Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Part 2: Guadalupe Peak
The next morning I set off bright and early to climb 3,000 feet to Guadalupe Peak, the tallest peak in Texas at 8,751 feet. I was just starting my ascent up the switchbacks as the sun rose, providing a welcome bit of warmth.
The first couple miles of the 8.5 mile (roundtrip) hike are unusually steep, providing much of the elevation gain. Most of the trail here was packed snow that had iced over, and I was careful with footing. The best part about this section were the deer friends I met early on. They were very close when I noticed them and didn’t seem to mind standing with me as long as I stayed still. As I explained to them though, I wanted to keep going and so, as I’d start moving forward, they’d scurry up the mountain. And then we’d meet five minutes later on the next switchback. They must have been confused as to why I kept reappearing.
Once I had climbed most of the elevation, the trail led around the mountain and across smaller peaks. The trail here was on the shaded side of the mountain and under thick pine forest. It was still and beautiful. Finally, I broke through onto mostly bare rock, and had an unobstructed view of the plateau beneath the mountains. It was breathtaking. Without the protection of the mountains and the cover of the trees though the wind became ferocious, growing in intensity as I continued climbing past El Capitan, and up the final ascent to Guadalupe Peak. No amount of sun could keep me warm and I was barely able to keep my hands out of my gloves long enough to sign the trail register. It was crazy!
As I descended though I soon warmed up and about 20 minutes below the peak met the first person I’d seen that day since I had been the first one up the mountain. He gave me a warning that became standard with every person I passed: be careful on the switchbacks because, under full sun, they were a slippery, icy mess. Well, he and the people I passed were correct because what had been packed snow was now ice with a fair bit of mud on the lower sections. I very, very carefully made my down, taking as much time on my way up the mountain as I did on the way down in fact, but was unable to avoid about four spills. Luckily three of them just wrenched various joints as I spun and caught myself in hyper-extended positions, but the last one completely took my feet from beneath me resulting in me being laid flat out. Again, as luck would have it, I landed on my pack, which elevated and saved my lower back, and my hat took some of the impact from my head cracking the ice (again, luckily, I avoided rock). So, while sore and with a pounding head, I managed to not seriously injure myself which I am calling a victory. I think I must be getting coordinated in my old age.