Since 2013, I’ve visited Big Bend National Park every Thanksgiving. I always backpack a set of trails called the Outer Mountain Loop. The hike is about 32 miles in distance, but it’s the ups and downs that really get you. The trail goes back and forth in elevation between 3,000 feet and 7,500 feet. It’s rough.
I’ve always used the route prescribed by the NPS, but I have yet to finish. This route starts in the Chisos Basin. The first day consists of a march straight up a mountain (Pinnacles Trail), followed by an even longer march down the other side (Juniper Canyon Trail). Day two is a fully exposed hike across the desert, with lots of ups and downs in the foothills (Dodson Trail). This day ends close to a passing road and a cache for water. The third day takes you up and over the mountains again (Blue Creek Canyon Trail to Laguna Meadows Trail) and back to the starting point.
Last year, I made it to the cache in two days like I planned, but I was just too busted up. I hitchhiked back to my car from there. I hope to be back this year around Veteran’s Day, and I intend to conquer it by making a few changes.
The first change is to not push so hard. I’ve tried to make the trip in 3 days, but if I can spread it out to 4 then I can enjoy it a bit more. That should reduce my fatigue level. Another option is to modify the route by starting at Homer Wilson Ranch. That would cut a few miles off the hike, and I won’t have to go down and back up the mountains.
The second change is to lighten my load. I’ve been carrying a full backpack with a tent and sleeping bag, plus my water supply. That gets heavy. I struggle to make it through an entire leg in a day. Last year I cut my water load by bringing a filter. That was fantastic. This year, I’m reducing my pack weight by downgrading my tent and sleeping bag to a tarp and a blanket. With less weight, my energy should stay up through the hike.
Third, I’m trading in my heavy hiking boots for some lighter ones. I’ve been on this trail enough times now to know that there aren’t that many opportunities to twist my ankle, so I’ll opt for the greater flexibility. This will let me move more nimbly, which is going to be important in case I see a bear or mountain lion.
Last, I’m going to change up my food. I’ve been bringing military MREs with me because they’re just easy. But they’re pretty heavy, and I think I could do better with the dehydrated meals from REI. I’ll have to look into that more.
I’d love to hear suggestions for other things I could to do make my trip more doable, especially if you’ve hiked the Outer Mountain Loop before. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.