Getting there . . .
As I grow older, I look back on trips to areas where I may have climbed, hiked or pursued various activities, without knowing that there were other opportunities before me, unseen and unknown. Five college years in Colorado with not a day on the downhill slopes, a year in Morgantown, WV without a single run of the Upper Big Sandy and a few to Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks with but one climb on the record. Years pass, interests change and opportunities to turn a new page in an old book are seen and sometimes a new chapter is written.
My wife was overdue for a trip to Baltimore to visit her folks and I was well overdue for a break from practicing law. Add to those two very necessary needs the slack week between Xmas and New Years and an "old school" road trip south was born. I was bound for Guadalupe National Park, not only to repeat the high point of Texas, Guadalupe Peak, but to perhaps also climb another couple of number of peaks in the range.
The weather was not the best but had made a turn for the better after southern New Mexico, including the Guadalupes, had received upwards of two feet of snow. I figured to encounter some of that white stuff but my hunch was that the snow would melt off quickly once the sun came out and the temps started going back up above the freezing mark.
I had a good trip south until I reached the area around Vaughn, NM, where I hit the northern edge of the recent snow. The road was covered by ground blizzards, the visibility as not so hot and a road grader was hopelessly mired on the side of the road,up to its frame in drifted snow. I slowed down and took care not to join that fellow or a number of others who exercised insufficient caution and were awaiting the services of a tow truck before moving on their way. I came out of the poor conditions after about 40 miles and arrived no worse for wear in Carlsbad at dusk. Figuring that there was snow in the campground at Guadalupe Park, I found a room for the night and and planned to dig out a spot in the morning, using the snow shovel I brought for that exact purpose.
I left Carlsbad at 6 a.m. to drive the 55 miles south to Guadalupe Park's Pine Springs entrance at the base of Guadalupe Peak. There was not much snow around Carlsbad and I hoped that the lack of snow would carry all the way to the campground. As the sun came up and I approached the Park, the mantle of white became obvious but it did not look too bad as far as depth, a couple of inches perhaps. I pulled into the campground and found few campers and plenty of snow. I picked out a spot but before I had the chance to break out the shovel, the folks in the adjacent spot packed their tent and made for warmer climes. After lending a hand to push their front wheel drive car out of a rut, I set my tent up in the bare spot they had just left open.
The Climb . . . via Guadalupe Peak Trail
Having laid claim to a camp spot, I packed my gear for the climb, which I knew to be a bit more than 8 miles round trip and about 3000 feet of vertical gain. My hunch was that if there was any peak in the area that had a beat down boot track to the summit . . . this would be the one. I left the parking lot, following a tennis shoe clad guy/gal pair who were about a minute ahead of me and another pair, alternatively outfitted with gaiters in anticipation of deeper snow. Which pair would Guadalupe Peak treat more kindly I wondered. However, the air was still, the sun was out and the opportunity to take the whole day for the climb without the worry of storm was in the cards for all takers.
The frozen snow crunched beneath my feet as I started out, a bit of ice here and there, leading me to wonder if this might be a crampon climb . . . . if the ice I was slipping and sliding on would continue for miles. Soon enough, I knew that would not be the case as the trail turned to packed snow and I started switch backing route up the side of the peak. The route cut back and forth before taking a final hard right to start its traverse across the flank of the peak, aiming for a notch that would offer the opportunity to turn from the sun lit portion of the peak into the start of the treed and shaded northern slope.
I made the turn, having stomped along through drifted sections here and there, but not more than 6 or 8 inches deep. The northern aspect quickly offered a new opportunity, the chance to break trail. The tennie clad couple had come to a stop . . . as had the tracks of all others who had attempted the climb before me. If "we" were to continue, someone was going to break trail through what was now anywhere between 12 and 24 inches of snow drifted into the trail swale. I offered to take the lead and they gladly stepped aside. The northern flank offered a good mile of switchbacks, all of which was drifted in, the only question being whether the wind had hammered the snow enough to support a footfall on the crust.
About one quarter of the time the crust held and the rest of the time the snow offered me the opportunity to kick deep posthole for the others to step in. They lasted about 200 yards before turning, clearly enough was enough. I broke out of the trees on the north slope and came to the pine filled notch where the mid climb campsite is located. The sun was still bright and but for a few minutes, there was still no wind. I made the turn through the saddle and continued to break trail up past the camp site turnoff, around the corner, and down to the bridge that crosses a small cliffy gap, just before the saddle that marks the start of the final leg of the climb.
The next portion of trail was exposed to the sun and consisted of a number of switchbacks on the southern side of the peak. The snow was not drifted and not deep, but still, I'd not driven 600 miles south of winter to find . . . more winter! I covered the next set of switchbacks and then the trail cut to the north flank again for perhaps a quarter mile before emerging and turning to offer the final traverse to the summit. I took in the view of El Capitan to my left and trudged the final half mile to the half mile to the summit and the stainless steel pyramid that marks the high point of Texas.
I enjoyed the sun and slight breeze for a few minutes as well as the thought that someone would come all the way from Wyoming to kick a path through the snow to score the summit of Guadalupe Peak in the winter. Well, that was the case so I enjoyed the solo summit and took a few photos before starting my descent to find a spot of still air to eat some lunch. I passed another climber and then the gaiter clad pair after descending about a mile and answered their questions as to the distance remaining. After stopping for a bite to eat within sight of the bridge, I continued on down, enjoying a bit easier descent as I passed another couple and another solo, each of whom, by their very presence, had stomped my track down a bit more, easing my descent in the process.
I arrived back at the camp ground after a climb of a bit over 6 hours, not bad time given the snow and trail conditions. Dinner followed and then, after dark set in, a trip over three spaces or so to see if the fellow I had last passed made it back to camp. He had just arrived, having come back down by means of his flashlight, having gained the summit but also having discarded his plans for an extended backpack of a few days. We both presumed there was a good bit of snow in the inner portion of the Guadalupes, a fact that I was to confirm the following day.