After writing The Summer of My Discontent, I decided it was time for more adventure. First on my list was to hike to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas (8751 feet), in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
The first question was whether I’d go alone or find a hiking buddy. My eleven-year-old son Ben is my favorite hiking partner, but his mama said the hike was too tough for him, so that settled it. Alone it would be.
The next question was when. I asked, “Is it too hot to climb Guadalupe Peak in August,” on the Backpacking in Texas Facebook group. Some people said yes, some said no. The commenter who convinced me was a woman who condescendingly mom-splained how it was much too hot in August to hike anywhere in Texas unless one was a very experienced backpacker and hiker. Okay, know-it-all fair weather hiker, I thought, August it is.
From my house to the trail head at Pine Springs camp was a seven-hour drive that took me out of Texas through New Mexico, and then south back into Texas. I left early Friday morning.
The national park is in the Trans Pecos area of Texas, which is the elbow that juts out west and is one of the least populated areas of the U.S.
After check-in I set up camp at the base of the mountains, and then took a short four-mile hike on Devil’s Hall trail. Devil’s Hall follows a dry creek bed and is very shady. Despite the temperature being over 100 in the sun (I was in the Chihuahuan Desert, after all), there was a cool, dry breeze coming off the mountains. I saw many trees and other plants that don’t grow in my part of Texas, like this Texas Madrone.
Wind woke me at 5:00 A.M. the next morning. Eager to get on the trail, I got dressed, brushed my teeth, packed my drinks and snacks, and was on the trail by six. I paused to watch the sunrise from one of the first switchbacks.
The first mile or so was continuous climbing. I was out of breath quicker than I expected. With each switchback, I was higher and had a better view.
After about a mile and a half the trail curved to the north side of the mountain where the wind threatened to blow my hat and pack and everything else away. It felt terrific. Soon after, I entered a forest of Douglas Fir and other beautiful trees.
I was in the shade until close to the summit, where the trail faced the sun which was already getting high and hot. The climbing got tough again, and my hamstrings were sending angry messages.
At the very top I was greeted by five young men and a young lady who’d left a little earlier than I. They welcomed me and introduced themselves. I signed the guest book which is kept in an ammo box under a kettle bell, and then sat down for a rest and snacks and good conversation. One young guy slept the whole time; I think the climb wore him out.
After close to an hour it was getting hot and we all decided it was time to go. We said goodbye and the younger people left me behind. The hike down was easier, but I was also tired, and it was hotter. I passed lots of hikers who were coming up and chatted with a few.
The round-trip hike is eight miles long, and I think it took me a little over six hours. I wasn’t sure though, as I didn’t carry a phone or watch, and the mountain is at the border of a time-zone. The other hikers complained that their phones kept switching back and forth between central and mountain time.
When I arrived at camp my site was in full sun and I was tired and hot and had accomplished my goal, so I decided to drive to the Davis Mountains. I packed up and headed south on one of the most beautiful highways I’ve ever traveled. For seventy miles, I never passed another car, but I did stop at a historical marker that said the hills behind us were the site of the last battle between the Texas Rangers and Mescalero Apache. Aside from the highway, everything looked like the battle could have happened yesterday.
In Van Horn, I hopped on I-10 and traveled East until I saw the exit for Fort Davis, which took me through even more beautiful scenery. The thermometer in my pickup dropped from 97 to 75 within the next fifty miles.
I planned to camp at Davis Mountains State Park, but it was pouring rain in Fort Davis and didn’t seem like it would quit. After waiting a while, I decided not to set up camp in mud and rain. As much as I hated leaving my favorite place in the world, I headed north east and watched the cloud covered mountains disappear in my rear-view mirror.