In the morning we had a surprise visitor – a mule deer came to the entrance of our campsite and stood there for about 20 minutes enjoying something tasty on the side of the path. Every now and again she would lift her head and look over to see us looking at her, but then she went right back to whatever she was eating. We looked at the spot when we set out, and all we saw was a patch of disturbed soil. A buck also came within view from the other side, but he was less tolerating of our presence and ran off as soon as he spotted me.
This was the day we would hike to the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak. The plan was to hike the 3.9 miles down to Pine Springs where we could fill up on water, up 3.4 miles to the Guadalupe Peak campground, drop our camping gear and hike the mile up from the campground to the summit; over nine miles altogether, but only 7.3 with full packs. The elevation change is significant: a couple thousand feet down and about 2500 feet back up. We set out at 8:20, early enough to have plenty of daylight to make the hike, without being so early that I couldn’t take my time enjoying the view with my instant coffee.
Hiking down from Pine Top we were treated to stunning views looking east out of the mountains to mostly undeveloped land in New Mexico and Texas. The rocks on the trail contained specks of reflective mineral, so they glittered in sun as we walked past.
To get to Pine Springs campground we crossed through a large dry wash. It was unbelievably white, so bright that it was blinding to look at. Later in the day we ran into a ranger whom I asked how often water runs through the wash. He didn’t exactly answer my question, but he did show us a video of the crazy flood in September. The same storm that flooded Colorado also hit this park; the water was so high it washed away full-grown ponderosa pines and took four days to recede.
After filling our water bottles at Pine Springs, we continued the hike up towards Guadalupe Peak. Because the trail is heavily used, and on the north side of the slope, much of the trail was covered in packed snow. I never thought we’d be wishing for microspikes in the desert! We packed for this trip in August Florida heat thinking that we would be following the warm weather, and are a little short in the winter gear department.
We arrived at the campground at 2:00 pm to drop much of our gear off before hiking the last mile up to the summit. As is common for national parks, a permit with campsite reservations is required to stay in the backcountry. We had a permit for Guadalupe Peak campground, but it took some looking around to finally find an empty tent site. We dropped our stuff and headed out; on the way out of the campground we ran into another party coming in, even though we had just claimed the last platform! I was a little worried that since we had only set our stuff there and not set up a tent, that they would take the site. I don’t know what they did, but when we returned from the summit the site was still ours. I am surprised the site was left last; the site is perched near the edge of a cliff and offers amazing views.
A strange pyramid sculpture greeted us at the top of the summit, along with several groups of people. This is a very popular destination! The pyramid was placed by American Airlines before the area was a national park; it is a tribute to the “United States of America Post Office Department”, with references to the most modern transportation method for mail, air mail, as well as to the historical stage-coach transportation. From this I learned that the Butterfield Stage Route traversed through this park; I previously hiked the Butterfield Hiking Trail based on the stage route when we passed through Arkansas!
[ John here: I don’t normally where a collared shirt suitable for interviews on hikes, but I get sunburned easily, and this is the only long-sleeve shirt I had with me in the van. The “popped collar” is to protect my neck from the sun. Note: I’ve recently purchased a sun shirt designed specially for standing/hiking in the sun. ]
Once again we slept without the rainfly for better sky-gazing. The stars were amazing; there are so many that if you look long enough at any piece of sky you think is dark, a faint star will come into focus. They go on forever. My gazing was made difficult because I had to stick my head out of the tent to see properly; one of these new moons I need to sleep under the stars outside of a tent.