Emory Peak • Highpoint: Brewster County
• Highpoint: Big Bend National Park
• Range Highpoint: Chisos Mountains

Emory Peak as we start the hike

The "Window"

Casa Grande Peak

Beth hikes amid the pinnacles

The summit as we get closer

Looking back at Beth and
the rest of the Chisos

Beth below the rocky bits
(My shadow is to the right)

Beth on safe ground
at the summit

Scott and Beth, summitters!

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Date: (1) January 1, 2000, (2) December 21, 2005 • Elevation: 7,825 feet • Prominence: 4,485 feet • Distance: 9 miles • Time: 5 hours in 2000, a little longer in 2005 • Gain: 2,500 feet • Conditions: Fantastic both times • Teammates: Beth in 2005

Emory Peak just may be the pre-eminent mountain in all of Texas. It is the highest point of the Chisos Mountains and of Big Bend National Park. The region is a magnificent mix of deserts and mountains, canyons and plateaus. The peak itself is a "hill" atop the Chisos Plateau, but the final few feet is rocky with exposure. An excellent trail leads to the summit, and overall, it is one of the finest hiking experiences in the entire United States.

As 1999 came to a close, I wanted to celebrate the odometer roll-over into 2000 in some sort of style, so I decided to find a bar in West Texas and go there. I had no idea where. I would figure that out once I got there. Ultimately, my destination was Big Bend National Park. Thus, by design, I was here on the first day of the 2000s, and had a wonderful hike up Emory Peak. I came back nearly six years later to accompany my wife for her ascent and visit to the park.

First ascent, January 2000: I drove to El Paso on December 30th and hiked Franklin Mountain on December 31. I was off that peak by about noon, with a whole day to drive. I went east on Interstate-10 to Van Horn, then south on US-90 toward the hinterlands of West Texas, the cities of Marfa and Alpine.

I arrived in Marfa first. It is a pretty, functional city in the high desert of Presidio County. I drove around and looked for places to stay or have beer, but nothing really jumped out at me. The town seemed kind of dead, so I continued to Alpine, another thirty miles. I knew that there was the Sul Ross State University in Alpine, so that might translate into livelier nightlife. I found a decent hotel, then went to a bar on the main street where they had a Tex-Mex band playing. The people were all cool. At midnight, 1999 turned into 2000, and we celebrated. I was back to my hotel room by 1:30 a.m.. Just so you know, I drank lightly, three beers the whole night. I was in charge of my faculties.

The next morning, I drove south to Big Bend National Park, paid my fee and parked at the Chisos Basin parking lot, arriving at 9 a.m., weather pleasant and a little overcast. I began my hike along the Pinnacle Ridge Trail shortly thereafter. This is a fantastic trail, well-maintained and free of loose rocks and other impediments. It gains steadily but at an easy grade through meadows and low forest before working its way up switchbacks to gain the main ridge of the Chisos Mountains. To here I had covered 3.5 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

I met up with another hiker who was part of a large group, but they were going too slow for him. So we hiked as a duo, and together covered the final mile to the top. The trail drops a little, then branches off toward the summit through pleasant grass meadows. The last hundred feet gets steeper and more brushy, the trail built tightly into the rocks and trees. Finally, it ends at the base of the summit pinnacles.

There were about a dozen people milling about, very few seemingly interested in scaling the rocks. We looked at the rocks and found a way to shimmy up one 10-foot section, then it was an easier, short series of little ledges to get to the actual top. Here is a lousy image of me.

We relaxed for about 15 minutes, enjoying the amazing views. We started down when a few others started to come up, crowding us out. Down-climbing the rocks went quickly. The hike out went quick, and I bid goodbye to my hiking partner as he stuck around to greet his friends as they slowly made their way to the summit. I was back to my truck at 5 p.m.

I stayed for dinner at the Chisos Basin Lodge. I thought about staying at Big Bend for another day but the weather was variable and I had other plans, so I hit the road. I proceeded north to the town of Marathon ("Mare-uh-thin", accent on the "mare"), passed through a storm, and ended up back in Alpine, staying at the same hotel as I did the previous night. I spent the rest of my trip exploring the flat Permian Basin lands around Midland, Mentone, Winkler and then into New Mexico.

Return visit, January 2004: My wife Beth and I visited to the Big Bend area over New Years, 2004. We stayed two nights in Terlingua and made a number of short to moderate day hikes in the park, but chose not to ascend Emory after Beth suffered, of all things, a spider bite that made walking hurtful. After leaving the park, we drove the FM-170, the River Road, through Big Bend Ranch State Park and the towns of Presidio, Ruidosa and Candelaria.

Second ascent, December 2005: This time, we chose to stay four days in the area, encamped at the Terlingua Ranch, a lonely outpost about 60 miles from the park and about 15 miles off of the main highway, TX-118. This place has cabins, campsites, RV pull-through sites and a cafe. A number of people live scattered about the region, which is outside the National Park boundaries. The "immediate" area covers about 200 square miles, of which we figure 500 people live here permanently. Terlingua Ranch serves as a nexus for the locals, as well as a popular tourist destination for those heading to the Big Bend.

We arrived on the evening of the 18th and spent a couple days relaxing and doing other hikes and explorations before tackling Emory Peak on the 21st. Beth was feeling energetic early on the morning of the 21st, the Winter Solstice, and we made our way to the Chisos Basin trailhead by 10 a.m., where we took time to get ready. We followed the same trail as I took in 2000. Not much difference but some new signs were put up. It's a beautiful trail that is never too steep and always with amazing views looking down. We achieved the ridge in two hours and took an extended break.

Beth was hanging in there given her insidious arthritis and its accompanying fatigue and achiness. She psyched herself up for the remaining mile to the top, and we took this section very slowly, taking about 90 minutes to get to the base of the summit rocks. We then scouted for ways up. We found a distinct cleft off to the right (not the same way I went up in 2000) and saw that this looked promising. It's about 10 feet of minorly-exposed scrambling to a safe ledge.

I went up first and turned to guide Beth, but she was having real trouble gaining a solid footing or grip. After a couple minutes of trying things out, common sense dictated we don't push our luck. I suggested she not do it, and she asked me then to come down. I was just a few feet from the summit. My head, when I stood, was nearly level with the top, but I chose to skip the final few feet and come back down to be with Beth as we celebrated a successful hike.

We spent about 45 minutes on the ground, while a few others showed up. Interestingly, not one was willing to chance the rocks to the summit, like back in 2000. The hike down went slow as well, and we returned to the truck at about 5:20 p.m. as the sun was setting. After changing out of our boots and getting situated, we drove back to our cabin at Terlingua Ranch. I was happy to have visited the peak a second time and thrilled for Beth for overcoming her ailments on this one day. The positive mental aspect meant a lot to her.

We stayed at Terlingua Ranch a couple more days, highlighted by a cute little fox running around the cabin and the hill above us. We redrove the River Road (FM-170) to Candelaria then spent a couple nights at the Chinati Hot Springs, with Cornpone the bloodhound. And finally, home to Arizona.

(c) 2000, 2005, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.