I've arrived safely back from the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. Six backpackers went total. Let me give you a quick rundown of what went... down.. Ahem, shall I begin?
Sunday: The five from Kansas meet at a predetermined spot to "break the ice" and "talk a little," as well as "do a little packing," and "leaving Kansas about four hours earlier than we planned just because we can."
Monday: We arrive at the park in the early afternoon. Since we planned on meeting our sixth person at a developed campground, we drive down to that area. They are every one of them booked. We slightly panic. We go back up to the visitor's center to see if we can get a back country permit. A large sign displays that there is one spot left for tonight, a few others for tomorrow. Several campers are in line before us. Will we get the one remaining spot?
We do, and not a moment too soon. "That was a close one," our ranger said as she marked off our space for us: Juniper Meadows #3. No cell phone reception to contact the sixth, who fully expects to meet us later that evening at the developed campgrounds. I use a pay phone... voice mail. I leave a message... uncertainty. On the way to the trail head we find an area that allows us to shoot off one final phone call to the sixth... voice mail again. Well, we tried our best.
After we pack up our gear, fill our water bladders and nalgenes, and strap on our things, we hike up 3.7 miles towards our first spot at about 5:30. We arrive a little over 2 hours later. It was a rather warm, rather grueling hike. Once we arrive at JM3, we are shocked and disgusted to find that other campers are already there, and that the NPS has issued them a permit for that same spot! Conspiracy, I think to myself... But then we are told that the next campsite over is free, so we assume that the NPS made a mistake and set up camp in JM4. Will the sixth ever find us? What if he doesn't come tonight? These are the questions going through my head as I fall asleep in the early evening air in my solo tent.
I wake up a little chilly in my fleece sleeping bag. I notice faint shadows against my tent wall. It must be morning, I think to myself. I go back to sleep.
It wasn't morning. I wake up later to complete darkness and complete freezing, realizing that my previous wake was an awakening to a slightly later early evening. Shucks... I'm cold... The girls have enough room for one more in their tent. Do I insolently wake them up? I don't have to. They are already awake, for it has started raining, and they want to move the backpacks out of the rain. I get out of my tent and beg, on my knees, to let me join in the warmth of their tent. Their hardened wills eventually are worn away by my smooth-talk and charm. We pack the bags into my tent and sleep.
Tuesday: I wake up to:
I unzipped the tent to find number six waiting for us. Apparently, he got into the park right at the nick of time, hiked up until it got too dark, made his own campground, and the next morning at daybreak (lest a park ranger find him), started hiking again to find us. He met the couple staying at JM3, who told him where we were. A miracle! What's more miraculous is that the ground is covered with a gentle layer of snow, and the weather is worsening. In fact, all day was filled with raging blizzard action. We survived only by the will of the gods... We saw the edge of the world (ie the South and North rims) and found our next campsite super early - I'm talking around 4:30. And it was too cold to do anything else but cramp inside our tents and feign sleep. So that is what we did.
Wednesday: Next morning: no snow. Good. Very Good. Very excellent good indeed.
So, we hike. This is the longest day mileage-wise, but it is mostly downhill. We get up before daybreak to watch the sunset from the North Rim, which is A++mazing. Then, we hike back north towards the base of Emory Peak. We go up, we eat lunch, we come down. Badda bing badda boom. Success. We arrive at our last campground around 5:00, and number six and I decide to see how far it is to the trail head. We get down there in about 20 minutes at a amble-y pace, checkout the gift shop, and then find two other guys from our group waiting for us. Apparently, we would rather hike out that night, have some hot food and a comfy hotel room that night before driving back the next day.
Thus, we hike back in, gather up camp, hike back out, and head for pizza hut in Fort Stockton, 2 hours away from the park. Unfortunately, every single hotel room is booked to capacity in that town (weird how fate shoves a handful of bologna in our face when its been so kind to us previously). No matter - we found one hotel that wasn't booked in a town about an hour east - just slightly off our homeward route. So, we arrive there (not a moment too soon, for we got the last room - whew!), crash on the nice carpet for the night, and dream sweet dreams (except for one of the guys, who dreams about falling off of Emory Peak over and over again).
Thursday: On this morning, we say our sweet goodbyes to number six, travel back to Kansas, have a meal at our base station, and crash in the base station's base basement, where the creepy crawlies dwell. Ughlele...
Friday: First: Coffee. Next: Jenga. Then: Group Hug. Finally: Goodbyes.
What an amazing Spring Break! Fun people, great people - such wonderful people! And amazing wildlife, too! Birds, trees, cacti, and on and on. Thanks, Big Bend, for the memories.
If interested, this link may or may not take you to the entirety of the photo album for this trip. If it does not work for you, please somebody comment and I will try to fix the problem.