We didn’t hike a state highpoint in 2009 as traveling to one from where we were all living was a bit too far. But due a recent move for Mark (to Arizona), driving to Texas to hike Guadalupe Peak made sense. Tom and I flew in on the 13th, spent the night at Mark’s place, then we drove to the campground at the trailhead on the 14th. Here’s a photo of Guadalupe Peak Mark took on the drive in. This is about 20 to 30 minutes west of the trailhead:
Tom in front of Guadalupe Peak, which is the peak furthest to the right; El Capitan juts out to the right of the peak (email Tom to ask him what he was doing out there)
We spent the night at Pine Spring Campground, which is right by the trailhead. We had cell reception there, and I was even able to get internet access on my phone (which allowed me to download a Risk-like game for us to occupy our time in the evening – no fires allowed). The night was somewhat uneventful, but had a little commotion. We only had a 2-person tent, and Mark volunteered to sleep out under the stars. Temperature and weather wise, that probably would have been fine (and the lack of light pollution meant the stars were awesome). But bugs-wise, it was a bad move. Mark was getting eaten alive and it was too hot to slide all the way into his sleeping bag, so he ended up moving to the car in the middle of the night and spent the night in the car.
Mark woke Tom and I up fairly early, just as the first indications of light were peaking over the horizon (probably around 4:30 local time). We grabbed everything and threw it into the car, geared up, and hit the trail. Here we are at the trailhead:
Tom, Mark, and Ryan at the trailhead; it was still pretty dark when we started our hike
The hike starts out fairly level, then runs into some switchbacks as you gain elevation. We were headed up the switchbacks when the sun broke over the horizon, necessitating us taking a few pictures:
panorama of the sun rising from the eastern slope of Guadalupe (click to enlarge)
Mark in front of the rising sun on the switchbacks
We made decent time and the hike was not particularly challenging. Apparently the trail is horse-friendly, but there are parts that I would not want to take a horse on, as the trail is literally cut into a cliff face with rather steep drops, like this one:
Ryan and Tom on a cliff face in the morning sun
We stopped a couple times to catch our breath, but the hike was actually moderate enough that we were able to hold a pretty good conversation up the mountain. We contemplated hiking out to El Capitan from the summit, but the trails diverge near the campground, so we opted not to. However, we had good views of El Capitan from Guadalupe Peak:
El Capitan from just below the summit of Guadalupe Peak
We actually summited in just over 2 hours. I tried to use my phone’s GPS to track our route, and it worked on the way up, but died just after we left the summit on the way done. According to my GPS map, our total moving time was about 2 hours and 10 minutes (which probably includes about 10 minutes of the descent). We spent over an hour on the summit. Here are some summit photos:
Ryan pointing out the mini-watermelon Tom carried to the top; unfortunately it wasn't very good
While we were on the summit, some clouds rolled in from the southeast. They didn’t look very menacing, and it was cool to be above the clouds, but they did prompt us to leave a little sooner than we would have otherwise so as not to get caught in a storm. Here’s a photo showing us above the clouds:
The three of us at the summit, above the clouds
the summit marker, with one of our shirts airing out on it
panorama from the summit looking west (click to enlarge)
panorama from the summit looking east (click to enlarge)
We took a few more photos on the way down, but I really liked this one of Mark as he was on a promontory and it looked very cool:
Mark looking out over the valley to the east of the peak
We were off the mountain by about 10 am. We saw just three other people on the trail on the way up, and they had hiked up to a primitive campground the evening before (we saw them heading out when we arrived at the campground). On the way down we probably passed 20 or 30 people who were on their way up. It was getting fairly hot at around 10 am, so I think we made the right decision to hike it very early, as we had great weather and the trail to ourselves.
Here’s the GPS map of the trail from my phone application:
We chose New Mexico this year as we were unable to get a permit to hike Mt. Whitney in California. We left Salt Lake on August 1st, headed for Taos Ski Valley. We planned on camping in one of the campgrounds on the way up to the Ski resort, but neither Tom or I felt very well, so we opted for a hotel in Taos instead. We stopped in Moab for lunch at Slick Rock Cafe, then had a light dinner in Taos. It was a good thing we stayed in a hotel as Tom repeated his performance from last year and spent about an hour vomiting in the middle of the night. But, unlike last year, he actually felt better after vomiting (food poisoning from Olive Garden?). We left for the trailhead from Taos around 6:30.
