Guadalupe Peak - Topping Texas

Guadalupe Peak - Topping Texas

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 14, 2012
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Spring

Planning the hike: revolt at the El Capitan

So we’re sitting in the bar of the El Capitan in Van Horn, Texas, planning our trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and the revolt has begun. “I’ll do Guadalupe Peak,” Steve declares. “Hunter Peak is negotiable.”

Steve and I served in a diplomatic assignment in the Middle East 20 years ago, along with Norm, the third member of our party. When Steve says Hunter Peak is “negotiable,” he’s using diplo-speak for “fat chance.”

Norm is already exploring other options. “There’s a Greyhound station over by the truck stop,” he offers hopefully. “I bet there’s a morning bus to El Paso.”

OK, everyone is sore and tired after a long, hard hike in Big Bend two days before – we’re all at or near senior citizen status and don’t rejuvenate quickly – but the enthusiasm level for the next phase of our West Texas expedition is dropping faster than the temperature a few days earlier when we drove in from Houston through heavy rains, high winds and patches of snow and ice along the highway. This is spring break?

The next morning dawns brighter. Against his better judgment, Norm hasn’t bused his way to safety. Steve has discovered a two-mile nature trail as an alternative to the arduous 9-mile loop for Hunter Peak. We pile in the car and head north on the 65-mile drive from Van Horn to Guadalupe National Park, skirting long ranges of chocolate brown mountains. After 30 miles or so, Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan, its iconic spur, rise into view. They are inspiring in the morning light. A bit intimidating, too, almost as much as the year before when Steve and I caught our first glimpse of West Spanish Peak.

Arrival: no room at the inn, but we get lucky

Guadalupe Peak - Topping Texas
The main campground at Guadalupe is packed solid. A park volunteer advises that there are two isolated tent sites up the highway a mile at the turnoff to the park’s Frijoles Historic Ranch, so we race over and snag them. This turns out to be a great find; the site is quiet, has potable water, a picnic table, and a loo – our own private campground in the middle of the park.
Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasDesert Camp One
At night, we have the place to ourselves, along with a half dozen mules and horses that amble into the corral from the Frijoles ranch a mile farther up the turnoff road.

Sunrise the next day is gorgeous. By 8:10, we’re heading up the Guadalupe Peak trail, and no one is griping about anything. It’s a first.

To the peak

Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasTrailhead
Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasRemnants of a spring storm
The trailhead is located at the RV (northwest) section of the park’s Pine Springs campground. Get there early enough and you can catch a parking spot, but during periods of heavy use such as spring break, the lot fills up quickly and you have to park at the Visitor Center a quarter mile away.

The trail begins through scrub brush and begins quickly to switchback up the eastern buttress of Guadalupe Peak. Even though some portions are steep, the climb seems less strenuous than advertised, a pleasant surprise since the elevation gain to the summit is nearly 3,000 ft. over 4.2 miles, and half of that comes in the first mile or so. Maybe we’re in better shape than we thought? We’re making good time.
Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasSteve on the trail
At 7,500’ patches of snow from the storm that swept through the week before line the trail. Around 8,100’, a sign points to the side trail to the backcountry campground. By 11, we’re on the summit – and, amazingly, have it to ourselves. This affords a quiet time to perform a somber duty; scattering the ashes of our good friend and hiking companion Bill Traylor, who died of cancer the year before. About 10 minutes later, others start to arrive; a middle aged fellow and his sons; then larger groups of student hikers. By the time we leave nearly an hour later, the summit is crowded.
Greetings from the summitGreetings to a park ranger friend

Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasSteve and Norm reach the summit

About the trail

The Park Service keeps the trail in peak shape. Once you’ve zigzagged up the eastern flank of the mountain – the most arduous part of the hike – the trail climbs steadily but gradually along the north side of the ridge. Even when the trail winds through pine forests, it affords spectacular views of the mountains and the Bowl to the north and Hunter Peak to the east (which at 8,368 ft. is a worthy companion to Guadalupe). Shortly before the summit, the trail crosses over the summit ridge, presenting the first vistas of El Capitan and of the expansive plains that sweep far below to the south.
Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasSwitchbacking up from the Pine Springs campground
El Capitan from Guadalupe PeakEl Capitan from the summit ridge

Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasHunter Peak

The trail presents few exposure issues. Most attention in this category goes to the portion known as The Bridge, a stretch at about 8,000 ft. where the trail is cut into the side of a cliff. Well before that, though, at 7,000’, is the part they don’t tell you about, a 50-yard don’t-look-down passage just before the point where the trail bends to the north side of the Guadalupe ridge. Still, both here and at the Bridge the trail is comfortably wide and even.
Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasThe famous bridge

Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasThe bridge from above
Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasCliffwalk the guidebooks don't mention

Other things to know

Guadalupe Peak - Topping TexasAlmost done -- Norm on the final leg
Guadalupe Park is near … nothing, absolutely nothing. The closest gas station is 35 miles away at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns. There are no food stores or eating facilities in the vicinity. Even if you’re doing a day trip, bring whatever you will need other than water (the park provides excellent potable water, thanks to a 3,000’ deep well).

Where to stay before Guadalupe

If you’re coming from the south, Van Horn (on I-10) has a number of national chain hotels. When we visited, the chains were full so we tried the El Capitan Hotel. Another great find this trip. The El Capitan is a restored 1930s-era hotel with charming architecture, friendly staff, pleasant rooms, laundry facilities, great prices, an excellent restaurant, and the sounds of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller piped gently into the lobby.

Plus a bar that nicely quiets rebellions.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-7 of 7

slowbutsteady - Apr 8, 2012 3:46 pm - Voted 10/10

On my "To Do" list

Thanks for a great trip report. I had considered this hike a possibility over mid-March spring break, but chose to go to Wichita Mts. in OK, which is a lot closer from Argyle, TX. Having already done New Mexico and Colorado highpoints I MUST get this one done. Your re-assurance about the trail not being too bad is a help and I believe I will try the motel you recommended in Van Horn. Best regards and good hiking. Thanks again. slowbutsteady


Ruvicha - Apr 8, 2012 7:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: On my

I'm glad the report is helpful. Guadalupe is a very rewarding hike. I don't think you'll see as much wildlife (your image gallery suggests this is a big object of your hiking) but the views from Guadalupe Peak on a good day are superb. And do stay at the Hotel El Capitan. It's a winner. Also, I did Wheeler a few years ago. Elbert is on the agenda this summer. Any advice?


slowbutsteady - Apr 8, 2012 9:42 pm - Voted 10/10

follow the crowds

I hiked Elbert in 1997, mid-week. There were maybe 50 folks on the summit. Good trail(Mt. Elbert trail) from the campgrounds. Only thing to deal with is the elevation gain. Good hiking.

Andrew Rankine

Andrew Rankine - Apr 12, 2012 1:15 pm - Voted 10/10

A fun hike

Guadalupe was a fun hike, and a cool area. Driving from El Paso I stared at the outline of El Capitan on the way there. I'm glad that you enjoyed it and topped out on this fine summit. Carlsbad Caverns is worth a stop too.



Ruvicha - Apr 12, 2012 8:25 pm - Hasn't voted

Did Carlsbad, too

Guadalupe was very worthwhile. We did in fact head up to Carlsbad afterwards, since no one else was buying into the Hunter Peak option.


TexasDeedster - Mar 7, 2014 1:35 am - Hasn't voted

On My Way

Thanks for the cliff warnings as I do get vertigo. I guess I will be spending the next few days hanging off high balconies here in the Gulf Plains of Texas called Houston. I am making the climb with a 20 something and he is already griping so your post was an excellent primer. Will report back, hope to have great pictures.


Ruvicha - Mar 7, 2014 7:45 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: On My Way

Hi, TexasDeedster -- Don't worry about the cliff. I scarcely noticed it on the way up and negotiated it quickly on the way back. Your comment, though, made me conjure up an equation: 2R(OG)=1(G20g) (2 recalcitrant old guys = 1 griping 20something).

The monument at the summit is itself worth the climb, probably the only memorial anywhere that could manage to tie American Airlines, Texas, the Pony Express and the U.S. Postal Service in a single narrative. You'll see what I mean when you get there.

Have fun! Guadalupe Peak is a great hike. I posted a review of El Capitan Hotel on Trip Advisor if you're interested.

Viewing: 1-7 of 7