Journal Entry 061710: Hunter Peak

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,” wrote Edward Abbey. I thought about that as I finally drifted off to sleep, Monday night in my tent, in the Pine Top primitive campground. I was backpacking in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park with Chad and Cory and Clark. Our original plan was to spend Monday night at Pine Top, do the nine-mile Bush MountainBlue Ridge loop on Tuesday, spend Tuesday night at Pine Top, and then hike down Tejas Trail in the cool of the morning on Wednesday. But because of a fire, most of those trails were closed, and the only place we could hike was Hunter Peak and a small portion of The Bowl. It was a shame, but couldn’t be helped.

It took us a long time to hike up to Pine Top. We arrived at the Pine Springs Visitor Center early enough, but had to wait for them to open the doors, and then we had to wait in line through lots of discussions about the forest fire and where we could hike and what we could do. It was a bit of a shock to realize they’d been fighting the fire for five days, yet this was the first any of us had heard about it.

We didn’t start up the trail until 10:00 AM. I had expected it would take us four hours at most to reach the ridge line but the heat and altitude took its toll and demanded a full six hours. I was so exhausted when I finally got the top and set up my tent that I took an hour nap just to recover. I don’t think I’ve ever spent six hours on my legs under a 60-lbs. pack (24 lbs. was nothing but water). I thought of a definition I read somewhere: Backpacking is an extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take. 

Later that night we all sat outside and ate and talked theology and family and history until well past dark. In fact, I didn’t finally go down to sleep until 11:30 PM.

Tuesday morning we took a leisurely pace to meet at Chad’s camp to eat his pancakes. We felt obligated to keep eating so he wouldn’t have to pack the weight of pancake batter and syrup all the way back down the mountain. We were doing him a favor, taking one for our brother, and all that.

With full bellies we started hiking toward Hunter Peak, one of the only trails open to us, where we spent about an hour on the summit rocks taking in the view and eating trail mix and Fig Newtons and talking about life. The view from Hunter Peak is one of the best mountain views anywhere. It is the 6th-highest point in Texas, at 8,368’, and drops almost 3,000’ to a desert floor that truly resembles the ancient Permian Sea that it once was. And to the south was a postcard-perfect view of Guadalupe Peak. Using my 6x16 Audubon Monocular we could make out hikers on the Guadalupe Peak summit near the stainless steel monument.

Looking at the Guadalupe Peak massive I wondered what it was about mountains that speak directly into the heart. Maybe it’s their size when viewed up close; maybe it’s their seemingly indestructible presence in an ever-changing world; maybe it’s the physical difficulty they cause when we try to climb them. Who knows? But sitting on the flat limestone rocks at the top of Hunter Peak surrounded by the infinity of the West Texas desert, talking about old favorite movies and rock-and-roll bands becomes more than mere casual small talk. The shared effort to get to that spot made us brothers of the trail, and the stories we shared made us brothers of heart. It was a good day.

Since we’d exhausted the only trails left open by the National Park Service, and since it was too hot to sit around the camp all afternoon, we hiked down to the parking lot. We didn’t get started down until 2:30 PM; we were on the wrong side of the temperature gradient this entire trip. We unloaded our packs into Chad’s pickup, sucked down ice-cold soft drinks from the visitor center vending machine, and drove home to our waiting wives.

I wish we could’ve made the Bush MountainBlue Ridge loop. I’m certain it is extra green this year after a wet spring. Every time I do a solo hike through The Bowl I wish I could show it off to more of my guys. And I wish we could’ve had another night in camp to share more stories. But one of the attractions to going outside into the mountains is the unpredictability of it. Nature dishes out whatever it wants, whether rain or snow or lightening or fire, and the hiker has to respond and adapt. The risk of last-minute plan changes is part of the charm.

And another thing. I’ve been doing this with the guys long enough to know I can’t evaluate an experience right away. The true value of guys-outside-together may not show up for months or even years. I’m OK with that. Men make friends outside, and the more often we get outside together, the better we will be.

One of the glories of my present life is that I am surrounded by good men; they are among the finest men I have ever known. It was a privilege and honor to share the trail with three of my best.



“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32


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