The Marufo Vega Trail Hike has been probably the most difficult in my entire life – and nearly resulted in my death. I visited the Marufo Vega Trail on my second day in Big Bend National Park. When I got my Big Bend Back Country Pass I asked the ranger to recommend a secluded area with no people and he told me about the Marufo Vega Trail. The ranger warned me to take plenty of water and only go if I feel confident enough. I had plenty of water in the car and there was no problem with my confidence, so I set off on my big adventure on the Marufo Vega Trail into the Big Bend National Park’s desert.
The Marufo Vega Trail in Big Bend National Park
The Marufo Vega Trail trail is extremely strenuous but a spectacular day hike (if you are a fast walker). The entire loop is 14 miles round trip and temperatures can exceed 100 degrees (38 degrees C) with no water available anywhere along the trail. In fact it is so difficult that there have been several deaths along the trail, so don’t take it lightly!
Luckily I met a couple of rangers in the morning and they reminded me to take plenty of water with me. At the head of the trail there was another sign advising visitors to take extra water so I turned back and put some more water in my rucksack. At least that was what I thought! Unfortunately, as I was un-packing my rucksack someone disturbed me and I merely repacked the same water I took out from my rucksack a moment earlier. So in fact I took no extra water, which came back to haunt me later.
I set off at around 11 o’clock and by then it was already quite hot and I was sweating a lot and breathing heavily. The trail is very steep and rocky in places and I live in England so I was not used to the heat. I was drinking generous amounts of water in the belief that there was plenty more at the bottom of the rucksack.
Lunch on the Marufo Vega Trail Hike
I got as far as Checkpoint 4 without a problem and this was where I stopped first to have something to eat. I sat there for about half an hour and met only one person. In fact, during the entire day’s hike only about five hikers walked past. At the time I thought it was quite amazing and must have been the quietest part of Big Bend National Park, but it was also to my detriment later in the day.
The route between Checkpoints 4 and 5 is quite easy and the views are amazing. The checkpoints are simple metal signs with arrows pointing out the direction of the trail. Unfortunately most of them were quite obscure and rusty, which made them very difficult to spot. Cacti, yellow and pink flowers and red, yellow and orange rocks line the trail. There are no trees and the few shrubs that there are have huge thorns so I tried to avoid them as far as I could.
The Going Gets Tougher
Having passed Checkpoint 5, the trail started to become very difficult with a steep decline into a canyon. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon but this is how I imagine it might look like in parts. The canyon had steep vertical walls on both sides and nothing else but cacti and a few shrubs. It was super quite and as it was getting later, the sun was rising higher – and so did the temperature.
Being in the canyon made it feel even hotter and as the trail was along the sunny side, there was no shade at all. I had no suntan lotion so I started burning pretty quick. Luckily it wasn’t sore to begin with but by nightfall I could barely touch my shoulders.
By the time I reached Checkpoint 6 I was into my second 750 ml bottle of water. I was drinking quite generous amounts of water as it was very hot. Also, I thought that I had plenty of more water in the rucksack. I even used some water to pour over my head as I was overheating, ready to faint.
On the map that the ranger gave me it said that after Checkpoint 6 the trail would be difficult to spot. Fortunately, I managed to find it and about 2-3 hours later I reached the river. Here I stopped a little to bath and eat.
Dinner by the River
The river had sandy banks and it was inside another canyon with some more vertical walls on both sides. It never felt so good to pour cold water over my body! I was absolutely burning up in the heat even though it was only mid-March. I can’t imagine how hot it gets during the summer months…
There were some signs of mules and horses walking around there and some footsteps so I was convinced I was on the right track. I finished the second bottle around this time and put the empty bottle away. Stupidly I did not take out the third bottle just yet, thinking I would do it further up the road. I was still very optimistic I would probably get to higher ground that night and camp out on the hilltop. I didn’t want to camp near the river in case of a flash flood, which happen regularly. It had also rained for the previous two days, so I wasn’t going to risk it.
At around 5pm, after dinner, I started walking uphill. It was still pretty hot and the water was pouring down my neck and back. Carrying my heavy rucksack uphill wasn’t much fun at that point! I still hadn’t realized that I was running out of water, so I opened the third bottle and had a couple of big gulps. It was at this point that I got lost.
Getting Lost in the Desert
There were several trails in front of me and I was convinced I was on the right one. I even had a map with me from the ranger so I carried on walking the same direction until the track disappeared from under my feet…I did not panic at first as I thought I would find the track easily with the help of the map. Problem is, it was a poor quality photocopy and I just could not find Checkpoint 7 however hard I looked. I decided to carry on walking straight, hoping that I would arrive at the other side of the loop and eventually find the trail back. I kept walking and found no trail and it was still very hot so I kept drinking a lot of water.
After about an hour of wandering I gave up looking for the trail. I must have walked a good hour when I suddenly heard a loud noise and the bush rattling. I turned around and saw a wild animal, which I later found out, was a Desert Big Horn Sheep. It’s the size of a deer, but with two twisted horns. It saw me too and started running away from me but that same moment I spotted the trail just next to the animal! I totally took it for some sort of divine intervention as it then lead me to the trail I needed.
Only a Coors Light!
I kept walking on that trail for another 30-40 minutes when I lost it again. I wasn’t about to descend again so I decided to stop and have a break. It was at this time that I started looking for more water in my rucksack and figured out that all I had left with me was a can of Coors Light! I was planning to drink it after I pitched up my tent as a “desert special”. Panic started to sat in, thinking I was in real big trouble as there was absolutely nobody around to give me water!
I was lost and I had no water. I had very little food on me. All I had was a few Reese’s, some bread, some beef jerky and some beef sausages. I also had some canned chicken broth but it was so salty it made me even thirstier…
Read the next post to find out what happened!
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