Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Guadalupe Peak, Texas (State High Point #27), 9/5/2017

Guadalupe Peak (8,751') via Guadalupe Peak Trail, March 17, 2017.

Distance: 8.4 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 2906'

Trailhead: The trail begins at Guadalupe Mountains National Park's Pine Springs Campground off US Highway 62/180 in Pine Springs, Texas.  More information on the park's location can be found herePark fee is $5 per person. Trailhead kiosk is located at the end of the RV parking area. There are a few unmarked spaces near the kiosk for hiker parking. These spaces fill up quickly. Overflow parking is at the Park's visitor center.   

The Guadalupe Mountains are visible for hundreds of miles. Formed in the Permian period 250 million years ago, this range is actually part of a limestone reef during a time when ocean covered much of the area.  A large piece of the southern portion of this reef, named El Capitan, sits next to Guadalupe Peak. 

Guadalupe Mountains.

Hiked with Sandy today.  We met in San Antonio, picked up Rhi along the way, and the three of us made the seven hour journey to the Park's visitor center.  My Garmin indicated the drive would take only six hours, or so it seemed by the GPS's "time of arrival."  Excited, we watched the arrival time get closer only to get launched back an hour when we traveled from Central to Mountain time (making the trip about seven hours).  

(The time change plagued us for most of our stay as the airport we used to get home was still in Central time so while our phones indicated Mountain time, we continued to plan in Central time.)

It was a fairly enjoyable seven hours nonetheless.  We had breakfast tacos in Boerne, coffee in Comfort and tamales in Pecos.  We reached the visitor center before they closed (they close at 4:30), got weather information and a small map.  Then off to Carlsbad to stay at the Sleep Inn (40 minutes away).

The next morning we arrived at the trailhead at 8:30 (Mountain time). The day started out in the high 50s; no jackets needed.  Rhi headed toward the Devil's Hall trail and we stepped onto the Guadalupe Peak trail. 

Sandy signing in.

Rhi went right; we headed left.

Make no mistake, you are in the Chihuahuan desert and need at least a gallon of water for this hike - more than that if you are hiking late spring to early fall. Our Camelbaks held three liters (just under a gallon) and we ran out. 

Steps in the beginning.

We broke the hike into four parts: the switchbacks (first 1.5 miles), the forest, the campsite/bridge area, and the final push. The steep switchbacks can be avoided by taking Devil's Hall and Stock trails, which is more gradual but adds a mile to the hike. 

We took the switchbacks. Sure, it's steep but the footing is good and we immediately got views. 

Switchbacks from higher ground.

The trail is cut (notched) into the mountainside - and there's a lot of scree. With a few exceptions, you'll be hiking switchback after switchback. Enjoy the straight areas when you're on them.  

The trail never gets narrower than three and a half feet across.  Most of the time the trail is four or five feet across.  To your left is steep mountainside (not so steep that you couldn't bushwhack up and there are shortcuts, though the park rangers request they not be used). To your right is the downward slope in varying degrees of downward. Only two short spots made me feel uneasy. There are two areas of craggy rock that need to be crossed - quite wide but still I crossed with care.  

Pretty much what most of the trail looks like.

One of the spots. Here, riders must dismount and lead their horses.

This person is not on the trail. The trail is to the right, where the guy is.

It was hot, the sun was bright. Even with sunscreen and hats our faces and arms got red (don't forget to protect your lips).  We reached what is called "around the bend," which led us through a high forest of pine and Douglas fir. This area has fewer switchbacks and is on the northern slope of Guadalupe Peak.

Heading through the firs.

It was cooler here, with a little shade (about the only shade around). We took a short break on a rock and then headed toward the primitive campsite.  

There are a few places to camp in this area.

Edging along a cliff, we crossed a remarkable bridge, an unusual design.  Took some photos here.
Approaching the bridge.

View of the bridge from the other side.

After the bridge is the final push to the peak.  

Know how it is when you see the top and work hard to get to the top only to realize it's not the top, the top's waaay over there?  This hike has a false summit which if you are having trouble with high altitude (8,000 feet above sea level) and unrelenting sun, can be discouraging.

The peak (or is it?).
But don't get discouraged!  It's a really moderate trail with good footing. There's nothing particularly hard about this hike.  A few places toward the top have a lot of scree and tired feet keep you alert -  and there are some edgy spots.  I missed one turn near the top (just above the hitching posts) and turned right instead, scrambling up a ledge that couldn't possibly be trail. 

Hitching posts just below the summit.

As I lost my footing I reached up for a branch or plant to keep me from slipping.  I grabbed a cactus!  After removing the spines from my hand I pulled myself up to a vantage point and saw where I'd made the wrong turn.  It's the last craggy spot before you reach the summit. I quickly got back on the trail.

Evil cactus waiting to bite me!

The summit was crowded today. 

Guadalupe Peak's summit has a reputation of being very windy but today there wasn't so much as a breeze and it was clear as a bell.  The views are amazing.

In 1958, American Airlines installed a monument on the summit. It's in honor of the Butterfield Overland Mail and the pilots who flew over the area delivering the mail.   The register is in the green box at our feet (we signed on one of the full pages).

At the monument.

This looks like an ocean floor!

El Capitan from the summit of Guadalupe.

After a few summit photos, we had lunch and headed back down. The scree slowed our descent in a few spots and we saw a lot of latecomers struggling up, but otherwise the trip down was uneventful.  It was good to get back to the car, where Rhi was waiting for us.

