We hiked the Outer Mountain Loop in a slightly different fashion on the dates of 1-6-2011 to 1-9-2011. This trip report includes pictures from all 3 of our cameras and I'm sure my companions will post any decent pictures I neglected to include. We took a lot of pictures and if this report is to long it's because it seems like we experienced so much over the course of this trip. We decided to do the OML counter clockwise to bypass having to go uphill in sandy Blue Creek. This would be Robert's “baseline hike.”
I was dumb and brought some old rechargable batteries I had instead of buying some new Lithium Ion batteries for my camera and they died by the time we got to the end of the Dodson so I didn't take any pictures of Juniper Canyon. I thought Robert was taking pictures but apparently he wasn't; only Josue was and I don't have his pictures yet. At our last camp Robert gave me the batteries out of his camera since he didn't want to mess with taking them anymore so I do have pictures of Blue Creek. Blah blah blah... let's get this thing started.
I pulled into Johnson City at about 9:30 pm on the 5th and found Robert and Josue (“ho-sway”) making last minute gear preperations. After double checking our pack contents and making sure we had everything we'd need our driver, Josue, retired to his house and Robert and I discussed how we couldn't sleep. It was a good thing we weren't the ones driving.
With no help from Youtube we finally got to bed around 2 am but 4:45 was just a short ways off and it wasn't long before we were back up and waiting on Josue to arrive. It turns out he had trouble sleeping too but had managed to force himself to sleep longer than we had. By 5:50 we were filled up on gas and heading towards Fredricksburg where we nabbed a quick bite to eat from McDonalds before pushing forward. Robert and I dozed much of the way there (actually I think I just plain slept for quite a bit of it). Josue blinked a lot.
As we entered the park Robert took his usual pictures from a moving vehicle and by noon we were at Panther Junction explaining our plan to the nice ranger working the desk. Once she understood the logistics she was quite pleased with our plan. Our itenerary went like this - we would start walking the Outer Mountain Loop counter clockwise from Homer Wilson and arrive at Fresno Creek that evening, the next morning we would start with two days of water and camp somewhere near Juniper Springs (preferably above it). From there we'd climb Juniper Canyon and head to the basin for water (this would keep us from having to cache water anywhere and give us almost 2 extra hours of daylight on the trail day 1). From the basin we'd hike back out to one of the campsites in the Chisos Mountains where we would camp and prepare for an easy half day out to the car.
By 1:30 we had our car and water cached at the scenic over look and were hiking down the road to the Homer Wilson overlook.
We checked the bear box for giggles and decided there were a lot of people out there at the same time as us. Maybe we'd meet some of them.
We poked around the house somewhat quickly and snapped a few pictures before zipping off down the Dodson.
We made good time around the first part of the mountains and it wasn't long before we could see the saddle we'd be ascending to.
I think this climb was actually the worst of the whole trip. It was by far shorter than Juniper Canyon but it kept teasing us with our destination being in plain sight of the twisty route we had to take to get to the top. The sun beating down on us didn't help matters either.
About halfway up we met a couple of guys who were descending with some nice Arc'teryex packs that didn't look much, if any bigger, than the Golite Jams Rob and I carried. They wished us luck on climbing Juniper. Great....
These cool looking rocks were on the final portion of this ascent.
We took a break at the top, downed some gorp, and took in the view.
Behold my most advanced photo editing yet! Hahaha.
From here we descended and began to anticipate arriving at Fresno. At this point we had no idea how much the rocky footing was really slowing us down but between getting off 30 minutes later than planned and taking a little longer than we wanted at the trail head it began to get dark before we could make Fresno. Figuring it had to be “just over that next rise” we pushed on until the headlamps came out but our spirits were down and the terrain was keeping our pace slow enough that it wasn't worth continueing on in the dark if we didn't need to. We felt the best plan was to rest and wait for daylight. On top this the stars we were so anxious to see were cut off from us by high clouds. We decided to make camp at the next decent site we found and by about 7:15 we were setting camp. Robert decided to cowboy camp while Josue and I set our tarps up as wind breaks. I rehydrated some venison chile with black beans and retired to a restless sleep.
Here's a gear tip: if you're using a hydration bladder as a pillow then find some place other than inside your bivy to stow the bite valve. I managed to dump a liter of precious water in on myself during the night! Fortunately it was fairly warm and, after soaking much of the water up with my Buff and zip off pant legs, I was able to use my body heat, down jacket, and quilt to dry everything back out. I would have been in for a really long night if it had been any colder. On the other hand I guess Robert would have made a pretty good teddy bear but I'm glad I didn't have to find out....
