Sunday, March 09, 2014

Hunter Peak, Bear Canyon, Tejas -- Guadalupe Mountains

I'm not accustomed to getting out of bed at 6:45 am on a Saturday. Maybe I should do it more often! The first five minutes were tough, but after I hit the shower I was awake enough to get excited about the days' adventure ahead. My friend Ben had suggested we do a day trip to the Guadalupe Mountains, about three hours west of Midland, in far west Texas. I threw my stuff together (backpack, some cold weather gear, three liters of water, two bottles of Gatorade, a Frappicino, some snacks) and picked Ben up at his house. We were on the road around 7:45 from Midland, driving west through Kermit, then Mentone, TX and up to Orla, where I visited a wellsite a while ago when I worked for Concho. We cut west near Orla and crossed part of Delaware Ranch, and saw a rig or two drilling Bone Spring horizontal wells. On 180, we headed SW into Guadalupe National Park.


Last time I was here was February 2013 when my parents visited. It seems like a few months ago, but they have already visited again last month. Ben suggested we hike McKittrick Canyon. We headed to the Visitor's Center to see if they had any food -- I had neglected to eat any breakfast. No food at the Visitor Center, but the employee we spoke with recommended Bear Canyon, and we decided McKittrick was going to be too easy for ambitious hikers such as ourselves. We drove over to Frijole Ranch (just the name made me hungry as I still hadn't found any food -- typical of me to undertake 5 hours of driving and a major hike with little or no food) and headed up toward Bear Canyon on foot. Guadalupe NP is a very nice place, but it's not exactly the busiest National Park you'll find. It was the first weekend of Spring Break and that meant instead of being totally deserted, we actually saw a few other people on the trails. At the Bear Canyon trail intersection with Frijole trail, we came upon a sign that read "trail closed due to flood damage". Hmmm, ok, the NP employees in the Visitor Center had just recommended this trail 30 minutes before. We pressed on up the Canyon.  Moderate at first, the trail soon became quite steep.  Although I can't remember much of it, because my blood sugar was so low, my brain was barely functioning and certainly wasn't recording memories.  Thankfully I took some pictures (with my phone, which takes better pictures than my 3-year-old $500 camera.  Progress...)

Bear Canyon

More of Bear Canyon

Bear Canyon again

The day was cold, and mostly cloudly and overcast, with occasional sun shining through.  It was an odd weather day, and felt much colder than it really was.  It also felt like it might rain at any moment.  The wind picked up throughout the day, and by the end I was wearing a full winter jacket, freezing and cursing the wind, hiking along as fast as I could with my hands in my pockets.  Yet at the truck the thermometer read 50 degrees!

Limestone boulders in Bear Canyon

Up, up, up we went in Bear Canyon.  Limestone everywhere; this is a mostly limestone range.  (Look elsewhere for the geology.  This is of course a classic locality.)  Ben said some things about the geology, and I kept reminding him that knowing about fossils doesn't help a person find oil.  Ok, maybe it does.  

Odd rock formation on wall of Bear Canyon

Rock Formation

Almost at the top

Ben, hiking partner

Up top, the trail flattened out and we had a pleasant walk through a wooded, grassy area.  Very nice.  But also very dry.

Guadalupe Peak and part of El Capitan

Not far and we came to Hunter Peak, about 8300' elevation.  Good views of Guad Peak and El Cap.  I've hiked Guadalupe Peak twice before.  It's tough up but even tougher down -- steep trail with lots of frustrating loose rock.

View from near Hunter Peak

Ben on the Rock of Contemplation

My turn


Hunter Peak with El Cap in background

Notice how there aren't any more photos.  From here we went down Tejas trail, which is a series of hundreds of switchbacks down to the Visitor Center.  In some places, it looks like the switchbacks are all around you, with some leading uphill.  It was getting a bit late so we started hoofing it.  We met several groups of hikers on the way up the trail - backpackers actually.  Some were well prepared.  One group of two people clearly were not.  One guy had a small backpack and a single rolled Mexican style blanket.  I felt bad for him because clearly he was going to feel warm until he stopped hiking and then he was going to have a very cold and miserable night up at 7500'.

Finally, after hiking for an eternity directly into a blasting, freezing cold wind, we arrived back at the truck.  I'd survived on a couple bags of pretzels and two bottles of Gatorade.  I think Ben had even less.  We went into Carlsbad for gas and tried to find some local food, but settled on McDonald's, which I could barely stomach with my hike-induced migraine-like headache coming on.  This is an assured experience for me on any hike over about 6 miles, especially with elevation change over a few thousand feet.

Somehow we drove home to Midland from Carlsbad.  Ben slept a bit on the drive, and maybe I did too (not sure who was driving).  I dropped Ben at his house at 11:00 PM.  A long day. During the hike I thought several times "why do I do this?".   And today, the day after, I'm ready to go back and do it again.


Tonia said...

It makes me laugh that neither of you thought to bring food. I honestly think that with Ben's lectures on geology he should retire young and be a professor somewhere. Glad you guys made it back safe and sound. Ben had forgotten about daylight savings time and had to be up at 6am for meetings the next morning. Poor guy :( I think he's ready to do it again next weekend too.

Plants Amaze Me said...

Sounds great..."hiking for an eternity directly into a blasting, freezing cold wind" and "migraine-like headache"!
It sure is a pretty place, glad you shared it with us. But take some real food next time.