Big Bend- Outer Mountain Loop in a Day

A story of soggy bottoms, warm beer, and canned fish

In 2017, my friend Sumpter and I hiked Big Bend’s 34-mile Outer Mountain Loop Trail. The trek took us three days. Fresh into training for the Pacific Crest Trail, this was our first big test. We passed. Barely. I heard that it could be done in a day but didn’t believe it at the time.
A few years later, with a full thru-hike and a summer of guiding under my belt, I felt confident in my ability to tackle the trail in under 24-hours. So I called up my buddy Harry to see if he wanted to join. Harry and I met on the PCT and let me tell you, he can hike (and run). A former D1 cross country runner, Harry just doesn’t stop. The man will start walking in the morning and not stop for lunch because he “forgot”. I knew that he’d be up to the challenge. On January 14, 2020, at around 5 AM we started the trail. The loop starts and ends in the Chisos Basin. This basin sits under the famed Emory peak, which boasts of being the tallest mountain in the park. The trail climbs close to 3,000 ft in just a few short miles and passes close to the top of the peak. Full of excitement about our journey, we crushed the uphill cresting the saddle perfectly time for sunrise. After the initial climb, the trail drops back down into the rolling foothills on the north side of the Chisos mountains. The trip down proved far more eventful than the trip up. First, a gallon water bottle Harry was carrying ruptured in his bag, soaking his backside. This was painful because there is nowhere to refill water on the trail, and it was 30-degrees outside. With almost all hiking mishaps, the answer was to keep walking. Next, we ran into a black bear as we reached the bottom. Most black bears run away as soon as they see a human. Not this one. Maybe it had a cub with it or maybe it was just territorial. Either way, he would not get off the trail. After yelling, waving our hands in the air, and barking at it like dogs, we decided to bushwack the steep hill around it. We made it by and kept on walking. By lunch, Harry and I were feeling the pain. We had put in around 24 miles, stopping only one time to eat some food. Our destination for lunch was called Homer Wilson’s Ranch. It’s an old ranch house directly on the trail. The night before we started the trail, we had cached water and two beers. We quickly walked to the bear box and got our resupply. For lunch, I brought a giant can of sardines. Harry had never eaten one, so he tried one and was impressed. After our quick lunch, we packed up and hit the trail again. Note: We are starting a petition to change the name of Homer Wilson’s Ranch to McLovin’s Hideout. No particular reason. Comment below if you’re interested in joining our efforts. The link is below. Just as we had climbed and descended when we started out of the Chisos Basin, we had to climb over that same saddle to descend back to where we started. After a full day of hiking, a giant can of sardines, and a warm beer I can honestly say the climb sucked. It is about 7-miles of uphill with quite a few false summits. When we made it to the top of the climb, I was surprised to see a college guy standing in the trail shirtless, with his gear spread out everywhere. Turns out, his can of Bear Spray (pepper spray) had leaked everywhere coving his back. While painful, I couldn’t help think it was funny to see a plan backfire that badly. The final descent was pleasant. The sun was slowly dipping below the horizon, rotating through its numerous shades of yellow and red, as we approached our finish line. I couldn’t help but reflect on how much I had changed since hiking the trail three years before. The experiences I had gone through, books I had read, and people I’d met had all become a part of me in one way or another. Yet amongst all the change I was still me. The same person who had struggled to finish the trail in the days was now finishing it in 12 hours. The funny thing is both trips were equally as satisfying because both trips pushed me. That’s really what people want. A challenge. And nature always promises just that.