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Alex Eriksson
(aeriksson) - M

Locale: Austin, TX
Guadalupe Christmas on 12/18/2012 12:56:20 MST Print View

I'll try to keep this as short as possible, although forgive me in advance if I get a tad verbose.....

A group of three plus myself makes four, who are spending our Christmas breaks together out in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The last of our merry band of newbie backpackers gets off work at midnight Sunday (Saturday night, the 22nd) in Houston. The plan as it stands now, is to drive through the night immediately after that person gets off and arrive in Carlsbad NM Sunday morning. We're actually going to start the adventure with a trip through the caverns in the morning since they're closed Christmas day (our return travel day). From Carlsbad we'll then venture south slightly into the Guadalupe Mountains park and here's where I'd love some advice from anyone who has been....

First a little bit about our gang: we're all pretty green to the backpacking scene. One is well fit, two are fairly fit, one (myself) is festively plump but capable and determined. Of the group I'm the most devoted to backpacking light (hence my membership here) so I've got my load to an acceptable level so as to not bonk before all the fun starts. Anyhow, this will be, as a group, our first trip together and as such, and because the idea is to have a leisurely weekend, I'm aiming to keep the mileage pretty low at least by BPL levels. Plenty of time to take in the sights, and plenty of time to let the schedule slip n slide a little depending on how people are feeling (and how tardy we are). Basically I'm trying not to cut anything too close.

Now back to the itinerary....

Ok, so Sunday afternoon we hike up to the Guadalupe Peak backcountry campsite (~3.0 miles). I figure if we get to the park around 1 that'll give us daylight to get there and get setup.

Monday morning rise early and head up to Guadalupe Peak (~1 mile), take some pictures, marvel at our awesomeness in the face of such adversity *sarcasm* and then turn around and head back to the base (~4 miles downhill). However, we will continue at that point around the Bowl Loop clockwise by headed up the Tejas Trail with the intent of getting to Pine Top before nightfall (~5 miles uphill).

Tuesday morning, rise early and do the remaining bit of the Bowl loop (~5 miles downhill) and terminate our trip back where we started at the Pine Springs Visitor Center. At that point, head on home at, I'm hoping, departing around noon or 1.

Here's a map of the route, and some questions:

- These are pretty conservative, slow travel times suitable for weekend-warrior type backpackers?

- The weather is supposed to be highs in the upper 40's at elevation (at least as it stands as of last night), is there anything to consider there other than to bag for cold temps?

- How protected from the wind are the Guadalupe Peak campsite and the Pine Top campsites?

Any other advice for a first timer to the area would be awesome!

Trip map:

Edited by aeriksson on 12/18/2012 21:43:48 MST.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Guadalupe Christmas on 12/18/2012 16:28:57 MST Print View

Guadalupe Peak is not protected from wind, in my opine. If staying at either, I'd prepare for a windy time.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: Tokyo, Japan
Re: Guadalupe Christmas on 12/18/2012 16:34:33 MST Print View

Your overly ambitious driving itineray aside, pack trail crampons, two inverted gas canister stoves, and lots of water.

I saw a pic of the Guadalupe range taken a few days ago and the peaks were covered in snow and snow on peaks is usually deeper than it appears from base levels. I also suspect high temps of 40+ at the peaks (maybe visitor center average?) is not correct. I was in the lower elevation Davis mountains in August and the night time temps were in the 50's.

So not to scare you off but probable near freezing temps combined with the notoriously high gale winds on the peaks and I'd say your merry band could end up mountain lion tasty treats unless you have some winter snow hiking experience at altitude.


Frostbite Exposure table

Edited by rmjapan on 12/18/2012 18:57:17 MST.

Alex Eriksson
(aeriksson) - M

Locale: Austin, TX
Weather on 12/18/2012 21:36:02 MST Print View

Looks like the current weather report is showing a front moving through the area tomorrow with ridiculous winds gusting to around 85 mph. However it looks like by Sunday it's calling for warmer temps (good) but also lists it as the fairly nebulous "windy" conditions (bad I guess). I'm not sure how windy "windy" is considered but I suspect the closer we get to the day the more accurate their estimate on the wind.

Good advice on the stoves. Reading more about the wind and apparently shocking low humidity (15%?!) even a spark can touch off a wildfire with the wind conditions, so will have to be very careful. Everyone is rolling out with clothing and sleeping gear rated to cold, so we should be okay in that regard. Hopefully no mountain lion popsicles, especially since I'll look the least gamey of the bunch.

Utterly clueless about hiking in snow other than growing up in the northeast and being familiar with shoveling it, playing in it, and generally stomping around in it. I'll call the rangers tomorrow and ask if there's snow up there, also a good shove in the right direction! Thanks!

Lastly, mountain lions are (to some extent) what is keeping us away from Big Bend. They had an attack last week but apparently it was down by the US/MEX border and that area is now closed while they go poking around looking for the cat. That said, we could probably have a slightly more pleasant time of things (weather wise) checking out the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend, but that's a Plan C in my mind (because my girlfriend really really now wants to stand on the highest peak in Texas and damnit so do I). ;-D

Edited by aeriksson on 12/18/2012 21:48:09 MST.

