The doldrums of 'winter' were beginning to pick at the scabs of restlessness and idle feet. I use the word 'winter' lightly as being an inhabitant of the high Chihuahuan desert I'm privileged to consistently moderate temperatures, clear skies and dry air for most of the year. But nonetheless the urge to get out in the backcountry was present and the gear closet was beginning to feel neglected. New gear was in need of a crash course and what better way to fulfill those needs than a quick overnight. I gauge my increasing desire to get out in the backcountry when: I start pulling out maps over coffee in the morning and looking at routes for upcoming trips in the Gila, randomly fidgeting with gear from my closet, boiling cups of water with my cat can stove just for fun, things of that sort. When my 2yr old daughter caught daddy nodding off on the floor under my JRB Hudson River quilt it was pretty obvious that I needed to get out.
My brother in-law Ben Wood and I have been members of BPL for about 2 years now and have been consistently decreasing our pack weight and lightening our footprint in the backcountry of New Mexico. With this trip we were simply looking to just get out for 2 days and be immersed in the Guadalupe Mountains; both of us are full time dads and husbands so these shorter trips have minimal impact on family and relationships.
Our destination was Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a surprisingly large range of rugged mountains and windswept canyons. Located 90 miles east of El Paso, TX. The Guadalupe Mountains are a quick 2 hr. drive from our homes in Las Cruces, NM and would take us into the only legally designated wilderness in West Texas. The itinerary was pretty simple, if the weather cooperated we planned to bag Guadalupe Peak (8751ft. Highest point in Tex.) early in the morning without our packs, quickly descend back to the vehicle, dawn our packs and head back up the opposing ridge along the Tejas Trail to a permitted backcountry site in the higher elevations of the park.
After leaving Las Cruces, NM @ 5AM and fueling up on pretrip bean, cheese and green chile burritos and cheap convenience store coffee we were feeling pretty ripe and ready to get on the trail. The Guadalupe Mountains southern region teases you for miles once you past through the Hueco Mtns. The photo above shows our first good glimpse of El Capitan's south face and Guadalupe Peak rising above.
Getting closer and now realizing that snow may actually be more of an issue than we thought. However we were prepared for the chilly overnight lows, biting wind that the Guadalupe Mountains are known for and possible snow and postholing up to camp.
This is the first section of trail heading out of the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Ben and I stuck with our plan and intended to dayhike Guadalupe Peak in the morning without packs. Round trip to the summit and back was 8.4 miles with over 3200ft. of elevation gain in the short distance.
We were blessed early on with rewarding views of the snow dusted Chihuahuan desert sprawled out below us. The first mile of the hike involves numerous switchbacks and in our case the entire trail was covered with fresh snow to the summit.
Ben Wood making quick steps through the switchbacks. Trails that quickly get you up in elevation are always fun and greatly rewarding.
Shortly into the hike we came across the bridge section. The trail heading up to Guadalupe Peak undulates numerous times along the ridge and that effected snow amounts drastically. A low pressure system had blown through the previous day so we were dealing with freshly fallen snow and drifts, dry cold biting air and outflow winds.
Just an example of the trail conditions with over 2000 ft. left to hike.
Guadalupe Peak is the far point in the upper right hand corner. The peak to the left is a false summit you see along the trail leading up. The dark patch of pine and ponderosa in the center of the photo is a portion of the trail where we had to posthole through snow that was up to our waist at points. I was surprised by the depth and consistency of the snow. The gaiters and softshell pants were perfect supplements for the conditions.
Getting higher and the views looking south east were topnotch.
Ben is shown here on the south facing side of Guadalupe Peak now and we're making our way up the last stretch of trail. The sun was warm but the wind speed increased to consistent 30 mph winds with gusts around 50mph. The National Weather Service was calling for 55 mph wind gusts for the day.
American Airlines Commemorative pyramid at the summit.
Now on the summit looking down on the backside of El Capitan. The Salt Flats region of desert is below us.
Canned summit photo trying to look like we bagged K2 or something. It was fun and the weather conditions and blowing snow over the top of the peak sure did amplify the rewarding sensations of the quick jaunt up the mountain. We lingered for 5 minutes, failed to sign the register then started to run down because my failure to forget sunglasses left me getting repeatedly stung in the eye with sugary snow.
