When I told my dad we were going to Guadalupe Mountains National Park for Thanksgiving he recounted his tale of it being one of the hardest hikes he’d ever done. He regaled me with a story about my brother and him being ahead of the rest of the Boy Scout troop, and climbing and climbing to the McKittrick Ridge campsite they were all supposed to stay at that night, however night fell and they ended up laying out their sleeping bags somewhere in the middle of the trail. Eventually everyone got caught up together but then there was an issue of getting water and the only place was several miles downhill, so my dad and a few others carried everyone’s water bottles down to fill them up and then hauled them the several miles back up.
I just kept thinking, It can’t be that hard!
Um. It was.
Or at least for out-of-mountain-shape me. Patrice and Justin were still rocking their trail legs so they were patient with me as I eased up McKittrick Ridge.
First, we had to descend Guadalupe Peak, approximately four miles, then refill on water and shuttle a car over to the McKittrick Ridge trail head. Patrice and Justin were going to come back out the same way the following day so they could head to Carlsbad Caverns for the weekend.
When we pulled into the McKittrick Visitors Center I noticed a Backpacker Magazine vehicle parked in the lot and two people, a man and woman, with gear outside of it. Our interest was piqued. Chris headed over to the car as soon as we parked and we all followed suit. It was the Get Out More Tour, with Sheri and Randy Propster. Chris told them we were all AT thru-hikers to which they said they were as well, but they’d also completed the American Discovery Trail which is how they ended up being chosen for the position with Backpacker.
We chatted with them for quite awhile, very interested in their lifestyle of traveling the country nine months a year, testing gear, traveling trails that readers choose as some of the best routes and then reviewing them on their blog, and giving clinics at various outdoor retailers around the country. It’s a pretty good gig and they know it! Patrice and Justin informed them they were interested in doing something similar and it seemed that the possibility of something being available could happen in the future. I was definitely envious!
Sheri and Randy had just done part of the loop we were planning and did inform us that the trail up to McKittrick Ridge was a good trail but very relentless with many false tops.
Chris was anxious to get going since it would be our longest and hardest day and he was still hoping to get to the campsite before dark. The first several miles would traverse along McKittrick Creek through the canyon and would be relatively flat. Yay for flat! Then it would be a steep and relentless hike up to the ridge and campsite.
I did a double take at the vegetation along the creek and had to run my hand up the side of it. It was sawgrass and I even looked it up on the USDA database to see it was listed for that county out there. Definitely stunned! The big tooth maples were past their prime but still held a bit of color.
For lunch we made it to the Pratt cabin where we sat at the picnic tables next to the creek and chatted with some older day hikers from Austin. Patrice and Justin showed up shortly after we sat down for lunch, we’d left them back at the cars since Chris knew he wanted to go slower and take photos, knowing they would catch up to us.
This is part of the cabin that was built by Wallace Pratt back in the early part of the 20th century. On Google Earth it appears that a road continues through the canyon to the north; someday I’d like to walk back on that road and see where it leads.
About a mile past the Pratt Cabin is a grotto down a short trail and then a bit further another cabin. Patrice and Justin scoped out the cabin while I sprawled out on the top of a picnic table to rest.
Shortly after the grotto the climb up began. It was about four miles to the campsite and it was definitely 95% up! Switchbacks and more switchbacks…it was never ending! But it offered up some amazing views and as we climbed I didn’t feel too guilty for stopping to catch my breath because we could stop and peer out over the canyon below.
Eventually we wound up high enough and spotted four other hikers that Sheri and Randy had told were ahead of us. I was surprised to have caught them, thinking they were further ahead than we were. Patrice and Justin pulled ahead of us when Chris stopped to take a photo of a yucca. Eventually when we came to the top of the first false summit and then realized we had to go down to cross a knife edge and then go back up I was a bit disheartened. Chris kept saying we wouldn’t make it for sunset and since I didn’t wear a watch while hiking I had no clue what time it was, nor did I want to ask because knowing the time and distance only frustrates me when I am not going fast enough.
We were on the south side of the knife edge and we saw the four hikers climbing up the north side of the knife edge. Later we found out that Patrice and Justin were both waving to us from the top of the other side but we didn’t see them. Eventually on the other side we did catch up and pass the other four hikers who were hiking in jeans. I know, hike your own hike, but really, jeans? Ouch!
The four had separated into two groups of two and both asked us how far we thought camp was to which we estimated about a mile to a mile and a half. When we passed the second group it wasn’t but ten more minutes before we arrived at the McKittrick Ridge campsite, thankfully a shorter distance than anticipated.
And it was only 4 o’clock, an hour until sunset! I hadn’t walked as slow as I thought, not thru-hiking pace but not the turtle pace I felt I was going.
P&J said they’d only been there about ten minutes and were in the process of setting up camp. We got our tent ready and dinner too, and then spent a few hours chatting with them about the A.T. and thru hiking as well as post trail life.
And then it was all of 5:45pm or so and time for bed. Yep, hiker midnight!