Big Bend National Park – East Rim and Emory Peak – 10/23-10/24/21

Saturday, October 23 – Sunday, October 24, 2021

Hike: Pinnacles Trail to Emory Peak to East Rim (overnight) to South Rim to Laguna Meadows Trail

Weather: warm, low 80s, mostly clear, beautiful

Hikers: Ian, Josh, Ryan, David

Length: 17.3 miles

Long blog post incoming! I have been wanting to get out to Big Bend National Park my entire life. In early May, I got inspired to finally make the trip by my buddy Lee and booked a night out on the East Rim in the fall and a couple of nights car camping in the Chisos Basin. Sadly, Lee couldn’t make this trip, but I wanted to give him the credit for the idea anyway.

There ended up being four of us: myself, my college buddy Josh, my friend Ryan from Dallas (who I hiked with at Yosemite a couple of years ago), and his friend David, who was a former Boy Scout guide at Philmont in New Mexico.

Josh and I made the long drive from Austin (8 hours) on Friday morning and met up with Ryan and David at the first campsite around 4pm. We set up camp and took a quick hike to see the sunset in The Window, which is a gap in the rocks that surround the Chisos Basin, through which all the water in the basin drains.

The Window

I also found the Stephen Mather plaque. Mather is the father of the National Parks System and he and his second in command, Horace Albright, are responsible for so much of what the National Parks are today. The last line on the plaque says it all: “There will never come an end to the good that he has done.”

We got back to camp and all laid out on a big rock at our site to watch the stars as they came out. Unluckily, the moon was almost full, so we only had a couple of hours of star watching before the moon rose and washed out most of the stars. The moon should have gotten the memo about Big Bend being an International Dark Sky park.

We awoke early the next morning and packed up to hit the trail. We drove to the lodge parking lot where the trail head was and started off on the Pinnacles trail. This is the steeper direction to do the loop, but I figured I’d rather have a tougher first day and cruise down on a more gentle slope coming back the next day. Honestly, either way was a good and hard hike.

The motley crew – L to R: Ian, Josh, David, Ryan

The weather couldn’t have been better as we climbed the trail up to the junction with the Emory Peak trail about 5 miles in. Emory Peak is the highest point in the park. We stashed our packs in the bear boxes at the junction so we could make the 3 mile round trip to the peak with less weight on our shoulders.

Starting on trail
These guys were common along the trail
Views of Chisos Basin as we climbed
Views off of the Emory Peak trail
Top of Emory Peak, looking towards Mexico

We made our way back down to the junction and had lunch in the shade. We still had a few miles to go to get to the East Rim, where we were camping for the night. Setting off into Boot Canyon, we came upon a lot of water, which would have been nice to know, since we were all carrying 5-6 liters each. That translates to 11-13 pounds, or about 1/3 of my total pack weight. It was a pretty canyon at least.

Water, water everywhere!

Finally we started to climb out of the canyon and up the last 500 feet of elevation to the East Rim. We were all extremely tired, but the views were amazing. We started to set up camp and I got into my camp shoes, after which I promptly stubbed my toe on a tiny stump sticking out of the ground near the bear box. It hurt like hell for a couple of minutes, but I got it wrapped up and it wasn’t that big of a deal, though I was dreading the hike down in the morning a bit.

Resting after a long climb up
Broken toe nail
Curious deer

After about an hour of decompressing at camp and hanging out with the friendly deer who are not afraid of humans at all, we went out to the Rim to eat dinner and watch the last rays of sun hit the incredible landscape laid out before us. Truly an awesome experience. Ryan also got some great shots of the Milky Way once the sun went down. The morning would be even better.

Photo credit: Ryan

We woke up around 7am, bundled up, and went out to the Rim to watch the sun rise. The wind was pretty fierce and I’m glad I had my puffy, though it was probably in the upper 40s, so nothing too terrible. This was something I will never forget.

Waiting for the sun
Not a bad view
Sun peeking over the horizon
Ryan getting some epic shots

After soaking in the experience, we packed up and headed on the trail to the South Rim, which gets more notoriety than the East Rim, but I thought it was a little overblown. I’m splitting hairs here, but I’d choose the East Rim, personally.

One view off the South Rim
Looking back toward the East Rim where we camped

The trail down was pretty, but long. Got a nice video of some more curious deer right along the South Rim trail.

We were all pretty wiped out when we got down to the basin again. We stopped at the lodge restaurant for lunch and a couple of beers. We had planned to do the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and maybe another short hike that day, but once we set up camp, we decided to just veg out in the shade for the rest of the day.

We had another epic night of star watching and then woke up to make the long drive home. This was a great adventure and everyone did really well on the hike. I’ll have to bring Court out here, even though she isn’t a big fan of the desert. I’m betting this could change her opinion.

Last sunset from camp – alternate view of The Window
Andromeda Galaxy – photo credit: Ryan
photo credit: Ryan

As for hiking plans the rest of the year, we were supposed to go to Sequoia in December to see the trees in the snow, but the KNP Complex fire forced the lodge to cancel all reservations until next year. Huge bummer. We will reschedule for sure. Thanks for reading!

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