Boot Springs

I suppose at some point in a man’s life there will be a personal demon that he must face.  An obstacle that conjures up fear but must be confronted to move forward.   Since the beginning of the year, I’ve know that the hike to Boot Springs in the Chisos Mountains would be my demon and I’ve dreaded it.  Oh it’s a nasty hike. Nine and a half miles round trip.  The Pinnacles Trail is steep and the whole unpleasant experience is aggravated by the heat of the Chihuahuan Desert.  I still remember vividly Davis [see Feb 17 post] telling me about his hike up to Boot Springs.  They got a late start and though they found the Colima Warbler, the heat and the steep accent had roasted them.  Well a least I had taken some steps to reduce the heat problem. I was on the trail by 7:15 AM half an hour before sunrise.  The first hour was hard going. My daypack felt like 40 lbs, but I couldn’t complain. Wednesday night I had carefully packed each item I would need and not one ounce more – 4 lbs. of water, some food to nibble on, my Songfinder to listen for the warbler and six pounds worth of camera equipment.

The next half hour was steeper going and then came the infamous switchbacks.  Back and forth ever so slowly climbing the mountain. Twenty-three of them in all, but my lungs screamed “put a 1 in front of that number”.  By now the sun had climbed over the mountain top and was beating down on me with fury.

Of course, the real source of my fear was of the 2001 hike to Boot Springs with Peter Gent. We had climbed up the Laguna Meadows trail then down via the Pinnacles Trail which made it even longer.  My fingers had swollen so bad that I couldn’t take my wedding ring off. This morning I had tucked my ring away in my pocket just in case.  I wasn’t in as good shape back then as I am now, in fact later that year on Sept 4, 2001 I underwent open heart surgery for a quintuple by-pass.  It’s fortunate for me that  the heart pain didn’t come on that god forsaken trail.  I let both Scott and Linda know that yesterday was the hike – just in case.

Finally, at 10:30 AM I reached the end of the switchbacks only to remember that Boot Springs was still a mile and a half to go, but eventually I reached the shade of Boot Springs and rested while I ate some food.  The hike down was actually harder then going up.  Tired and now hot, I stumbled and twisted my right knee.  My left toe was throbbing and my right foot shot a sharp pain everytime I stepped on it a certain way.

But at the end of the hike, when I had safely returned to the Basin parking lot, I realized that it hadn’t felt like 123 switchbacks.  It almost felt like I had floated down the mountain. Yesterday I accomplished two goals.  I found a Colima Warbler and I conquered my personal demon that answers to the name Boot Springs.

Colima Warbler at Boot Springs (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Postscript for the Birders:  This year has been tough for Colima Warblers.  It’s so dry that the birds are not singing.  The biologists feel that they won’t breed at all this year, not enough moths to raise young.  My competitor, Matt Steneger from Ohio missed it despite three trips.  I consider myself lucky.

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4 Responses to Boot Springs

  1. Gary Matthews says:


  2. Proud of you, John. You did it!

  3. Russell Cannings says:

    Ride on muchacho!

  4. I second both Gary and Carolyn’s comments — Congratulations and I’m proud of you! Awesome job John. You’re surely making the best out of your BIG Year!

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