Big Bent on Adventure

Backpacking is full of uncertainty and estimating. I don’t deal well with the former. I don’t do well at the latter.

Pack too much and you won’t make it up the mountain. Pack too little and you could get hungry, thirsty, cold, dirty, bitten or burned.

Bad information can lead to poor estimating. The Weather Channel said lows in the 60s. That was in the basin. In the mountains, lows hit the 40s.

One hiker was told not to bring a change of clothes to minimize weight. His clothes stood on their own by the end of the trip.

Such is the risk of the unknown. Yet, there’s something energizing about carrying everything you need in a pack on your back. It makes you light and free and happy in the way a Haitian orphan is light and free and happy. You realize how overrated stuff is.

So four friends with four packs headed west last weekend. After a hearty chicken fried steak in Fort Stockton, we entered Big Bend National Park for three nights in the woods.

Big Bend is a magical, if arid, place. The hardest part of an extended trip into the Chisos Mountains is packing in your own water.

The substance that sustains you also weighs you down. One must find an equilibrium between water and weight. Rangers recommend a gallon per day.

With that kind of weight, one set of clothes starts to make some sense. That’s all bears have, after all.

We had high hopes for wildlife sightings. But by the end of day one, only ants, a lizard, some birds and a deer had crossed our path, which included a summit of 7,825-foot Emory Peak and a 360-degree view of southwest Texas and northern Mexico.

Day two began with a view, too: the south rim overlooking the desert floor and the Rio Grande 2,000 feet below. A majestic collision of two nations. Grand mountains and deserts lining both sides of a still grand river.

We hiked past a half dozen equally impressive overlooks. By mid-afternoon, we arrived at the same campsite where I had heard a mountain lion roar four years ago.

With tempered expectations, we set up camp, soaked in the shade and looked around for signs of life.

The sun eventually descended, along with our hopes of seeing a great king of the forest. But then, as we chatted around an imaginary campfire, I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye: two, 300-pound Mexican black bears running up the highland meadow.

It was nature mimicking art.

I jumped up, half in self defense mode, half in sightseer mode, not knowing whether to grab a stick or a camera. Our motion startled one bear thirty feet into a tree. The other hunkered down in the tall grass before making her way slowly up the opposite hillside.

After a few minutes, the bear in the tree climbed cautiously down and began sniffing for berries. From a distance of less than fifty feet, he grazed and watched us while we, amazed, watched him.

When I got home, I showed a video of the bear to my family. “That’s amazing!” said my three-year-old before turning to his mom to ask, “Can we say ‘amazing’?”

Yes, son, you can say amazing.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

1 Response to “Big Bent on Adventure”

  1. 1 Zack Stroup (@ZackStroup) April 24, 2012 at 06:52

    Great Post Kevin! Thanks for sharing! I want to hear more! Zack

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