Guadalupe Peak, Texas (8,749')
January 31, 1998
Friday, January 30, 1998
I flew from Burbank to El Paso and met my dad (in from the Cleveland area) at the airport. We decided to meet for his birthday and west Texas seemed to be as good a place as any. Our weekend plans were to hike in Guadalupe National Park and to visit the Carlsbad Caverns. By 10:30pm we were checked into a Red Roof in in East El Paso. We sorted and organized our packs for the hike the next day and went to bed.
Saturday, January 31, 1998
At 4:30am we got up, got ready, grabbed a quick breakfast and hit the road by 5:00am. We drove north a few miles to Montana Avenue (a.k.a. Route 62/180) and headed west towards Gualalupe Pass and the mountains. The desert was flat and dark, our only relief from the featureless road was a quick stop at a border patrol check point. A guard asked us if we were US citizens and let us pass. As the horizon began to get brighter, we could see hills and mountains all around, especially to the northeast. As soon as the first hint of daylight backlit the face of El Capitan, it was obvious where we were heading. It was probablly visible for 30 miles or more.
After 110 miles, we reached Guadalupe Pass at 5,695 feet. Immeadiately past there, we turned into the campground/parking lot and readied ourselves for the hike. My mini-thermomitor read 50 degrees, but it felt a little colder to uncovered skin because of the high winds balsting through the pass. At 6:50am we left the trailhead and began to climb just as the sun came over the distant horizon. It was very picturesque.
The first mile of hiking is ascending switchbacks up and up and up the ridge directly above the parking lot. Hunter Peak rises to the north and the trail towards the top is very apparent as it, too, switchbacks up and across the mountain. As we were hiking along, up towards the top of the ridge, we were caught off guard by the sound of rocks moving and when we looked up to see if a rock slide or something was about to hit us, we saw two small mule deer. I don't know if they were more startled or if we were.
Crossing over to the north and west faces of the trail (the switchbacks are east facing), we started to see some reminants of snow and ice left over from a storn several weeks previous. The ranger had told me to expect a muddy trail, but the ground was still frozen - the sun was still behind the ridge. We had been pounded by wind all the way up and not it was even stronger. Much of the trail was protected from the gusts, but occasionally, our exposure allowed the wind to blow us almost over! There had been a warning at the trailhead about not hiking during extreme winds; although very strong, I did not think the winds warrented turning around.
More and more switchbacks brought us to a tight section of trail and a short bridge that crossed a steep gully right up against a sheer rock wall. From there, the trail actually flattened out a little and the summit came into view for the first time. I estimate that we were about 3 miles along the route at this point. The landscape changed dramatically for a short while. From steep slopes and drop-offs, the terrain turned into rolling, grassy highlands. Not quite a meadow, but sort of. There was a campground trail here and the trail continued up on the south side of the summit approach. We were passed by a nice guy as we approached the summit. He sped past us on an icy section of trail. Kindly, he waited for us and took out photo together at the summit monument.
We talked to him for a few minutes, compared hikes and adventures and even talked about hiking together this summer. He had made the summit in about 2 hours, we had taken a leisurely 3½ to reach our objective. We signed the regiser, took photos, talked and enjoyed the awesome view of the desert floor and far-off mountains. Overlooking El Capitan (kinda looks like Michigan's lower pennsula, huh?), we took a half-hour lunch break a few feet below the summit.
We descended the same trail as we took on the way up. We rested often and stopped to eat, drink or take a photo several times. At 2:00pm, we were back at the parking lot, then we changed and headed north to New Mexico...
A Ranger told me that winter temperatures vary as follows:
Driving Directions from El Paso:
updated: 15 June, 2002
updated: 5 March, 2001