As you may know, Tina had a complete knee replacement surgery in November of 2022. Prior to that we had been taking multi-day backpacking trips, but we limited those to what her body would do. She knew her knees were bad, and had gotten a number of injections into them and experimental treatements to allow her to go backpacking, but we knew it was only a matter of time. The Superior Trail trip in September of 2022 was the final straw.
She has been recovering remarkably well. We started out with short walks around our property, then some city street walks, then even Freidrich Park. In March of 2023 we took it up a notch: She and I went to Lost Maples State Natural Area and put in a 10 mile day to celebrate my birthday. She complained that she was slow, but she did it! I mean, come on! Just a few weeks before she couldn't even walk! A remarkable improvement trend!
She had long been disappointed when I would go off and do things her body wouldn't let her do. After that successful Lost Maples trip, I booked a trip to Big Bend National Park for her to finally see the back country. She, her daughter, and mom accompanied me in December 2021 to that park for a couple days before I did the outer mountain loop - a moderate to advanced backpacking trip for which she was not capable. Still, she lamented that she could not go as these were the type of trips that she longed to do. Well, this past weekend we rectified some of that.
This weekend was a number of firsts for Tina: The first time seeing BBNP's famous window. The first time hiking with a total vertical climb over 1000'. The first time backpacking with a total vertical climb over 1000'. The first time surviving a torrential downpour in a tent. The first time hiking in the clouds. The first time looking down upon the clouds from above while hiking. The first time hiking over 7000 feet of elevation. The first time getting hailed on at over 7000'. The first time seeing the South Rim!
Oh, and a first for me: The first time I saw a bear in the wild!
We left Jourdanton at 8:30 Saturday morning for the drive, arriving at BBNP mid afternoon. After parking our car at the campsite, we took off down the Window Trail for Tina to have her first glimpse of this famous landmark as well as test out her knees on a rather moderate trail. Except for one spot near the very end that required a huge step to get down, she did great. She was amazed when she saw it.
Following our Window Trail trip, we set up camp and had the most hiker-trash, nutritious dinner ever! FWIW, cheddar Ramen and Spam is actually pretty good!
We couldn't have asked for better temperatures. The high we saw all weekend was 75. The low was 51. Saturday night as we camped in Chisos Basin campground, we got a horrendous thunderstorm. Lightning was striking the mountains all the way around us, with flash-bang times of 2 seconds - which considering how far below the peaks we were camped, was essentially right next to us. The rain was so hard that it washed gravel away, and underneath our tent! It was so strong and dumped water so fast that it liquified the sand/gravel tent pad, turning it to mush, such that one of our tent stakes pulled out during the torrent, causing Tina and I to hold onto the trekking poles for dear life to keep the tent upright until the rain subsided sufficiently for me to get out and reset the stake. And this was WITH rocks piled on top of the stakes! Thank goodness I had the foresight to stake out the "storm guy lines" ahead of time. Here are some links to videos of the torrent and the aftermath:
We did get some water in the tent, but that was because it was flapping in the wind and not shedding water like it was designed to do. But we kept our quilts dry. By Sunday morning, the wind had dried off the tent. We set out or stuff to dry while we had breakfast, then packed up to park and await the camp store to open at 8:30. Following the camp store, we set out up Pinnacles trail. Our morning's objective: A 4.2 mile, 1800' climb to Pinnacles Gap. Tina's previous record for vertical climb on a day hike had been 1000' from Smuggler's Notch to the top of Spruce Peak in Vermont in September of 2021. That hike kicked her butt. Sunday she powered right up the Pinnacles trail, this time with a full pack! We went slower than I would have gone by myself, and Tina complained that she was out of shape, BUT SHE DID IT! And she reported her knee felt great!
Our campsite for the night was Toll Mountain, which sits in Pinnacles Gap. We made it just before noon. We sat, drank lots of water, had lunch, and discussed options for the afternoon. I had 2 of them planned out: Summit Emory Peak (3.5 miles, ~1000' gain) or the South Rim loop (6 miles, also ~1000' gain). I recommended the South Rim because the top portion of Emory Peak was probably still outside her capability range given the body contortions the last 1/4 mile required. That, and I would rather be stuck on the South Rim if a storm rolled in than on Emery. She agreed. We loaded up a day pack with our empty water bottles, the water filter, some full water bottles, and our rain gear, and headed down boot canyon trail.
Of course it had rained hard the night before, so I knew we would see water on the trail. I had not expected to see as much as we did. The evidence of torrential, sweeping floods was everywhere. Green leaves knocked off the trees littered the ground. Every low spot had debris piled up from what had obviously been raging river a few hours before. You know how the desert has all those "washes" where the occasional rain would fill them up? Those dry creek beds? Well, they were active Sunday! I was astonished to see that much water.
