On Day 5, I posted a status update on Facebook that I had hiked to the top of Texas. A friend replied, “With all the hills in Texas, I’d imagine the top is about 6 feet tall.”
Contrary to what she, and probably a lot of you think, Texas is not all flat. There are some pretty big mountains in West Texas, and the highest…
… is Guadalupe Peak, at 8,751 feet (2,667 meters). It’s part of the Guadalupe Mountains range, which stretches from Texas into New Mexico, about 100 miles east of El Paso. This pyramid marks the highest point on the mountain, more than 3,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor.
I had been thinking about a hike to the top of Guadalupe Peak since I visited Guadalupe Mountains National Park in 2006. Back then, I didn’t have enough time to hike the 8.4 mile (round trip) trail, and I opted for a shorter, and lower, trail instead. Many times over the next few years, I saw many stories online, from people who had hiked the trail. All of them made it sound harsh and dangerous, with tales of rattlesnakes, high winds, blistering heat, and thunderstorms that appeared from nowhere. It was almost enough to scare me away from trying it myself.
But I’m glad I did it, despite all those foreboding tales. The hike is by no means easy — after all, you’re gaining nearly 3,000 feet in elevation — but it’s not as awful as you might think, especially if you hike it at some time other than the dead of summer.
I arrived in Guadalupe Mountains National Park around 9:30, and stopped in at the visitor center. The park rangers told me the weather should stay sunny all day, but the forecast called for strong winds later in the day. I decided to chance it, and by 10 o’clock, I started hiking.
The hike begins at the Pine Springs campground, behind the visitor center. This is also the start of the Devil’s Hall Trail (4.2 miles round-trip), El Capitan Trail (11.3 miles round-trip), and The Bowl (9.1 miles round-trip). All those trails quickly split apart, and the path to Guadalupe Peak heads uphill.
I don’t recall any part of the trail where I wasn’t gaining elevation, but the first part of it gains quite a bit, quite quickly.
Before long, you’re up high enough to gaze down into Pine Spring Canyon, which separates Guadalupe Peak from Bush Mountain and Hunter Peak (the mountains you see in the distance are part of the ridge that stretches in between those two points).
Looking back, you can still see the visitor center and trailhead, in front of an almost infinite amount of flat Texas land (or at least, almost flat).
The trail skirts the edge of the hillside…
… getting narrow enough at one point to warn anyone on horseback to dismount.
And this is the reason why. At this point, the trail is carved out of the mountainside, forming a shelf that’s almost as knee-quivering as the Observation Point Trail in Zion National Park. Yes, that is the trail down below, zig-zagging uphill. You would have been there about :30 to :45 minutes earlier.
About an hour into the hike, the trail reaches this big hairpin curve, where it crosses to the opposite side of the hill. Suddenly…
… you’re hiking in the shadows, instead of the intense morning sun…
… and the view changes, looking more to the north than the east.
The incline decreases a little, as the trail briefly heads away from the side of the cliff…
… but more climbing awaits, as Guadalupe Peak comes into view.
If the previous ledge didn’t make you a little weak, this bridge might. You can’t really appreciate the gap that you’re crossing…
… until you reach the other side, then look back.
After more climbing…
… you reach a big treat: your first glimpse of the top of El Capitan — that big, prominent mountain peak that you had admired a couple of hours earlier on US 62/180. It looks a lot different from this angle, and as you hike, the views of it get better and better.
This is the final stretch of the ascent.
Two and a half hours after leaving the trailhead, I was there: the famous pyramid at the top of Guadalupe Peak! I had seen it in so many pictures, but never thought I’d actually make it here.
I promised that the view of El Capitan would get better. Look at it! Not only can you see the top of the mountain (looking like the chopped-off stump of an enormous tree), but you can also see for miles in every direction.
I found a nice place to kick up my feet, with a great view of El Capitan, and took a break, eating snacks and gulping down water.
With binoculars (or a zoom lens), you can take a look at TX-54, the southbound highway that connects Guadalupe Mountains National Park with Van Horn, 60 miles to the south. I had driven this road earlier in the day, and I would drive it again after dark, on my way back to my motel.
Looking west, you can see the Salt Flat, a large dry lakebed where I would go for sunset later in the day.
Some lower mountains partially obscure the view further to the northwest. One of these mountains is probably Shumard Peak, which is only about 134 feet shorter than Guadalupe Peak.
I felt pretty lonely on the climb up the mountain, but at the top there were plenty of other people.
Eventually they got out of the way, and I was able to prop my feet up against the pyramid.
After taking in the view, all that’s left to do is the return hike, 4.2 miles downhill. I made the trip back down to the desert floor in a little less than two hours.