We got a bit of a late start leaving Dallas on Tuesday morning. The drive was 525 miles and about 9 hours. Interstate 20/10 is a long stretch of nothing. The good thing about the drive, once you pass Midland, the speed limit goes up to 80mph. Yee haw! We caught 54 and headed north in Van Horn. What a ghost town. Half of the buildings (shacks) were abandoned. We got gas, water and some snacks and headed out for a 60 mile drive to the park. Finally we spotted El Capitan straight in front of us, way off in the distance. It has a very distinct shape.
First siting of El Cap
We just missed the visitor center hours, (8:00-4:30) so we headed to the Pine Springs campground and did the self pay. The sign said CASH ONLY. Eight bucks later we were setting up camp in site # 18. They have 20 tent camp sites and we counted about 5 other tents. We had a few hours of daylight to get everything situated and make dinner. The weather was warm and sunny until we finished dinner and then the WIND kicked in. We jumped in the bags early hoping to get a good night’s sleep for our climb the next day. Fat chance. The wind was fierce and it howled most of the night just slamming our tent. Must have been 50mph gusts at times. Finally we fell asleep at about 3:00 when the wind died down.
The visitor's center
Pine Springs Campground in the wee morning hours.
Up before dawn. It was still pretty warm out. I slept in shorts and t-shirt. We got some very nice sunrise photos and had breakfast before we packed up camp. At the visitor center, we paid our park entrance fee, got our back country permit and a camp site @ Guadalupe Peak campsite. We got the weather report and all looked good so we headed out.
HIKE TO GUADALUPE PEAK BACK COUNTRY CAMP SITE
Fall Colors of Guadalupe National Park
We finally got on the trail @ 10:00 Wednesday morning. There was another 2 person party leaving before us. We caught them in a matter of minutes. They were just doing a day hike to the summit and back. We looked back a few times and saw them way below on the switchbacks. The first 1.5 miles was pretty steep and rocky. Nothing too technical. Just loads of switchbacks. We made our way up to 7000 feet and finally lost sight of the parking lot when we went on the north side of the mountain. Things were a little more colorful on that side. Not much though. We could see an occasional Maple amongst all the green. There were a few times that we “thought” we might be viewing the summit, but I knew better. Having read many trip reports on this trail, I knew that we would be experiencing this false sense of hope. Haha. We continued our hike until we came to the trail split for the primitive campsite. It was less than a quarter mile or so and we were there. We picked out 1 of the 4 remaining sites and set up camp. The one site that was occupied was primo. Someone had built up a short log wall on 3 sides. It was sheltered and secluded. Looked like a perfect place for the approaching cold front and winds.
TO THE SUMMIT
Signing the log
Me on the summit
We had intended to hike up to the summit for sunset BUT, we heard a weather report (on the NOAA Weather Alert transistor radio we brought with us) and it was calling out for an extreme cold front to move in during the late afternoon/evening.
It also called out for high winds. Since it was still early in the day, we changed plans and decided to go ahead and summit. It was only about 1 mile (another 1000 feet in elevation) and took less than an hour. More switchbacks. A nicely constructed bridge. A tad bit of a scramble towards the top and voila! The summit was all ours. It was just as awesome as I thought it would be. The view was fabulous, even with the slight haze we had. Temp was about 65 F, sunny, and just a slight breeze. El Capitan was quite the sight! We spent an hour just taking it all in and then signed the register and said good bye.
Once back at camp, we had a quick dinner (Mountain House chicken and rice) then battened down the hatches for the approaching cold front and high winds. We were reminded of all that wind the night before at the Pine Springs tent campground. Figured we would probably have another sleepless night. By 7pm the front had approached. The wind was whipping and the temps dropped. We zipped into our bags and just BS'ed for an hour before dozing off. The front passed through very quickly, around 10pm and the winds died. Not nearly as bad as the night before, but temp was much colder. I checked the thermometer a few times during the night and it read 40 in the tent. The inside of my sleeping bag was balmy 68. (gotta love those Kelty bags)
The Captain and me.
Another gorgeous sunrise
Up @ 7 for another beautiful sunrise and breakfast. It was cold. Still around 38F with a little breeze. We noticed that there were a few more tents pitched. 4 out of 5 of the sites were occupied. We packed up and headed down. We only got about 1 mile and we had to stop and shed our jackets and gloves. The hike down went much faster and was very easy. It was really cool to look down on the trail and see all the switchbacks. We made a few extended stops to chat with other hikers that were heading up. It looked like it was going to be a very busy day on the trail since it was only 9:00 am and we had already passed 9 hikers.
This is my favorite training/hiking tool. It’s fairly accurate on distance and elevation.
Leki Ultralite Ergo Antishock SLS Trekking Poles. These are a must have for me (especially for the hike down). I used them on the up and down. Great for keeping good balance while carrying a backpack. A definite knee-saver for the hike down.
UnBottle 100 oz. . A gallon per person, per day is recommended during summer months, but I did fine with 100 ounces. That included the water I used for meals and coffee, as well as drinking.
This was my 5th State Highpoint and by far the most fun! I felt a little bit of altitude discomfort when we first arrived at Pine Springs, but by the next morning I felt good. We did not encounter any animals nor did we sense any danger at any time. I spent a month reading about this peak on Summitpost and it was a huge help in my preparation! I hope my report helps future first-timers in their Guadalupe Peak endeavors!
If you head out to the Guadalupes again, a good alternative is to go North in Pecos (can't remember the name of the road) into the tiny town of Orla. From there, you drive due West on a curvy road full of wildlife to the Guadalupes. It cuts off a good deal of mileage and probably 30 minutes in travel time.
Last time I headed out there, I made the last stretch at night. I saw easily 5 dozen cotton-tails & jackrabbits, 7 coyotes, 4 white-tail deer & 1 mule deer. You definitely can't go the speed limit at night while trying to dodge the fauna... ;-)