When I woke up (again!) at 4 am I was greeted by a beautiful clear sky. The stars were georgeous and so bright I had to blink a few times to be able to really see them and afterwards I fell into a deep sleep and didn't wake up again until after sun up. The rest was exactly what we needed and we broke camp a little later than we'd have liked but found fresno just a few “rises” over.
Packed back up and ready to find water.
I think this was on the way to Fresno from our first campsite.
This was a welcome sign.
The descent to Fresno creek and the mile or so afterwards was by far my favorite part of the Dodson. It combined interesting views of distant cliffs to the left and desert to the right with engaging and ever changing scenery close by.
We were behind schedule but a signifigant portion of the Dodson was behind us so we took our time here treating water and drinking our fill while I laid my quilt out on the sunny rocks to finish drying out from the previous nights mishap.
All to soon we were leaving our water source behind and trudging down the Dodson; our packs laden with 2 days worth of water. Or so we thought....
The terrain flattened out a bit as we trekked south east and slightly away from the Chiso Mountains and as we took a break on some rocks atop a platue like area we met a group of men and women headed around the loop clockwise carrying monster packs with all kinds of stuff strapped to the outside including what looked like large tents and nalgene bottles. Despite this they seemed to be making good time and the men were wearing Vibram 5 Finger “shoes” so we decided the must be real beasts! They informed us they had camped a few miles up Juniper canyon the night before and were really glad to hear that Fresno was running well. We wished them luck as they took off towards water.
Soon we were moving again as well but we took our time and enjoyed the desert terrain by taking quite a few opportunities to perch on random rocks and just take it all in. It sprinkled on us at one point but for the most part the day was clear and sunny. Eventually we made it around the last peak and turned North to meet up with the Juniper Canyon trail.
I'd have to say this was probably my least favorite portion of the whole trail because it was rather flat and just seemed like it would never end. We encountered another group of men about a quarter mile from the Dodson Juniper trail head and wished them luck. Hopefully they wouldn't need the bear spray they were carrying.
Josue and I had hiked ahead of Robert a good ways and made the trail head just as a couple of park rangers were pulling up. They checked our permit and talked to us about the Dodson and Juniper Canyon trail for a bit and then suddenly realization dawned on Josue's face and the face of the younger ranger as they realized they new each other and were both from Johnson City. We talked to them for quite a while, us telling them where we'd seen bear sign on the other side of fresno and they informed us they were scouting for a place to put a bear box similar to the one at Homer Wilson and just generally checking the area out a bit for their supervisor. Apparently there had been some complaining on the internet about the trailhead sign here being really confusing but it seemed to make perfect sense to us. It's just two trails with two names and two arrows next to the names pointing at their respective trails with a road that comes up to it. Between that and even a crude map I have a hard time seeing how anyone could get confused. They told us some other interesting stories about incidents in the park as they got ready to leave and Robert came in and plopped down on a log. He looked tired but said he just needed a rest. It had been a pretty long day so far.
It had always been in the back of my mind but before the older ranger mentioned cutting across the Chisos on the Colima trail I hadn't really considered it as an option. Talking with him got me to thinking about it a little but I really figured we'd have to hike down into the basin for water. I resolved that we'd see how things looked water wise once we got to the top of Juniper.
About mid-afternoon and not long after the rangers left we started off down the trail and noticed that Robert wasn't making anywhere near his normal pace even on the rather flat ground so Josue and I found some shade on one side of a hill and waited on him to catch up again. It took a lot longer than we thought it should and we began to worry. I was just thinking about walking back to check on him when he came into view. When he got to us he only has one thing to say, “I think I'm almost out of water.” I was shocked but he had completely underestimated how much water he needed to hike with the sun beating down on him for most of the day and was feeling dehydrated from trying to conserve the water he did have. We took inventory and decided Josue and I would give him our extra water if we had to. It looked like we'd be coming into the Basin bone dry and thirsty if we couldn't pick a little up at Juniper Spring. After another long break everyone was feeling better and we continued on up the canyon.
