By: Paul A. Bloland
Because it is so remote from my usual travel routes, for years I've put off climbing Guadalupe Peak in West Texas. However, it is a state high point and, as such, deserves the attention of the ever-increasing band of state high point collectors of which I, unhappily, am one. So, at 7am on Sunday, March 19th, Ruth Bloland and I pointed our chrome yellow VW van towards the morning sun and began the long grueling drive across 960 miles of desert.
We stopped to see friends in Tucson Sunday night and reached Guadalupe National Park, a hundred miles east of El Paso, Monday afternoon about 4:30pm. We camped overnight in a large gravel unshaded parking lot at the trail head amid the bare grey hills reminiscent of the Southern Sierras at Powers Well beneath Aquila Peak. The national park is so new (1972) that very little development has taken place, there is only one public campground, and the trails are in poor condition. (Be sure to stop at the Park Service information station at Frijole to inquire about conditions before entering the back country.)
Because our dogs weren't permitted on the trails, Ruth kept them company while I started up Pine Springs Canyon at 7:30am on Tuesday, following the dry wash as it wound east through the mixed plant community typical of desert canyon floors. A herd of nine mule deer, more curious than fearful, slowly crossed the wash in front of me, eyeing me as they grazed. About two miles and 40 minutes from the parking lot, the trail abruptly left the canyon floor and began climbing steeply up the side of a ridge on the left side of the canyon, rising through agave and sage to the ridge-top. The trail was clear and well ducked although quite steep, winding along below the southern, then eastern, shoulder of the peak. A well- defined saddle was reached about 9:30 and more steep trail took me to the rounded summit at 10:20am. American Airlines has placed a metal pyramidal monument at the top and there is a climbing register for the obligatory sign-in.
From the highest point in Texas (8751) I could see the salt lake to the southwest, endless miles of Texas plains to the east, south, and west, and the relatively flat profile of the Guadalupe Mountains stretching north up into New Mexico, with some stands of coniferous forest visible in the high valleys. Directly below was the jagged top of Guadalupe's most spectacular landmark, El Capitan (8078). The exposed edge of the Capitan Reef, El Capitan's stark cliffs dominate historic Guadalupe Pass, the old route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Line, and can be seen on the horizon for hundreds of miles.
After the appropriate photo session, a little lunch, and another view of the vast panorama, I left the summit at 11am, reached the canyon floor at 12:10, and was back in the campground at 12:55pm. Without further ado, we packed up and left for Los Angeles at 1:30pm. An overnight sleep in Texas Canyon at a highway rest stop rendered lively all night by the roar of huge trucks on 1-10, a long dull stretch across Arizona and California, and we were back in Palos Verdes at 7:15pm, Wednesday, March 22, feeling rather foolish that we had invested three and a half days of hard driving for a half day of hiking - such is the fate of the incorrigible peak-bagger.
The driving distance was 1917 miles in three time zones with the Tucson area being a logical stop-over. We followed Interstate 8 from El Centro to Casa Grande, 1-10 to El Paso, and US 62-180 to Pine Springs, Texas. The trail to Guadalupe Peak rises from 5822 ft. at the roadhead to 8751 ft. for a gain of 2929 ft., most of which is encountered in the last two miles. My pace was slow since it was my first peak of the year so my total time of 5-1/2 hours could considerably reduced by a strong hiker. The trail is frequently ducked and is listed by the Park Service as 4.2 miles one way. The mountains were dry with just a few patches of old Snow in the high gullies attesting to the fact that the weather can get rough in the winter. I took three canteens of water but only downed a quart.
In summary, Guadalupe Peak meets all of the criteria for a worthy addition to the Desert Peaks list except one - 1900 miles may be a little far afield for even the DPS!
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