We started hiking around 7:30 and summitted around 12:00 pm. We followed the longer but less steep route from the lower parking lot. The hike itself isn’t particularly grueling in its steepness, but it is very, very long. The first half is in the tree line and is actually the steepest part of the trail. Once you clear the tree line you’re about half the way to the top. Above the treeline you follow a number of switchbacks to a ridge then have to pass a couple of false summits, one actual summit (a nearby peak), and then finally get to the actual summit. The actual summit has a nice view of the surrounding area and the Taos Ski resort below. However, it was like a plague on the top with all the flies, which made being on the summit less enjoyable than many of the mountains we’ve climbed. I’m not sure why there are so many there, but you can see the flies in this photo of Mark on the summit:
We spent about 45 minutes on the summit, snacking and resting (and brushing our teeth). There were probably another 15 to 20 people who summitted while we were there. Another 20 or so beat us up the mountain and were headed back down before we summitted (many were trail runners who made us feel really, really old). Here’s Tom on the summit with some crazy counselor from the Philmont Scout Ranch:
And here are Mark and Tom on the summit by the marker:
On the way back down we took a shortcut across a meadow just below the ridge that probably saved us 1/2 an hour on the way down. Just above the treeline I started feeling really, really sick. Tom and Mark took my pack at that point and I was finally able to continue on, but still didn’t feel very good. It may have been exhaustion and lack of food, but whatever it was, it hit at a terrible time as I still had more than half the mountain to descend. We got back to the trailhead around 4:00 pm.
Rather than look for a campsite, we drove down toward Taos, filled up the car, got a drink, used the restroom, and headed back toward Salt Lake City. Getting off the mountain at that time gave us the idea that we might want to catch a movie that night (even though we were exhausted), then find a cheap motel/hotel for the night. We stopped in Pagosa Springs where the new Batman movie, Dark Knight, was playing. We got our tickets then went to Farrago Market Cafe for dinner. We caught the movie (which was pretty good), then started looking for a hotel. To our surprise, we couldn’t find anything for less than around $250, which was way more than we were willing to pay. We thought we’d have more luck in a larger city, like Durango, so we headed there, but had about the same results. Turns out, this time of year is the busy time in this area – we couldn’t find anything. By that time we realized that if we just drove straight through to Salt Lake City, we’d get back around 6:30 am. So, we decided to try to pretend like we’re young and started driving. Mark and Tom drove for about an hour while I slept. They then pulled off and I took over for about 3 hours, driving us from outside Monticello to Price. Mark took over from there and we made it back home around 6:30.
Here’s a map from Taos to the trail head:
Mark and I woke up around 5:45 to get ready for the hike. Tom, well, Tom had been up all night anyway with the runs and vomiting and was semi-awake when we got up. For those who don’t know the intimate details of our trio, Tom may not do the most hiking of the bunch (Mark and I probably hike more than he does), but he is generally in the best shape and is able to run up mountains. So, when Tom weakly sat up and asked, “Do you think I should try to do the hike?” both Mark and I knew he was in bad shape. I’m not a physician, so I deferred to Mark (who is), but didn’t think he should. Mark pointed out the major issue – dehydration. Tom hadn’t been able to keep down water, let alone any food. If he attempted the hike there was a good chance he just wouldn’t make it… And it may even result in something worse, like him collapsing half way up and needing help getting out. So, we encouraged him to just stay in the hotel room. We offered to do something else rather than hike so we could spend time together, but Tom insisted we do the hike. So, Mark and I headed out around 6:30 for the trail head.
The hike starts at the Arizona Snow Bowl, which is a ski resort. When we arrived around 7:00 there were probably 20 cars in the parking lot, which made us think we’d see a lot of people on the trail. We started out around 7:15. The trail crosses a few ski runs then heads into the trees. It then works its way up a number of switchbacks until it reaches both the treeline and a saddle at the same time – the saddle is right on the tree line. In my estimate, the saddle is about 2/3 of the way to the top. We reached the saddle around 9:45 or 10:00. From the saddle you follow a mostly defined trail north, passing below the ridges of several smaller peaks. This part of the trail can be somewhat deceptive as it gives the impression several times that you are at the top or heading to the summit but then you reach that point and see another summit beyond it. Expect another 45 minutes to an hour of hiking from the saddle to reach the summit.