Once we started seeing trees we began to keep an eye out for the Juniper Camp sign but we couldn't seem to find it and thought for sure we had missed it. We made camp just before dark at a sight with 3 tent “pads.” There was a short trail cut down to a really pretty, but dry, creek bed where I saw some more bear scat. Josue and I pitched our tarps to aid in breaking the wind that was trying to pick up and in the process of trying to drive some pilot holes broke the top off of a Vargo Ti Nail stake. After this I gave up on the stakes and just tied off to rocks and shrubbery. In contrast Josue bullied his stakes into the ground and Robert cowboy camped again.
That night we tried to go easy on our water and planned to get an early start in the cool of the morning to keep from sweating so much on the climb. We were a little intimidated by it so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time.
At about 4:45 am we broke camp and started up the trail. Much to our relief it was only about a mile or so before we came across the sign for Juniper Spring! We found the pool of water in the dark and got Robert what he needed. The spring was running at a nice trickle into the pool but Josue and I didn't fill up all the way because we wanted to leave as much as possible for the wild life. We did take on a little just to be on the safe side since we were still uneasy about the monster looming above us.
We left Juniper Spring in the dark but before long we were seeing the sun peak over the canyon walls and were being warmed by its rays. A couple hours after sunrise we stopped and ate breakfast at a little clearing off of one of the lower switch backs. With our belly's full and Robert's Platypus full we were feeling a lot better and we headed on up. It turns out it wasn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. I guess if we had been carrying 50 pound packs it might have been bad but as it was the monster climb we'd been dreading turned out to be more like a rather large house cat. I'm sure this was partially because of the shade and cool morning air as well.
Juniper Canyon was my favorite part of the whole trip and I'd really have missed a lot had we been going clockwise. Going up it slowed us down (obviously) and allowed us to really take in the contrasting scenery. We didn't realize quite where we were in relation to the top and we took a nice break just below the top of Juniper where we ate our lunch. We were sure we had at least another mile to go when, what do you know, the uphill slope moved to our left and we started getting excited. Then I heard whistling and Josue spotted a tent! We were at the designated campsites and we weren't even that sore! I'm sure the guys in the tent thought we were really crazy after they heard us come over the top since everyone we talked to seemed to think we were a little nuts for doing the loop counter clock wise to begin with.
We discussed our water situation and decided we could make it back to the car without making the trip to the basin if we were careful so we lolligagged around and took in the sights as we cut across to our campsite at BL2 and saved almost 8 miles of walking. We briefly discussed heading on down Blue Creek but Josue didn't feel like driving back that night and none of us really wanted to cut our trip short so we went ahead and camped.
We were laying out our sleeping pads and flopping down to relax by about 2 o'clock or so in the afternoon. It had been a beautiful day and it would stay that way for a few more hours. At some point in here we discussed how we didn't really care for having a bear box. It was the first time any of us have ever used one and it seemed rather ominous – especially after zone camping the two previous nights without even being able to bear bag.
We started seeing dark clouds around 4 or 5 I guess so we set our shelters and crawled into them when the first rain shower came through. I've decided the JC and BL campsites have to be the most encouraging places to camp in the park because at some point before it started raining and while we were setting up we heard male and female voices talking excitedly as they finished the climb up Blue Creek. We assume this was the group we met wearing the Vibram 5 Fingers and now we didn't feel as bad about all the commotion we made topping Juniper.
Rob's crazy pitch for the night. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.
And my half pyramid setup. I don't have a picture of Josue's pitch but it was an A-frame with the tail pinned down to the ground into the wind.
Here's the bearbox at our campsite. It was sort of like the park service was saying, “Here, you're going to need this tonight.”
It sprinkled off and on for a while and we chatted about the trip and where we'd go next. Just before dark the wind hit hard and drove us back under our tarps. It wasn't long before it started to rain again and we heared sleet rolling off our tarps. The wind gusted all night but our tarps seemed impervious to it and we woke up to a chilly morning with ice on all 3 tarps.
Reluctantly we crawled out and began breaking camp and preparing for the hike out. We finally left camp about 9 or so because we wanted to get out and get some real food but at the same time didn't want the trip to end.
On the descent into Blue Creek we met the three guys we'd seen at the end of the Dodson trail and exchanged pleasantries. As we decended we got a chance to see the scenery change back to desert from forest. Blue Creek was really a pretty place and we saw quite a bit of bear scat there in the forested area along the creek.
Eventually we wound our way down the canyon and caught a glimpse of Homer Wilson ranch in the distance. It was time to find some good food!
And then we finally saw a Javalina just after the Border Patrol check point.