Topping out in Texas: Guadalupe Peak
I certainly hadn't heard of Guadalupe Mountains before arriving at the nearby Carlsbad Caverns National Park. To be honest, with the choice of driving north through snowy mountain towns or south through the Guadalupe range and El Paso, I was leaning north. Yet on our way out of Carlsbad, I bought my son a Junior Ranger Passport book and at just under an hour south, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to grab another stamp for him and see what Guadalupe Mountains National Park would hold for us.
Traveling in our 1978 converted German Fire Truck, we have the luxury of taking our home with us wherever we go, leading us to always make last minute decisions about where to go, stay and what to do. As we crossed back into Texas, the Guadalupe Range began to grow before us. Sitting quietly beneath the rugged peaks, the Park headquarters might as well be a rest stop as it doesn’t possess the gates, guards and rangers as so many other National Parks across the country.
We entered the park at evening, Guadalupe Peak's shadow cast long over the park and campground. The top of Texas is 8,749 feet and from the high point of the pass at about 5,700 feet we thought we could easily crush the hike. Yet, I wasn't feeling up for lugging our 40 pound 4-year old son along with another 15 pounds of gear 6,000 vertical feet with a 8 pound broken backpack. Second to this, our 14 month old would also need to be carried the entire time and the 6-8 hour expected trip seemed like a stretch for him. My wife and I overlooked the map and the adjacent trail options intending to explore the McKittrick Canyon Trail for it's unique biodiversity surrounded by a harsh desert instead of taking on the most demanding hike in the park.
However when we awoke, we knew neither of us would be satisfied if we took the easy route, especially with the trail head sitting right there. We departed our boondock spot just a few minutes down the road and arrived back at headquarters as they opened the doors. Flashing our America the Beautiful Pass, we were given parking passes and a map and we quickly activated our young family loading up our gear and getting a quick bowl of porridge in. Hitting the trail before 10 was a huge win for us, but the warm winter morning sunshine was quickly consumed by fast moving low cloud with a bone chilling humidity. In a rare moment of packing too little, we had left Sofi and my down layers behind, forcing us to deeply consider turning back at the first false summit. Fortunately we egged each other on, put some food in our bellies and our four year old agreed to ride in the child carrier after climbing about 1,000 vertical feet; a massive feat for him.
Upon approaching the mid summit backcountry campsite, the cloud cover began to burn off and our first glimpse of the summit appeared - not even close to where we had expected it to be. We trudged on but almost turned around a second, a third and a fourth time letting this Texas summit almost get the best of us. As the trail completed it's final switchbacks the wind just dissipated and the stillness encompassed the proud peaks in a mystical serenity.
As I stood on top of peak and looked around I couldn't believe I was in Texas. South East from the summit stood El Capitan, a peak named clearly after its Yosemite brethren. To the west and north the rugged peaks were equally majestic even more so learning that they're composed of Permian fossilized reef, collectively, the largest protected fossilized reef in the world. We lounged on the summit with about 20 others, almost all commenting on our boldness for bringing our two children on such an arduous day trip.
It took us almost five hours to make it to the summit and we began our long saunter down at about 3:00 acknowledging we would be over extending the 6-8 hour expected time. Leaving the unbelievable ridge leading to El Capitan behind, we hit all the false summits we fortunately didn't see due to cloud cover on the ascent. Long dark shadows had settled in to the valley as we made it to the final descent, sheepishly remembering the point where we had almost turned around almost 8 hours before.
The last 1,000 feet went fast, and we wearily trudged into the parking lot welcomed by our comfortable home, the ability to prepare a quick hot meal, ice cold beers and comfortable beds.
While we didn't spend anymore time exploring the park, the hike left a vivid imprint on the both of us. Perhaps it was the challenge of taking the kids on the most strenuous hike we had done in years - or perhaps it was the sublime peaks. Whatever the case, we know we will be back when our children can carry themselves up to the top.