Weather during October at Big Bend

is apparently unpredictable in terms of temperature. The thermometer showed 29 degrees inside the tent, thankfully the Texas sun would soon be up. Opening the zipper revealed the view from our Toll Mountain campsite. Superb. The visibility had increased dramatically from yesterday, and we could easily see 10-20 miles looking Northwest. To prepare for our day of backpacking in the Chisos Mountains we made breakfast(this may have been the best breakfast I’ve ever had while backpacking – Peak Refuel Breakfast Skillet topped with Yellowbird Blue Agave Hot Sauce was unreasonably tasty).

Despite the cold 30 degree wind whipping through the pass, the sun kept us warm while we ate and mentally prepared ourselves for the day ahead which would bring tons of wildlife, 10+ miles of hiking, an amazing sunset, and an encounter with the largest black bear I’ve ever seen.

Deer at Big Bend National Park

are apparently fine with humans. I imagine since they’re protected within the park they’ve learned that they don’t need to run from us hikers. Not even 5 minutes from our campsite, we rounded the corner South on Boot Spring Trail and came within 20 feet of 4 white tail deer. All were 6-8 pointers and hung out with us for a few minutes while they munched on the various plant life on the side of the mountain.

Laguna West

is our destination. Specifically LW3, the furthest campsite west of Emory Peak. To get there, we would backpack South along Boot Spring Trail, cut West through Colima Trail, and follow the Laguna Meadow Trail back North.

A total distance of 4.5mi of varying inclines and descents was a moderate hike through beautiful canyons and along ridge lines of various peaks. Colima Trail was shaded and cool with stiff breezes that kept me in a hat and jacket the whole way. As we began to descend to the Laguna West trail via the Southwest Rim Trail we took in some amazing views. At the time, we didn’t know it was only a taste of what was to come. The final jaunt from the main trail to our campsite was a little over one mile, mostly through tall grass. Thankfully we didn’t run into any snakes!

The time was 3pm. We dropped our gear, set up camp, and prepared for our next hike.

The best backpacking trail in the Chisos Mountains

is probably the South Rim. Now, I haven’t hiked every trail so I can’t say that definitively, but I can say it was my personal favorite. The views are better than those from Emory Peak, the trail is more diverse, and the views on the way to the trail are even amazing. We hustled along for the most part, unsure of where we really wanted to watch sunset from. You can watch the whole hike with binaural audio from my point of view, so go grab a pair of headphones!

This was a 4.2mi hike one way, the only real elevation change is from Laguna Meadows up to the Southwest Rim(~400ft). These were the most amazing views looking out from the Chisos Mountains that I saw on my trip. We easily spent 2 hours just appreciating how the sun kept us warm and played with all the shadows across the horizon. Looking South across the desert, Rio Grande river, and into Mexico was beautiful.

The bear

The sun dipped below the horizon at 7:17pm. A 2.5 mile night hike back to our tent from the sunset perch lay ahead of us. As we passed LW2, Garrett motioned to me.

“Do you hear anything” he whispered, looking above us.

I pulled my hat above my ears, turning my head the same way as his. Nothing. I pushed onward, and as I rounded the next bend in the trail I pointed out the light about 50 feet off of the trail. We were going to have “neighbors” tonight. “That must be what you heard”, I remarked to Garrett.

We arrived at our campsite some 400 feet away from theirs and settled in to our warm, dry clothes that were waiting for us. Passing time as the water came to a boil, we reviewed the days activities and fun moments. Just as I dumped the boiling water from the pot into my freeze-dried dinner, we heard it.

Yelling. Screaming. Clapping. Then nothing. Then again.

I shout “are you okay over there?”

“No! There’s a bear in our campsite!” they reply.

Tying shoe laces, a flurry of movement between Garrett and I as we grab gear and spring into action. Running down through the valley between the campsites the tall grass whips by. I’m the first on the scene. With my 1200 lumen flashlight, I reveal the campsite. There it is, in the edge of my light spill. The largest black bear I’ve ever seen. He’s rummaging through the camper’s backpacks that had been hung from a tree.

I point my light directly into it’s eyes and shout, “Hey!” The bear returns my look. Time is frozen. A 500-600lb bear less than 50 feet away will do that. Garrett arrives and I look over to initiate the trade of the bear spray. In the split second hand off, the bear has already turned 180 degrees, and begins to saunter up into the thick woods above. We continue shouting and throw rocks into the woods.

Our neighbors respond in a shaky tone, “Is it gone, can we come out?”

The conversation that follows causes Garrett and I to shake our heads and chuckle for the next few days. The TLDR; is:

Us: Did you bring bear spray or self defense tool like a gun?

Them: We have some bells

Us: Just shout real loud if it comes back

And that is my story of the largest black bear I’ve ever seen. No photos, no videos. In a day in the age of cell phones, I’m happy to say my first response is still to help others rather than just take a video.

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