A few weeks ago, I took a week and a half vacation touring some state and national parks in the western US began with a stopover in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. To save travel time, I had gotten flights from Austin to Las Vegas with a multi-day stop-over in El Paso, and from there was going to drive to a few parks in west Texas.
I have been to this park several times now, but most recently it has been with trail running groups so I never arranged to be at the summit of Guadalupe Peak with my camera gear for sunrise and sunset pictures. For this trip, I arrived around noon and got the last backcountry camp site on the trail to Guadalupe Peak. I packed up my tent, sleeping bag, and tripod, ate a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, and then began the hike up the mountain.
The last time I climbed this peak in 2006, it was during a training run. This time I was going considerably slower with the backpack full of gear. The climb is 4 miles to the summit, but the campsite was 3 miles into the climb. At 8749 ft, this peak is the highest point in Texas. The trail starts at 5800ft, and the first two miles of the trail are the steepest as there are tons of switchbacks climbing up the mountains. It is deceptive since these switchbacks show up as straight lines on most maps. Since they wrap around the folds of the mountain, you can never see how far they are from any one point. This makes it difficult to see how far you have come or how far you have to go even though the trail head remains visible below. After 30 minutes of climbing, I looked back to see that the parking lot was so close below it looked like I had barely gone anywhere. Damn.
After about an hour of climbing I stopped to take pictures and rest a moment. When I looked back, I saw the parking lot was still so close it looked like I had barely gone anywhere. Damn. I had climbed a little over 1200ft vertical feet and traveled a little over a mile according to the GPS device, but looking back on the parking lot it did not look like I had gone that far.
Just under two miles in, I rounded a corner that put me on another side of the mountain. From there it was not so steep, and there was a little tree cover as the trail followed a mountain wall through an alpine forest. Still it took me awhile to reach the campsite at 8000ft. The ground was rocky enough that I could not get the tent stakes into the ground and the wind was a bit strong. There were some fixtures built into the tent site to tie down the tent, but I did not bring any string. I found one scrap piece of string left behind by another camper and used it to tie down one corner of the tent. Then I put heavy rocks inside at the corners of the tent hoping that would be enough to keep it from blowing away. It worked.
I had originally wanted to do some running hill repeats on the upper part of the trail after dropping my pack at the campsite to make up for missing the run workouts my training group in Austin was to do that day. Today’s workout was supposed to be a quality hill workout. By the time I got the tent setup, it was almost 5:00 and I needed to get to the summit to be there in time for the sunset. The run workouts would have to wait for the next stop on this trip. Even though I was getting a climbing workout on the hike, it wasn’t the same as running it.
I carried my tripod up the final mile to the summit. I got there in time for some of the good late afternoon picture taking light. The summit rises 300ft or more above the surrounding lands, making for a great view. There was enough haze that I could not make the pictures do justice to the view. I was up there for two and a half hours taking pictures as the sun went down and the light changed. I attempted some self portraits with the tripod and a timer while waiting for the sun to go down.
On the way back after dark with a headlamp, I missed the turn-off from the main trail to the campsite. I could see lights from other’s tents on top of the ridge line, suggesting I might have missed it. I consulted my GPS indicated I had another half mile to go. But after a mile more of hiking down the mountain after dark, I knew I was going too far. I finally figured out that earlier in my rush to display the GPS map , I must have pushed a button that canceled the search for satellites after I turned it on so it was still indicating the position where I had previously turned it off to save battery. Once I figured that out, I was able to use the GPS to navigate back to the campsite. These bonus miles felt like a karma-like punishment for missing the run workout.
The next morning I got up early and returned to the summit before sunrise. Low clouds hid the sun, so I did not get the early warm light illuminating the scene. But it did make for some interesting sunrays beaming down through the clouds. On the way back, as I neared the turn-off to the campsite, I was looking for it determined to avoid the mistake of the night before. I ran into a couple who had hiked up early from the trailhead who told me they haven’t passed the camp site. So I backtracked and sure enough the turn-off was 15 yards behind me. I missed it again.
By the time I got packed up and carried everything down the mountain, it was almost 11:00, and time to drive towards my next stop in the Davis Mountains. I stopped once on the drive out to look back up on El Capitan and reflect on how far I had climbed up.
Link to more pictures: (HERE)
Related Posts: Trail Running trips to the Guads in 2007 & 2006.