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Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"

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Offline nathanr

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Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« on: March 13, 2018, 09:01:33 AM »
Guadalupe Ridge Trail - High Route Alternate

This report describes a modified version of the Guadalupe Ridge Trail in the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas and New Mexico. We did this trip over three and a half days in February, 2018.

The goal of this route was to traverse the range from start to finish following the crest of the range, so we could deep into some of the most spectacular and remotest sections of the mountains. We got a challenging trip with some of the best backcountry hiking in Texas and New Mexico.

Day 1,2: Guadalupe Ridge Trail from Carlsbad to Camp Wilderness
Day 3: Camp Wilderness to Bush Mountain via Pine Mountain
Day 4: Bush to Guadalupe via Bartlett & Shumard

Route summary and highlights
•   Traverse the entire spine of the Guadalupe Mountains through Carlsbad Caverns NP, Lincoln NF, and Guadalupe Mountains NP.
•   First two days on trail, last two days mostly off trail
•   Climb the 4 highest points in Texas in a single day
•   End the route on Texas’s highest point, Guadalupe Mountain
•   Follow a ridge that drops 4,000 ft. to the desert floor below with spectacular views in all directions
•   Easy off-trail navigation and route selection because I almost always have a massive cliff to use as a handrail.
•   Most off-trail is rocky terrain with interspersed grass and bushes. The pine forests are clear of underbrush and easy to navigate. A few sections with difficult bushwacking. Only a few steep off-trail sections that required scrambling
•   Makes for a good long weekend trip because it’s ~4 days to complete
•   Have to carry lots of water, and cache water, although there is one good spring on the route

Day   Miles   Time   Gain   Loss   Vert/Mile   Tread
1   9.9   5:25   2,722   1,247   401   Trail
2   18.0   9:02   3,109   1,968   283   Trail
3   15.7   12:01   4,387   3,218   486   Mostly off-trail
4   8.7   8:46   2,816   5,328   936   Off-trail
Total   52.2      13,034   11,761   475   

Part 1 – Guadalupe Ridge Trail
We hiked north to south to start with a couple of days of easier trail hiking. The Guadalupe Ridge Trail gradually climbs from about 4,600 ft. to 7,200 ft. over the first 28 miles, with a total gain of 5,800 ft. and loss of 3,200 ft. The lower parts of the trail climb rolling open hills covered in desert plants like grasses, cactus, and small shrubs. Above about 6,700 ft. once we reached Lincoln NF, the vegetation was mostly pine trees.
We started at the Rattlesnake Canyon trail in Carlsbad Caverns NP. Over 2 miles, this trail drops into Rattlesnake Canyon, follows the wash, and climbs up to meet the Guadalupe Ridge Trail. It’s a nice alternative to starting on the ridge, but was a hard start with two days of water on our backs.
The trail follows an old jeep trail through Carlsbad Caverns NP that’s occasionally hard to see. Once it reaches Lincoln NF though, the road widens to a true 4WD road that is still driven by hunters and others. We didn’t see anyone until we ran into some ATV-ers at the end of the second day.

This range is notoriously windy. The area was under a “damaging wind” advisory while we hiked, and the Pine Spring ranger station recorded gusts of 68 mph. The ranger station is at the base of the leeward side of the mountains. We hiked and slept on the windward ridges, and we think gusts probably topped 80 mph. We used bivys for sleeping, but none of us slept much in that wind the first night. A few times while hiking on the exposed ridges, the wind knocked us over.
We thought this print might be from a mountain lion—it was as wide as our hands.

There are a couple of semi-reliable springs in Lincoln NF. We called the ranger station when prepping for the trip, but they said no rangers had been to the springs in over 6 months and wouldn’t confirm if the spring had water. We were glad we cached and carried extra anyway. 
We spent the second night where forest road 540 meets 201. We’d cached water at a nice established campground there. It was nice to have more water than needed.