Tina was, of course, blown away by the scenery. The canyon walls, Boot Rock, how the canyons spill out onto the desert below, the rock formations, the rugged mountain peaks, strange trees, etc. It was nice to see how well the various areas were recovering from the fires of 2022. Lots of new grasses and shrubs, and some of the trees survived. Cactus were in bloom everywhere. It was nice to see the place so green.
Following the decent into Boot Canyon, we filled up our water bottles at Boot Spring, then proceeded up the trail, stopping for a snack about half way up. Just shy of the crest of the rim, Tina was feeling the toll of the day's climb. We could see some dark clouds to the west. We made a push to get to the rim before the inevitable - before we were socked in. We made it just in time. Dark clouds were overhead, but not yet out over the desert below, which made for some amazing contrast. She was blown away.
We donned our rain gear, then hiked on. We got to the next vista still in the clear, but rain started to fall at the third vista. It was pleasant for a while hiking in the rain, but it started to come down harder and harder. We sheltered under a tree during a particularly heavy downpour before carrying on. Tina was in heaven: we were walking through clouds. Yeah it was raining, but it wasn't that bad. We continued west, in mist and clouds, as we rounded the rim. We passed through the area that I told her had still smelled like a fire last April only to find that it STILL smelled like fire! Not sure if it was the rain that kicked up those smells or not, but it was pronounced!
As we slabbed the ridge towards South Rim 2 campsite, we could look down into boot canyon and see the trails we were on earlier. The rain intensified. We heard thunder. I was hoping we could get back down to Boot Canyon before it got really bad. Too late. It started to hail. It wasn't big hail - slightly smaller than a pea - maybe 3/16" in diameter - but it still stung.
The trail was a stream, and our shoes were soaked. On a positive note, the skirt section of my newly modified rain "tunic" was AWESOME! It kept everything above my knees perfectly dry - just as intended. After a short break to huddle together to wait out the hail and the worst of the downpour, we trudged on, around the end of the ridge and into a saddle where the past fires had ravaged the landscape. All of a sudden Tina calls out "bear!" Sure enough, about 50-75 yards ahead a rather large black bear was lumbering across the trail ahead of us. We made all sorts of noise to encourage him along - he sprinted off to the right and out of sight. We continued making noise for quite a while to ensure he knew where we were. Pretty cool. Never seen one outside a zoo.
The rain was on-again, off-again for the next hour or so as we followed the South Rim Trail down to the Colima Trail junction. Lots of mist. Tina thought it was magical, but unfortunately, we missed all the great views to the west. When we hit the Colima Trail junction, we took a short break while Tina videoed her reaction about the recent events for her daughter. We then began the climb up Colima back to the top of the ridge, then down the other side back into Boot Canyon. As we climbed Boot Canyon trail back to where our tent site was, we remarked firstly how we hadn't seen anyone (whereas earlier in the day the place was quite populated - obviously they fled the rain), and secondly how much MORE water there was in the drainages! Temp had fallen during the storm and was now in the mid 50s. The rain had all stopped, and the sky had cleared. We could look back at where we just came from and lament that the views would have been good. Oh well!
Continuing up Boot Canyon trail back to our campsite, rounding the corner by Boot Rock, looking out onto the desert floor below, Tina was able to take pictures of a rainbow over the desert. What a treat. As we climbed back to our campsite, Tina announced that she was beat. She had right to be. By the time we got back to our tent site, she had done over 2400 vertical feet of climbing. We immediately changed out of our rain gear and into dry clothes. I set up the tent, and made dinner. My choice of the red lentil chili and blueberry crisp for dinner was greatly appreciated! We relaxed, enjoying the views of the basin, before turning in for an early night.
I did not sleep well that night due to having caffine too late in the afternoon - something I knew better than do but did anyways. I got up at my normal time (5:00 am) to go to the bathroom, then stayed up to make morning coffee. I got to watch a pretty amazing sunrise over Casa Grande.
I let Tina sleep in until her alarm went off. We did our morning coffee routine before packing up. We were on the trail at 7:45 for the long decent back down to Chisos Basin. Temp was 51 degrees starting out. We passed a few people on our way down, and spotted this in the trail:
We made it down to the basin by 10:00. We had a nice chat with the ranger who we had chatted with before going up the day before, reporting on the weather we encountered and where we had seen the bear. She indicated that was probably the large male that had frequently been seen in that area. She reported that there was also a momma bear and two cubs frequently seen in the area near where I took the picture of the track in the mud, so that was most likely one of the cubs. She was pleasant to talk to, and from Castle Hills in San Antonio.
Following our chat, we hit the park store to grab a bite to eat. We sat outside on the park benches bemusing at the plethora of people now showing up to hike. Tina had fun feeding the remnants of a small can of Pringles she bought to a pidgeon before we shouldered our packs again and completed the last 0.4 miles and couple hundred feet of decent back down to Tina's car. After changing clothes, we were off for the long drive home, happy at our short adventure, and already chatting about future trips.
Hike on, my friends.