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Ascent to Chinati Peak-5800' on 2019-03-12

Climber: Ben Lostracco

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
Point Reached:Chinati Peak - 5800'
    Location:USA-Texas
    Elevation:5800 ft / 1767 m
    Remaining Elevation:1928 ft / 588 m (54% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report


I have checked-out-access to this Peak three times all as per this one only TR, revised after each visit. The 4 old TRs already entered for Chinati in the PB Library are not much help, except to say that it's in the hands of the State and noting the remoteness/difficulty in accessing the Peak.
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VISIT #1 DATED 2017-02-05 .... Rose and I came here for a touristy/scouting trip for an EASTERN APPROACH.
My research found that not much has not changed over the years, the CHINATI MOUNTAINS are still in the hands of the Texas State and Wildlife, and will one day be developed as a STATE NATURAL AREA for the public's enjoyment. The Park planners have begun work on a "public use plan" which is to be completed in 2018 - a series of public input meetings have been scheduled (listed in their web site). So in the years ahead Chinati Mountains State Natural Area may have access roads with a maintained trail to the summit of Chinati Peak - hopefully I'm still kicking when that day comes. I later learned that the Chinati Peak summit area with its ridge line to the northeast is not inside the Park Boundaries, so a trail to its summit may never happen.

EASTERN APPROACH A (not possible)
Everyone talks about an western approach with no detail. I was not able to understand the route that they took, so I looked for an eastern approach.
With permission an eastern approach from Hwy #67 (GPS 29.90692,-104.27117) appears to be a good/doable route. A Ranch road meanders west about 20 miles to the "Crown X Ranch" (located at 29.93766,-104.42630, east of the summit), then perhaps a 4-5 mile xcountry climb with an elevation gain of 3000'. I did not research/contact the "Crown X Ranch" prior to this visit.
The road is gated at Hwy #67 with no prohibitive signs, only "Keep Gate Locked". There is a pipe line being installed in the area. At this entrance the road looks very good.

UPDATE 2017-09-17.
Once we got home from our "Winter Trip 2017" I put-in a huge effort contacting all of the landowners for my outstanding 23 TX COHPs - Presidio (Chinati Peak) being one of them.
I sent a letter to the Presidio County Appraisal District asking for the contact information for the Wood Ranch (which is noted on the maps). The Chief Appraiser, Cynthia Ramirez, replied by email, informing me that the ranch has been sold to the Crown X Ranch (provided the mailing address).
My letter to the Crown X Ranch was answered by an email saying, "Hikers not allowed on their ranch and that Chinati Peak is in private ownership. Hiking without the owner's permission is a trespass." (???? at first I thought that he was wrong but I later learned that this in fact was the case, the Peak in not in the Park).
This exercise ruled out an eastern approach, so I looked for a northern approach - all as detailed in my 2nd Visit.
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VISIT #2 DATED 2018-02-06 .... scouting trip for a NORTHERN APPROACH, road/paths south bound - 9.5 miles, 800 foot gain, 3:40 hrs RT
(a NORTHERN APPROACH to the summit is a RT of approx 13.5 miles, 3400' gain)

My research found that perhaps the best approach from the north (albeit a long one) starts at Pinto Canyon Road practically due north of the Peak. The route follows a canyon ranch road southeast 3.75 miles to an old homestead, where the canyon bends right to the south/southwest and climbs another 3+ miles to the summit (the last 2 miles appears to be very rough x-country).
Rose and I came here with the plan to scout this route. The hiking distances I provide are estimates only.