Alex Eriksson
(aeriksson) - M

Locale: Austin, TX
Re: Weather on 12/18/2012 21:39:57 MST Print View

Guess I should have mentioned...

Plan B: Camp at the base of the mountains Sunday night, wake up early and do the entire up/back Guadalupe Peak Trail in one day Monday, and camp back at the base of the mountain that night. Wake up early and then do the Bowl Loop in one day. This would at least avoid any camping above ~5700 and hopefully provide some shelter from the wind if we get there and it's really kicking @ss.

Plan C: Big Bend, which would need its own set of plans.....then I'll need a new thread, map, and questions for that too. Hahaha.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: Tokyo, Japan
Re: Re: Weather on 12/18/2012 23:33:40 MST Print View

FYI, there is a trip report that may interest you.

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=29660

If your group has never been at altitude before, don't underestimate the difficulty in a ~3000ft accent from a mile high basecamp in cold dry air, much less gale winds. It could easily take 2x longer than your plan. DRINK lots of water before, during, and after. At the summit you will be right on the cusp where altitude sickness can kick in too so keep eyes on each other for even mild flu-like symptoms. And if you have never camped in cold temps before, perhaps it might be better to stay close to your vehicle.

Hiking/camping with a girlfriend can be "interesting" and the Far West Texas scenery is awesome. We were lucky to see a mountain lion, many interesting birds, and some javelina during our 3-day Davis Mountains trip. Saw an unfortunate number of rattlesnakes too but you shouldn't have to worry too much about them in the winter.

Edited by rmjapan on 12/18/2012 23:36:49 MST.

Alex Eriksson
(aeriksson) - M

Locale: Austin, TX
Re: Re: Re: Weather on 12/21/2012 02:12:19 MST Print View

Looks like most of my group wants to stay close to the car so it appears we may well just spend Sunday fairly leisurely, camp Sunday night in the pine springs camp at the base of the mountains, and then hit the peak trail Monday (up and back), and the Bowl trail Tuesday (out and back). If I'm feeling frisky I may venture off on my own, sticking to the original plan to head up to the elevated backcountry camp sites, but I'm going to play that by ear based on weather and just how hard the altitude hits us and how solitary I'm feeling.

The trip report was super informative btw, thanks! It's the exact same path we'll be taking through the park so it was good to read something from someone who did it in similar wintry conditions. We would all be happy to see some snow, so fingers crossed for a white Christmas.

Q Smith
(neotech@ktc.com) - MLife

Locale: Texas Hill Country
wind is serious on 12/25/2012 17:10:01 MST Print View

wish I had seen this earlier. the wind will blow you off the mountain. I suggest sleeping at base camp and doing day hikes only. gaud peak. devils canyon. mckittrick canyon. no fires allowed. it will be COLD. all the hikes you suggested are tough with a full pack and a gallon of water.

Q Smith
(neotech@ktc.com) - MLife

Locale: Texas Hill Country
general feedback on 12/28/2012 12:42:03 MST Print View

Alex,

I've been on half of GUMO trails. Here is what I can share:
1. The rangers at GUMO are very helpful and they know the trails - get their advice

2. once you get "on top" there is lots of forest (oak, maple, pine) and you won't believe you are in the middle of a desert or in Texas. there is much more forest than in Big Bend

3. you must pack water (8 pounds per gallon, one gallon per day)

4. no fires - i hate this but prefer that this rare and old forest not burn... (there is one exception that I will share later in the Permian Reef description)

5. the wind can be dangerous (my personal max is 35 mph). I’ve seen it shred a tent. It will also knock large branches out of trees, knock down large trees, and literally KNOCK YOU DOWN, WORSE PUSH YOU AROUND

6. The typical trail is about 3 feet wide made from tennis ball size rocks. I recommend trail running shoes with a shank. With plain running shoes you get some bruises and soreness. Boots are too heavy…

7. the only place with good wind protection is Tejas Camp Ground - i was there on a night with 50 mph winds and we were well protected (check above you for possible falling branches)

8. Guadalupe peak is a day hike (really not a reason to stay up there - the camp site is only ok - you hear traffic from nearby roads... not kidding). I’ve seen several white tail on this trail. you will see hikers here on most days. There is a short stretch 300’ feet from the top that crosses a semi-smooth rock surface (if there is ice or snow crampons are in needed). allow for 4 or 5 hour round trip (8 miles about 2,500')

9. Devil’s canyon is a fun day hike (no place to camp in the canyon). it has a "box" canyon, "staircase", and lots of maples (beautiful in fall). you will see many hikers here most days. allow 4 hours for a round trip (6 miles, no elevation change)

10. Pine Top is a pretty camp site with some protection from the wind. But when conditions are right you hear trucks on the nearby roads. It is a good base camp for several other hikes (the bowl, Bush Mountain, Tejas, and Blue Ridge). allow 3 hours up and 1.5 hours down. you will be in pine trees once on top, but there is NO SHADE on the way up. i've been here 5 nights and only seen 2 other people. (4 miles and 2,400’ elevation – several switchbacks)

