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Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas

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Offline nathanr

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Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« on: March 30, 2019, 02:28:03 PM »
Four Tallest Peaks In Texas

The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas is a somewhat well-known but seldom-hiked route in Guadalupe Mountains National Park that connects Guadalupe, Shumard, Bartlett and Bush mountains. These mountains form a ridge above Pine Spring Canyon to the east, and the desert floor to the west separated by a massive, impassable cliff.

The crux of the route is the 4 mile, 2,500 ft ascent, 2,500 descent traverse of the ridge connecting these four mountains. Most of this report will focus just on this 4 mile section. The two common experiences from people whoíve done this are (a) it hurts, and (b) itís spectacular.

Iím not recommending anyone do this loop. In fact, you can experience a lot of the best parts of this route by climbing Guadalupe, Bush, or Hunter - with less suffering. The purpose of this post is to give people who are interested in the hike some additional details about how to do it, what to expect, and what to bring. Because this route is off-trail, there wonít be GPS or detailed route descriptions in the report. Much of the challenge and fun is exploring a wild section of Texas that only a handful of people get into each year. Itís also important to know that this isnít an easy route. Once you commit to it there arenít any points where you can bail out. Itís either backtrack or push through.


The Route

Segment                  Tread     Dist    Gain    Loss   Elev / mi
Pine Spring Trailhead                 0           
Trail up Guadalupe       Trail      4.0    3299     -300     937
Descend Guadalupe        Off-tr     0.7       0     -873    1247
Ascend Shumard           Off-tr     0.8    1042     -199    1551
Descend Shumard          Off-tr     0.5       0     -790    1580
Ascend Bartlett          Off-tr     0.8     723        0     904
Descend Bartlett         Off-tr     0.3       0     -583    1943
Ascend Bush              Off-tr     0.7     705        0    1007
Trail to Hunter Peak     Trail      3.8    1193    -1443     694
Trail to Pine Spring     Trail      4.7     448    -2970     727
               
                         Trail     12.5    4940    -4862     784
                         Off-tr     3.8    2470    -2445    1293
                         Total     16.3    7410    -7307     903


Physical
This is a challenging route and you need to be able to hike hard all day on steep terrain. The ascents and descents are over 1000 ft per mile. The first time I did this route I discovered a pain in my knee Iíve never felt before or since. Remember, getting to the top of Guadalupe is the easy, warm-up part of the hike. If you have a log of past hikes and how long it took to do different sections, what the tread was, and what the elevation was, it should help you gauge what pace youíll travel in this terrain. If you havenít done any significant, full-day legs of off-trail navigation, route finding, and mountain hiking this might not be the best place to start. I found that my pace was comparable to other steep, off-trail routes Iíve done in the past.



Navigation
Broadly, the actual navigation isnít that hard. You canít go west without falling off a 2,000 foot cliff. You canít go east without going down into a nasty canyon. So you basically just follow the ridge from one peak to the next. But route selection is sometimes hard. You canít always see the next mountain. And sometimes what feels like going the right way is actually getting sucked into a canyon thatís hard to get out of. Making a wrong decision for even just a small distance can take you an hour to fix. Thick shrubs grow low to the ground in some sections and thereís no game trails in this area, so it can be a slog through the vegetation. Some of the mountains have steep, crumbly cliffs that you need to pick the right route either around or through. Sometimes it feels like youíre picking the least-wrong of two alternatives. Itís slow moving. Other than the log books at the top of each mountain, thereís no marks that people have been here: no cairns, no erosion, no trails. (Please keep it this way   :eusa_pray: )





Gear

It can get windy. A windshirt with hood helped sheild the wind and keep my hat on.

Thereís some big thorns and thick vegetation. Leave your nice goretex boots at home, they will get punctured. I wore orienteering gaiters for shin protection, and a shoe thatís a cross between an approach shoe and trail runner which breaths well, has a low profile, but still offers some foot protection and great grip.

Quads and hamstrings. Thereís a lot of up and down and your legs will feel it.

Thereís a few sections youíll need to put your hiking poles away to free your hands, but for the most part I found hiking poles essential to help with balance, steady my descent, and help with the ascents, and push back the brush or thorns.
I navigated off of USGS maps and a compass, but I also carried an iphone with Gaia, and tracked my distance and pace with a gps watch set to 1 min intervals.