Driving Directions to the TH.
From the west side of the city of Marfa we zeroed our odo at the JCT Hwy 90/FM2810.
00.0M ... we left the JCT southwest bound on FM2810 (paved).
32.0M ... pavement ends (rough dirt begins).
34.5M ... enter Pinto Canyon Ranch Road, large sign "Private Road, No Trespassing, No Camping". Road ahead descends steeply for a few miles. NB: It's noted that on our return our dodge caravan could not make a steep section with a lot of loose gravel, spun the front wheels, I had to take a second run at it. Very risky.
38.5M ... locked gated road on the left signed, "Pinto Canyon Ranch", This was our TH (30.01169,-104.49419) at elevation 4400 feet. Half-a-mile further down Pinto Canyon Road on the right is a locked gate (leading to a fairly new corrugated small house) signed "Pinto Canyon Ranch, no trespassing". I could see 2 trucks to one side, so after blowing our horn with no reception, I hopped the gate and knocked at the house - no one home.

I decided (without permission) to go for a hiking/scouting trip up the canyon road to the old homestead shown on the satellite imagery.
I hopped the gate at our TH and walked the ranch road southeast on the valley floor (fairly flat) 3.75 miles to an old abandoned homestead with a number of buildings (29.98078,-104.45828). The road (very well used) first goes over a small bump before dropping down to the valley floor, had to hop a locked gate at abt 1 mile (signed "No Trespassing", telling me that perhaps there are 2 landowners on this route) and crossed a creek with a bit of flowing water.

The old homestead site is a beautiful shaded spot in a grove of tall trees. One is amazed/impressed with the hardships the pioneers went through to build in such a remote/rough/dry desert conditions. Tough people for sure.
A smaller road continues 150 yds to a fairly new corral with 2 small water tanks and hay feed station - saw a fox and one bull as he ran up the canyon.

The canyon bends right to the south on a dry creek bed, to its left (east side) is a small unused track (shown on maps). Animal paths go up this canyon, I tried to follow them the best I could, I passed 2 old concrete dry water tanks, crossed the creek, and followed/climbed the path to a height-of-land (29.96965,-104.45853 at 5200 feet) at abt 1 mile from the homestead. I turned around here (4.75 miles, 800' gain, 2 hours total time).

From my turn-around spot my researched-route continues/snakes its way up the canyon floor heading southwest -- the summit was visible at the top-end of the canyon at abt 2 miles, 2600 foot gain (took photos). The canyon ahead didn't appear to have any major obstacles, no cliffs, looks doable. Animal paths in all probability continue up the canyon - they have a way of finding the easiest way.
The satellite imagery shows my route to be quite open and easy to move forward, however what I saw in front of me was somewhat different, a deep creek bed with a lot of vegetation - perhaps this is typical all the way to the top (????).

This was the end of my scouting trip, to go further would taken much longer than the time estimate I gave Rose, so I turned back. Our plan did not allow us to stay around for another day - had other appointments. If I do come back it will probably be best with a willing/comparable partner, however as I write this I feel like, "I should give it another solo try - with an early start this thing is doable with a lot of huffing-and-puffing and granny breaks on my part."
As far as permission goes it appears (???) that the Pinto Canyon Ranch does not own the homestead ranch, also I didn't have a clue as to the location of the State Park Boundary Line. However I later learned that the Peak is all on private property, the N-S Park Boundary Line is to the west of the Peak. I will probably go back to the corrugated house just past the TH for info/permission. Maybe next year.

I should also note that Rose's wait at the TH was without incident. Numerous trucks and motorcycles passed-by without stopping, some waved.

UPDATE 2018-12-01
This year I communicated with Andy Martin who summitted Chinati in 2004, using a north western approach, with the TH (29.99285,-104.51963) 2.1 miles west of my northern approach TH on Pinto Canyon Road. This NORTHWESTERN APPROACH is a RT of approx 9.5 miles, 3600' gain. In later looking at the details of Andy's route, I learned that most of his route was inside the Chinati Mountains State Natural Area, the last mile or so in private property.
The satellite imagery told me that this route is probably more involved/difficult than the other, however the fact it's mostly in state land was appealing (no guy with a gun), so the plan is go back and attempt Andy's route.
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VISIT #3 DATED 2019-03-12 ... failed attempt from northwest ... 7.5 miles, 1700' gain, 6:15 hours RT including the time over to the windmill.
I drove down yesterday afternoon to check out the TH and to find an overnight camping spot, in order to get an early start.
The TH (29.99285,-104.51963, elev 4180') is a gated road on the south side of Pinto Canyon Road signed "Pinto Canyon Ranch, private", parking is available on the north side of the road.
I settled on an overnight parking spot, on the north side of the road .5 mile west of my TH (all open and not the best, but it turned out to be OK. I had no trouble).

