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 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 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 net 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.
We arrived at Big Bend National Park at around noon and were able to secure a couple of great campsites for Friday and Saturday nights. Reservations for the back-country campsites have to be made in-person (online reservations are coming Feb 8, 2020) so there was a bit of uncertainty in which sites were already taken. Our preferred hiking plan required staying at the Toll Mountain campsite (TM1) the first night, since it is situated right at the Emory Peak trail-head, which we wanted to hike first thing in the morning. We were stoked that the Toll Mountain campsite was available!
Our second preferred campsite on the South Rim was already taken by someone else, but a few good backup choices were available so we picked NE2/ER2 which looked great. With campsites reserved, we headed to the trail to start our backpacking adventure.
The hike today was simple: take Pinnacles Trail up to the Toll Mountain campsite. Simple but oh so strenuous with 40 lbs on my back! According to Strava, we traveled 3.62 miles with an elevation gain of 1,717 feet. The switchbacks at the end of the trail were intense and when we reached the campsite, we were exhausted but stoked. We figured that this would be the most difficult hike of the weekend, so to survive it in good shape was encouraging and a huge relief!
Dinner tonight was my first try of a Mountain House camp meal, so I was excited to give it a try. I boiled two cups of water in my Stanley Adventure Cooking Pot, then poured it into the bag of dehydrated Beef Stroganoff, sealed it up, and waited 8 minutes for it to re-hydrate. The meal was pretty tasty! I’d definitely recommend this meal. Eating a hot meal with my new Snow Peak titanium spork on a chilly evening in the Big Bend back-country was a great experience!
I mentioned that I had a heavily-loaded pack, and that is I will be carrying this amount of weight on our Big Bend trip. The only things I didn’t put in the pack were my external battery and cables, and extra underwear/socks/base layers.
When I first got on the trail, my hip started hurting a bit and I was thinking that maybe I should turn around and not stress it. After all, I did run 4 miles the day before. But I continued on a bit, and adjusted my shoulder straps to take more of the weight off of my hips. This was the trick, and my hip pain went away and I would go on to complete the hike without any discomfort. I felt great!
So now I know that 30+ pounds of gear on my back is do-able, and so my confidence is high. Knowing that we won’t be rushed during our Big Bend hike is good too – we can take plenty of rest breaks. As long as the weather is nice, we should have an excellent trip!
I hit the trail today with an almost-fully-loaded backpack (only missing food and clothes) to test out my set up. The backpack was comfortable and I worked out a few things, including how to carry my camera and if I prefer hiking with one or two trekking poles (single is better). In addition, my 700 ml bottle on the shoulder strap works great! I’m happy the water bottle sleeve I picked up from Daiso will see service. 😊
I only put in a mile and a half, but the hike was really nice with some great views. On the trail I saw several other people and I must have looked odd hiking with a huge backpack while a water bottle was all that was really needed. But I didn’t get any comments on the pack. Which is a shame… I was looking forward to explaining my training for the upcoming Big Bend trip!