Big Bend National Park – Solo Backcountry Adventure

Hello everyone,

After spending the last few days in Dallas, TX with my good friends (the Bogott and Perozzi children) I continued on towards Big Bend National Park. The park is located in Southwest Texas on the US/Mexico boarder. The park includes the entire Chisos mountain range and part of Chihuahuan Desert. The drive from Dallas was 9 hours long and the scenery was flat dessert land. As I got closer to the park the Chiso Mountains started flexing their power. What started with a few rocky formations ended up a giant wall of mountains in the middle of the desert. This was my first real scenery change that made me feel like I was no longer in the east. The drive in was spectacular. The feeling of solitude was real.

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I arrived in the park shortly after 4:00 pm and headed straight to the first visitor center to sort out my camping situation. I told the Park Ranger I wanted to see both the dessert valley and the mountains. I applied for two backcountry permits. The first night was for primitive roadside campsite. This was something I was not familiar with but it ended up being incredible. A 4×4 high clearance vehicle is required. The road to the campsite was not developed and the last .5 mile was not maintained. I thought my truck could handle the challenge. The second was for a backcountry backpacking permit in the Chiso Mountains. I thought this would be the best way to experience complete solitude and push my limits. Because I was a solo backpacker in one of the most remote places in the lower 48 they photographed me wearing my hiking clothes and pack. They also took pictures of the bottom of my boots. I’ll let you guess why they did this. This kept me humble but also started pumping my heart with the thrill I was looking for.

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I double checked my fuel and supplies then started off towards my primitive campsite. I entered the park through Persimmon Gap and drove 26 miles to Panther Junction where I made a left. I continued 5 miles down there road until In found the turn off for Glenn Spring Road. The pavement ended and the a cloud of dust was the only thing that followed me. I quickly realized why they stated a 4×4 vehicle is required. The primitive improved road turned into the unmaintained road. The sun was getting lower and almost under the South Rim. I couldn’t find the side road to my campsite. I was out here 10 miles from the paved road and started feeling uneasy. I thought I overshot my turn but couldn’t find a place safe enough to turn around.

No cell service or GPS. Just my map and I. I decided to continue up the road until I found a point of interest on my map. I marked where I was calculated the miles to my camp and reset my truck odometer to calculate where the turn should be. I made a 3 point turn and headed back in the direction of my camp. The sun was now below the mountains. My plan worked and I found the turn out for my camp GS1. The final stretch of road was called Black Gap Road. This was not fun and I was worried how I was going to make it out in the morning. I pulled into my campsite and was greeted with incredible views. I made dinner and hiked up to this point overlooking my site. I was finally out here, alone.

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I woke up 3 times throughout the night to complete darkness and strange noises but slept decent. After brewing a cup of instant coffee I walked back up the road to scout out the way out. On my walk I stopped and closed my eyes. I took in a deep breath and exhaled. I felt amazing. I ate eggs and potatoes and washed it down with the mud I brewed earlier. I packed up camp and started the journey out. With the sun sitting high I was able to enjoy the backcountry from the view of my drivers seat. Primitive road side camping is a great way to camp in the backcountry without having to backpack. If you are looking for incredible views and solitude I recommend doing this. You will not have any comforts out here but you will have something better. A night under the stars with out the crowds of a campground.

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With pavement back under my tires I set my heading for the Chisos Basin (5000′). This is where I would park my truck over night while I hiked into the mountains. I arrived around 10:00 am and started preparing my backpack. Among a group of other parked cars about 4 backpackers were doing the same. Food, water and clothing preps with gear laid out all over the parking lot. It took me about 45 mins and a double check to be sastified with the way my backpack was packed. I had everything I needed to spend the night alone on the mountain. I set off towards the trail head.

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The plan was to hike to my campsite and set up my tent then drop some gear in the bear box and summit Emory Peak (7832′). What a brutal hike up those switchbacks with a full pack. I loved every second of it. I made it to the top of Toll Mountain and dropped my pack. I had some water and took a picture. I was half way there. I met another hiker from Boston. He was doing 3 nights in the backcountry and I decided to hike with him for a few miles. He was doing a similar month long trip like mine.

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I stopped and said my goodbyes to the hiker and went to find my primitive campsite in Boot Canyon. I didn’t realized how far off the trail I would be when I got my permit.  I knew I would enjoy the solitude once my nerves of my first night backpacking solo calmed. I cleared some sticks and rocks and set up my tent. It was time to peak Emory.

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I started up the trail and halfway up it turned from trail to a rock path. My legs were tired and my body was exhausted but I wanted to make it back to camp before sunset. As I finished climbing the last section with my hands I saw a group of teens at the top of the mountain. We started talking and I told them my story. A few were inspired and wanted to do the same thing. I felt like I was able to motivate them and that’s the best feeling I’ve had so far.

At this point I was maybe 50 feet from the top. The trail stops and you have to climb a verticle wall to reach the summit. I dropped my pack and started to climb. I never thought I’d be climbing a mountain. I reached the top. Wow – I quickly was overcome with emotions. A tear dropped from my face and the wind quickly carried it off the side of the mountain to its final resting point thousands of feet below. This was it, this is what I was here for.

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I was up here alone. The only person on this peak. A kid from a city in Florida who never did anything like this before, or has ever seen anything like this. I was standing on top one of the tallest mountains in Texas. I spent some time up here overlooking the beautiful land below. Imagining what if I never took the steps to get to this point. I thought about everything in my life the led me to this exact moment. That mountain peak will always be a very special place to me.

I carefully climbed down to my pack and hiked back to camp. I made dinner and climbed in my sleeping bag. Only to be woken up to my tent glowing from the stars above. I did it. I camped alone in the wilderness. Spend a night alone in the woods and you will not regret it.  Walls and roofs are overrated.

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I woke up early and packed up camp by 6:15 AM. It was a very cold morning and I was in all my layers. I set off towards Chisos Basin and witnessed the sun rising over the mountains. I thought about how blessed I was to be out here. That I had the health to climb a mountain and sleep in the wilderness. That’s something to be very humbled about. I hiked around 7 miles and made it to my truck. This park gave me the solitude I was looking for. I connected with nature here unlike any other place. I found a new confidence in myself. Big Bend will be my place forever.

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