Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hiking at Pace Bend: A Bit Turned Around

Last weekend, Jen and I decided to use the slower-than-normal weekend to set out on a hike in the Austin area.  I have had a book sitting on the shelf for a few years, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of San Antonio & Austin, that we browsed through to find something close enough and long enough.  Most of the hikes were too short (~3 miles), and some were a bit far away.

Pace Bend fit the bill, though: the route there was to be about 5 miles, and Pace Bend is relatively close to us.  It is SW of Austin abutting Lake Travis.  We're on the SW end of Austin as it is, so it was just a short (20-30 minute) drive west on 71 to get there.

The book includes a map of the intended hike.  It did not show the full Pace Bend trail system, but rather a trace of the out-and-back route it wanted us to take.  It had us taking Grisham Trail (one of the main park roads once you enter) to the trail head.  From there, we memorized the basic left/left/right/left sort of sequence we'd need to take to stay on the path.  We drove a bit farther than we expected, but eventually saw a sign that read 'TRAILHEAD' and saw a rough parking lot.  It was mostly full of mountain bikers loading and unloading; there looks to be plenty of good singletrack there.

We started hiking, and started encountering trail markers like this:

You can see the number marker on the post.  When we drove into the park, the gate guard gave us a trail map.  It has waypoints denoted by these numbers, but is pretty sparse otherwise; it doesn't label the trail segments by name (as you can see on this marker: 'Pack Trail' and 'North Quarry').  Jen thought the map must be wrong or out of date in some way, as she thought 'the numbers don't line up with the map'.  We pressed on.

The early hiking was pretty rocky, but quickly transitioned into some nice shaded packed singletrack, akin to the easier parts of Walnut Creek.  Despite a bit of rain in early winter, it's still pretty dry:

The map's numbers started to make sense, and after we'd hiked a few miles, we headed back for the trail head to get to the car.  The trial posts were pretty sparse, but we were able to follow the numbered waypoints to point ourselves back to the Southeast Trailhead.

One problem: we made it to the trail head (going by the numbers)...but our car was not there.  In fact, there was no parking lot, and no sign saying 'Southeast Trailhead'.  We started to wonder if we'd interpreted the map completely wrong, if we were actually somewhere else on the map, and what direction we should head.  After a while, the trails look like a never-ending maze of this:

Pretty, but a bit confusing if you're trying to figure out which direction to point yourself.  We soon realized (we were pretty sure) our mistake: we HAD reached the SE Trailhead.  However, we had not parked there...we must have passed that on our drive in somehow, and instead parked at the East or North trail head.  The park map did not have the parking lot(s) labeled, so we had no way to know which of the two it really was.  In any case, we thought our best bet was to head back to the SE Trailhead that we found and had earlier left (not being sure it really was where we should go, in our confusion).  Grisham runs right by the SE if we were where we now thought we were, we should just go to the road and walk along the road north.  If we were right, we'd see the same things we saw on our drive in.

Sure enough...we started recognizing landmarks, and eventually the RV/improved campsite area that was shortly before the place we parked (which turned out to be the East Trailhead).  The map below is marked up to show where we really entered, followed by all sorts of wandering around the spaghetti in the middle, and finally popping out on the bottom right of the map...only to walk along the road back to where we started.

Oops.  Our guess is that we hiked 7 or maybe 8 miles, instead of the 5 we were expecting.  Well, now we know for next time.  It is somewhat understandable: the SE entrance has no parking lot and no sign of any kind, so I have no idea how we would have found that entrance from the car even if we knew to look for it.  The East Trailhead was the first one with a sign and with somewhere to park the car.  The trails did look great for biking, so we'll surely be back with our bikes next time...

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