Ascent of Guadalupe Peak on 2013-03-02

Climber: Alan Barber

Others in Party:Cameron Barber
Date:Saturday, March 2, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Guadalupe Peak
    Elevation:8749 ft / 2666 m

Ascent Trip Report

Cameron and I flew into El Paso and then drove out of town on US 62/180. After 110 miles we reached the Guadalupe National Park. We arrived at the park after the Visitor center closed (open 9am to 4:30pm) and looked around to find the trail head and the check in center (Visitor center). Finding these easily and since everything was closed we drove the remaining 55 miles to Carlsbad New Mexico where we spent the night.

The next morning, we filled up with gas (no gas stations between the National Park and El Paso) and made the obligatory trip Wal-Mart to buy bottled water and snack food. Leaving Carlsbad about 8am we drove to the park. It was interesting to see the mountain with the sun from the East and the moon setting over El Capitan.
We checked into the Pine Springs Visitors Center about 9AM, paid our $10 fee which covered the two of us and our car, and started out from the trailhead (5730 ft) located at the upper parking lot by 9:10am.

The trailhead was the jumping off point for several trails: the Guadalupe peak trail, Devil’s hall trail, El Capitan trail, and the Bowl. It was curious that there was a sign prohibiting horses. Later we learned that there are extensive horse trails in these mountains and that you can ride nearly to the top of Guadalupe peak. While we certainly wanted to hike, at points along the trail we were wishing for a horse.

The first part of the Guadalupe peak trail leads up a gravel path but soon converts to switch backs which are definitely rocky. Researching this climb it is apparent that almost half of the total elevation gain occurs in the first third of the 4 mile distance to the top. Climbing these switch backs gained a lot of altitude and gave us great views down into the valley toward the parking lot and Visitors center.

At about one mile into the trek, we came to a fork in the trail. The one sign was a notice that mounted riders could not enter the trail we climbing. One trail headed downward to the right (North) and one headed upward to the left. Fortunately, we chose the upward trail which proved to be the correct one. We later encountered a couple who had mistakenly gone to the right and ended up having to backtrack. From that point on there was no ambiguity in the trail.

The climbing became harder at that point and was a steep, rugged slog up the switch backs. The trail was so rocky it was not hard to believe that sections of the trail had to be blasted out of the cliffs. There were numerous stair steps to make the climbing easier. I was very glad I remembered to bring my hiking poles. We also brought ski coats because of our concern about cold temperatures, but ended up carrying them the entire trip. What we failed to bring were ball caps and sun screen. We ended up looking a bit like boiled lobsters that evening.

Two liters of water per person at this time of the year is a minimum and we finished all our carried water before returning to the trailhead.

As the climb continued it wound around the mountain and the parking lot disappeared from sight. After that there were only a few more switchbacks and the trail flattened out. We were still less than half of the distance to the summit.

After all the switchbacks we came to a pine forest. The shade made the air cooler and blocked the sun’s heat. When we reached the 7200 foot elevation level we encountered occasional patches of snow and ice along the trail. While minor at first, they did become slippery and muddy as we progressed.

After about 3 miles of hiking, we reached a sign indicating a cut off to the right leading to a primitive camping area for overnighters. This site is about one mile from the summit.After leaving the campsite cutoff the main trail angled to the left and we climbed above the tree line and back into the sun.

At about 11:45am we reached a wooden bridge which crossed a deep ravine. Just before the wooden bridge was another sign telling those on horseback to dismount and lead their mounts.

As we crossed the bridge we got our first good look at the Guadalupe peak. On the other side of the bridge was a nice flat spot where we rested and ate some food. Beyond our resting place the descended about 50 feet before climbing again.

After the footbridge, the trail circled around to the south and crossed over a spine between the north and south sides of the Guadalupe Mountain. We were able to see the north side of El Capitan with the valley floor far below. This was spectacular!

The trail continued on the south side of the Guadalupe peak with a more switchbacks. It became steeper and very rocky as we approached the summit. Below in the distance we could see the salt flats.The last 50 yards were the steepest. Near the top we saw some logs constructed into what we guessed were hitching posts for horses. A horse would have made this trip much easier! We finally reached the summit and were at the top. The time was 12:30pm.

A silver stainless steel monument marks the summit. This three-sided pyramid is set in concrete. There is also a summit register contained in an ammo box at the top. The south side of the three-sided pyramid has two brass devices. One is a compass with an aviator in the center. The second is a plaques dedicated to airmen. The other two sides have the American Airlines emblem and a plaque dedicated to the US Post Office Department. This pyramid was placed there in 1958 by American Airlines to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Stage (transported the transcontinental mail before the Pony Express) which passed by the base of the mountain.

From the summit you can see other 8000 foot peaks in this range to the north including Bush Mountain (8,631 feet), Shumard Peak (8,615 feet), and Bartlett Peak (8,513 feet) and to the south the spectacular El Capitan (7,573 ft).

The Guadalupe Mountain area is known for high winds, especially on the final part of the climb to the summit. Fortunately we did not encounter any. The sky was a spectacular blue with only a few clouds.

The downward trek
The walk down was easier than going up. We were worried about the icy patches in the trees, but by the time we got there the ice had softened and was melting. We passed several people coming up and would tell them how long we had been descending. An hour into our descent and well below tree line we met a family of 4 coming up the trail. There were lots of groans and eye rolling from the Mom and daughter and a stoic look from the Dad when we told them how much further they had to go. It reminded us of some of our own family trips.

As the descent continued I noticed some pain in my toes. At a break, I found large blisters on both big toes. Once they were covered with band aids, the rest of the descent went much better. It was a good thing I remembered to bring my first aid kit!

According to the National Park Service handout the trail from the Pine Springs trailhead to the summit and back is 8.4 miles and a “strenuous” 6 to 8 hour trek starting at 5730 ft and climbing to 8749 feet (a gain of 3019 feet). It took us 3 ½ hours to hike to the summit. We spent 30 minutes on top enjoying the view and having something to eat and drink. The descent to the parking lot took only 2 ½ hours and we finished the hike at 4pm.

Later than evening after we drove back to El Paso, we really noticed the climb’s effect on our legs!

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3019 ft / 920 m
    Round-Trip Distance:8.4 mi / 13.5 km
    Route:Guadalupe peak trail
    Trailhead:Pine Springs Visitors Center   5730 ft / 1746 m
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 30 Minutes

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