Elevation Gain: 3155’
RT Length: 8.5 miles
It’s about time I went hiking again!!! This past month has been rough. It was the end of cookie sales, I was in Germany for a bit for work, came back from Germany with the flu (and I NEVER get sick, so I’m blaming it on being exposed to some German type of illness I’m not resistant to) and my fingers are still healing from my last trek up Sherman. What concerned me most really though were my fingers: I developed digital ulcers (yep, those things that looked like blisters under my nails were thick blisters that eventually popped). Now they’re healed but still very raw and the skin on the tips of my fingers is thin and fragile. I haven’t been in the high country because I didn’t want to expose my fingers to too much cold too soon. Oh, and then there’s the historic avalanche danger we’ve had in Colorado over the past 2 weeks….
In any event, I finally had a day to hike and now just had to choose between a 14er and a highpoint. I really wanted to get in one more 14er this winter but with the avalanche danger as high as it is I opted for a road trip instead to a place with zero avy danger
Texas! I was dreading the 10 hour drive and missing out on my potential 5th winter 14er, but I also have highpointing goals this trip would help, and I felt it best to do this trip before the heat and summer gas prices increased. The only downside was the drive and my tight schedule: My oldest was coaching a guard in the St Patrick’s Day parade at noon, and since I really wanted to be there to support her and take a video I didn’t get on the road until about 1:30pm. Almost as soon as I left I realized I’d left my trekking pole at home, so I decided to pick up a cheap one at a gas station along the way (knowing full well there’d most likely be a few free ones at the trailhead left by others).
I made it to Guadalupe Mountains National Park at 10:30pm… or 11:30pm after the 1 hour time difference at the Texas State line. There were about a dozen RVs parked in the RV lot.
I filled out the self reservation form, parked my car in one of the parking spaces, text my kids to let them know I’d arrived, and got settled for bed. After turning out the lights the full moon gave me a great view of the silhouetted peaks against the night sky. I took a deep breath: yes, taking this road trip had definitely been the correct decision. I was so happy I was here right now, snuggled in my sleeping bag, looking up at the stars.
Now if I could only fall asleep. I usually have difficulty sleeping at trailheads and tonight was no exception. I really just wanted to get started hiking but since it was midnight and it had been a full day it was a better idea to try to get some sleep first. I couldn’t, and pretty soon I got cold. Very cold. It was in the 20s outside but I was very cold inside the cab of my truck, even with double layers of clothing, socks, jackets, a sleeping bag, and 3 fleece blankets. The seatbelt clips were chilly and kept sticking into my back. Note to self: next time bring 2 sleeping bags instead of 1.
The campground was quiet for being so occupied, and as a bonus I only heard a generator go off once (those are obnoxious). I drifted in and out of sleep (mostly out) for the next 6 hours. The moon set at about 3:30am and it suddenly got very dark outside.
I’d done my research, and the sun was supposed to rise at 7:11am. That meant the sky should begin to lighten around 6:30am. I set my alarm for 6 so I could be on the trail no later than 6:30am but when my alarm went off it was still very dark outside. Hmmm. Ok, so I re-set it for 6:15am. Still dark, and again at 6:30. This didn’t make much sense but I felt I was wasting valuable hiking time and I was still really cold (hiking would warm me up). So I got ready and was on the trail by 6:45am. Yep, a bunch of trekking poles had been left by other hikers near the trailhead.
The trail starts at the end of the RV parking lot, just to the left of the information sign.
Another bonus: this trail was very well marked. I just followed the signs that indicated “Guadalupe Peak trail”
The trail was very also well maintained, wide enough in most places to walk side by side with another person, and easy to follow. I quickly warmed up and waited for the sun to rise. I hiked for over an hour before the sky began to lighten. I could see Carlsbad in the distance.
Right about this time I encountered a thin layer of snow on the ground that persisted all the way to the summit. I’d known it was supposed to have snowed yesterday between 2-3pm, and here was the evidence it had.
I looked for tracks in the snow and was surprised to see small deer prints. I also saw a lot of squirrel tracks and some from a small creature (I’m thinking a ringtail?)
Suddenly I heard a low, guttural noise that sounded like ujjayi breathing coming from my left. I stopped to see what it was. It took me a few seconds to realize it had been me (my throat is still recovering from my cold). I cleared my throat and continued on.
Have I mentioned the switchbacks? This was supposed to be a “strenuous” hike, but there were a ton of switchbacks, making it longer than necessary but not too difficult. Here’s a look at the first part of the route
The sun started to rise as I made it to the top of this area, and I could see the rest of the hike before me (there’s actually still about 2.5 miles of hiking left)
Once I’d rounded the first slope there was a cliff to pass, and I was surprised to see a sign that said if you were on a horse to dismount and walk it across.
I was surprised because I hadn’t seen any horse hoof prints or manure on the trail. Usually when they allow horses on a trail it’s littered in both.
This part of the hike took place behind the first mountain so I was able to see the sunrise a second time from a different angle.
I came across a false summit and some camping sites
I rounded the corner once again and saw more switchbacks. Here I could tell the trail went to the left, but it seemed there was another trail to the right. I figured the trail to the right was from others cutting switchbacks and took the well established trail to the left.
The path was lightly lined with snow and just gave way to more and more switchbacks. Would they ever end?
A great view of the valley below
Here’s where the trail got tricky: I was almost to the summit and the path gave way to walking along exposed rock. This in itself wouldn’t be too difficult normally, but the rock was covered in a thin layer of ice, making traction tricky
I couldn’t help but think this section was most likely why I hadn’t seen any hoofprints/manure along the trail: it was too difficult for a horse to maneuver. Then I saw hitching posts and none of it made sense.
Oh well. There was a little bit of a scramble
And then I was at the summit. I thought it was cool to be at the Texas highpoint on St Patrick’s Day when it also had a dusting of snow (apparently snow here is rare, even in winter)
I summited at about 8:40am and had fun taking photos at the top
Since this was Texas the summit marker was huge, but interestingly enough didn’t have any mention it was a highpoint or of the elevation.
I’d taken off my gloves to take photos, and this ended up being a bad idea. My fingers felt raw and were beginning to tingle in a bad way, even at this relatively low elevation, so I decided to put back on my gloves and head back down. It turns out that fork in the trail that went two ways was legit. The trail to the right had actually been a maintained trail (the other was the horse trail) so I took that one back down.
In the daylight I could see the parking lot I’d stayed in and just how many switchbacks there had been up this trail
I encountered dozens of people starting their hike as I was nearing the end of mine. Dozens. A ton of college students, families, large groups and individuals out for a day hike. They all seemed surprised I was almost done. I was surprised they’d chosen to hike in Texas during what would now be the heat of the day.
Here’s another look at some portions of the trail (open to horses)
And evidence horses were allowed
One of the interesting parts about this hike was all the very large Manzanita Trees I saw. I haven’t seen so many in such good shape in a long time.
I made it back to my truck at 10:15am, making this an 8.5 mile hike in around 3 hours 30 min
Just for fun, here’s the Relive link. I’m not entirely convinced all those switchbacks were necessary. Relive: https://www.relive.cc/view/2220225056
There are always signs telling you not to cut the switchbacks, but if you don’t want people cutting switchbacks, don’t unnecessarily make so many of them! Personally, I’d rather just take the stairs to the top.
I made it back home at 6pm. That was pretty good time!