I really wanted to climb Guadalupe Peak. As the tallest mountain in Texas, it seemed like the thing to do as a native Texan in a “love hate” relationship with her home state. 😉 But an eight mile climb with over 3,000 ft elevation gain is a little beyond my abilitiy after sitting on my rear-end in The Driveway for two months. So I decided to make the attempt, knowing I could turn around and come right back down at any time.
I am a slow hiker….more of an “endurance hiker.” I can go all day, but I am always going to be at the end of the pack. “Slow and steady wins the race!” has always been my motto. But when the Park Ranger tells me it will take me eight hours to go a little over eight miles, I scoff. No way will it take me eight hours to go eight miles!
But still, I do all the usual preparations the night before so I can get an early start. I pack as little as possible so as to minimize my pack weight, already heavy with enough water for the trail. I have plenty of snacks; trail mix donated from my WinnieViews friend Lynne, a power bar, and my trail lunch of choice, a PB&J sandwich. A few First Aid items, like moleskin and bandaids. My travel size roll of duct tape (always with me, after I had a boot sole seperate five miles from home.) And I throw in a sheet of paper and a pen in case I am struck by inspiration on the trail….or the need to write my final goodbyes. 😉
I want to be on the trail by early morn, so after a breakfast of scrambled eggs and avocado, I get “kitted up” for the hike. It’s a chilly 38 degrees when I wake up, so I put on a fleece headband and gloves to start the hike, with lots of layers to shed as I start to heat up from the climb.
The trail head is literally right across the RV parking lot, so it begins to climb immediately. I start out with no one else in sight. The morning is still and quiet, just like I enjoy, with only the sound of birds chirping, and the sound of my own rhythmic breath with each step up and up. Half an hour into the hike, I spot three deer near the path. They show no fear as they cross right in front of me.
It is at this moment as I stop to watch the deer that I hear them….Nine loud, laughing men starting out at the trailhead below, exchanging jokes, comparing their new hiking gear, and clanging their eighteen brand new trekker poles up the rocky path. I usually prefer to hike solo, because I don’t like the sound of crunching gravel at my heels, so I decide to sit on a rock and wait for them to pass. And wait. And wait. And wait. They stop every ten steps to adjust, take photos, or just pause for a chat. Finally, as they overtake me, I learn it is a group of “Pastors” from Dallas on a religious retreat. They have rented a 33 foot Monaco and driven here to receive The Word of the Lord on Guadalupe Peak. How lucky for me.
It doesn’t take long before the Pack of Nine starts to split out into three groups. There are the “young jackrabbits” who are bounding up the hill. Then there are those in the middle of the pack who would like to keep up with the young guys, but can only do so in spurts so they shuttle back and forth between the two groups. And finally, there is the back of the pack, the “church elders.” It is going to be a game of leap frog all the way up the mountain, as they all start and stop to stay within earshot. YELLING earshot, I might add. This is my worst nightmare as I am not fast enough to overtake the young guys, but would have to take a nap to let the elders pass.
Although the trail is up, up, up, it is still gradual enough to be enjoyable. It affords lots of scenic variety. Just about the time I think I am going “snow blind” like the Everest climbers from the brilliant sunlight glaring back on the white limestone path, the trail takes a turn to the shady, more forested backside of the mountain.
There are many “false summits” along this trail, where hikers stop and point their poles, and conversations can be overheard asking “Is that it?” “I don’t see anyone on top.” “Nah….too soon. Wishful thinking.” “My GPS says we still have another 1,000 feet in elevation.”
Toward the top, the trail gets considerably more challenging. I can imagine I am starting to feel the effects of the higher altitude, as I feel a bit light headed. Though I have been much higher than this before, I use it as an excuse to stop and consume a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
By this time, I am starting to make friends with the Pack of Nine. They are very friendly guys, and haven’t yet asked me if I have been “saved.” They call me by my right name (not “Susan” as people often do.) As the trail becomes more “squirrelly,” narrow, and not so evident over the sheer face of boulders near the top, I think this is probably a good thing. My legs are starting to get wobbly, and I am the only woman on the mountain, so maybe it’s a good time to drop my typical anti-social hiking demeanor. We begin to make jokes about “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and I join in their game of shout-outs.
In the end, I beat the men. Since it was a church retreat and meant as a religious experience, they have all agreed to wait and make the summit together. So a few feet from the top, the young “hares” stop to wait for the senior elders to catch up, while I overtake them to have the top all to myself…for all of 10 minutes.
Spirits are high at the summit. Lots of fat man jokes, ham sandwich jokes, old man jokes, “selfies” and Facebook Check-ins.
As the Pack of Nine starts to head back down the mountain, the sweet Senior Elder, “Pastor John” turns to me and asks, “Do you want to walk back with us? I want to be sure you are not the last one off the mountain.” I assure him that with 4 bars of 4G beaming from my iphone, I am never truly “alone,” and I will be fine.
It takes me five hours to get to the top, and two and a half to get back down again. Add in the half hour at the top, and you have the exact eight hour estimate given by the Park Service. I wouldn’t have believed it, but then I guess they know a tortoise when they see one…