A few general observations:
- IMO, BIBE is a life-lister. The place is so diverse, pristine, enchanting, spectacular, challenging, unique and majestic, it is something any serious backpacker MUST do. There is also plenty to do for the more casual park visitor.
- Permitting is an important aspect of the planning process. There is a combination of “Zone Camping” in the desert (areas where you can camp anywhere, but with a limit of the number of campers in each zone per day) along with specific site reservations when in the mountains. These need to be reserved no earlier than a day in advance of the start of your hike at the Panther Junction Ranger Station, so plan accordingly.
- Everyone I met along the way was very friendly and helpful. There exists a natural bond for anyone who has the interest and will to make the effort to take in this special place.
- While I didn’t get great sunsets or sunrises, or a lot of stars, I am very fortunate with how the weather worked out. The 60 degree, overcast day on the Dodson portion of the trail helped out tremendously. It was much more accommodating than those who have to do it in the 80’s a couple weeks prior to my trip.
- Another benefit of the guidance of the Big Bend Chat forum was that I became much more anal of pack weight, going as far as purchasing a single-person, lightweight tent and weighing everything I own. A lot of self-awareness obtained by this simple step.
- Water is a major factor for hiking in the desert. I went with 8 Liters (almost 17# of weight!) for every two days while on the trail (I was able to cache 8 liters at the halfway point), had reasonable weather, and barely made it. I didn’t really concentrate on conserving until the last day, but I also didn’t feel like I over-hydrated along the way. This is something first-timers really need to take into consideration.
- There are a few potential natural water sources along the Outer Mountain Loop, however reliability can be an issue in the desert. It is recommended to monitor reports of availability on the Big Bend Chat forum (Rangers are not typically forthcoming of the availability) or cache water along the route. The two options to cache are at the Homer Wilson Ranch (a short walk off of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive) and/or at the east junction of the Dodson Trail and Juniper Canyon (a long, off road journey). I opted to carry two days of water from the start and only cache at Homer Wilson Ranch.
- There is a decision when doing the Outer Mountain Loop (OML) whether to go clockwise or the more traditional counter-clockwise (the way I did). After going down Juniper Canyon and up Blue Creek Canyon, I don’t seen a material difference between the two. The climb up Juniper Canyon would be more strenuous given that the trail is longer and more exposed. On the other hand, I do think I would rather like to climb down the rocky wash of Blue Creek, and, the views while going up Juniper Canyon would be excellent. Maybe a six-of-one/half dozen situation.
- While I couldn’t get a cell signal (Verizon) until I was on top of Emory Peak, I found that I could tap into the Basin Lodge WiFi at the restaurant and Basin Parking Lot. This helped keep in touch with the family (texting and Facetime) before and after the hike.