Monday, March 30, 2009

Guadalupe Peak

Marathons, Mountains and Microbrews - Guadalupe Peak
Early morning Saturday I left my hotel in El Paso for the two-hour trip east to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, home of Guadalupe Peak (8749').  I have the whole day to get up the mountain, then up to White Sands to pick up my race packet for tomorrow's marathon.

I planned to stop at a convenience store for some drinks, snacks, and a bit of breakfast on the way, but as soon as I got out of town there was nothing to be found.  From the outskirts of El Paso to the Park, there is absolutely NOTHING open!  In fact, there is practically nothing anyway.  Just a long stretch of road through a beautiful desert.  As I drove east, the sky brightened and the mountains in the distance started to take shape.  I arrived at the visitor center around 7:20 and found that they wouldn't be open until 8:00.  Fortunately, I found a Coke machine and got three cans of liquid refreshment for the climb.  Back near the trailhead, I was able to pick up a bottle of PowerAid.  Between that and the packet of Jelly Belly Sport Beans I had with me, it would have to do for the calories I'd need to burn on the hike.

The trail was well marked.  However, only a few feet after starting on the trail there's a marker telling you to turn left for the Guadalupe Peak trail.  Which I missed.  I walked a little way, but it just didn't feel like the right direction.  Oh well, I'll give it a few minutes.  I scared up a couple of deer after a few minutes, and was just enjoying the walk on a beautiful, clear morning.  After about 15 minutes I decided it was definitely the wrong trail and turned around.  Good move.  Back nearly to the trailhead, I saw the small signpost, angled slightly in the direction I was coming from, telling me where the trail I should have been on was.  I tossed my fleece jacket back in the car, met a guy named Bob who was there to hike the mountain with a backpack, and we started up together.
Well, after a short but pleasant conversation, it was clear that in my unencumbered state I would be able to go a lot faster, we parted ways and I headed up the mountain, passing a few other climbers on the way up.  It's a constant series of switchbacks on a well-maintained trail, and the going was pretty easy.  I took my outer shirt off after a short time, but the cold wind frequently had me thinking of putting it back on.  Then I'd turn another corner or the sun would come out a little more, and I was warm enough again.  
It was hard to see exactly what the goal was, because Guadalupe is actually behind the mountain you start climbing up.  After about an hour and three-quarters I had worked my way around the back side and could see the peak.  I knew there was a campsite a mile from the peak, and wondered when I would find it.  That would give me an idea of how much longer it would be.   
In spots the signs on the trail alert people to "dismount and lead" if they're riding the trail, due to the cliffs.  Those are the places that I would stay close to the inside--the drop could be pretty drastic if one happened a little too close to the edge.  I started down a little section with some cliffs on the right, and a little bridge through the saddle between the mountains.  Then it was another series of switchbacks.  Still no campsite.
After the series of switchbacks, I came to a little gap, and approaching it couldn't see any trail beyond it.  Once I got there, it was a sharp right turn to the other face of the mountain.  I could see some railings, and wondered if that was the campsite.  Only a couple hundred more yards, I rounded a little bend just past those railings, and there was the high point marker, a silver pyramid place there in 1958 by American Airlines.  There were three other guys there who had recently summitted.   Turns out the campsite isn't very well marked (In fact, I couldn't find it on the way down either.) and I had completely missed it.  We took a few pictures and signed the logbook.  I headed back down.
The trail was well populated--I think I passed 6 or 8 groups of hikers who were on the way up.  More deer jumped out of the brush in several places on the trail.  Signs had warned of mountain lions, but fortunately (or unfortunately) I didn't see any of them.  My total time for the climb was just over 5 hours, including my little false-start.  It was a beautiful day in Texas.
My 30th state high point.  Only 20 more to go.  Five of them are the really hard ones, though.
On to White Sands, NM ....


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