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GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019

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Offline backpacker56

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GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« on: June 09, 2019, 03:10:12 PM »
Day Zero, Friday, May 24: 

On Memorial Day weekend I led a group of 9 backpackers to the Guadalupes.  The party consisted of me and my three sons, two other dads with one son each, and another guy without his dad.  Two of my sons are grown, so that made five adults and four high-schoolers; a pretty strong party, and rather large in number.  Most had never been backpacking in the Guadalupes, so it was a pleasure to introduce them to the park’s austere beauty. 

The plan was to backpack from Pine Spring to McKittrick Canyon, with a car shuttle back to Pine Spring; a classic route, quite ordinary, but there were a number of challenges to enliven the trip, some expected and others unexpected. 

The first anticipated challenge was getting backcountry permits on a holiday weekend for so large a group.  The backcountry tends not to be crowded, but to make certain, I drove out in advance of the others to get our permits on the Friday.  This worked out perfectly, and I was able to get just the sites I wanted.  I texted the group back home to let them know the trip was definitely on. 

I grabbed a tent site at Pine Spring for the night, although I hated taking up a whole site just for myself.  I resolved to be on the lookout for anyone who might wish to share my site, knowing the area would be overrun.  For the same money I could have taken an RV site and spent the night in my minivan, but by the time I thought of this, I had already put my fee envelope for tent site #7 in the lock box. 


Leaving some of my stuff at site #7 to mark my occupancy, I drove off to White City for a decent meal at the Cactus Café.  This made perfect sense, as I was weary and hungry, having skipped breakfast and lunch, and there was no value in whiling away the hot afternoon at my unshaded tent site. 



I returned in the cool of evening, and light from the setting sun poured through Pine Spring Canyon.


The camper next door was having a little trouble with his propane stove, so I hauled out the SVEA 123 and fired it up.  He liked the old-style technology. 


At sundown there was the usual and welcome sharp drop in temperature.  Back at my site, I heated some water for a cup of hot cocoa. 




After dark, a bicyclist, rode slowly down the camp access road.  As it turned out, he had no place to stay the night, so I invited him to use my tent site.  He had ridden up Guadalupe Pass that day from Cornudas, pulling a pretty heavy trailer.  I was glad to put my site to good use.  I slept in the minivan, thus avoiding having to drag out the tent and pack it back up in the morning.  This picture was taken the next morning:

« Last Edit: June 09, 2019, 06:41:15 PM by backpacker56 »
"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline backpacker56

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2019, 03:52:29 PM »
Day One, Saturday, May 25: 

I had a light breakfast, then packed up and vacated my site.  At park headquarters I paid our remaining park entrance fees, then bided my time drinking water and Gatorade while waiting for my group.  About lunchtime I realized I hadn’t had much to eat, so I munched a Cliff Bar. 

The anticipated challenge for this day was that the group hike straight into the high country without benefit of a night at Pine Spring, for we knew there would be a shortage of tent sites, and thought the high country would be better than BLM land.  Another known challenge was the 17 or 18 pounds of water to be carried by each person. 

When the group arrived in the early afternoon, I encouraged everyone to check out the visitor’s center.  I saw no reason to begin hiking before 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon, to avoid some of the heat of the day.  After this, we dropped everyone and their gear at the Pine Spring trailhead and ferried two cars to McKittrick Canyon, returning in the third car to Pine Spring.  There was a mixup with the ranger at McKittrick.  My windshield tag was supposed to allow me to park an extra night at McKittrick because I was planning an optional extra night solo in the backcountry.  Somehow the tag hadn’t been dated correctly, but this got sorted out over the radio without too much loss of time. 

We reassembled at the Pine Spring trail head and set out a little before 4:00 pm.  It was not too awfully hot, but any shade along the trail was welcome.


As the evening wore on, it became clear we were moving slower than planned.


It was almost dark when we arrived at the Bush Mountain trail junction.  We struggled manfully toward Pine Top Camp, another two-tenths miles and 200’ higher, at about 8,000’ elevation.  The trail is somewhat ambiguous along here, and I told everyone to look sharp for the turnoff to the campground.  Backcountry signs are non-reflective and easy to miss. 


