Saturday, September 25, 2021

Guadalupe Peak, Texas (8,750)

30th High Point Visited 
14th Highest State Highpoint 
13th Most Difficult

After a year of Covid in 2020 I finally broke down and got vaccinated and was ready for my first flight since 2019.  In the last 10 years I was able to visit 6 new state highpoints plus two more visits back to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  

2019 was an epic year with finally getting back to Maine and climbing Mt. Katahdin and now two years later I was itching to visit my next state highpoint and a monumental one it would be marking my 30th state high point.    The destination was chosen in August, just a bit over a month prior to our trip.   

Option 1 was to fly into Tucson and visit Saguaro NP then head to Texas.  Since Guadalupe Peak is all the way in the western pan handle of Texas it would only be about a 6 hour drive away.   Option 2 was to fly into El Paso, which was to afford us way less windshield time and it looked that we could climb Guadalupe Peak on Saturday and visit right next door Carlsbad Caverns, another National Park right next door.  

I spun both ideas past my good friend Greg and he suggested we could add in White Sands National Monument and possibly Big Bend National Park in Texas.   Well it looked like White Sands was upgraded in 2016 to National Park status and looked like we could fit it in on Friday afternoon after landing.  It looked like an easy loop and we could see new scenery the entire trip. 

Next was to recruit a few people to join me.  Mai was all in when I suggested flying out of town for a weekend together.  I got 2 plane tickets from Los Angeles to El Paso on Monday August 16th.   I also invited my trusty travel companion and friend George and by Wednesday only two days later he had his tickets as well.   We would land about the same time but he would extend his stay 4 additional nights so he could tag on Big Bend NP after our time together over the three day weekend and was kind enough to drive back to El Paso to drop us off at the airport on Sunday.

I had only been in Texas one time before for the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 2010.  Carlsbad area was quite a long ways from Dallas so in our action packed 3 days we would get to see all new sights.  Getting out of Los Angles was hardly a breeze on Friday morning.   A late start because my keys accidentally got locked in my car so we arrived at the airport well after the extra cushion I had built into our travel plans.  Once before LAX sent me on a shuttle from the main airport to a smaller terminal in the middle of the airport so that even took a little longer but no fear we made it to the gate with seconds to spare and we were literally the probably the last two to board. 

George was waiting in El Paso, we picked up a rental car and figured out that none of us had had lunch. We didn't expect a lot of places to choose from on the road to White Sands NP so we pulled off the highway and circled around until we found a hole in the wall Mexican cafe, had a quick lunch and headed back on the road.  There were two ways to go both about equal distance and either way about 1.5 hours.  We headed north on Rt54 and had a beautiful of Lincoln National forest straight ahead as well as a storm ahead which would bring some rain and lightning but it most stayed off to the east.

"West Texas is such a mystical place, its wide-open roads and endless desert landscape evoking an air of enchantment that simply can’t be described in words."  We arrived at the 4:42 and the park ranger said we had to be out of the park by 8pm.  That didn't give us a lot of time to explore the 275 sq miles of white sand, however, the park road only goes 8 miles into the sand with plenty of parking areas to pull over and go walk around in the sand.  

Brian's White Sands National Park Blog

From the park we would begin our pilgrimage to our hotel in Carlsbad which we hadn't figured out until we plugged the address into the GPS that is was 165 miles or over 3 more hours.   We drove back east into the storm and had the blessing of a huge rainbow that was beautiful.   We took Rt82 which cuts right through the Lincoln National Forest.   There was a tiny ski resort in the mountains, but hardly a place to stop for dinner until we reached Artesia.   By this everything was closed and our only option was pizza or McDonals, so much for a nice dinner, but beggars can be choosers.  

Arriving finally at La Quinta Inn & Suites after 10pm all we could hope for was an easy check in but that wasn't in the cards.  For some reason our reservation was not in their system so 45 minutes later after trying to figure it out they finally gave us a room and we could figure out the reservations in the a.m., except we were getting up early for our hike so would have to figure it out later.   Reception was more that understanding of our frustration an updated our standard room to a full suite with a separate living area.    A quick stop at the desk and the reception said it was all taken care of and nothing to worry about. 

Saturday morning we had about a 1 hour drive to the the entrance of Guadalupe Mountains National Park which was also the trailhead for our hike for Guadalupe Peak.   The entire drive we had beautiful views of the mountain chain just off to the right side of the road which Rt62 took us all the way there.  It was an interesting mountain as for miles the top of the mountain was nearly the same height and looked flat all the way along the mountain chain.  Off in the distance at the very end of the mountain chain there was an obvious peak that resembled the topography we were searching for in Guadalupe Peak.  Also along the way half way from Carlsbad was the turn off to Carlsbad Cavern National Park shortly thereafter the crossing of the state line into Texas.

