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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
After breakfast, I packed the bear box with my excess gear and water, then hit the trail.
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.
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. 😀
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
This morning we woke up at 6:45 to catch the sunrise. It was cold and breezy at the North Rim so I prepared myself by basically putting on all of my clothes, including the rain jacket and pants which acted as wind protection. I certainly wasn’t going to win any fashion awards but I kept warm!
After the photo session, we returned to camp for hot coffee before packing away the tents and hitting the trail. Our planned route took us to the South Rim where we were treated to more amazing vistas. I particularly enjoyed using my binoculars to view the trail down below in the distant desert. I’m pretty sure that our old campground from our previous trip to Big Bend was visible, but I couldn’t quite figure out where it was. However, Santa Elena Canyon was clearly visible in the distance. The canyon walls looked incredibly tall!
Another awesome sight we witnessed was a Peregrine Falcon high above, just riding the wind. It was almost stationary, like a kite on a string, and I was wishing I had a super-telephoto lens… but I had to settle with a photo from my X100T.
The rest of the hike was mostly downhill so we made good time cruising on the trail past Laguna Meadows and back to the parking lot. It was an awesome finish to an epic hike!
After a short rest, we visited the store at Chisos Basin and then Panther Junction for some merch, then headed out of the park to find dinner in Fort Stockton.
We decided in Pepito’s Café which serves Mexican food as well as burgers. It turns out we both thought the Pepito’s Burger sounded the best so we ordered one each. I’m not sure how it happened, but when they brought out the food, one of the burgers was a double! There must have been a whole pound of beef in the burger! It was amazing. When I held up the burger for a photo, the man at the next table applauded and said, “hiker hunger!” So true! But we had a long drive ahead of us so I ate half and packed the rest to go.
The drive went smoothly and I arrived home at about 11 pm, unpacked a bit, washed some supplies, took a shower, and crashed hard. A nice end to an amazing weekend backpacking adventure in Big Bend National Park.
I woke up this morning to a lightening sky, grabbed my BRS-3000T stove, Stanley cooking pot, some water, and instant coffee and found a nice location to enjoy the sunrise. From the Toll Mountain campsite, you have a nice view east through Boot Canyon, and also to the north-west where you can see the Chisos Mountain Lodge down below, and the mountains in the distance. Toll Mountain (TM1) is really a great campsite!
After the sun warmed us up a bit, we packed up our campsite, then headed down to the Emory Peak trail-head. There are bear-boxes there so you can stow your gear before heading up the trail to the peak, which is a great thing because lugging a 40-pound pack up there would not be fun!
The hike up Emory Peak Trail was easy and fun since I just had a liter of water, some trail-mix, and my jacket in my lightweight Gonex backpack. I also had my camera and binoculars around my neck, as well as my trekking pole.
We had watched a few YouTube videos about the Emory Peak summit, and they all mentioned the last 25-feet of the trail is a scramble up to the summit. There is a left route and a right route, with the left being easier. However, they don’t mention that they go to separate summits. The right side is the higher of the two, but you need to do a little scrambling up the rocks. Honestly, it was easier than I was expecting, and as long as you take it slow and keep three points of contact at all times, you’ll be fine.
The view from the Emory Peak summit was literally awesome. The drop-off was intense and the view was amazing. It was so cool to be able to touch the geologist badge that is embedded in the rock up there — something that was on our bucket list! After spending about 15 minutes on the summit, enjoying some water and snacks, it was time to scramble down. If you can, try to remember the way up because it will help you choose the right way back down.
The hike back to the trail-head was fast, with no water breaks needed. Ah, downhill hiking is great!
We retrieved our backpacks from the bear-boxes at the trail-head and then took Boot Canyon Trail towards Boot Spring. Again, the trail was mostly downhill and we enjoyed the views of the famous “boot” that gives the canyon its name and soon reached the spring without incident. Water was flowing from the pipe at Boot Spring, so we used our water filters to refill our water supply, then hit the trail again and made our way to our next campsite. By the way, the HydroBlu Versa Flow water filter is an awesome little device!
From Boot Canyon Trail, we changed to East Rim Trail and slogged up until we reached our campsite, NE2/ER2. The site is nestled a short distance from the rim and has plenty of room for two tents, and possible three. Also, it’s sheltered a bit from the wind making it a great “base camp” for exploring the north rim.
We set up camp, then went farther up the trail to where it ends. Usually you can hike all the around to the south rim, but from February 1 – May 31, part of the trail is closed due to Peregrine Falcon nesting. However, there are some places along the north rim with some spectacular views. In fact, we decided to pack up our cooking sets and bring them to one of the north rim spots to eat dinner while enjoying the incredible vistas.
Not only could we see the north side of the park, but when we turned around, we could see the incredible sunset over the south rim. It was terrific!
Tonight’s dinner from the rim was another Mountain House meal: Chicken Teriyaki with Rice and Vegetables. The hot food in the cold back-country was again satisfying, especially after a long hiking day. I’d say the Beef Stroganoff was a little more to my liking, but both are yummy. I capped off the evening with some whiskey and hot water (OMG so good!) before climbing into my tent and crashing.