We finally found the campground and one unoccupied tent site.  For the next 20 minutes or so I roamed about in the dark seeking two more empty sites, trying in vain to build a mental map of the campground, and repeatedly stumbling into the same inhabited sites with their dark and silent tents.  The weather was windy, cloudy, and cool, with a chance of bad weather, so there was a sense of urgency.  At the point of giving up, one last foray proved successful and I located two more empty sites at last.  Everyone got busy setting up their tents and soon vanished inside without bothering to eat supper.

We had four 2-man tents, and I was the odd man out with my own tent at my own site .  For some reason I could not get my tent pitched.  Mental and physical fatigue, working alone, wind, and a non-freestanding tent were factors.  I gave it up, stumbled to the adjacent site, and shoved in with two of my sons in their tent.  It was sobering that if I’d been alone, and if the weather had been wet, and me unable to erect my tent, I’d have been in a world of hurt.  My oldest son charitably pointed out that I’d have been fine alone, because I’d have been up the hill and camped well before dark, with a good meal inside me to boot. 

Settling in for the night, it became painfully clear I’d outsmarted myself in not bringing my down sleeping bag.  I had convinced myself it would not be needed and that I’d be fine with base layer, hooded sweatshirt and a light down throw.  Worse, I had urged others to do likewise.  Now, after the day’s exertions, I faced a cold and restless night, with the knowledge that others in the group were similarly uncomfortable. 

"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline backpacker56

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2019, 04:20:01 PM »
Day Two, Sunday, May 26: 

The gray overcast morning found me huddled in the fetal position seeking any last remnants of broken sleep.  Someone kept clumping around outside, so I finally gave it up as a bad job and emerged to face the world.  I trailed down to the other site, wondering what sort of morale I’d find.  My spirits soared when I found one of the other dads sitting outside, completely happy and enthused.  Everyone else seemed okay too, much to my surprise. 

The only concession was that the group wanted to make a short day of it and head directly for Tejas Camp without going to Hunter Peak or the Bowl.  This would mean arriving early at Tejas, but an easy day was quite sensible after yesterday’s effort.  Any who felt energetic could dayhike to the Bowl after we got settled at Tejas. 

A mule deer hung around our camp.


In no hurry, we had breakfast and departed Pine Top about 11:00 AM.


We saw several people that morning around Pine Top and at the Tejas-Bush Junction.  We reached the Juniper Trail junction about 12:20 PM, where we took a good break.  One of my sons had a bag of shredded coconut and I was surprised how good it was, since I’m not particularly fond of coconut.  I’ll have to remember this as it was both tasty and nutritious. 


Arrived at Tejas Camp by 1:15 PM, and none of the five sites were occupied, so after some shopping around, we took the upper three sites.  I shared the uppermost site with two of my sons.  I had no trouble setting up the Tarptent, so my confidence in it was restored. 


Very pleased with my new lightweight pack, the Mountainsmith Scream 55L (foreground).  It’s simple and light without being fragile and expensive.  The Mountainsmith Cross Country 65L pack is in the background.  For water I carried two 3-liter soda bottles inside the pack and two 1-liter Essentia bottles in the outside pockets, plus the 1-liter leather bota.


We gathered at my site for our evening meal.  Everyone turned in after dark, and I tried to read a bit.  Another cold and unrestful night for me.  Tejas camp, located in a valley, seemed if anything, colder than Pine Top.  Maybe valleys are colder than ridges because the cold air flows through them.  No other parties arrived to claim the remaining two sites, which I found surprising. 

Note: There were an awful lot of flies at Tejas campground, perhaps due to poor field sanitation by too many other folks.  Back at Pine Top I'd noticed a bit of a turd field, with shreds of toilet paper visible on the ground.  The official rule is to bury your waste but pack out the used toilet paper (yuk!).  The flies at Tejas were at their worst in the afternoon but disappeared in the evening.  For this trip I bought some Coghlan’s plastic backpack trowels and they were great: tough, effective, easy on the hand, lightweight, and cheap.
"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline backpacker56

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2019, 07:20:13 PM »
Day Three, Monday, May 27: 

This would be a longer day, about 5.8 miles from Tejas Camp to McKittrick Ridge Camp, with a net gain of 300 ft altitude.  I was slow getting packed, so I told the others to go ahead and I would catch them up sooner or later. 

