It was a Saturday morning. We awoke to near freezing temperatures with light frost here and there and the most noxious smell of skunk. We could hear in the distance some sort of animal flock feeding and foraging. As I walked through the cactus to gather a few morning images, I saw a stand of Javalina not fifty yards from our camp.
After a couple of pop-tarts and coffee (French vanilla coffee grounds floating in hot water), I set out to photograph our wild pigs. I thought there were just a few – and I found them in short order tracking upwind and listening for their rustling in the brush. I spied three or four of them straddling a prickly pear cactus and eating a good bit of it. It seems they trample the plant first and then eat from it. As I clicked my first picture they discovered I was standing there, about fifteen feet away, wearing a yellow long sleeve shirt and bright read down vest. Off they went – twelve or thirteen in all, racing through the brush and then across the road.
By 9:30am, Chris and I drove to a nearby hillside – a place that was littered with several large volcanic boulders and we hiked to the top. We could see much of the highlands from there we were, but fearing fatigue, we spent little time exploring and made our way back to camp. We’d decided that we were going to climb Emory Peak that afternoon – the second highest peak in Texas.
At exactly 1:05pm, we headed out of the Big Bend basin looking up toward the peak. The map said it was 4.3 miles and an increase in elevation of 3000 feet. It is interesting, the psychology of motivation. You can’t really start out on a hike for the pinnacle and then stop when you’re tired. You have to keep on going no matter what. It’s sort of the rule. I hiked it once before with Brian in the summer and frankly, don’t remember it being such a trek. Maybe three or four times Chris would say quietly, are we close to the top. I’d say just as quietly – no not yet. When we got to the saddle at the base of the peak – we were both pretty darn tired. We still had another 1.2 miles and 800 or 1000 feet vertical to go. All of it was uphill!
We stopped for a moment to rest on our way through the last leg. There was a loud huff from the brush and then the breaking of sticks and brush as something large moved about. As we made our may along, we ran across a beautiful black bear. Although he was weary of our presence, he didn’t mind our watching him. He made a point to stay about 40 feet away and to keep some sort of brush between us. It was just the inspiration we needed – a break with something cool in it. I could see the top – although a good click away – we finally had a target that wasn’t occluded by trees and mountain parts. The views just got better and better as we got higher – the moon rising over the desert. He had no time to kid around – the day was ending and crickets were starting to sing in the shadows. The temperature was starting to drop.
We got to the top at about 4:20pm – deciding to stay only long enough to take a few pictures. At 4:30, we started on our way back down. By the time we got back to the bottom, we both were pretty much wiped out. We calculated the trek again and found that all told, it was a ten mile run – more than either of us had trained for.
In another cool note to the story, on our way up, we ran across three guys from Waco – undoubtedly from Baylor – (all non-smoking, non-drinking virgins saving themselves for marriage – not) coming down from the peak. Somewhere along the way, I’d lost my felt hat. As we continued up and they down, I hollered at them to keep an eye out for it and to hang it on a tree where I could find it. Sure enough – about a third or the way down, my hat was hanging from a tree. And when we got back to the bottom – after dark – they were just pulling away in their car and mentioned that they were glad I’d found my hat. I thanked them but was not in the mood to talk. Somehow I’ll track them down and thank them properly.