A subtle bit of calmness out of the wind on our way back down. The hike down was nice and fast. We only saw 2 other people ill equipped to be hiking in the cold and snow. One guy was seriously hiking in warm up pants and leather dress shoes with a 12oz. bottle of water in hand. This West Texas destination is notorious for attracting inexperienced tourists and people who bite off more than they can chew. Guadalupe Peak isn't a technically difficult by any means however the altitude and wind and cold requires some preparation and gear consideration.
Snow filled cavities and pillowing.
This photo marks the start of the 2nd leg of our trip. After making it back to the Landcruiser after bagging Guadalupe Peak we fueled up on more bean burritos and grabbed our packs for our overnight. We were going to be hiking along the opposing ridge into the Guadalupe Mountains along the Tejas Trail. All overnight backpacking requires a permit and there are several designated backcountry sites to choose from. One thing to note for anyone looking to do a trip in the Guads is toting water is mandatory, there aren't any real reliable sources of water and what is present is strongly urged to be left for the animals. Ben and I begrudgingly decided to bring 5 liters of water each for the hike in, cooking, and the hike out.
Only 20-30 minutes into the hike along the Tejas Trail. Sweetness.
Devils Hall as seen from the Tejas Trail. The sun was warm overhead and all layers were dropped. This section of trail has a lot of exposure and no shade relief. It is a slow switchbacking trail up to the 8000+ ft ridge.
Gnarly formation along the Tejas Trail.
More snow along the SW facing portion of trail. It is amazing what a little bit of altitude does to the conditions.
Here is a self glorifying picture of my ugly mug after finishing up the switchbacks that take you up to the ridge. From here we would head NW along the Tejas Trail through beautiful Juniper, Ponderosa, Pine, Maple and Oak country.
The trail we took is a faint scratch in the picture.
The smile on my face was as big as a piece of watermelon while hiking through the woods along the ridge. The warmth of the sun filtered through splashing a myriad of light on the fresh powder. Both Ben and I were wearing lightweight softshell pants and OR Stretch gaiters; both items truly kept us dry and moving without issue. I wore a pair of La Sportiva Crosslites on this trip and found them to be the best lightweight trailrunners for backpacking I've found so far.
Contradictions abound when snow is present in the desert.
We arrived pretty quickly to the .3 mile spur off the Tejas Trail that would lead us to our permitted backcountry campsite for the evening. I was very tempted to ignore the designation and find a campsite on a dry and warmer West facing side of trail but we both decided that we should stick to the plan. This sign was slightly humorous though. What campsite?
We quickly found a spot in the snow to pitch my tarp. Ben was a little cold and needed to get something warm in him pretty quickly so out came some of the essentials. Ben brought along his TiGoat Ti-Tri Caldera setup and started a boil for his Mountain House meal. As most of us know, the sodium content is ridiculously high in those meals and Cottonelle wetwipes are insurance against the call of nature :)
We were rewarded with a full moon evening, or near full moon. That phenomenal act of nature paired well with Ben's little luxury item, the tea candle lantern. I was surprised at how welcome that little addition was to our trip; aiding in conversation, tequila drinking, and eating.
Ben emerging from his cocoon. Mountain House salt laden meals, Hersheys Dark, and tequila brought on sleep pretty quick. A few times in the night I wrestled around with my Jacks R Better Hudson River quilt inside my MLD Superlight Bivy. My real issue was that I was sliding in tiny increments through the night on my Z-Lite pad; it was like an orgy of silnylon and I was unfortunately stuck in the middle. Despite the sliding all my sleeping gear worked flawlessly and I was quite toasty. I just wore the gear I hiked in and supplemented my feet with my Montbell Down inner parka, in fact my feet actually got a little warm at one point. I did supplement my legs with a pair of Capilene 3 tights which was perfect for the overnight lows in the teens we experienced. My upper body was adorned with my BPL Beartooth hoody zipped up in ninja mode and I had a super thin silkweight layer underneath that. I topped off my upper with my Marmot Mica shell just to cut any wind from reaching my skin if my bivy failed to keep out drafts.