The nice thing about this hike is that from the saddle to the summit you don’t rapidly increase much in elevation (there is a sharper incline just below the saddle than anywhere above the saddle). This is the first summit I’ve reached in years where I walked up to the top and wasn’t completely out of breath and feeling like I wanted to die. We reached the summit around 11:00. There were three young hikers up there (though about 10 left just before we got there). We chatted with them for a while then they left, leaving the summit for Mark and me. We stayed for about 45 minutes, snacking, taking photos, and engaging in our yearly tradition of brushing our teeth on the summit. Mark also made a few phone calls, though the reception was a little spotty.
We dropped off the summit around 11:45 and followed a relaxed pace back down, reaching the trail head around 2:00 or 2:30. Once down we called Tom, who was waiting downtown to meet up with us. We found out later that Tom came up to the trailhead after checking out of the hotel. His plan was to hike up the trail a ways then hike out with us. But someone gave him bad directions and he ended up hiking for about an hour on the wrong trail. It was probably the right decision for him not to hike with us as he reported he made very slow progress while he was hiking, stopping frequently to rest.
Anyway, we met up with Tom then stopped at a subway for a late lunch and to exchange photos, then headed home.
The trip began on Saturday, the 26th. My wife, Debi, dropped me off at Mark’s in-laws’ where I was meeting up with Tom and Mark to go on our annual hike. We hung out waiting for Tom for a little bit then loaded up the car and headed out. We stopped for a quick lunch at a Rumbi location, which is the restaurant chain owned by Tom’s boss (Tom is his personal assistant). Employees pay half price, so it was a cheap, good lunch. We then headed north, into the dark recesses of Idaho! We stopped in Pocatello for food and supplies and I got hit on by some girl in the store (I think she was hitting on Mark, but he insisted that it was me because I don’t wear a wedding ring; either way it was funny). The area near Borah Peak, which is the highest point in Idaho, is actually kind of interesting. There is a national laboratory there (The INL or Idaho National Laboratory) that does energy research. It is also the location where the first nuclear power plant was built and developed. We stopped for dinner in Arco at Pickle’s Place, a tiny little, fly-infested diner. Arco’s claim to fame is that it was the first city powered by nuclear energy. The symbol of the county there, Butte County, is the atomic symbol – a nucleus orbited by electrons. They’re pretty proud of their nuclear heritage up there. Oh, and Pickle’s Place has a signature burger. Guess what it is called? The Atomic Burger. They also had a veggie burger that was pretty good (that’s what I ordered); Mark and Tom both got the Atomic Burger.
We left Arco at around 7:00 or 7:30 and drove through Mackay before we realized we were basically out of gas. So, we turned around quickly and got some gas before making our way to the Borah Peak trailhead. When we pulled in we saw a bunch of cars, more than we expected. Most of the campsites where already taken. We stopped by the trailhead, where several people where hanging out and waiting and found out that a twelve year-old girl and her father were still on the mountain. It was almost 9:00 pm at this point and getting dark fast. The girl’s mother had called the county sheriff when she didn’t hear from her husband, so he was up there checking on things. They came down safely a little bit after we arrived, as did another guy we met there. That other guy spent 15 hours climbing the mountain the day before – he started at 6:30 am and got back to his truck at 9:30 pm. We talked to another person who had done the hike on Saturday and she said it wasn’t that bad, but having read some descriptions and hearing about the people still on the mountain, I began to worry.
We quickly set up Tom’s monstrous 10 man tent (it literally has three separate rooms) and climbed into our sleeping bags. I was pretty tired, so I drifted off to sleep right away while Tom and Mark played a couple games of chess. Thanks to a sudden surge in allergies (something I’ve only recently required), I didn’t sleep all that well (Mark’s snoring didn’t help either), but I managed to stay asleep until about 6:00am when my bladder woke me up for good. I dozed for a while after that, but we were up and getting ready for the hike by around 7:00 am.
We started up the mountain at 8:00 am. We thought we were the first ones on the mountain, but we found out later that there were at least four people who started before we did. We made pretty good progress during the first stage of the climb, which takes you from the trailhead up to the first steep incline. It was at the end of the first stage that we took our first break and were passed by some other hikers – a group of three (two guys and a woman) from Boise. They cruised past us. We started up after them and caught up to them just as the trail turns really steep as it goes through the top of the trail line. They had stopped for a break at that point and that is where we found out they were from Boise. We didn’t see them again until the summit.