Arriving at the entrance of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park was a welcome sign so we jumped out of the car for a quick picture and headed to the visitors center.   A strict covid protocol still required masks when entering the visitor's center.   There was a small exhibit that featured some wildlife and small gift shop.    We used the rest rooms and then drive about 1/2 mile to the actual trailhead.   By the time we arrived it was already 10 a.m. and the lot was nearly full with only two remaining spots.  An eager park ranger ran over to show us where we could park and asked us if we had any questions about our hike.   The base of the mountain blocks the view of the summit of Guadalupe Peak, but off the the right Hunter Peak (8,369) was clearly visible which towered way above us and we knew Guadalupe Peak was (8,751) or 381 feet taller which made about 3,000 vertical feet ahead of us for our climb 4.4 mile hike to it's summit.

The visitor center stands at 5,730 feet and none of the 3 of us seemed to be having any problems with the elevation. We read the usual hike takes about 6-8 hours round trip.    Even starting section 1 of our hike we tried to take it slow and pace ourselves.  I would describe section 1 as the trailhead to "around the bend" where you finish the first set of switchbacks and take a hard left at 1.5 miles.   George had taken off and we finally caught him at the "bend", but again he would move just a little faster than Mai and I all the way to the top.   

Section 2 I would describe as from "around the bend" turn till the top of the 2nd set of switchbacks.  From the "bend" you can see these switchbacks but we already knew this was a false summit and there was still a little further to go.    We were one of the last groups to start the hike in the morning so there was really no one from behind to catch us.  We saw many groups on the trail ahead of us and we were probably the oldest ones on the trail but kept on reeling each group in one at a time.    In section 1 there was a couple that turned around, we asked if they made it but they gave up.   We encouraged them to keep going so they once again turned around and started following us.

In the middle of the switchbacks of section 2 a group had already been to the summit and was on their way down, but one of the guys was cramping very bad.  He had water so didn't seem dehydrated so we offered him some salt supplements to boost his electrolytes to see if that would help with his cramps and then kept on moving.   A few other hikers were going to camp on the mountain.  There are not many flat spots on the mountain but there is a turn off I'm told at about 1 miles from the summit.  The peak seems like a great place for a sunrise or sunset as you can see 360.  

The spring can bring high winds and rain, but for us the desert mountain was bone dry.   We did see the afternoon thunderstorm in the nearby mountains a day earlier on Friday, but we had light clouds and sunshine all day for an almost perfect day for a hike.   There was a bridge crossing that safely was build over a sketchy section with a big crack in the rocks, and from there only about 3/4 miles left to go.    In the final switchbacks to the summit we could finally see where we were heading to, however, the trail took a hard right turn and we missed the turn and ended up doing a small section of bushwhacking and rock climbing until we found where the trail connected directly above us.     

George was already on top and waiting for us.  I think he got there about 15 minutes ahead of us.  The summit has a big memorial monument at the summit and there was no benchmark in site.  We also could not locate any journal or register to sign.   There was a cardboard sign with elevation on we used in a couple pictures but didn't noticed until we got home that the sign had the wrong elevation written on it.  LOL   We posed for a few pictures, a snack, and didn't really spend a whole lot of time on the summit because George had already taken off back down the trail.   The entire hike was beautiful looking down onto the floor of the desert and we enjoyed all of our surroundings from start to finish.  

While the trail was steep mostly all the way up and back down, without heavy backpacks we hiked without poles and just trail running shoes.  It was pretty rocky and could easily be argued to where a nice broken in pair of hiking boots.   We swiftly descended back to the parking lot and Mai showed her downhill speed and lead the way.   Back at the parking area they have facilities as well as cold water which if you were low on fluids would have been a sight for sore eyes.  We made the hike up and down in 5:30 minutes so in even less time than slated.  

There is really nothing between the entrance to the National Park and Carlsbad.  We even stopped at the turn off to Carldbad Caverns hoping to find a carryout or any life but it was pretty desolate.  We planned our night on the way back to the hotel and decided that a BBQ place we drove past Friday night would fit the bill for us.  

Sunday morning we packed up and checked out of the hotel and headed to Carlsbad Caverns before the couple hour drive back to catch our flight in El Paso.

Brian's Carlsbard Caverns National Park Blog

Guadalupe Peak (8,750), Texas - State Highpoint #30

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