I carried more water than I needed and actually dumped my ďjust in caseĒ liter when I was through the hardest part. Know how much water youíll need for how long you think youíll be there, there are no water sources on this route, youíre in full sun almost the entire time, itís windy, and itís really hard work. Youíll need more water than usual. Iíve seen people carry water on the outside of their packs in plastic bottles in Guadalupe and Big Bend (I was that person! First time I went off trail in Big Bend thorns punctured my water bottle that was strapped to my pack.) Anything on the outside of your pack will be ripped off. Cuben or silnylon packs will get shredded.


Logistics
Iíve done this as both a day hike and as part of a longer backpacking trip. The obvious advantage of a day hike is not needing to carry so much water (and less gear, but really itís the water). Iíve done it both North to South and South to North. Itís nice to end the hike on Guadalupe, but as a day hike I found it easier to hike up Guadalupe and down from Bush. South-North also lets you pick up Hunter Peak on the way back which is an easy trail walk up, and a surprisingly nice view from the top looking out over everywhere you just hiked. Give yourself time to enjoy the views along the ridge.

When I backpacked this with two friends in 2018, we camped at Bush Mountain which positioned us to start on the Four Tallest first thing in the morning. We werenít sure how long it would take and felt nervous about not finishing in daylight, so starting on Bush is a good option if youíre breaking it up into two days.

Winter is the best time to go to avoid the longest days and hottest sun. However, this may mean pushing your start and finish into dark hours if youíre doing the full loop in a day. Fortunately, the Guadalupe Mountain, Tejas, and Bush Mountain trails are all well-tread and would be easy to follow by headlamp. Both times I started right at first light but carried a headlamp in case we had to hike down in the dark.




Highlights
Thereís a band of cliffs near the top of Guadalupe that force a short class 4 climb in either direction. When I was going down this section I dropped my pack, thinking it would stop at the bottom. But it didnít. It slowly started rolling, then faster, then bouncing and flipping in the air as it tumbled down the mountain. It finally caught on some deadfall about 50 yards down.


Winds were over 60 mph at Pine Spring ranger station, so I think they were probably higher on the exposed ridges. There were a few times I had to stop walking and brace against my poles to keep from getting blown off balance. One time the wind blew my shirt up around my neck and wrists. At one point the cold wind caused clouds to form as it blew over the ridge. Itís pretty cool to stand in clouds blowing 80 mph.


Mountain lions are in these mountains.



The ridge on the western side of the mountains is spectacular.

Links and other trip reports
Jarrod, Lester and I did this in 2017 as part of our longer Guadalupe Ridge High Route: http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/gumo-general-discussion/guadalupe-ridge-high-route-with-'four-tallest'/
Vgehís report of the Four Tallest plus Hunter: http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/gumo-general-discussion/texas-national-parks-trip-report-23-30-dec-2017-part-1/

TREKKING ACROSS THE TOP OF TEXAS: Conquering the four tallest Texas peaks in one day. By Russell Roe in Texas Parks and Wildlife https://tpwmagazine.com/archive/2015/aug/ed_1_peaks/index.phtml

Jarrodbyrdís report: http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/gumo-general-discussion/the-4-highest-peaks-in-texas

Talusmanís report climbing Shumard via Pine Canyon: http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/gumo-general-discussion/shumard-peak/msg148621/#msg148621

Stav is Lost has some great pics https://www.stavislost.com/hikes/trail/guadalupe-shumard-bartlett-bush-loop


« Last Edit: April 08, 2019, 10:10:16 PM by nathanr »

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2019, 04:08:40 PM »
nathanr this is a great and thorough resource!  While I will never attempt it, it is just the kind of beta that someone would need to pull it off.

What approach shoe are you wearing?  It sounds like the La Sportive TX3 that I have been using the last few years.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline nathanr

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2019, 05:05:00 PM »
Yeah I love the tx3 shoes. Iím on my second pair now and couldnít be happier with them. The only downside is theyíre a bit slow to dry like if youíre in wet alpine terrain or crossing a lot of streams. But especially dry, rock, scree, thick brush, sketchy stuff theyíre perfect.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2019, 05:39:09 PM »
Yeah I love the tx3 shoes. Iím on my second pair now and couldnít be happier with them. The only downside is theyíre a bit slow to dry like if youíre in wet alpine terrain or crossing a lot of streams. But especially dry, rock, scree, thick brush, sketchy stuff theyíre perfect.