A second group of four men passed us (with their dog) in the steep section that eventually emerges from the tree line onto the barren rock that lies above it. Just as you emerge from the tree line onto a ridge there is a small windbreak that has been constructed to the left of the trail with a firepit in it. It was inside that windbreak that we saw another guy taking a break. He was hiking alone and must have started before we did. He was munching on some energy bars and said he was getting his blood sugar up for chicken-out ridge. We paused for a minute to chat with him then continued up on the ridge. You follow the ridge line for a while, walking along the western edge of a steep drop off over gravel and volcanic rock. The views from here are pretty good and also offer the first real glance at the summit. You follow this mildly sloping ridge for about ½ a mile before you get to chicken-out ridge, the notorious turn-around spot for some people.
We didn’t really know when we had arrived at chicken-out ridge as there is nothing to clearly delineate it from the rest of the hike (i.e., no signs). But I’m fairly certain I know where it is now – once you hit chicken-out ridge you have to do some actual rock climbing. It isn’t anything too serious, but it requires the use of foot and handholds to scramble over and up rock. These aren’t loose rocks but large cliff faces that are sloped to about a 60 or 70 degree incline. The biggest problem with this area is that it isn’t very easy to see where the trail is – in fact, I’m not sure there is a clear trail here. Your best bet for locating the trail is to look for smooth areas on the rock that have been worn down. And, yes, you do need to be careful. On your left is a very high drop, ranging from 100 to 500 feet in height. To your right there is an immediate drop of about 30 or 40 feet, but it falls onto a steep slope that drops about 1000 feet to a valley far below. A slip or mistake here could actually cost you dearly, but if you are sure-handed and footed and go slowly, you shouldn’t have much of a problem. That said, this isn’t a hike for the faint-hearted or young – these are dangerous, slightly technical areas that require caution.
The three of us didn’t have a problem climbing this area as it really isn’t straight-up and the foot and hand holds are plentiful. Chicken-out ridge continues for a couple hundred yards and ends in a 20 or 30 foot drop that does require a bit of rock-climbing. It is completely vertical. And while it has good foot and hand holds and even a rope now to help you, it is a challenging piece of climbing if you have never done any rock-climbing. You can drop down a bit to the left of the ridge and skirt your way around this climb, but it requires hiking through very loose scree. If you aren’t a fan of technical climbing, that may be a good option for you, but it adds time and distance to the hike.
After chicken-out ridge there is a relatively level section of trail which is easy to see until you reach the last section before the summit. The trail leads across the back of a smaller summit and eventually to an exposed area that usually has snow on it. Given how late in the year we were hiking, this area was not covered with snow. When it is, it makes sense that ice axes and crampons are recommended – a slide off that notch would be a very serious fall. We could see some snow in shaded areas around the surrounding peaks, but there wasn’t any on the trail.
Having dodged that concern, we were still faced with the last section of the trail, the climb up the summit. As we approached the last section one more group of climbers passed us. There were about six of them and they were moving as effortlessly as though they were ghosts. Turns out they were technical rock climbers and in incredible condition. They didn’t seem to think the trail up the summit was challenging enough, so they climbed out on the large rocks and followed the ridge to the top. They climbed the last section in about 20 minutes. It took us nearly an hour.
We don’t really train for these hikes, but we try to keep in decent shape. That said, I was feeling pretty good until the last push up the summit. If it wasn’t for that last section I don’t think this would have been nearly as challenging. But the last section up the summit is nasty. It’s about a 70 degree incline through loose gravel and very slow going (the people who took the ridge may have had it easier). On the way up the last section we did pass two more hikers (a little boost of confidence for me). They had started earlier than we had but were traveling at about the same pace we were. We talked with them for a while on the summit – they were both from Idaho as well. Just as I was about to reach the summit the older guy I had spoken to the night before started down. He was the first to summit on the day we climbed Borah. He was about 60 and, while he left before we did, he was moving quick. He was in very good shape and hiking alone.
