Guadaloupe Peak, 8,749ft
Date climbed: 1:33pm Feb 25, 2012
Guadalupe Peak – Roof of Texas
Eric Gilbertson, Matthew Gilbertson, Jake Osterberg, Amanda Morris
Every US state has a highest point – from Britton Hill (345ft) in Florida to Mt. McKinley (20,320ft) in Alaska – and Matthew and I set out to climb every last one of them. Our quest started in 1996 with Clingman’s Dome, the highest mountain in Tennessee, and by February 2012 we had finished off 49 states. The lone remaining state was Texas.
We invited Jake and Amanda to join us in finishing off Guadalupe Peak, the highest mountain in Texas, and we all swooped into El Paso on Friday night, February 24th. We’d come from all over the globe – me and Matthew from Massachusetts, Amanda from Maryland, and Jake all the way from Africa. Saturday would be summit day, with Sunday as a backup just in case. Though, short of armed soldiers guarding the mountain, I don’t think anything would have prevented Matthew and me from summiting Guadalupe Peak. Of all 49 other states we were only thwarted by one on our first attempt (Illinois), and that was because we’d tried to climb that highpoint on a day when the private property landowners had closed access.
Amanda had found a cheap deal on a hotel for our first night, so we all got a good night’s rest in El Paso Friday night. Somehow Amanda had also used her cheapskate ninja skills to get a car rental for only $8 a day – just $2 per person! We piled in the Toyota corolla at 7am Saturday morning and started heading east.
The terrain in West Texas is pretty flat, and with no trees that means you can see a long ways. Guadalupe Peak was officially 100 miles away, but we could already see it 40 miles outside of El Paso. The peak has a huge 2000ft cliff on the southern side called “El Capitan,” and a long ridge extending north to the true summit and beyond. Apparently early settlers used El Capitan as a landmark to tell they were on the correct route, and I can understand based on how prominent the mountain is compared to the flat landscape.
We pulled into the Pine Springs visitor center at 9:30am and went inside to quickly ask the rangers about trail conditions. One of my friends had climbed Guadalupe Peak over Christmas break and said there was over a foot of snow on the ground! The rangers assured us most of that had melted, except for a few patches left in the shade. It would be extremely windy, though, they warned. The previous day it was supposedly gusting to 70mph on the summit. Now that’s just a gentle breeze by Mt Washington standards, but we still brought some eye protection and balaclavas just in case. The rangers were pretty impressed to hear this was our last state highpoint, and wanted to make sure we signed the log book at the summit.
We layered up with sunscreen, threw some food and water in our backpacks, and headed up the summit trail. In July it would have likely been pushing 100F already, but luckily in February it was a mere 50F at the trailhead. Amanda was already prepared for wind, wearing her ski goggles from the start. I bet she was the only person in the state of Texas wearing ski goggles that morning.
Unlike New England trails this one was well-graded, with all kinds of switchbacks. We soon caught up to and passed a church group hiking up the trail, and then passed a few boyscouts hiking down (they must have camped out that night). The trail started out on the south side of the mountain, but soon hooked over to the northeast side. Suddenly the barren desert turned into a lush forest of pine trees, with patches of snow sprinkled around in the shade. Somehow the north facing side of the mountain must provide enough shelter from the wind, and maybe allow more moisture for all those trees to grow. It didn’t seem like we were in West Texas anymore – maybe more like Colorado.
The snow was a bit icy on the trail, but no problem as long as we were careful. The trail soon weaved back to the desert on the southern side of the mountain, and we passed a few more people coming down.
“You’re almost there; 5 more minutes,” they told us. This was Matthew’s cue. He’d promised to carry Amanda the last tenth a mile to the summit and this was close enough. I took Matthew’s backpack, Matthew replaced the pack with Amanda on his back, and we all continued up the trail. At 12:15pm we rounded the final turn and reached the summit! State highpoint number 50! It was too easy – there weren’t even any armed soldiers guarding the top. There was a huge aluminum pyramid marking the summit, and that would have been the optimal place to stand during a lighting storm if you wanted to get struck.
I whipped out an American flag I’d bought just for this occasion and we got all sorts of patriotic pictures. My favorite is the one of me and Matthew both holding the flag while at the top of a big jump. Jake got all kinds of amazing pictures with his fancy DSLR camera, and we hung out at the top for several hours taking pictures, juggling (just me), signing the log book, and eating lunch.
“What do we do now that all the states are done?” I remember thinking. For the past 16 years we’d been working toward this goal but hadn’t really thought what we would do next if we ever climbed all 50 highpoints. It was kind of like a void had opened up that I needed to fill with some new project. Luckily highpointing is a limitless endeavor – you can always make a new highpointing project to work on. I think the next logical step after completing the 50 states is to work on country highpoints. With ~195 country highpoints to climb, I don’t think we’ll have to be too concerned about filling another void any time soon.
Jake suggested there’d be good picture potential if we could drive out below Guadalupe Peak to catch the setting sun on the mountain, and that meant we probably had to get back to the trailhead before sunset. So we reluctantly packed back up and started heading down the trail.
We got back to the trailhead with plenty of time to spare and indeed took some awesome sunset pictures of Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan. I think we exactly reproduced the picture on one of the postcards sold at the visitor’s center.
You might recall how most national parks have a “junior ranger” program where little kids can do scavenger hunt type tasks and earn a junior ranger patch and certificate. Well, at Guadalupe National Park even adults can get in on the action, and earn a “Senior Ranger” patch. Who wouldn’t want a patch that said “Guadalupe National Park Senior Ranger” on it? Me, Matthew and Amanda couldn’t resist, so the rest of
that evening we spent diligently reading park brochures and answering questions about the park. We camped out at the Pine Springs campground that night, and early the next morning turned in all our paperwork, took the official park oath, and became official senior rangers (with the patches to prove it!).
We had a full extra day to kill in Texas, so we drove a little farther east and checked out the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. That cave is pretty spectacular and I’d highly recommend it if you’re in the area and have already climbed Guadalupe Peak.
We spent our last night in El Paso after celebrating our success at a nice Mexican restaurant, before flying back home Monday morning.