I agree, great for off trail work in rocky and rough conditions, the high rubber rand is key.  I am on my second pair too.  The worst draw back is because the soles are so sticky (which is why they have such good traction) they wear down fast, especially if you wear them much on pavement, like for training walks, I now use my sole worn pair for training walks on pavement and wearing around town and save the other pair for the actual trips.  They do dry slower than some breathable trail shoes but much better than most especially something all leather or goretex.  For wetter and more tame trails I have been using Topo Terrraventures which have a good rock plate, breath a bit more and drain much better.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2019, 07:34:25 PM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline wrangler88

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2019, 07:59:06 PM »
Thanks Nathan. Really good write up with some really good info. I would love to do the trip someday. And I figure that I'm most likely to do it as a multiday or overnight backpacking trip.
My hats off to those who do it as a dayhike.

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Offline nathanr

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2019, 10:19:31 PM »
Itís got your name on it wrangler

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Offline backpacker56

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2019, 10:05:20 AM »
This may be sacrilege, but I wouldn't mind it if there were a trail up there, providing it was a proper footpath, not a cart track.
"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 wrangler88

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #7 on: April 09, 2019, 10:46:34 AM »
This may be sacrilege, but I wouldn't mind it if there were a trail up there, providing it was a proper footpath, not a cart track.

Someone posted the proposed future plans for the GUMO backcountry a couple years ago and it included a trail on that route. It's one this site somewhere but itd take me a while to find it.

If they did make that trail though, it's become very popular. I think I like it the way it is now.

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Offline backpacker56

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #8 on: April 09, 2019, 05:49:40 PM »
I don't think there's any cause for concern, not with funding as scarce as it is. 
"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 Bo_dynasty

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2019, 09:59:48 PM »
Planning on soloing this trip in 4 weeks. Day trip. Then off to BB for a couple of day hikes. Any advice on the route from Gaud to Bartlett?

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Offline nathanr

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2019, 09:10:57 PM »
Hereís a few thoughts. Not sure if this is what youíre looking for. 

Itís in full sun 99%+ of the time. Be smart about staying cool and hydrated. The climbs are hard work. Even in February I completely soaked my clothes with sweat when going up.

Itíll take longer than you expect. Itís slow terrain. Several reports youíll read started in the dark, ended in the dark, or both. Make time to enjoy the ridge and views, and be aware of your pace and distance. 

The brush is tough fight in places. The video above is 80 mph winds but the brush doesnít move. Itís the same trying to walk through it.

Thereís a class 5 downclimb when you drop off the top of Guadalupe. There are trees that make the climb easier. Iíve read some found a break in the cliff. Thereís a few sections going down Guadalupe  steep enough to boot ski.

Thereís a class 2 scramble up Bartlett thatís made tough by the rock being very crumbly and full of cactus. Itís easier going up though than down. You can contour around and avoid the scramble.

If you read Stav is Lost, he stayed on the ridge from Bartlett to bush and recommended it. I dropped off the ridge for a more direct route, more elevation loss and gain, and more brush. Probably better to hug the ridge there.






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Offline mbender

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2019, 06:28:41 PM »
Planning on soloing this trip in 4 weeks. Day trip. Then off to BB for a couple of day hikes. Any advice on the route from Gaud to Bartlett?

Yeah, first ya gotta climb Shumard, because it's between Guad and Bartlett!   8)

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Offline mbender

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2019, 06:41:42 PM »
Thereís a class 5 downclimb when you drop off the top of Guadalupe. There are trees that make the climb easier. Iíve read some found a break in the cliff. Thereís a few sections going down Guadalupe  steep enough to boot ski.

There are a number of exit points off of Guadalupe, pick the right one and it's a loose, steep class 3 slide!  :willynilly: This map may help:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=12Nre1vNMzA5u0Azyd3s3xgzxWZuE9LaK&ll=31.91001414283467%2C-104.8545105&z=14

If you read Stav is Lost, he stayed on the ridge from Bartlett to bush and recommended it. I dropped off the ridge for a more direct route, more elevation loss and gain, and more brush. Probably better to hug the ridge there.

From Bartlett, you can see the low point of the Bush mountain trail, just head straight for it. It looks easier than staying on the ridge. There's some footage of it here:




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Offline nathanr

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Re: Hiking The Four Tallest Peaks In Texas
« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2019, 07:54:59 PM »
Thatís a great video.

 


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