Monday, February 14, 2011

In Which I Find a Suitable Campsite and Hike to 7,825 Feet

February 2

I didn’t sleep well last night. Woke up to frost on the inside of the windshield and windows, and upon stepping outside I finally saw the surrounding mountains which had been phantoms against the stars the night before. This place is pretty incredible.

I made some tea and oatmeal, periodically jumping in the car to warm up a bit. I needed to find a new campsite, so I set about searching, and once I found one I managed to set up my tent and get it staked down securely. The winds were picking up, but as the sun rose the cold began to subside just a bit.

At noon I packed a lunch, poured myself some water from one of the few unfrozen jugs of water I had (water freezes in a matter of minutes out here), and set out to hike Emory Peak via the Pinnacles Trail. It was beautiful country, accented by the constant flurry of ice particles (despite the sun being out) which lasted until late afternoon. The photographic opportunities were great, especially as I got into the higher elevation areas around Emory Peak. The 1 mi. spur leading up to the summit took me longer than expected, and ended with a 30 foot sheer scramble up a rock face to reach the real summit. The views of the Chihuahuan desert were breathtaking, but the winds made things a bit uncomfortable. I took it easy, shot some panoramas, and carefully made my descent down the rock face again.

The trek back was pretty strenuous, albeit downhill. Anytime I hit a shady spot, the temperature dropped dramatically. If my hands were un-gloved for more than a minute or two, I quickly lost all feeling in my fingers. Once I reached the valley again, the mountains were lit by some truly awesome evening light. I hurriedly got some panoramas, put my gloves back on and made the final mile or two back to my car. As often happens when I’m on the trail, tired and footsore, I could just picture my car with me in the driver's seat, leaning on the steering wheel breathing heavily...

When I returned to camp I decided to “test” out my sleeping bag, so without bothering to change into fresh clothes I climbed in, coat and all, zipped it to the top and soon began to feel pretty comfy. I wasn’t too hungry so I just decided to call it a day and get some shut-eye. I slept a total of 12 hours, in spite of the wind whipping at my tent. The only thing I really don’t like about this Marmot tent is that it’s primarily mesh, so when the wind blew under the rain fly it kicked ice and dirt up against the mesh and got a bunch of fine dust all over me and my gear. It’s a three-season tent though, so it’s not meant for these kinds of conditions.
I had a pretty rough night trying to sleep in my car. Those mummy bags don't insulate well unless you can constrict airflow, and that's nearly impossible to do unless you're lying flat...which, incidentally, can't be done in my car.

When I cracked open the car door I was finally able to see the scenery around me. The campground I was in sits at 5,400 feet and is almost completely surrounded by the Chisos Mountain Range (the only mountain range to be completely enclosed within a national park). It was quite a sight.

The weather that morning was absolutely frigid - 4 degrees according the campground host, but easily below 0 when you factor in windchill - and I was very reluctant to venture out and make breakfast. I finally worked up the resolve to get out and light the stove, but as the water was boiling I jumped in the car to stay warm.

My hike up to Emory Peak (7,825 feet) began around noon, covered 10 miles, and took me 7 hours to complete. The temperature hardly relented in spite of the sun, and tiny ice particles continued falling until mid-afternoon.

The scenery seemed very unusual for Texas. Of course, I've become accustomed to San Antonio, the southern hill country, and the flat scrubby landscape around Corpus Christi. It was a welcome surprise to find some real mountains again! The ascent up the Pinnacles Trail was largely forested, and any time I encountered shade I would find tell-tale signs of the extreme winter conditions - icicles lining the trickles of water coming down from the hills, frost on the grass and leaves, etc.

The route to the summit of Emory Peak was relatively easy, but the last 25-30 feet involved a sheer climb up to the true summit (YES!!). Once I got up there the 360 degree view was incredible! I could see at least 50-100 miles in all directions. Down in the basin, I could barely make out the lodge and visitor center, and knew that I would have to make the descent in good time to get back to camp by nightfall. The park rangers advise against hiking during the evening hours due to danger from mountain lions and other critters. Bears are fairly prevalent in the park as well, but my fear of mountains lions is exponentially higher than my fear of a measly little black bear!

I finally made it back to the car around 7:00pm, exhausted, but thrilled with the experience and the opportunity to actually exert myself and have some fun instead of sitting at camp freezing. The sunset was nothing spectacular, but the light it threw on the surrounding mountains was simply awesome.

1 comment:

JessicaCynthia said...

Those photos remind me of Montana...