11. Bush Mountain is a must see. From Pine Top to Bush Mountain is about 3 miles with no elevation change but A LOT OF UP AND DOWN. The trail here has sparse pine forest. I’ve been to the camp ground - under some nice pines - and it provides some wind protection under the right conditions. The rangers told us that this is a remote and special trail that few people have hiked. This trail is essentially a westward trail from Pine Top, but it will eventually turn north. After it turns north there is a minor side trail that goes due west off the main trail (before you get to the radio repeater). The side trail takes you to an AWESOME escarpment - you can see west all the way to El Paso - 110 miles away.

12. From Bush Mountain you can return to Pine Top, or go on to Blue Ridge camp ground. Going to Blue Ridge takes you through forest (thick at times) on a trail that is so rarely used that we had to clear trees and even lost the trail at times in brush and weeds. Again, there is a lot of up and down on the way. You will get into maple and pine forest here and it seemed to have good wind protection, but I have not been there under windy conditions. It is about 3 miles from Bush Mountain, 6 miles from Pine Top.

13. Tejas trail and campground. From Blue Ridge it is mostly downhill, from Pine Top it is all downhill. Either way, it’s almost all thick tall forest. Plenty of maples. Well protected from the wind. Pretty remote. I’ve seen sign of other backpackers, but not the people. This area feels much more like New Mexico Gila Mountains than Big Bend.

14. McKittrick Canyon to the grotto (usually dry) and back is a good day hike with little elevation change. YOU WILL SEE OTHER HIKERS. This trail follows a flowing creek as it takes you into a maple and pine forest. In the fall this place can be as crowed as a mall (until you go past the grotto). You still have to pack water because this water is verboten for people! This is an 8 mile round trip.

15. McKittrick Canyon from the grotto to McKittrick Ridge campground is ALMOST ALL UP. There are a few places where the switch backs are very steep and you will get to one short stretch where you go up “stairs” cut into the rock. Going up, the forest is pretty thick and I think the canyons are the prettiest in GUMO. Eventually you will come to a saddle about a mile from the campground with nice views to the east (desert) and the west (forested canyon). Once at the campground you find nice soft camp sites with lots of pine trees. There is some wind protection but I wouldn’t want to be up there with 30 mph winds… I saw many deer up here that aren’t spooked by hikers. In fact, they were downright nosey. You climb 2400’ over a long 2 miles (from the grotto). It’s another 4 miles to the ranger station with little elevation change.

16. Permian Reef trail to Wilderness Ridge Campground is a surprisingly interesting hike. The trail has numerous metal markers that point out significant rocks and or fossils (a guidebook is available). It is so interesting in fact that you are very likely to see college students on this trail doing field studies. There is almost NO SHADE until you top the ridge where there is near instant forest. Once on top, you have about one mile to a nice camp ground with some wind protection. From the campground you are about 400 yards from a ridge with a breathtaking view of McKittrick canyon. While taking in the canyon view, we spotted some Texas Big Horn Sheep running up and down the cliff walls like a white tail deer runs across an open field – INCREDIBLE! Extra - once at the campground you are very near the Texas and New Mexico border. If you continue on past the camp ground you will come to some fence and a turnstile that lets you enter New Mexico. When you cross the border you also go from GUMO National Park to Lincoln National Forest. You can have a fire in the national forest!! We found an okay camping spot (with a minimal search of about 10 minutes) with some firewood but opted to stay in Gumo and do without a fire. This is about a 4 mile one way hike with 2000’ of elevation gain. (On the way out my buddy made it back to the ranger station in just 55 minutes).

I’d love to field questions…

Q

Alex Eriksson
(aeriksson) - M

Locale: Austin, TX
Re: general feedback on 12/28/2012 13:25:07 MST Print View

Q,

WOW. Thanks for all the helpful information! Outstandingly useful when it comes from someone who has been there. There's only so much you can tell from a map, from Flickr pictures, and Google.

We ended up not going to GUMO, instead opting for a closer bit of "test-packing" to both get out into some sort of outdoors stuff, and also shake-down our current setups of gear. You can see the thread I started called The Guadalupe Mountains That Weren't". Long story short, we went to Lost Maples, west of San Antonio and more than half of us realized 40* sleeping bags aren't great in 34* temps with high humidity. Shortly thereafter we realized we would have been TOTALLY outmatched by GUMO.

That said, with some strategic upgrades and your info I know we would stand a much better chance of having a good time. I was pretty dead-set at camping at Pine Top, less so at the Peak Trail site, but would have likely retreated downhill from the Peak Trail in the face of the winds that other BPL members reported were common over the weekend preceding Christmas. Right now it's looking like we won't have another opportunity to get to GUMO until spring and slightly warmer temps.

I'm sure I'll have lots of questions the closer we get to another trip and will most definitely hit you up in the event we start thinking about another trip! Thanks again!