Guadalupe Peak Texas State Highpoint With El Capitan (and a side trip to Biosphere 2)

  • Updated: November 28, 2013
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

November 28th, 2013
Guadalupe Peak (8,749')
El Capitan (8,085')

It's become a tradition the last few years to take advantage of the long weekend around Thanksgiving to get out in the wilderness somewhere.

Last year it was Valley of Fire Nevada (and some surrounding DPS peaks) and the year before that it was Zion and Bryce Canyon in Utah.  This year circumstances allowed for a longer trip so I set my sights a bit further out and planned a 6 day long haul roadtrip that would include a tour of Biosphere 2 in Arizona, the Texas state highpoint Guadalupe and nearby bonus peak El Capitan, sledding the dunes at White Sands, two days roaming around Sedona with a peak or two included, and a finish on another DPS peak I needed on the way back called Mount Tipton.

Kristen and I left Orange County at 5 am Wednesday morning after I flew back in from Boise the night before.  We drove east on the 10 without any major stops except for few hours spent touring Biosphere 2 north of Tucson.

The tour was worthwhile just for the walk through the facility itself but was unfortunately lacking in all the interesting human and scientific drama that plagued the project.  They show you all the areas, answer basic questions, and stick to the company line that the original effort was a great success.  It really seems like a missed opportunity.

Back on the road we still had a long way to go.  That day we did a total of 950 miles before pulling in to the Pine Spring Campground another hundred miles east of El Paso.  And of course found it full.

Fortunately I half expected this and had found multiple mentions of people staying over in the RV lot when all the tent sites were taken.

The rangers did come up to us the next morning but just to make sure we'd paid our $8 a night camping fee.  After making sure we wouldn't be in trouble for staying here a second night and we went about getting ready.  (And made lots of coffee...)

You can't see the peak from the parking lot (it's off to the left) but there's a well marked trail the entire way.

The El Capitan trail doesn't take you to the peak we'd be climbing but just swings around under the prominent cliff face.  We did the Guadalupe Peak trail and split off near the top to get El Capitan.

The trail gains quickly and gives you a good view of...not a whole lot.

There was still snow on the trail from the big storm that had hit the week before and we had to watch our step here and there.

Eventually we could see Guadalupe.

Up top there's a monument (which was half covered in ice) and a register that only dated back to August.  This is a popular peak.

Less popular but rather striking is El Capitan which we were headed for next.  We went back down the trail and jumped off along the ridge you can see leading down the left hand side.

There were no trails and a fair amount of bushwhacking until we reached the notch and started climbing the ridge.

One we started climbing again the route improved with occasional ducks and a nicer use trail.  There were also some dizzying views off the side.

There were two registers along the ridge one at the high point that had been placed fairly recently and then the "true" register that was at the very end.  We dutifully signed in to both though we both liked the one at the end of the ridge better.

Guadalupe was also a bit more impressive from this side as opposed to where the trail climbs.

On the way back instead of climbing back to where we'd left the trail we swung around from the bench you can see on the far right of the picture above and traversed back to trail.  We weren't the only ones who had done this and again we had remnants of a use trail.

The sun went down on us not long after reaching the trail again.

Going down the icy bits were a bit worse with one area in particular really making me wish for MICROspikes or at least slightly less worn poles.

We made it down to the parking lot ready for a beer and looking forward to cooking our Thanksgiving dinner when we ran into a young girl waiting in the dark.  She barely spoke any English but was able to communicate she was waiting for her brother who had gone hiking.

We'd run into two middle eastern looking gentleman not long before dark who were still headed up with at least another mile to go.  They said they had a headlamp but considering how slick the trail was we were somewhat concerned.

Fortunately we saw a headlamp way up on the ridge just as we were discussing notifying a park ranger as the girl had car keys but apparently couldn't drive and was acting rather scared.  It turned out to be her brother and the other guy but they took a good hour or two to get down from when we first saw them.

That settled we enjoyed our meal though the generator running behind the bathroom ended up driving me nuts.  Turns out everyone else has to have theirs off at 8 pm but the park service just lets theirs go until it runs out of fuel (which was sometime around 11 I think)  Annoying.

We left the following morning for dune sledding in White Sands and then more hiking in Sedona.

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