After lunch on Tuesday, November 13, Phil climbed into the tent with Sylvan for the little guy’s nap. Meanwhile Sean, Adam, and I decided to get in a second short hike for the day, this time one a bit more ambitious than our walk through the foothills with the baby that morning.
We chose to check out at least part of the Permian Reef Geology Trail near the entrance to McKittrick Canyon. The entire trail is a 4.2-mile out-and-back 2,000 feet up onto Wilderness Ridge near the Texas-New Mexico state line. We wouldn’t be able to do the entire trail, but we figured it would be worth it to see some of it. We were particularly keen to see fossils.
The morning of November 13 was cloudless and cold. The pre-dawn low temperature was eighteen degrees, which would have been a camping record for Sean and me had we not beaten it by at least ten degrees the previous morning up in the mountains. Nevertheless, we anticipated a day of adventure with Adam and Phil, and particularly Sylvan, who would go on his very first hike in a National Park.
The morning of my fortieth birthday, November 12, 2018, dawned cold. Very cold. Single-digit cold. Sean’s and my plan was to complete our third and final day in the backcountry with a 7.6-mile hike down from McKittrick Ridge into McKittrick Canyon and then out to the trailhead at the McKittrick Canyon Contact Station, where Adam, Phil, and Sylvan would pick us up.
Next morning, Sunday, November 11, I woke in our tent at Pine Top before sunrise. Sean and I had a full day of hiking ahead of us, some 7.8 backcountry miles to the primitive campground on McKittrick Ridge up closer to the Park’s northern boundary and the state line.
My phone was dead, but it must have been a little after six by the light. Sean was sleeping, so I climbed carefully out of the tent and pulled on my boots. I nearly yelped in pain as the boot slid into place on my right foot. The blister that had developed on the previous day’s climb into the mountains was no joke. Once outside, though, I gave the pain no heed. I peed downslope from our site and then settled into my backpacking chair to watch the pre-sunrise light change and grow on the low country below.
On Saturday morning, November 10, Sean and I walked into the Guadalupe Mountains for a three-day backpacking trek that would mark, on the third day, my fortieth birthday. The nineteen-mile route from Pine Springs Trailhead to McKittrick Canyon Ranger Station is the classic route up into the Guadalupes, across the high country, and back down. It is a shuttle route from one trailhead to another, and the Park cannot provide transportation between the two. Happily, Adam and Phil had agreed to collect us early Monday afternoon when we emerged from the mountains.
Our goal for day one was Pine Top Campground, one of a constellation of primitive backcountry sites for backpackers in the Guadalupe Mountains high country. From the main trailhead at Pine Springs, it was 3.9 miles and 2,200 feet up to Pine Top.
Sean and I departed for our twelve-day adventure/birthday celebration in the Southwest on Thursday, November 8 after an unusually brutal period leading up to the trip. Sean had a lot on his plate at work, and I was wrapping up a very busy and exhilarating autumn of work and personal projects. We also looked forward to hosting my parents visiting from Detroit for Thanksgiving immediately after the trip. It’s a good thing that we are very experienced at National Park trips at this point because we didn’t actually start packing proper until 9pm on Wednesday night. We had everything we needed, and we were able to pull items from the camping closet fairly swiftly. Even so, it was something of a mess. Eventually we decided that because the trip was so big with so many components we’d each need to take a suitcase in addition to our backpacks and carry-on bags. It was more luggage than we’d taken on our three-week honeymoon in Alaska, but we hadn’t been planning a serious pack trip for Alaska.
It was a fair question coming from a 60ish guy in Pine Springs Visitor Center of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in far West Texas. He was on a six-week road trip in the southwest and had just received his backcountry permit from the very pleasant Ranger Michael. The fellow’s hike was the reverse route of what Sean and I had completed a couple days earlier, and we were chatting about the route.
“You’re from Chicago and you decided to spend your 40th birthday here? Why?”