We headed to Carlsbad to have a celebratory margarita and found that only a few establishments there have full liquor licenses.  We finally found one of them and got a very strong, very delicious drink...... along with tall glasses of water.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Honeymoon Island, Florida, 3/14/2017.

Honeymoon Island via Osprey and Pelican Trails, Dunedin, Florida, March 14, 2017.

Distance: 2.2 miles (loop)

Trailhead: The trail begins at the end of Honeymoon Island State Park, 1 Causeway Boulevard in Dunedin.  There is a $4.00 fee for a single occupancy vehicle; $8.00 for more than one occupant. I've included a map at the end of this report. 

Hiked with RiverRunner and his sister.  The plan was to hike the entire length of the Osprey Trail (2.2 round trip). 

But it was not to be.

Parking area.

We parked at the picnic area (well marked) and headed onto the trail.

Trail is wide and easy to follow.

There are markers for every quarter mile, informational signs and nice benches on this trail.

At one of the mile markers.

We had the option of crossing over onto the Pelican trail, which skirts the edge of the island, but our hearts were set on finishing the Osprey trail. We saw several osprey and although there's a sign that indicates rattlesnakes inhabit the area, we didn't see any.

Suddenly we saw a fence across the path - this section of Osprey trail is closed!  Up high in the trees we saw two eagle's nests; one with two baby eagles' heads popping up! The park has closed this area in support of this feathered family.

The first nest is directly ahead; the second is behind and off to the right.

See the two baby eagles peeking out of the second nest?!

It was exciting to see the baby eagles and several people were there taking photos. RiverRunner suggested we backtrack and take the Pelican trail since we couldn't go any further on the Osprey trail. So we did.

The sandy Pelican trail skirts the beachy part of the island.

After a few minutes on the Pelican trail, we took a shortcut to the back loop of the Osprey trail.  We followed the signs back to the car.

We saw several osprey nests.

After the hike we relaxed on the playground at the trailhead.

Our route.

There are several shortcuts from the Osprey trail to the Pelican trail.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Cathedral and White Horse Ledges, New Hampshire, 3/5/17

Cathedral and White Horse Ledges via Bryce and White Horse Ledge trails, March 5, 2017.

Distance: 5.2 miles (loop)

Elevation gain: 1200'

Trailhead: The trail begins at Echo Lake State Park, 68 Echo Lake Road, Conway, NH. The gate is closed in winter; park just outside the gate along the road.

Hiked with Sandy today.  The hiking weekend we'd so looked forward to was an epic failure. After months of preparing and keeping in shape for our "big weekend," weather and distractions kept us from any portion of our plan!  Frigid temps and wind chill made hiking on Saturday unwise and though Sunday's weather was much better, forces were pushing back on our fun.

We had to hike something.  After dealing with other pressing tasks we found ourselves first stepping onto a trail well into the afternoon of our last day. And, instead of bagging a winter 4k peak as planned, our time allowed for just a small hike. We chose the ledges - Cathedral and White Horse.

This hike has very steep and very flat portions, and weeks of alternating cold and very warm weather left hard ice on the steeps, and frozen footprints and post holes on the flats.  But it's still a day in the woods and we were up for it.

Parking is along the road when the gate's locked.

Echo Lake and Cathedral Ledge.

After skirting the lake we reached the beginning of the loop. The White Horse Ledge trail intersects here; we'll return to this spot on our way out.

The trail around the lake consisted of bumpy frozen snow.

All trails blazed in yellow.

We took Bryce up the steeps to the col.

We're no strangers to icy steeps. Still, the hardness of the ice on this cold day (particularly in the shade), and the lack of any good footing slowed our ascent. The microspikes weren't cutting it in a some of the steeper spots and I wished for my crampons.

Looking down the path.

Looking down at the remnants of stairs.

I was glad to be done with this section of trail, short as it is.

At the col.  Left is White Horse Ledge and right is Cathedral Ledge.

We reached the col and the junction to the ledges. Here the trail is comfy, with softer snow and shelter from the wind. That is, until we started the last short push to Cathedral Ledge.

Wow, and I thought the previous ice was tough!  There seemed no way around all this hard ice on this very steep section.  It took us about 15 minutes just to get up the approximately two-tenths of a mile section to the ledges. No photos of this part - I was too busy having "fun" struggling up the path.

View from the ledges.

It's possible to drive up to Cathedral Ledge. The road's closed in winter but in the event you're doing this hike in these conditions and the words, "I'm not going down this way!" creep into your head, you can simply walk down the road (it's a nice road walk).

A fence around the ledge keeps me from the plunge.

 Going back down the path was tricky too.  Descending icy steep areas is never fun.

The pink/gray hue of the cold shadows in the woods.

Back at the junction sign we checked the time and headed up to White Horse Ledge. The going is better here, less steep, and we were up on the slabs in no time.  After checking out the nice view we continued on the slabs, heading right toward a clearing to take the White Ledge trail down.

View from the ledges.

Headed down White Horse Ledge trail.

The trail down's a nice meander in the shelter of the woods.  Large boulders that found themselves "unstuck" from the face of the ledge lay haphazardly around. There are some areas of the trail filled with leaves (snow had melted), with intense footprints and post holing, the result of the warm temps a few weeks back.

Not a fan of leafy trails!

This ice bulge is left of the trail.

Random rocks - with the ledge in the background.

Soon we were back on flat trail headed to Echo Lake and back to the car.  Entire trip is just five miles but in these conditions it took up almost three hours.

It's good to know when you're pressed for time that these short but challenging ledges are close by.  We went back to the house for chili and beer.