My footbox in the MLD Superlight Bivy. Good morning feet.
My ugly mug spilling out of my silnylon cocoon in the morning before the sun broke over the ridge.
The water shown is my water leftover from the day before and some of what I toted along for the hike out. I brought more than was necessary as I was thoroughly hydrated early on. Melting snow would have been an option or supplementing snow into the water we brought would have worked too but we didn't know exactly where we were being dumped along the trail. The west facing sides were significantly dry.
I finally got off my lazy butt and on my feet. Keeping my socks in my pocket overnight as well as my gloves kept them dry and warm for the morning. My shoes were almost dry but definitely cold.
I'm a gear nerd so the photo above may get a rise out of the other gear nerds in the BPL group. The shelter we used was an Oware Cattarp 2 with MLD's mini-linelok set and stakes. We were able to dig down in the snow enough to stake out the guylines, we just had to pack down the snow real hard to maintain purchase. I brought along my 3/4 Z-Lite and a 1/3 section of Ridgerest pad for my feet. I used a JRB Hudson River quilt and MLD Superlight Bivy. Ben used a Gossamer Gear thinlight pad for his feet and a Z-Lite pad for his torso. His JRB Shenandoah probably wouldn't have cut the cold so he opted for his REI Sub Kilo and TiGoat Ptarmigan bivy. If I remember correctly he wasn't happy with the bivy setup due to his side sleeping nature and constant adjusting in the night.
There were several nice clearings which gave us nice views of the surrounding terrain.
Another detail of the trail heading out.
Guadalupe Peak in the distance. The same summit we hiked the morning before.
This is my ugly mug again right before the descent down Little Bear Canyon (I believe that's the name, don't quote me). This was probably my favorite section of trail on the trip due to the construction and steepness of the switchbacks. You spill down the canyon 3000+ ft in a matter of an hour. The descent was surprisingly taxing on the legs for downhill hiking but I was very glad we made a counterclockwise loop instead of beginning our hike up the ridge for our overnight on this section.
Desert valley below us. The trail head at the Pine Springs Visitor Center is around the hump to the south in the far right side of the picture.
Great views to finish out the trip.
Wool baselayer action! Pow! I'm breaking my promise to Ben and posting a pic of him stripped down to the base. It was a mixture of cool wind and overcast sky but the air was mild and a light wool layer was perfect for the fast descent into the warmer desert below.
Quick vegetation transformation further down the canyon.
The canyon funnels into a wash of boulders and rock formations and the hiking in this section was very enjoyable. My camera was starting to act up and run out of battery power though so I popped off a few more.
Ben doesn't always look this smug, he does however have fiery Irish tendencies and a nice pint of Imperial Stout really puts a smile on his face. I know he was loving life at the moment in the Guadalupe Mountains.
The trail threads it's way under this slab of rock perched along the canyon wall.
Finally made it out of the funnel and spilled down into the wide fan of desert below the canyon. It's only a short mile back to the Pine Springs Visitor Center after connecting with the Frijole Trail.
The ridge that we came down from; Ben making steps along the Frijole Trail.
The Frijole Trail takes you back to the Pine Springs Visitor Center which is the jump off point for many trails heading into the Guadalupe Mountains. Between the dayhike up Guadalupe Peak and the fast overnight along the Tejas Trail we covered a quick 20 miles or so which wasn't bad considering much of it was climbing and descending up the steep canyon walls and through fresh snow.
I will definitely be coming back to the Guadalupe Mountains in the future. The only downside to the Guadalupes for much of the year is the need for abundant amounts of water which must be carried so if you don't like carrying a preferred gallon of water per day per person in your frameless pack then this isn't the place for you. But if you desire to experience a nice backcountry experience in West Texas and want to avoid the logistics of tackling Big Bend NP and the crowds then the Guadalupe Mountains could fulfill that calling for you. Ben and I loaded up our gear and headed back to Las Cruces,NM and stopped at our local brewpub for a couple pints of the best Brown at High Desert Brewery to round out the trip. Snow, miles of endless desert, elk and deer tracks, high ridges and deep canyons, it is amazing how much you can see in less than 48 hours with careful planning.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
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