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Backpacking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Mark the date – Memorial Day weekend, 2017 – our first venture into backpacking and we’re still talking to each other!

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Selfie after a night at Bush Mountain campground

First Backpacking Adventure at Guadalupe Mountains National Park

For the past month, we’d been researching, purchasing and planning for a 3-day trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The Park neighbors New Mexico and is an 8-hour drive from Austin. With the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe is a go-to spot for Texas-sized views. We had our sights set on climbing up Guadalupe Peak (8 miles RT, 8,750′) in one afternoon and then camping at the base at Pine Springs campground near the Park’s visitor center. On our second day, we were going to head into the backcountry for an 18-mile loop with an overnight in the middle. We’d finish on Monday (Memorial Day) with a spring in our step and hit the road back to Austin. Lol, go ahead and make plans, because some things are meant to be broken.

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When Backpacking Doesn’t Go as Planned

We left Austin at 6am on Saturday and walked into the Guadalupe Mountains Visitor Center about 1:30 pm MT. Pine Springs Campground had no campsites available. Uh oh. We looked at each other and thought, “well, into the woods we go.” We both had 6 liters of water (12 lbs) which brought our pack weight up to ~35 lbs each. The park rangers recommend 1-gallon of water per person per day.

Things You Need to Know for Guadalupe Mountains National Park

  • There’s a one-hour time change from Austin to Guadalupe Mountains
  • The Pine Springs Campground operates on a first come, first served basis
  • There is NO/ZERO/NADA water in the heart of the park. Gotta come prepared.

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Walking out of the visitor center and back to our car, we were thinking, “shit’s getting real now. here goes nothing.” I found the selfie-stick and threw it in my pack as a last minute necessity…could also be a makeshift splint, ‘coon whacker, fishing pole (for all of the water-less desert fish). At 2:30 pm MT, we hit the trail. It was hot. Don’t recommend. We were going to hike to Bush Mountain campground via Tejas Trail. It’d be a little over 6 miles and 3000’+ of elevation.

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The hike went from a skip to a slower ramble to a hot, gasping for air, tromp. At one point, we took a break and were passed by another couple. I made friendly conversation and then discovered they were going to the same campground. Turbojets powered on! It was now a race to get to the campground and claim the best campsite. (Note: there are plenty of sites at Bush Mountain and I shouldn’t have freaked.) They paused to enjoy the shade from a lone tree and we flew past them – huffing from the elevation, red-faced and sweaty from the afternoon Texas sun, but giddy with the excitement of doing something new and being semi-okay at it.

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Finally, we arrived at Bush Mountain campground and set up camp.

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After a dinner of couscous (A+ camp food, btw), Trader Joe’s curried vegetables (comes in a pouch, yay!) and summer sausage, we climbed into the tent for the night.

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Waking up in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

On Sunday, we woke to mountain-top temps (50s) and two woodpeckers free-styling with each other. Our coffee and oatmeal breakfast was a good start to the day and then we packed everything up and hit the trail. Our packs were lighter after drinking/cooking and the sun was softer. We both felt more comfortable under the pack weight and I think a bit more confident too. We were going to continue clockwise on the trail, passing by Blue Ridge campground and then back onto the Tejas Trail. Being at elevation, we had views of the desert and think we saw New Mexico.

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After a couple of miles, we went back down into a valley and the trail became softer – covered in dirt and soft wood chips. On the mountain top, it had been jagged rock and our pace slowed to take controlled steps and save our ankles. After the valley, we climbed some more and then stopped for a snack break before descending back down the Tejas Trail section that had been so hard the day before. 11.5 miles total on Sunday.

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Back in the visitor center parking lot, our ambitious thoughts of a post-backpacking climb up Guadalupe Peak flew right out of the window. Jason said, “do you want to see if they have campsites at Pine Springs and go up the Peak tomorrow?” My eyes widened as I laughed and blurted out, “ha! nope. do you?” Jason felt the same. After unloading our packs, we lay down in the back of the wagon with the tailgate open and each had a beer. We shared photos and cheers’ed each other for trying something new and being flexible and having fun and not dying. Then we made a reservation at a La Quinta in Fort Stockton and drove off into the setting sun.

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