nemo Switchback sleeping pad was easily strapped to the handlebars.

Photo info: motorola moto g(6), 3.95mm, f/1.8, 1/1400 sec, ISO100
“On the Trail” Johnson City, 2020

The campsite is actually only 2 miles or so from the parking lot which isn’t far at all, but I thought this was perfect, because if for some reason my bicycle broke or I got a flat, I could easily just push the bicycle to the campsite or back to the car. I haven’t ever fully loaded the panniers before, after all.

However, my worries were unfounded, because the bike performed great, even with road-oriented touring tires. I did have to push the bike once when I got off my line while going up a steep hill and lost forward momentum, but other than that, it was 30 minutes of non-stop fun, and so much easier than lugging a heavy backpack on my back.

Now that I know how my gear fits on the bike and how the bike performs, it opens up new possibilities for longer trips on the bicycle. Time to check the map!

Some of the new items of gear this trip are:

  • REI Quarter Dome SL1 Tent – Perfect size for me (I’m 5′ 6″). I can keep a good amount of gear inside the tent with me. At about 2.5 lbs including poles, stakes, and footprint, it’s half the weight of my 2-person Marmot Catalyst tent.
  • Soto Amicus Stove and Cookset – Boils water fast and it’s very compact. Even has a built-in igniter! The Soto pot and cup have a good width to match the flame size of the stove.
  • Aegismax Down Sleeping Bag – The temperature dropped to the low 50s (F), which I would say is the lower limit of this sleeping bag. Very small and light, so it would be great for warmer evenings.
  • REI Flexlite Air Camp Chair – At one pound, this is a really easy “luxury” item to bring along. After a long hike, a chair is so much better than sitting on the ground or a log.

All-in-all, everything worked out nicely, and I had a great time solo camping. It was a relaxing getaway, completely unplugged (no cell signal). Highly recommended!

Here are a few more photos from my solo camp excursion, including some from the hiking trail, an armadillo that I came across, and a few from the Bird Blind on the other side of the park. Enjoy!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/7.1, 1/400 sec, ISO200
“Wolf Mountain Trail” Johnson City, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/7.1, 1/60 sec, ISO800
“Armadillo” Johnson City, 2020

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Packed Up

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/5.6, 1/18 sec, ISO6400
“Packed Up” Cedar Park, 2020

I’m planning on camping (solo) overnight soon at Pedernales Falls State Park, so I was putting all my gear into my backpack in preparation to hike into the primitive campsites. I also wanted to bring my bicycle along and explore the park by bike if time allows, and when researching the bike activities in the park, I learned that most of the trails are open to bicycles, and that the trail to the primitive campsite that I will be staying at is very bike-friendly, therefore I will try my hand at a bit of bikepacking.

One of the nice things about having some ultra-light camping gear for backpacking is that it is also great for bikepacking. If you aren’t familiar with that term, bikepacking is similar to bicycle touring, but more off-the-beaten-path.

With my current pannier setup, I can fit all my camping gear, food/water, camera, and clothes. As much as I dislike having anything on my back while riding, I will probably wear a small daypack which will come in handy if I want to hike at all, and also, I can pack it with my kindle, camera, and camp clothes which will be very light (just a beanie, sleep clothes, and extra socks & underwear), and not stuff the panniers too much.

I think this setup will be good, but I’ll let you know how it goes!