By: Jerry Keating
Paul Bloland's comprehensive write-up (Desert Sage, May-July 1978) of his climb of Guadalupe Pk. (8,75].') intrigued me, but the 1,900-mile drive he endured during his four-day trip prompted me to seek another means of approaching the high point of Texas.
By flying to El Paso and renting a oar, the total driving distance was cut to 220 miles, and I was on the summit the same morning I left Los Angeles. By using Continental Airlines' Super Saver fare, staying through a Saturday and paying for my tickets seven days in advance, I enjoyed a roundtrip flight cost of only $88. Car rentals in El Paso are as low as $13 per day with no mileage charge for weekends starting on Thursdays.
As the previous write-up indicated the peak is in the undeveloped, new Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There is water at the Frijole information station (a trailer), but none at the Pine Springs Campground (just off U.S. 62-180) or along the trail. The campground consists of some picnic tables, charcoal grills and chemical toilets. The well-ducked trail to the peak begins at the upper end of the campground and is clearly signed. A topo map (Guadalupe Pk.) is posted on a bulletin board/hiker registration structure. The trail does not appear on the printed version of the topo, but it has been drawn in on the displayed version. It's not necessary to have the topo, but the sketch map included in a free park brochure is helpful because it shows all of the trails in the park and the other peaks, including Brush Mtn. (8,676'), Hunter Pk. (8,326') and famed El Capitan (8,078'). For a copy, call the Frijole station -- (915) 828-3355 -- between 8 a.m. and 4:3O p.m. MST or write to Superintendent, Guadalupe Mountains-Carlsbad Caverns National Parks, 3225 National Parks Hwy., Carlsbad, N.M. 88220
The folder warns of severe and sudden changes in weather, adding: "You can expect strong winds in spring and autumn and electrical storms, sometimes accompanied by heavy downpours and flash flooding, in summer." The wind warning was appropriate for me. As I deplaned at El Paso the temperature was 40 and the wind was gusting to 40 m.p.h. As I drove eastward toward the peak, the winds Increased, and I grew more apprehensive as I heard radio reports of 60+ tornado deaths along the Texas-Oklahoma border. At Guadalupe Pass a 40-foot house trailer being towed had been flipped on its roof, its wheels ominously pointing skyward. Chunks of ice covered the ground, having been hurled there from clouds over the peak the previous night. At the roadhead, I discovered that no one else was going to attempt the peak that day because of the winds. However, with the sun out and only a few clouds in sight, I put on all my clothing and set out for the peak. The first two miles are in the bottom of Pine Springs Canyon and therefore are somewhat sheltered. Thereafter, the trail climbs abruptly to a ridge, then follows the ridge to the summit, staying on the lee side most of the time. When on the ridge's actual crown, I occasionally was forced to kneel to avoid being blown away. Despite the discomfort, I made the roundtrip in 4-1/4 hours.
I share Paul Bloland's enthusiasm for this climb because it differs significantly from what DPSers regularly encounter. First, it is in an exposed part of the massive Captain Reef, formed millions of years ago when the area was covered by an inland sea.
Second, it Is in the Chihuahuan Desert and offers vegetation ranging from agave, yucca and sotol to ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and limber pine. Third, it offers an opportunity to view Carlsbad Caverns, only a half-hour's drive to the east and also part of the Captain Reef.
One aspect of this area that particularly interested me was its weather. A park summary based on eight years of record keeping revealed an average annual precipitation of 21.09 inches at the 5,500 foot base of the mountains, with 14.14 inches of the total occurring in June-September. The highest temperature recorded was 97 in August, with the April maximum 86. The coldest low was a 0 in March. The average high ranges from 83 in June to 51 in December, while the average low varies from 58 in July to 27 in February. Wind speeds occasionally reach 60-80 m.p.h., as I can attest, and a 110 m.p.h. record was set on January 25, 1967.
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