I had hit the wall…. not the wall of pain, actually I felt fresh and was practically running up and DOWN the mtn…practically. There were rock walls all around, but none to scale today…the simple trail to the summit was working just fine. The wall I was about to hit today was a group of 7th graders from Wall, Texas who were out here on spring break with their teachers and parents…
I had started about 1 1/2 hours after them but now as I was in reach of the summit of Guadalupe Peak, I saw groups of people strung out ahead of me like ants. Passing them in the single tracked trail took a combination of speed and small jumps around them when the opportunity presented itself because, like most teenagers, they were reluctant to give way out of courtesy…:-)
When I drove into the park around 0800 I had high hopes of having the peak to myself. There was only 3 middle aged guys like myself there waiting for one of their partners in the john. I decided to press right to the trailhead in the campground. I found some people stirring but nothing seemed out of place except that the parking lot was nearly full. I checked out the trailhead map quickly and started up alone. While standing at the map, I did overhear one lady tell her son that the 50 other kids had already started. Looking up the mountain at the first 2000′ of switchback I saw no one so I assume I had heard wrong.
The trail gains altitude immediately and allows no warm up. With the trailhead at 5700′ I knew I would probably notice again that I live at sea level in VA. But I also figured my cycling this spring would help. It did, and grinding up the switchback, I got into my familiar rhythm, quickly rising from the parking lot into a strong wind, that was gusting up to 40 mph.
The trail was certainly unique and I started drinking water immediately because the heat, sun, and wind combined to rob tons of moisture quickly. I passed a few folks here and there and then as I passed the 3/4 mark, I looked up the next set of switch backs to see a long line of colors…reds, blues, whites, all being worn by lots of people. I had visions of all arriving at the summit together so I kicked into 3rd gear and caught them in the next 30 mins. Catching them was easier than passing them…I had hit the “wall”… After passing three groups of 30 kids and adults I struck off alone, hoping to have the summit to myself before they arrived. One gentleman latched on to me heading up leaving his slower moving spouse.
We struck up a conversation when I realized he was on my heels and found out that he had just retired from the AF. So we talked about things we had in common. He said that he had a daughter behind but that his younger daughter was on the summit as they had just called each other on their FRS radios…my heart sank. When the summit finally came into view I saw a large group of red, white, and blue, well-meaning people sitting at the summit. Oh well… Arriving at the summit at 8,749 feet, I can’t help but notice the huge metal pyramid in tribute to American Airlines …all sorts of strange things on summits of mountains.
I asked one of the 20 close friends from Wall Texas to snap my photo…maybe I can crop out the others in the photo I think silently. I patiently wait to get a chance to sign the log book…boy am I a polite adult.
I notice a sub summit about 40 feet away so I pick up my hip pack and walk over to hit and sit down in the gusty wind to munch a Cliff Bar before starting down. I see movement in the group and decide that they are NOT going to start down and make me pass them all over again. I gather my hip pack and start running…literally. Now, I hike with a lot of different partners, male and female. All are quicker going downhill than me… none have ever seen me jog down a mountain, but on this day I started jogging. True, I was wearing sneakers this day, but I never run downhill.
I was fresh and it felt good so I kept going, moving out ahead of the group, passing all. I basically continued down the entire 4.2 miles reaching the trailhead with bruised toes, but feeling good. The entire round trip had taken 3 hours and change; not bad for a “flatlander” from Virginia.
What could have been…I saw no one on the summit who was not part of the Wall group…I would have had it all to myself. As I read back over this I see I have written more about people than the mountain…some days are like that I guess. Had it been a quiet day on the mountain, it would have been a different experience. Today it turned into more of an athletic event as I gather state highpoint # 31!
Beta: 8.8 miles Round Trip, 3000′ elevation gain, Hiking time: 3 hours, 15 minutes NPS rates it has an 8 hour RT hike