Sunday, September 12, 2021

Conquering Hunter Peak at Guadalupe Mountains National Park

(Above:  Selfie on top of Hunter Peak.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I made it!  I made it to the top of Hunter Peak here in Guadalupe Mountain National Park.  It took three attempts.  Yes, I'm well aware that Hunter Peak is not the highest point in Texas.  I know that Guadalupe Peak is the highest at 8749'.  I had no problem getting up that mountain during my second week, but Hunter Peak (a mere 8368') proved to be much more difficult. 

(Above:  Panorama of Guadalupe Peak from along the Tejas Trail on the way to Hunter Peak. Image from just after dawn.)

First of all, I had to learn that the afternoon heat made hiking near impossible. I hiked the easy Foothill/Frijole loop at the end of my first week.  It's only a 5.5 mile round trip with very little elevation change, but I started at 9:00 AM.  Big mistake!  Toward the end, I noticed the first signs of heat exhaustion despite having plenty of water with me.  (I also saw a rattlesnake. It scared me half to death and I didn't even get a picture.)  So, I learned to start earlier ... as "at dawn".

(Above:  Having breakfast along the Tejas Trail with a view to Guadalupe Peak.)

Before attempting Guadalupe Peak (while thinking that Hunter Peak would be easier ... which it isn't!), I decided to start at dawn and hike up Bear Canyon.  After all, there are two ways to get to Hunter Peak:  Bear Canyon Trail and the Tejas Trail.  Well, Bear Canyon has probably the steepest ascent in the entire park.  It was HARD.  By the time I reached the top (8002'), I still had over 300' feet more in elevation and six-tenth of a mile to go.  It was also approaching 10:00 AM.  Hiking the rest of the way would likely take me at least forty more minutes.  The descent would require at least three hours.  If I continued, I would be ending my hike during the afternoon on a day when the temperatures were forecast to be over 86 degrees.  Plus, the bottom mile or more of all these trails is over the open desert landscape ... in full sun.  I knew I had to turn back, not reach Hunter Peak that day.

(Above: View from the top of Hunter Peak.)

Several days later, I decided to try again.  This time I would take the Tejas Trail and start at 5:30 AM while wearing my headlamp.  It was a good plan but it failed.  The first problem happened within the first tenth of a mile from the trailhead.  At this point, hikers have to cross a wide wash.  The earlier seasonal rains brought down so much gravel and debris that any markers across the wash were lost.  I ended up fumbling around in the dark for the first twenty minutes.  Then, dawn broke and I found the Tejas Trail on the other side of the wash.  I lost all this early, cool time.  The hike though went well.  I made it to the top trail junction easily.  Three trails proceed from this point (also around 8000').  There's the Bush Mountain Trail, the Bowl Trail (which I wanted), and the continuation of the Tejas Trail.  I got confused.  Accidentally, I went on the Tejas Trail.  I should have realized this sooner.  After all, the trail was descending and Hunter Peak seemed to be getting further away (because it was!)  I'd gone almost a mile before I figured out what went wrong and hiked back to the trail junction.  By this time, it was again too late to continue to Hunter Peak.  My descent would again be in flat out sun and in temperatures over 84 degrees.  Wisely (but disappointed), I went back down the Tejas Trail instead of continuing to Hunter Peak.

(Above:  View from Hunter Peak back down to the Park's Visitor Center and campgrounds.  My cargo van was just a speck in the parking lot!) 

I'm not a quitter though!   Last Thursday, I tried again ... and I MADE IT.  Okay, I started a few minutes before 5:00 AM.  The Milky Way was overhead.  My headlamp lit the path for the first hour.  Breakfast was while watching the first rays of dawn hit Guadalupe Peak.  I made the trail junction just before 8:00 AM and was on top of Hunter Peak by 8:30.  From there, I hiked over to the steep Bear Canyon Trail for my descent.  This loop is about 8.7 miles (a little longer than Guadalupe Peak) and the last 1.6 miles is over the open desert.  It was already  HOT, HOT, HOT ... but I was back at my cargo van before 11:30 AM, before the more intense afternoon heat.  Thank goodness my provided studio apartment was just a mile away.  I spent the next hour relaxing in tepid bathwater.  It was a good day.  I conquered Hunter Peak!

1 comment:

Sherrie Spangler said...

Wow, you are tenacious!!! I know I couldn't have made it.