Once separated, I began to entertain all sorts of improbable anxieties.  What if they had turned south instead of north on the Tejas Trail, and were in fact headed back toward Pine Spring, while I was hurrying in the opposite direction?  I could see myself arriving at McKittrick Ridge Camp to find it totally deserted.  This was ridiculous of course; they were far too intelligent to commit any such blunder.  I studied the trail for traces of their passage, but I’m not that good a tracker, my vision is not sharp, and the ground was pretty dry and hard.  Eventually I came upon some nice powdery stretches of trail and convinced myself they had indeed passed before me.

At the Blue Ridge trail junction, I fervently hoped they had not turned off to the left.  Again, such a blunder would have been highly unlikely, but the possibility seemed no less vivid in my mind for all that. 

Next came the Marcus Camp trail junction (oops: Mescalero, not Marcus).  They might have gone up there to check out the campground and take a break.  I shouted and whistled, but no reply.  Not wanting to waste time hiking up there, I forced myself to recognize how extremely unlikely it was that they’d have turned aside from the main trail.  Still, I wish I’d told them to leave a red Jolly Rancher on the trail sign if they were stopped, and a blue one if they’d gone on. 

I pressed on, and somewhere along this stretch of trail I came upon an enormous bear scat lying in the trail.  Does a bear do his business in the woods?  Yes, and how!


I found boot prints in the trail further on, which increased my confidence.  I spotted a horned lizard and took this photo:


I finally caught the group near the McKittrick Trail junction.  My youngest son had been growing concerned and wanted to turn back in search of his old dad, but the others encouraged him to be patient, and everything turned out okay.


The weather was fine this day, and everyone enjoyed hiking the McKittrick Trail.




Arrived at McKittrick Ridge campsite, everyone was tired and glad to call it a day.  I worked hard to get all my chores done, including setting up my tent solidly with plenty of stakes, and having a good supper.  Later on, most of us gathered on top of the ridge to see the sunset:


I was in my tent soon after nightfall, feeling warm and comfy, and looking forward to some much needed sleep. 
« Last Edit: June 17, 2019, 07:58:38 AM by backpacker56 »
"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline backpacker56

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2019, 09:59:06 PM »
Day Four, Tuesday, May 28:

Did I mention something about “unexpected challenges” and “enlivening the trip”?

Yes, I know it’s the Guadalupes, even so I was caught off guard when the wind rose to a roaring gale and raged all night.  I was astonished at the enormous ocean of air moving across the earth at such velocity.  Where could all this air be coming from and going to?  On top of which the temperature dropped and so contributed to another unrestful night.  The good news was that my Tarptent handled the wind like a champ, and none of the other tents were shredded, and no trees blew down. 

Our plan had been to start very early hiking down into McKittrick Canyon by headlamp, but the weather decided us to stay in our tents, hoping the wind would relent at dawn.  It was cloudy too, so there might be some rain to complicate matters further.  We were not well-equipped for that sort of weather, and I was considering what to do if it started raining.  The smart answer would be to stay put and wait for better conditions, rather than risk hypothermia. 

By about eight o’clock it appeared the weather was improving, so we decided to break camp.  My idea to stay an extra night solo in the backcountry was scrapped, since the past three days had taken a lot out of me.  Leaving the campground about 9:15, the clouds were definitely clearing off.  The rest of the day turned out fine, though some parts of the trail were exposed to winds. 




All this served to emphasize that you just can’t take the weather in the Guadalupes for granted, and it’s best to carry extra clothing. 

Here’s a Century Plant in bloom, against the backdrop of cliff on the other side of McKittrick Canyon:


This cliff face looks like the face of a snarling beast: 


A cactus flower presents a gentler impression: 


On the last stretch of trail from Pratt Cabin to the Visitors Center, I decided to see how fast I could go.  It took 45 minutes to do 2.4 miles, averaging 3.2 mph, with two of my sons right on my heels.  The rest of the group was not far behind, so everyone finished strong. 