Tom summited about 5 minutes before I did, and Mark followed me by about 10 minutes – it was about 1:00 pm, five hours of hiking. The view from the summit was impressive, but I was so exhausted from the climb that all I wanted to do was sit down for a few minutes. There were about 15 people on the summit when we got up there, all the people who passed us on the way up. I sat down and had a bite to eat then laid down for about 15 minutes. It was so cold up there that I quickly donned my fleece jacket, gloves, and hat. Even with all of that on, I was still cold. I ate an apple and a protein bar then snapped some pictures. Tom took a brief power nap while Mark sat down and had a snack of his own. It was somewhat comforting to hear the woman from Boise say that she felt like she wanted to vomit when she finally made the summit – we weren’t the only ones feeling the effects of the climb and the altitude.
Because of the cold and knowing we had a long hike down, we stayed on the summit for a little less than an hour (we started down around 2:00). Because I recently had knee surgery (okay, 1 ½ years ago), I was worried about my repaired ACL, so I donned a knee brace on the summit for the way down. It was probably a good idea as my knees didn’t like the steep inclines. I started down a bit before Mark and Tom but waited for them just below the summit. We then slowly worked our way toward chicken-out ridge and followed that to the ridge below. Going down was pretty easy going for the most part at this point. We also looked for the guy we passed on the way up who was hiking alone. We never saw him again. We’re guessing he was the day’s only victim of chicken-out ridge. He was a little older, probably 55 or 60 and not in great shape. So, we’re assuming he turned back.
Anyway, going down wasn’t too bad until we hit the really steep section that starts with the tree line. It took us about 1 ½ hours to get to there. It was at this point that my knees really started to feel the incline. They are weak and I could tell. About half way down this section they started to buckle on me and I had to really slow down. Add to that the fact that Tom’s Atomic Burger from the night before was now starting to come out as little, scented Atomic blasts and I was really not happy! Luckily, Tom and Mark pulled ahead a bit and waited for me at one point, alleviating the smell but not the weakness in my knees. I didn’t want to fall as that could damage my knees even more, so I just took it really slow. Both Tom and Mark were feeling the angle of the slope in their knees as well (Tom felt it in his ankles, too, as he has ankle problems while Mark and I have knee problems). From the top of the tree line to the trailhead took us about another hour. My guidebook mentioned this, but I’ll reiterate it here for emphasis – don’t underestimate this area and its effects on knees and ankles – it is really steep. I didn’t have a problem going up, but coming down was a killer. I hobbled off the trail at around 5:00 pm and slowly made my way to Tom’s car.
We left the tent up when we started, so we had to pack that up, which we did quickly, then we climbed into the car, stinky, smelly, bruised, and tired, and headed out. We were not feeling all that well. I ended up with some minor sunburns where my sunscreen had worn off (my wrists, the back of my neck, and my nose) and a couple of blisters. My legs were already sore and very weak (thanks to a constant regimen of exercise – an exercise bike in front of the TV, I was back to normal in a few days). We stopped in Mackay for shakes and tater tots then cruised to Blackfoot where we filled up again. The rest of the way home was spent debating politics – me taking the libertarian/social democrat position (a weird combo, I know) while Mark disavowed interest in all of the corrupt politicians and Tom defended Glen Beck and Fox News. It was fun. Tom finally dropped me off at Debi’s parents house around 11:00. I inched downstairs and into the shower before collapsing in bed.
We had driven over 700 miles the day before, visited Alabama’s highpoint, and spent the night in Elba, AL at Olde South Inn bed & breakfast. The owner was great and the accommodations were very nice. We were on our way to Orlando for a week vacation and decided to take a slightly different route to include my final two highpoints in the South.
Elba is only about 50 miles north of Lakewood/Britton Hill, so we arrived fairly early. We nearly drove right past the park and highpoint as the signage from the north isn’t particularly great and the park is pretty small.
When we pulled in, we were pretty disappointed. It’s not a very nice park. It doesn’t look like a lot of effort has been put in to making the park nice or keeping it up. The restrooms looked pretty nasty; thankfully, we didn’t need to use them.
It was also surprisingly chilly, probably in the mid-40s with the wind chill. We hopped out of the car and while Debi set up the tripod, I snapped a bunch of pictures. We took a few pictures of us by the monument before Debi dashed back to the car to get warm. I then snapped a few pictures of the marker signs before we left.
This isn’t a very pretty highpoint and there definitely isn’t much to see here. I believe I saw a trailhead near the monument, but we didn’t take the time to explore it. We probably spent a total of 5 minutes here, and, sadly, it was probably about 4 minutes too long. The only nice things to see at this site are the monument itself and the view to the east. I would recommend a quick stop here before heading on to somewhere more interesting.