 Part 2 – off trail
We left the main trail early on the third day. The Guadalupe Ridge Trail route drops from the crest of the range down the Camp Wilderness trail southeast to the McKittrick Canyon Ranger Station. Instead, we went southwest to the uppermost part of North McKittrick Canyon where we saw a herd of elk, then climbed up the ridge above Dog Canyon and followed it along the Forest boundary.

Carrying two days of water made the climbs pretty hard. Some sections were thick with creosote bushes. Look out for cacti that hide on the ground. Yucca gave us a few good stabs too. But even these thicker sections were usually already carved with deer trails.

We followed the national forest boundary along the ridge for about two miles until we reached GMNP. We stayed along the ridge looking down onto the Dog Canyon Ranger Station for another 1.5 miles. We climbed up onto the south side of Pine Mountain and followed the spur up to where it joins the McKittrick Canyon Trail. This was the only section of the hike we had no prior information about other than the map and were glad to prove it goes. It was only 6 miles but took us 7 hours to complete, and put us behind our planned time for the day. From there, we followed trails to Blue Ridge Trail, which took us to the top of Bush Mountain, the second tallest point in Texas, and rolled into camp about an hour after dark.
The fourth day was mostly off-trail and connected the four tallest points in Texas. This route has been described a few times on Big Bend Chat, Summit Post, and an article in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine. It’s a beautiful route that follows the western edge of the Guadalupe Mountains with a 4,000 foot drop to the desert floor. It skirts above massive cliffs to the west, above steep drops into canyons to the east, and follows a clear line from one peak to the next. This is what we came for. But it also has a challenging elevation change of 900 ft. per mile, so we constantly fought gravity.
The climb down Bush and up Bartlett was the easiest segment of the day. Instead of contouring down and around the south side of Bartlett, we took a direct shot down the steep south side. This probably cost us more time than it saved. We climbed the ridge to peak 8374, which was kind of cutting against the grain but was more fun with better views than if we’d stayed low as originally planned.

The log books on the top of Shumard and Bartlett peaks had maybe ten entries per year. While this route has been written up, it’s still only rarely hiked because it must be done in a single day in the cool winter months.

The hardest leg was from Shumard to Guadalupe Peak. The red line is our approximate route. We got sucked into a thick mess of creosote bushes mixed in boulders that was a slow painful fight from about 7,800 ft. to 8,200 ft. The climb up Guadalupe was steeper but easier after this, with a few sections of scrambling. From the top, it was an easy four mile trail down to our car.
Gear we liked
Bivy. We’d cowboy camp with bivys again unless there’s a real chance of rain. Tents or tarps probably would have been a disaster in that much wind. We saw no good sites for a tent, and only a few that were barely good enough for a bivy over the first fifteen miles in Carlsbad Caverns NP. The ground is rocky and covered with cactus. Once in Lincoln NP there were plenty of good traditional campsites, especially in the pine forest. And in Guadalupe Mountains NP you’re only allowed to camp at established sites; backcountry camping isn’t permitted. We planned our second night to camp at an easy water cache in Lincoln NP right before reaching GMNP. This meant we only needed one night in GNMP.
Hooded shirt or cap with flaps to keep sun and wind off the face and neck, and buff to keep wind out of face and ears.
Wind shirt – I don’t usually hike with wind shirts. But it was awesome on this trip to cut the wind and stop snags on brush.
Sunscreen and lip balm – even in February you couldn’t use enough.
Tweezers and other tools – you’re going to get some thorns and spikes.
Water – We carried more than we needed, but would have needed if it were warmer.

We took two cars to for shuttling between trail heads.
We cached water at Camp Wilderness which is accessed from the western side of the range, a long drive around the range.
You’ll need permits at both GMNP and CCNP. Both operate on Mountain Time. 


Offline wrangler88

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Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2018, 09:26:37 AM »
Wow! What an increadable trip. A lot of different trips I want to do all wrapped into one big trip. Truly impressive. I'm going to go back and reread this later when I have a little more time and a chance to look at a map. I'll definitely have more questions.

Very impressed by your mileage and off trail. Great job.