All of the group except me were to make the 9 or 10 hour drive back home that same day, and we were way behind schedule.  We should have been out by mid-day, and now it was about 4:00 PM.  I was bound for El Paso but elected to go with the others to Van Horn to share in a celebratory fast-food meal.  We ate at the Wendy’s at the Pilot gas station, and the food was really good, much better than expected, even allowing for wilderness privations. 

Has anyone ever stayed at the El Capitan Hotel in Van Horn?

Overall, the trip was a great success, although everyone agreed it was pretty demanding. 
"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline dprather

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2019, 10:18:18 PM »
Super, super, super report.

Thanks.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline Dale Norte

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #6 on: June 09, 2019, 10:55:22 PM »
Great report BP56. Regarding your first day struggles, I wonder if some of it may have been from low food intake. Do you think your light breakfast and lunch coupled with arriving at camp so late with no dinner may have contributed to your troubles?

How did your water supply hold?  4 separate (albeit not full) hiking days in summer with just over 2 gallons - did you have to draw some from McKittrick on your way out?


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat

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Offline Dale Norte

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2019, 11:10:49 PM »


Has anyone ever stayed at the El Capitan Hotel in Van Horn?

[/quote]

The El Capitan is an awesome spot for a pre or post hike stay and/or meal.  Pistachio encrusted Chicken Fried Steak is a great way to celebrate a successful trip. The hotel has a retro-feel, somewhat like the Gage or Paisano.


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Offline mule ears

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #8 on: June 10, 2019, 06:13:56 AM »
Great report backpacker56, that was quite a job ramrodding such a big group successfully across the Guadalupes!
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline Flash

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2019, 08:30:41 AM »
Backpacker56, thanks for the report. How cool to spot that horny toad along the way. She's a beaut!  :great:

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Offline Lissa

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2019, 09:01:07 AM »
What a great report! Enjoying it immensely, minus the flashback to bonking at Pine Top. I think that climb is deceptively taxing and the afternoon sun saps the necessary drive to eat!

As for the temperature difference in camp - I’ve always heard that referred to as Katabatic flow that funnels the cold air into the valley, like a river of cold air.

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Offline backpacker56

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2019, 10:22:27 AM »
Thanks for all the encouraging feedback; I’m glad you are enjoying the report.  I’m sure a lot of interesting outings take place in the Guadalupes without reports being posted, unfortunately.
 
Dale Norte: Low calorie intake sure couldn’t have helped matters, though I don’t remember feeling hungry.  On the way up from Pine Spring, one of the kids wanted to jettison a banana, which I rescued and ate with great gusto.  It was really good and sweet.  It wasn’t until setting up my tent that I suddenly ran out of gas.  A good meal might have changed this.

Our water held out okay.  I brought my Katadyn Hiker filter, thinking we’d want water from McKittrick Canyon.  Normally I wouldn't bring the filter, just an eye-dropper bottle with chlorine bleach, since the water in McKittrick Creek is clear.  But with the larger group, I thought I’d better bring the filter.  Some of the guys ran out of water on the last day, but by then we were on the home stretch, so they declined my offer to pump water out of McKittrick.  Others of us still had water to spare.  I think we were all helped the first day by being well-hydrated before setting out.

Thanks for the tip on the El Capitan Hotel.
"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #12 on: June 10, 2019, 12:06:23 PM »


Has anyone ever stayed at the El Capitan Hotel in Van Horn?


The El Capitan is an awesome spot for a pre or post hike stay and/or meal.  Pistachio encrusted Chicken Fried Steak is a great way to celebrate a successful trip. The hotel has a retro-feel, somewhat like the Gage or Paisano.


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
[/quote]

The gage, paisano, El Cap, and the Holland in Alpine were all built by Henry Trost of El Paso, about the same time frame

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Offline Imre

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Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #13 on: June 10, 2019, 01:18:46 PM »
Excellent report, thank you for sharing!  :great:
For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, obvious, and wrong.
- H.L. Mencken

Re: GMNP Trip Report May 24-28 2019
« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2019, 07:49:44 PM »
Thanks for the trip report! I haven't descended from the McKittrick camp site in decades, and it was heavy fog/overcast when I did so I didn't see anything. Now you've got me wanting to go do it again!

 


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