Here are some pictures:
This trip was a Camp Fire Backpacking Trip offered to the experienced backpacking youth who are ready for greater challenges. We ended up with four boys; although we also have a number of girls who are ready for an advanced backpacking trip, for one reason or another, none of them was available for this trip.
Some trip participants opted to bring older, heavier equipment (packs, sleeping bags) they have used previously, rather than trying out the new equipment now available through the Council. We need to discuss encouraging folks to take advantage of the new equipment—it really does help. We did discuss paring gear to a minimum, while still being prepared for winter weather, because of the need to carry all our water on the Chisos hike.
On the way to Big Bend we visited Caverns of Sonora, just west of Sonora off IH 10. Everyone enjoyed very much the tour of this exquisite cave.
We arrived in the early evening, which at this time of year means after dark. It was cold out and quite windy, with heavy clouds broken occasionally by a bright full moon. Robbie (15) took the lead in fixing supper, bean soft tacos. During the night it rained a lot, and in the morning it was still rainy, and cold. Because of the rain, and a lot of mud, we decided to rearrange our trip a little bit. We drove down to the Rio Grande Village area, explored a really nice nature trail between RGV and the Rio Grande, with high-point views of the entrance to Boquillas Canyon, hiked part way up the Hot Springs Trail to Observation Point. On the return trip the youth, with adults following, climbed a hill from which we could fling dry yucca stalks out into empty space, and see the beautiful mountains to the east, plus more storm clouds rolling our way. It rained only a little during our second night at Chisos Basin.
Thursday morning was chilly and clear. We broke camp, sorted gear, and packed our backcountry packs. We reduced the amount of water, since our revised plan had us up for two nights rather than three. We ended up with approximately 16 lbs. (2 gallons) of water apiece. Most packs weighed 30 to 35 lbs. with food and water. A couple of packs were still a little heavy (up to 52 lbs. with food and water) primarily due to their owners knowingly opting for heavier, or more, gear. We took a Whisperlite stove, 11 oz. of white gas, a canister stove with 2 canisters, and a fold-up Esbit stove with 6 solid fuel tablets as a backup. It turned out that one of the canisters did not fit, but we still ended up with enough fuel, without using the Esbit. We started up the Laguna Meadow Trail at about 11:30 a.m. The weather was cool but otherwise nice. The youth and Biff hiked faster than Robert and Mina, who as usual served as sweep. Parts of this trail are fairly steep. It is about 6 miles from the trailhead to our camp at Colima 1, on the Colima Trail, and about 2,000 ft. elevation gain, mostly in miles 2-4. We stopped for a nice picnic lunch about half way up. At the higher elevations we encountered a significant amount of packed snow on the trail and on the surrounding slopes, adding novelty to the hike. We arrived at camp well before dark, and, fortunately, found little snow on the ground there. The Tuna Stuff supper, prepared by the youth, ended up with too many onions and not enough cheese, and although just fine was not a youth favorite on this trip. The pot also needed a lot of scrubbing, which was not anyone’s favorite activity. It was pretty windy during supper, and Mina experimented with erecting a tarp to block the wind, but mostly we hunkered behind the bear lockers to eat. Later the wind subsided. We stored all food-related gear, and our packs, in the bear lockers for the night. The night was clear and cold, with lots of stars and a bright moon later on.
Friday we day-hiked the East and South Rims. This is a spectacular hike, with a canyon, beautiful forest, and views across the desert and lower mountains, across the Rio Grande, and on into the mountains in Mexico. There was actually water flowing in Boot Canyon, from Boot Spring, although the Park Ranger had cautioned us that there would probably not be much. We got some nice pictures of snow on the trail. It was sunny and much warmer out on the Rim, and we had a long leisurely lunch at a big lookout point, with lots of photos, throwing sticks and stones off the edge (there are no trails or other development below), napping, and various games. Our hike took us to several other lookouts, including the big one at the southwest end of the South Rim Trail, where we spent another long while hanging out and enjoying the views. We returned to camp via the Laguna Meadow and Colima Trails. Back in camp, Mina made Broccoli Stuff, with help from a couple of youth. Later in the evening we all had tea and hot chocolate. It was not quite as chilly that night, and still generally clear.
In the morning after breakfast, we set out for a short hike over to Boot Spring. Part way, we ended up climbing a high rock by the trail, where we spent a long time looking up and down Boot Canyon and the hills all around. We never made it to Boot Spring but instead spent all our hiking time enjoying that rock. Afterwards, we broke camp, and determined that there was just about enough water left for our hike down. We set off with much lighter packs, and stopped to store our packs in the bear lockers at the Emory Peak Trail junction. Emory Peak Trail is a gorgeous hike rising up out of the forest through rocky terrain. Near the top some parts of the trail were pretty icy and required careful walking. The last section of the Emory Peak climb is bouldering past the end of the trail. We could see, from above, a cloud bank working its way from the northeast, way below us, into Chisos Basin. Back down at the trail junction we all had a nice picnic lunch before setting out again. We brought along a bag of trash that some previous hiker had left in the bear locker. Youth, with Biff, hiked fast. Robert and Mina took their time, to enjoy the beautiful Pinnacles Trail. This trail drops faster than the Laguna Meadow Trail rises, and the views are spectacular. On this trip, Mina was experimenting for the first time with trekking poles. They actually were sort of helpful going down, especially where it was icy. When Mina and Robert arrived at the car, they discovered that all the others had been down long enough to go get hamburgers at the Chisos Lodge!
We packed up the car and drove down to Hot Springs near Rio Grande Village. Everyone stripped to swim clothes in the winter chill, and piled in. Another tourist in the pool knew a lot about the source of the spring water, deep in the earth. We soaked for a long time. It felt great! Some other tourists came walking down all bundled up in their jackets, and looked very dubiously at us. As we were dressing to go, several hikers arrived along the 3-mile trail from RGV, ready for a soak. Some of them were from England. Later went on a night hike to the wetland and up the nature trail (where we had hiked on Wednesday) to the hilltop, where we watched the stars for a while.
On Sunday morning we took some time packing up camp, waiting for the sun to dry our tents, but ended up packing them wet anyway. There is a lot of condensation in the river valley. We arrived home in Austin at around 7:30 p.m.
Lessons from this trip: Overall everything went very smoothly. We could have hiked in the rain up the Laguna Meadow Trail on Wednesday, but we believe adjusting our plan as we did led to everyone having more fun. We do need to encourage trip participants to use our newer, lighter gear, since we have it. No one’s load on this trip was beyond his or her reasonable capability, but we can do better. We have now made two winter trips (the first one was in December 2000 with the Bryker Woods Horizon Club) into the Chisos Mts., and both times there has been considerable water at Boot Spring, although the Park Rangers request that hikers carry all their water anyway, in case the spring is dry. We have come to the conclusion that no matter how much we caution trip participants to test out all their gear prior to the trip, there are always surprises (like the shock cord and the canister). Bringing cards, juggling balls, or similar lightweight toys, is an excellent idea. On this trip we also bent the usual rule about electronics, and Robbie, Nathan, and Biff all carried small music players and earphones. For this group, we decided the youth are old enough, with enough backcountry experience, that we could let it be their decision.