Monday, January 16, 2012

January in The Bowl

     Over a couple of pints of Guinness at Murray’s Deli in Midland, Clif and I planned a winter hike in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  I’ve hiked the Guads with Clif many times, but never in cold weather.  We planned and packed for an overnight trip to the Tejas camp site from Pine Springs, returning on the Juniper Trail to Bear Canyon, a round trip distance of 12 miles with an elevation gain over 2100 feet. 

     We scrubbed one launch because of weather.  We watched the forecast closely and when the day temp for “The Bowl” was forecasted at 48 and 38 night on January 14, we dropped the hammer.  We got our backcountry permits that morning and headed out.  I was down to a T-shirt and jeans on the way up.  The temp had to be in the 60’s or better at the bottom.  There were patches of snow on the mountainsides from previous falls.   When we hit the top, the patches grew.  By the time we got close to the Tejas camp site, the snow was a total blanket and knee-deep in places.  As Clif said, the novelty of hiking in snow soon wore off.  We didn’t have problems with moisture or cold, it’s just tough to make way through powder.
     The good part was that much of the snow was packed pretty tight and getting through it wasn’t too bad.  The air temp was in the 40’s by the time we got to camp.  At about sunset, the temperature fell to 20 degrees and the parkas came out.  We managed to enjoy drinks and cigars over backgammon before dark.  I don’t think it got much colder than 20 degrees.  Wunderground showed the air temp at 32.  There must have been a heat wave near the weather station that didn’t reach our camp.  Despite the cold, we had a pretty decent night.  There’s much to be said for having good gear.  I slept in my new 20 degree bag with thermal underwear and stayed warm all night.  I heard Clif snoring like a bear in the tent next door and he assured me I returned the favor. 

     The wind was dead calm most of the time but that changed on the return hike down Bear Canyon.  The top felt like a 70mph wind tunnel.  The Bear Canyon trail is like a 1.8 mile staircase.  Clif has gone up that trail, and after his story I decided I’d never climb it unless I was being chased by its namesake.  Once we got in the foothills, we logged another “first;” We were hit by a gust of wind that blew both of us down.  The wind didn’t leave us alone until we got back to Pine Springs.
     We spent a total of 6 hours on the trail, and we were away from our homes for about 36 hours.  Both of us had our packs tweaked to about 40 pounds, but we could have shaved off some water weight had we known about the snow.  It pays to ask the headquarters about that sort of thing because they didn’t mention it when we got our permit!  I almost didn't bring my parka, but Clif reminded me of a spring trip almost 20 years ago when I opted for a lighter jacket to save weight.  We woke up in fresh unforecasted snow and I whined about being cold for the rest of the trip.

     Many kudos to Clif for packing the Nikon D40 and catching some great pictures.  I'll drag one along next time so there'll be more shots of him.  I’ve never found the words to describe a trip to the backcountry in the Guads. It’s the kind of place where you sit at your camp and just look around in amazement. I visit the park several times a year and never get bored with it.  Good photos are the only way to accurately describe what’s sitting on top of a mountain range three hours from Midland. 


  1. Great pics and write-up. It really is worth the drive from Midland. Beautiful country. Nice meeting you guys.