We had one major goal while visiting Guadalupe Mountains: it was to summit Guadalupe Peak, the park’s 8,750 feet high jewel that brought climbers standing on top of the tallest point in Texas. The day we picked for our hike was going to be overcast and rainy, oh, and very windy. The ranger warned us the winds would be whipping on the mountain, the gusts between 45 to 60 miles-per-hour.
We have hiked in the rain. Hell, we have hiked in downpours. We felt the rain was the least of our worries, and the wind was the main concern, but we’d push on nevertheless.
The night’s winds showed to be relentless and walloped our REI Half Dome tent to the point of collapse. The tent’s sides folded in, hitting our faces repeatedly throughout the night.
We left the tent quaking in the wind rifts and embarked for the peak in the morning’s drizzle. The trail was 8.5 miles round trip, so only 4.25 miles to the summit, reasonable for a day hike. The switchbacks sent us up the sides quickly, but the drizzle turned into a steady rain. At a certain point the trail appeared to lead down. Nicholas questioned whether we were mistaken on our last turn, but I assured him that the trail would be heading up soon. However, that was not the case. It turned out we had lost all the elevation we had gained in the first hours and found ourselves wet and at the base of a valley. We knew our mistake immediately and hiked back to the switchback that I mistook as a rain run-off. This mistake cost us time, distance, and warmth. The longer we hiked the worse the rain blew, unrelenting, pelting our faces. Soon my gloves were soaked and eventually my whole body.
I was cold, really cold.
The higher we hiked the more the temperature dropped. Then something started to happen. My hands went from cold, to numb, to nonexistent. The sensation scared me, so I tried to move my hands into a clenched fist. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t feel my hands; I couldn’t move my hands. I told Nicholas and he began to rummage through our day pack to find our hot packets. Meanwhile, it started to hail, and two descending hikers rounded the bend. As they passed, we asked how far we were from the summit. They said about an hour.
It appeared Nicholas’s hand mobility was diminishing too, because his search for the hot packets was equivalent to two meat-logs stirring around the contents of our pack, lacking the dexterity to navigate the smaller zippers.
We were in trouble.
We looked ahead and now saw the hail had turned to blowing snow. Nicholas knew by looking at my pained face what we needed to do: to turn back. We had never turned our back on a summit, especially one that was so close, but our body temperatures were plummeting and hypothermia could strike. Nicholas cupped my hands in his and blew, attempting to de-thaw them, but it wasn’t working. He then instructed me to put my hands down my pants. The heat of my core would help revive them. I began trotting down the mountain in a small panic that I’d lose my hands to frostbite. I know, a scared, cold brain thinks irrationally. But in a matter of an hour I was regaining feeling in my hands, and we were making good time descending the rocky slopes. When we arrived back to our camp, I rejoiced. I was off the cold mountain! I can feel my hands! I won’t need to amputate!
But as soon as we saw our tent’s rain cover flapping in the wind, we knew soaked sleeping bags awaited us. We packed up our soggy bedding and tent and hightailed it to the nearest restaurant and motel.
Date: December 2013