The Time I Almost Died (4 Day Packpacking Expedition)

Look For This Sign
This sign is along the trail, but requires you to make a 90 degree right turn on the Marufo Vega Loop Trail and go up a steep hill to get to the top of the plateau.
User: Lone_Star - 11/16/2013

Location: Marufo Vega Trail

Rating: 3point5stars
Difficulty: 4point5stars  Solitude: 4point5stars
Miles Hiked: 76.60 Miles  Elapsed Time: N/A


I hiked the Marufo Vega Loop trail as part of a longer (4 day) backpacking expedition that also included the Ore Terminal Trail, Strawhouse Trail, Telephone Canyon Trail, Old Ore Road, and the Ernst Tinaja Trail.

I specifically hiked the Marufo Vega Loop on the 2nd day.  The trail can be hard to follow at times.  There is a sign that indicates a 90 degree right turn from the trail.  The trail takes you up a fairly steep cliff and up onto the upper plateaus.  You hike for several miles and are then given a choice of taking the north or south fork.  I took the north fork, hiked down through an incredibly scenic canyon, hiked along the Rio Grande, and then hiked up and out of the canyon via the south fork.  Hiking from the river up through the canyon was strenuous, especially since I was carrying a lot of weight in my pack.

I really enjoyed my time on the Marufo Vega Loop Trail.  I had been warned that there are more search and rescue attempts and fatalities on this trail, so I was a little intimidated.  However, I did not experience any problems on the trail and I found the views to be breathtaking.

After completing the Marufo Vega Loop Trail, I was feeling confident.  Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.  This 4 day expedition turned out to be a brutal hike that I almost did not return from. I came close to running the risk of dying on this hike, mainly because the Strawhouse and Telephone Canyon Trails were so poorly maintained as to be almost nonexistent and extremely difficult to hike. These trails basically follow canyon washes (arroyos), but there are stretches several miles long where rocks, boulders, cacti and thorn bushes make it almost impenetrable. Trying to get past and through these obstacles is painful, extremely slow going and resulted in my skin and clothes getting ripped, torn, or shredded.  I often had to remove my heavy backpack so I could climb/balance better.  Still, I fell several times and was fortunate I did not break or sprain anything.

Furthermore, considering the amount of weight I was carrying, walking through the thick gravel rocks and climbing up/over rocks was extremely hard on my feet and joints.  I had to periodically take a break to inspect my feet and to administer foot care in an effort to head off or drain blisters.

The temperature was in the mid-upper 80s and all of this physical exertion led me to consume water in very large quantities. I had packed 5 gallons of water when I started this hike (40 lbs!) as I planned to consume 1 gallon/day, but found I was consuming ~ 1.5 gallons/day, which caused me to run out prematurely. This forced me to scoop up a gallon of dirty water from the Rio Grande and another gallon  from pools of stagnant water along the trail. I did not have my filter with me (I didn't think I needed it since I was carrying drinking water!), so I was forced to boil it to make it potable. Fortunately, I had enough fuel to boil all of this water.  My lesson learned is to never leave my water filter behind when hiking in the backcountry.

For two entire days, I was pretty much off trail (or at least following the arroyos where the trail was supposed to be) and often I had to take a break to attempt to figure out where I was and which way I needed to go. Let that soak in for a minute -- two days is a LONG time to be off trail or lost in the middle of a barren wilderness where there only 5 people or so per year pass through. If anything bad were to happen to me that would have prevented me from hiking, it was clear I would most likely die there.  There are too many square miles for search and rescue teams to find you in a timely manner.

Although I had a compass and a decent map, it's use was extremely limited because I was in canyons most of the time surrounded by high cliffs on both sides. Consequently, I could not find my present location using triangulation/resection because no landmarks were visible for me to take a bearing. As a result, I had to rely heavily on my GPS (hoping it did not break or fail), my understanding of geology and terrain, and my prior military land navigation skills.

By the time I hit Old Ore Road in the evening of Day 3, I was exhausted and extremely dehydrated. Nevertheless, I was extremely relieved because I knew where I was and realized I would most likely beat death and make it. I was running way behind my planned schedule since I had lost so much time canyoneering, so I was forced to hike 25 miles on Day 3 (16 miles by day, 9 by night) in order to get back on track. It was so pitch black at night that the light of my headlamp seemed to get swallowed up by the darkness.  I was on guard for a possible mountain lion or coyote attack.  Getting back on track was necessary because if I did not exit the trail on time, I ran the risk of having the SAR (Search and Rescue) Team come looking for me.

I am glad I was in good physical and mental shape and had good, solid, reliable gear. I am also relieved I have acquired a lot of skills and experience over the years. This hike took everything I had to make it and an injury, illness, misfortune, or mistake could have easily cost me my life. It was a very humbling experience and an emotional rollercoaster.  You appreciate living much more after you've stared death in the face.

A lot of people think it is a bad idea to hike solo for exactly these reasons.  I cannot argue with that, but I will say in an ironic way it was a blessing I was alone.  This allowed me to go as fast, far, long as I wanted/needed to and I was not burdened by the responsibility of looking out for another person.  If I had been with someone who was not able to hike 25 miles or do what I did, or if that person had become injured or ill, it would have placed all of us in jeopardy.  I am not trying to brag, but rather simply trying to make the point that hiking solo does provide a lot of freedom that can be advantageous in adverse situations.

Log Photos
Look For This Sign
Up, Up, And Away
Walking Stick
North/South Fork Junction
North Fork Canyon
Wild Burros
Rio Grande
South Fork Canyon
Incredible Views