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A Gorgeous Hike in The Chisos Mountains

by Adam Lupiani 2 months ago in america
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Day Seven of Camping and Hiking in Big Bend National Park

We had a big day ahead of us. We agreed to wake up before sunrise in order to get a head start and beat as much of the day’s heat on our path up the mountain as possible.

So our first move was to sleep right through the alarm on my phone, of course.

But we broke down the campsite not long after the sun was up. I cooked and ate breakfast while Ian packed the car and his backpack. As he ate I packed my own backpack. We talked about all the things we were leaving behind that we would have needed if we were doing the Outer Mountain Loop, adding an extra two nights two our trip. It’s a good thing we found out my hip was not up to that task before we actually started it. Once everything was packed and our teeth brushed, we pulled out of the campsite and headed back to the Chisos Basin. There’s a parking lot near the basin campground where overnight hikers have to park. We pulled in, slathered on sunscreen, decided whether or not to stick with our jackets—the basin was still in shadow, so we both opted to keep them on.

In the mountain, things were drying out for the season, but bright flowers provided small splashes of color along our path.

We meandered our way up the basin, along the same stretch of trail that was the upper portion of the Window Trail from the day before. We were above the lodge and under cover of trees before the sun peaked over the basin ridge. Soon after the trail became a series of switchbacks up the steep mountainside. We passed by a couple we met on the Window Trail, stopped for a water and snack break and chatted with them for a few minutes.

The trail continued switching back for a few miles and we made our way higher and higher. When we stopped to sip from our water or munch handfuls of trail mix, we could see the red roofs of the lodge buildings, tiny and almost hidden beyond the trees below us.

Near the bottom left of the image the lodge can be seen, where we started our hike just a couple hours before.

After a few hours of hiking, we made it to the Emory Peak Spur, a nearly mile long trail up to the highest point in Big Bend. We took a few minutes to rest, have lots of water, go the bathroom and chat with some other hikers before storing our bags in bear boxes stationed at the bottom of the spur. The hike along the spur was mostly in the sun, and it was fast approaching noon. It felt like it took forever to reach the end of the spur and, once there, we found that we had to scramble up a rock face for the last 50-70 feet.

The uphill walk and sun had worn me out, and the scramble to the peak tugged uncomfortably at my fear of heights. There were few people already at the peak, sitting next to the radio antenna. I found a flat rock to sit on next to Ian and we took in the entirety of the park stretched out all around and below us. We stayed up there for a little while, resting, enjoying the scenery and the breeze.

Climbing down was, somehow, less intimidating than climbing up. Perhaps because I had rested. We were joined on our decent by a couple of guys who seemed quite in awe of the scenery, comparing it to Lord of the Rings and Red Dead Redemption. We made it back down to the spur, used the provided composting toilet and ate some lunch of tortillas, peanut butter and honey. While we were eating, we chatted with a group of campers who had decided to pack a gallon of Arizona Sweet Tea and bottles of Mountain Dew. I couldn’t believe the extra weight being carried in order to facilitate a caffeine craving but, then again, maybe I’m not one to talk. Of course, I wasn’t hauling any soda up a mountain with me.

Even at the top of the Chisos, small trees and shrubs grew, many losing their leaves ahead of the dry season.

With lunch over and our bags packed, we headed onwards. The trail leveled out for a while before slowly climbing up. We walked past old horse stables, branches of the trail meant for other loops. We passed other campers and caught up to the Mountain Dew gang. They broke off to see if a stream on the map still had water in it. Ian and I continued upwards to the southern rim.

We took a water and rest break in a small valley, the dry bed of a seasonal stream. We sat in the sliver of shade under some large boulders a temporary shelter from the early afternoon sun. After fifteen minutes of rest, peeing, and having a few handfuls of trail mix, we were back on our feet and back on the trail.

It wasn’t too far from there before we reached the southern rim. Lucky, too, as it was getting late in the afternoon. We still had plenty of sun left, but we wanted to make sure we had camp set up in enough time to find a good spot from which to water the sun set beyond the western edge of the park. We stopped at a few overlooks, took in the view, snapped a few pictures and carried on our way.

The view of Marsical Mountain and our first campsite from the southern rim of the Chisos Mountains.

The picture above is looking south from the rim. Left and a little below my finger is Marsical Mountain. Just under my fingertip is a slightly darker patch of land. That patch is right about where our first campsite, Tally 2, was located. We spent two nights at that campsite, looking north at the face of the Chisos mountains, staring at this rim in anticipation. And now, here we were, looking down at where we first made camp in the park.

As we moved along the trail, heading west towards out campsite, the edge of the rim got steeper and steeper, until we were walking just a dozen feet or so from the edge of a cliff. A section of the rim behind us was closed for the season. We were there during the peregrine falcon nesting season. The young were taking their first flights off the sides of the cliffs and dozens of them zipped through the air just past the rim.

On occasion, one would flap its wings and get high above us, tucking in tight and diving. At the last moment, sometimes only feet above our heads, they would open their wings and veer back upwards. Every time they pulled the maneuver, the air would ripple with what sounded like a large zipper being pulled at high speed.

Dinner on a flat spot, right on the edge of the cliff, watching the sun set over Big Bend National Park.

On the way to our campsite, we ran into a trio of guys who told us about an area just off the trail that was relatively flat and offered an incredible view of the sunset. We only had about two hours until then, and about a quarter mile to go until we reached our campsite. Outside our campsite, standing close to the small clearing, there was a pair of deer. They seemed unconcerned with us, even as we shed our packs and began to remove the tent. After a few minutes, they quietly strode away, into the trees.

We set up camp and unpacked what we needed to make dinner. Everything else went into the bear boxes and we grabbed our jackets. The flat spot was just a five minute walk from our site, so we headed up there and set up to cook dinner. As our bagged meals soaked in hot water the sun sank slowly towards the horizon. The view was incredible. Young falcons zipped through the air above us and beyond the cliff. Bats began to emerge from the nooks and crannies along the cliff. A soft breeze helped to whisk the heat of the day away. We ate our meals, watching the trees along the ridge turn into silhouettes. A few other people—people we had seen at various points through our day—wandered over to watch the sunset, too. It was quiet, calm. It felt like a sight we had earned. The perfect reward to a long day of hiking. And, best of all, we had no fears of being trampled by horses in the night.

Perfect end to a day of hiking—sunset from the southern rim of the Chisos Mountains.


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Adam Lupiani

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  • Taaj Bowers 2 months ago

    Wow, this is fantastic!

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