The day leading up to the night of the monsoon, when my tent was destroyed, I took on Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, referred to as “the Top of Texas.” It’s a mere 4.25 miles to the top. But this 4.25 miles felt more like 42.5 miles.
I got an early start at 7:00 am and didn’t anticipate that this hike would take most of my day. The trail snakes around the edges of the mountain with dramatic cliffs to the right, leading from one false summit to another. The landscape of course is grandiose, looking out upon a wide expanse of surrounding mountains, but it isn’t anything terribly unique. As the sun harshly beat down on me, I observed lizards scurry and eagles fly overhead. The trail is largely exposed to the sun, with common desert shrubbery around and an occasional yucca plant or pine tree.
After having passed out in Big Bend National Park my confidence as a hiker had been damaged, and so I overpacked on food and water for this hike carrying unnecessary weight. I was very disciplined in eating and drinking every so often. At one point I found a tree along the cliffside where I could sit in its shade and take a break.
Many hours later, after dozens of false summits, I finally arrived at the “Top of Texas.” The final stretch of the trail is a rock scramble, and there at the top of the mountain is a metal triangular monument decorated with official seals and a with geocache box beside it labeled with the elevation of 8,749 feet.
I sat down and enjoyed the view looking down before me was an iconic rock protrusion that resembled a mitten or the state of Michigan. Behind it, the wide expanse of Texas was spread across earth. Dry brown hills and valleys and sandy expanses stretched as far as the eyes could see. I don’t know if it was my imagination or not, but I perceived that I could actually see the curvature of the earth from up here.
The view was similar to the views atop the Chisos Mountains at Big Bend National Park, but a major difference here was the bragging rights to claim to have reached the highest point in Texas.
I opened the geocache box and read the hiker log, like on many mountaintops hikers filled the log with Bible verses. Something about the beauty of the mountaintop causes people to reflect on the splendor and majesty of God.
When I descended the mountain I went into the visitor center. There was no one there except one ranger. This place was very quiet. I asked the ranger to play the park film for me, and I bought a pin and postcard. I then went to my car and took off my boots, my feet were rejoicing as I Iet them breathe and be free..
There was a wooden shelter beside the parking lot that looked to be constructed to house vending machines at one time, but now it was empty. I noticed an electrical outlet. Here, barefoot, I sat down in its shade, charged my Chromebook, and even caught a wifi signal from the visitor center to check my messages. Relaxed, feeling accomplished, with my back resting against the wooden structure, I called my parents who were visiting my older brother Nathan and his wife Catherine in New York City. I shared with them the excitement of crossing the U.S. Mexican border on foot at El Paso and everything I thought about that and about passing out in Big Bend National Park and summiting Guadalupe Peak.
Then ravenous. I went into the town of Carlsbad for supper. I wanted to try someplace local, but the only place that came into consideration was a Mexican restaurant. I parked my car and walked towards the entrance, but then I noticed no windows on the restaurant, and I began to receive very bad vibes from the place. Something was not right. I then settled for Chili’s and, uncharacteristic of my regular food choices, I had a grossly fatty burger. I followed this up with a stop at the store for some yogurt and frosted flakes, and then I went back to the park, got in my tent, read some out of my book on Big Bend country and endured the nighttime monsoon.
The following day I would make the trip up New Mexico, hop on old Route 66, and roll into Albuquerque to spend a few days with my cousin Rachel and her family.
Read my previous episode “What Holds Up Your Tent?” here: https://joshthehodge.com/2020/02/28/what-holds-up-your-tent/
Check out my new book “Canyonlands: My Adventures in the National Parks and the Beautiful Wild,” here: