Tuff Canyon to Tule Mountain and explorations of upper Alamo Creek
Dec. 31st, 2019-Jan. 5th, 2020
42 miles with pack, maybe 4 more without
My sixteenth trip to Big Bend and the first of the decade of the Roaring 20’s was different in many ways to my previous walks and unfolded itself in interesting ways.
December has become my sweet spot for both finding time to get to the park and for fairly consistently good weather. I contacted Robert to see if he was interested in doing a trip together and he said he was but it worked best for him if we did it after Christmas. I could make that work even though it put us in the park during the busy holiday period between Christmas and New Years.
I had several potential areas to explore but we both had Sue Peaks on our bucket lists so that became the primary objective if the weather was going to be good. If that didn’t work out I had been working on a large loop that started at Tuff Canyon and went north, east of Tule Mountain, over Burro Mesa and then back south down Alamo Creek. We would play it by ear and make the call as we got to the park.
A 3 a.m. alarm had me headed to the airport for a flight to San Antonio which went flawlessly. We landed early and I walked out of the baggage claim door at 10:00 a.m. as Robert pulled up. It was a totally clear day as we sailed on to Study Butte, via Alpine, by 4:30, couldn’t have gone any smoother other than that sleep deprivation thing.
There were a lot of Big Bend Chat folks in the park over the holidays but we would not be able to meet up with most of them. We did have plans to have dinner with Mitch and his new bride and a few others. We checked into the Chisos Mining Co. Motel and then headed over to the Starlight to sit on the front porch and the place was totally jammed. Butch Hancock was playing that night and the parking lot was overflowing and a line of at least 50 people were already waiting to get in at 5:00!
We had a few beers while waiting and when we got to the door the wait was 2.5 hours! We decided to bail and go to La Kiva, which had its own long wait of 1.5 hours. Mitch and Emily joined us there and we had a good visit and dinner (finally!). This is what happens during the busy times. Mitch told us it had been so busy in the park that they had stationed a ranger at the bottom of the Basin road and would only let one car in as one would come out!
Robert and I stumbled back to the room, did some packing for the trip and then passed out, it had been a long day for me!
Trail Day 1, New Years Eve
Up early and to the Big Bend Motor Inn at 7:00 for breakfast because we were trying to get to the backcountry permit office before it opened at 8:30. Good thing we moved quickly because as we got to Panther Junction visitor center at 8:20 there were already 4 groups in line in front of us with many more coming in!
There were two rangers writing permits and it took a long time as most folks don’t have a clue what they want to do or know anything about the park or the rules. In nearly 47 years of coming to the park this was the first time I had ever experienced the backcountry permit office which is only open during Spring Break, Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, I hope it is the last time.
Robert and I of course knew exactly what we were doing and were out in 15 minutes. It was the last day of the old permit fees and with my Geezer pass it only cost $6 for which I had exact change. If we had been there one day later it would have cost $30 ($60 for non Senior pass holders) a 500% increase. Now I support an increase in fees as the old price was ridiculously cheap but I think both the new partial backpacking reservations system (only the Chisos campsites) and the $10 per night increase are cumbersome and overkill.
While we had our sights on Sue Peaks the forecast was not good for that plan with a strong front coming through tomorrow and the next day so we opted for the Tule Mountain/Alamo creek route. I had only walked through that area once on my across the western half of the park walk and Robert had a couple of crossings but this would be a totally different approach.
So here is the map. The individual days are each in a different color, the original route plan and campsites, that we didn’t do are in black. The orange sections are alternatives we considered.
We filled up our water containers, including cached water and headed back west to near mile post 17 and the head of Alamo creek where we left both a food and water cache to be picked up in four days. We then drove around and down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Tuff Canyon. A few last minute bits of packing and we were finally off at 11:00.