The drive (Suicidal Jackrabbits)
Dawn's early light
The wind was relentless and cold. I had to find shelter behind some rocks before I got chilled - this was only two weeks into the spring, so winter was not far behind. I planned my summit photos before I took them, so I could bring something back besides hypothermia. No, this is not an Alaskan or Nepalese endeavor, this was the great state of Texas. Texas?? They have mountains there?
After work on Friday, March 30th, in Eagle Pass, Texas (Where Yee-Haw meets Ole'), I decided on a moment's notice that I would drive up and knock out my 32nd highpoint, in the great state of Texas. Having lived in Montana for the last several years, I was expecting a long drive, however, when you are in the 2nd largest state, the drive to anywhere
seems to take forever!
The only bonus to driving 8 hours after working all day, beside the incredible sunset I witnessed on the way to Sonora, is continued cell phone reception on most major highways - catching up with a few friends sure does help pass the time! After nearly seven hours of driving I was almost to the turn-off at Van Horn. A quick stop for gas (don't go to Guadalupe without a full tank!)
and I was back on the road. At nearly 2 am I couldn't drive any further - I pulled off to the side of the road, jumped in back, and was asleep in about 3 seconds.
At 6 am a car drove by and woke me up - this is a very lonely stretch of highway - this was the first car I had seen on it - nearly 60 miles of nothingness. Awake, I jumped into action, back on the highway and soon feeling like a slalom skier as I dodged the non-stop barrage of jackrabbits that crossed in front of me -
ever play the old video game, Frogger? Just like it. Damn, there's one hit. I recall the teenage days where we actually tried to get as much road kill as we could - us sick bastards. Not too bad, 40 miles of non-stop "jackrabbit slim 5000" and I had only one casualty - damn suicidal
jack rabbits anyway.
The morning sun shed some incredible light on the massif ahead - Guadalupe can be seen from Interstate 10, over 60 miles away.
The fee to climb the peak is currently $5, payable at the trailhead via check or cash - if you only have a credit card you will have to wait until the visitor's center opens at 8 am - mountain time. The time line is just south of the park.
Out of the car and on the trail at 8 am, I quickly decided that off-trail travel is not advisable
- lots of vicious cactus and other nasty vegetation, and of course, later in the year, the possibility of rattlesnakes. Today it was too damn cold for rattlesnakes - and a welcome respite from south Texas where the temperatures had been 85+ degrees at 7 pm! I walked right up on a herd of deer without spooking them and snapped a couple of photos.
Once against the hillside, the real climbing begins up easy switch backs. Nowhere is the climbing really steep; the trail crew did a good job of planning out a gentle ascent. At one point the trail is blasted out of rock and is exposed to a nice cliff - low sphincter tone factor (STF) though. Rounding the ridge to the west, I am almost blasted down by the cold wind. Not one to be deterred, I continued in the shadowy sections with great speed. From here you get one last good look at the parking lot before you go into a small wooded section on the north side of the peak. Hunter Peak, another "high Guad" is visible to the north, and serves somewhat as an elevation guide - you know you have to be higher
than it to be close to Guadalupe's summit.
A short time later I got a good look at the summit, seemingly some distance away, however deceiving it was. I passed the turn-off to the alpine campground and started the final switch-backs up the eastern slopes. From here I could see El Capitan come into view as well as the vast, brown nothingness to the south and east.
Texas' El Cap
Rounding the bend to the southern slopes, I was again blasted by the cold wind. I thought I still had several hundred yards to go when I suddenly noticed the summit monument only steps away! This was the first I had seen it - what a great way to end up on top - no false summits, no longing for the peak in the distance, hike, hike, Bob's your uncle, and there you are!
Since I was lightly dressed and sweaty, I found a nice windbreak on the south side just below the summit and sat down to eat lunch - it was about 10:30 and 47 degrees without the windchill; it taken a mere 2 1/2 hours at a moderate pace, not bad for over 3,000 feet of elevation gain in 4+ miles, I thought. I purposely tried to keep my speed up since I am used to exercising this way in Montana, and there's nothing taller than about 100 feet in Eagle Pass.
I sat on the summit and took photos and conversed with about 10 other people who showed up. I also signed and read the register. Most folks were from Midland - no one else had driven as far that day. I told them I would normally be backcountry skiing this weekend.... oh, the home life.....
Today the visibility was over 150 miles since I could clearly see the snow-covered Sierra Blanca 100+ miles to the north. Later, the park ranger would tell me it was unusual to have visibility so good on such a windy day - usually it picks up a lot of dust.
When I climbed Sugarloaf Peak in Montana last year, I had taken several photos of myself using the timer, and when I reviewed them on my home computer, I realized I created a mini-movie, since I was in a different location on each shot and the background didn't change. This time I did the same thing - taking multiple shots with me in different positions - although I can't show you here, trust me - you should try this - it is quite amusing! (Ok, I admit it - I'm easily amused.) I plan to create a little video of the climb and that will be the highlight.
The descent was rather unremarkable, although I did take a quick side trip to check out a shelter cave I had spotted just above the trail, hoping to photo some petroglyphs - nope, not that one! Apparently native Americans have continuously inhabited this area for a very, very long time.
Initially I thought I'd head over to El Cap and bag it too, however my sprained ankle kept me fairly idle for most of March (just weeks earlier) and I hadn't been up any hills lately - needless to say my legs were tired!! It was a good thing, too, since by time I got back to the trailhead my legs were SORE! Discretion is the better part of valor, right? - I have some friends in Eagle Pass that want to climb this peak so maybe I'll head over there on the next trip -
As I've said before, what a great motivational way to see the states!
Remember, all who wander are not lost! I got back to Eagle Pass early the next morning - 950 miles round-trip for US Highpoint #32!!
Next up? #33 Mauna Kea, Hawaii's top. (coming soon!)