Offline nathanr

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Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2018, 11:10:39 AM »
Thanks wrangler88. If it was daylight we were moving. There were a few times we thought we wouldn’t make it through in time because the off trail sections were rough in places. Happy to talk about any questions you’ve got


Offline Talusman

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Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2018, 11:51:09 AM »
Great Trip is correct!

You mention the red line but I do not see a map of your trek. Please post one if you have it. I'd love to see more pictures with details if you have them as well. I have climbed Shumard and it is very tough with the plant hazards and boulder mixes. Well Done sir! I still plan on climbing Guadalupe from the steep face you described, but by going up through Pine canyon and moving up that canyon between Shumard and Guadalupe. Great Stuff! More pictures and maps if you have, please!

Impressive Hike, Congratulations!!!
"To Think is easy. To Act is difficult. To Act as one Thinks is the most difficult!"

Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2018, 12:19:20 PM »
Thanks so much for this TR! I plan on re-reading it again later with a map. I'm especially intrigued by the trail from roughly CW RIdge in the park north to CCNP. I've done a little dayhike at Rattlesnake Canyon decades ago, and have camped in LNF (when Dog Canyon was closed) probably near the same spot you camped night #2. Do you have a track log somewhere?

Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2018, 01:14:51 PM »
So, you left one vehicle at Rattlesnake Canyon TH?


Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #6 on: March 13, 2018, 01:49:44 PM »
WOW!!!! I have, for years, thought about doing a much wimpier version of this trip. What you planned and pulled off is AMAZING! Looking forward to studying the map. Like everyone else, I’ll be rereading this and thinking about it and am sure I’ll have many questions about the finer details. Meanwhile - Congrats!

Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."


Offline JordanFiveOh

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Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #7 on: March 13, 2018, 02:18:43 PM »
This is incredible!

In trying to discern your route from the Camp Wilderness area, if I am reading it correctly, it seems like you started at about the marked point (7413) and did a route roughly like this?


Offline nathanr

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Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2018, 02:48:39 PM »
Talusman, I originally had pics with the text but couldn't work out how to post the images in the body of the report. I've attached a pic from Shumard looking south to Guadalupe. We followed the ridge on the west (hikers right) until we reached the bottom of Gaudalupe. The brush was really thick down there. I don't think we got the best route up Guadalupe, but we didn't see anything better either. I think maybe there's just no good options through there. The final push we went straight up the piney section. It was steep but easier than fighting through the brush.

Gorpchomper, we left a car at Pine Springs, drove the other car to Rattlesnake Canyon where we started from. If you're looking at USGS maps, we followed the "Guadalupe Ridge Trail" south from CCNP to the Devil's Den area of Lincoln NF. When we reached the Camp Wilderness Ridge trail we went west into very upper part of N. McKittrick canyon. There's a trail on the map, but it's basically gone now save a few cairns. We followed the dry wash around the hill marked 7138, then climbed the ridge above Dog Canyon and followed the NF boundary due south along the ridge until we reached GMNP. From the park boundary we kept following the ridge south to Pine Mountain, then up to the McKittrick Canyon trail.

Does anybody know if the print attached is mountain lion? The print was about as wide as our hand.

JordanFiveOh, yeah, that's pretty much it, except we went east and south of 7138 and stayed in the NF boundary. And instead of going to the top of Pine we hit the southwestern end.
« Last Edit: March 13, 2018, 03:52:58 PM by nathanr »


Offline nathanr

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Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #9 on: March 13, 2018, 09:48:20 PM »
House Made of Dawn... ain’t no wimpy routes out there anywhere! Happy to talk through any questions you’ve got.


Offline backpacker56

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Re: Guadalupe Ridge High Route with "Four Tallest"
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2018, 09:18:26 AM »
...I originally had pics with the text but couldn't work out how to post the images in the body of the report.

Here's a shortcut to some discussion about posting photos:

I googled for examples of animal tracks, and the photo you posted sure looks like mountain lion to me.  It should come as no surprise that these cats inhabit the Guadalupes, but I think sightings are pretty rare because they know how to stay hidden.  Maybe the photo could be multiple deer tracks that just happened to resemble a lion print, but I don't think so.  I am no kind of expert in animal tracks.

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



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