From my TH the impressive/challenging Chinati Range is clearly visible to the south - it would look worse as I hiked up the valley. The distances/elevations I provide are only estimates. The route that is described is all mostly to the southeast. I unfortunately would not succeed.

I hopped the gate, crossed a wash and came to the Chinati State Park gate at 250 yds signed "Absolutely no Hunting or Trespassing". Hopped this gate and walked/climbed the road (evidence of usage) .9 mile to an abandoned/ dilapitated ranch house/windmill. The road continues as a 2 track with some thorny brush in the middle, crosses the main valley drainage, continues to climb along its east side and comes to a rusted steel water tank in another mile, then in another .7 miles crossed the valley drainage back to the west side (29.96850,-104.49474, elev 5120'). This was the start of my xcountry/bushwhack.

I first continued on the track westbound .25 miles to check out the broken down Windmill (elev 5165'), where I took a snack break. Here I got an awesome/challenging view of what was ahead of me - vertical cliffs all around the summit!!! No sign of a hiking route - !!!! unlike the view I got from my Northern Approach !!!! My confidence somewhat deflated.

Back to the drainage I started my xcountry/bushwhack on a obvious animal path heading my way (I would follow them off and on). The zig-zag route is mostly in tall grass, thorny brush/cacti, some small patches of stunted trees and rocky surface making for very poor footing. Had to cross some secondary drainages on route. The going very slow.
I stayed on a small ridge west (right) of the main drainage for .4 miles (29.96632,-104.49110, elev 5400'), then headed towards the drainage always staying on the west side. In another .5 miles I got to my turnaround spot (29.96445,-104.48410, elev 5800').

I was 4 1/2 hours in and not yet half way in my whack, with the worst was yet to come (!!! the route ahead was still not visible, 1+ mile with a 2000' gain still ahead, all I saw was cliffs, everything looked pretty rough/challenging .... my confidence all but gone, my gut telling me to continue but at the same time to abort). A lot of unknowns, at the best I needed a minimum of another 3-4 hours to summit - much longer than my 10-12 hour day estimate. Sat there weighing my disappointing situation !!!!! decided that it was best/safest to abort.
I got back to the TH after a 6:15 hour day, very deflated/disappointed with my effort !!!! my chinati-state-of-mind of the last few years was no more !!!!! You might say I was somewhat pissed.

I have now moved Presidio County in the NOT DOABLE file, The odds of me coming back to this part of Texas is not good. I guess you could say "three strikes and you're out".



"PRESIDIO COUNTY WAS ORGANIZED IN 1875 AND AS OF THE 2010 CENSUS HAD A POPULATION OF 7,818 WITH THE COUNTY SEAT IN MARFA. THERE IS NO OIL OR GAS PRODUCTION IN THE COUNTY (RARE FOR TEXAS).
MARFA IS A TOURIST DESTINATION AND A MAJOR CENTER FOR MINIMALIST ART WITH MANY RELATED ATTRACTIONS INCLUDING THE MARFA LIGHTS - VISIBLE IN THE SKY ON CLEAR NIGHTS, ITS FIRST HISTORICAL RECORD OF THEM DATES BACK TO 1880."
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1620 ft / 493 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7.5 mi / 12.1 km
    Route:road/whack seb from pinto canyon road
    Trailhead:pinto canyon road  4180 ft / 1274 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble



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