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!
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.
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!
This morning I did a bit of hiking at Inks Lake State Park, which is about an hour away from our house. There’s a nice group of trails that meander around the hills just south of the lake, and also several primitive campsites that I wanted to check out. I also wanted to try my hand at making a hiking video using my Fujifilm X100T and tripod. I think it turned out pretty good for a first attempt! Please check it out:
On a side note, I noticed that there was a nice representation of Subarus at the trail-head. In fact, the only other car when I arrived was this brand-new Forester. And when I left, a much older Forester was parked next to me. It’s fun to be part of the Subaru family!
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.