“How far away is the peak?”
“Once you get to the really hard part, you’re nearly there.”
“Wait … this isn’t the really hard part?”
I was approaching the summit of Guadalupe Peak—or at least I thought I was—and glad to catch my breath while giving my rubbery legs a break. After encountering the descending hiker, I was momentarily discouraged but not daunted. My three-hour trek in far West Texas had so far been challenging but not overwhelming, and I wanted to carry my momentum all 8,751 feet up to the tallest natural point in the state.
The last eighth of a mile was indeed tricky—a couple sheer rock faces (I didn’t look down) and large boulders to ascend —but it never felt dangerous. Finally, I took one giant step and came face to face with a metal pyramid atop the peak.
But I also encountered something I hadn’t expected: Surrounding the sculpture was a spontaneous community. About a dozen of us smiling hikers shared the rewarding accomplishment of having just summited Guadalupe Peak. Cheers of “You did it!” and “Welcome to the top of Texas!” erupted. We beamed with adrenaline and pride, knowing how much planning, commitment, resolve and stamina it took to conquer such a formidable foe.
I was also rewarded by the most spectacular 360-degree views I’ve ever seen in Texas. It was a perfect fall day—65 and sunny—so visibility was pristine. The sky was pure blue, a cheerful overstretched canvas. I took in multicolored ridges of mountains stretching for miles and miles beyond Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
I had started the day with a hearty breakfast and hit the trail in the cool shade. The first hour was tough, with tight switchbacks and steep ascents.
I reminded myself I wasn’t in a race and listened to my body’s cues; when I felt weary, I’d stop for water or take a few bites of a protein bar. My trusty trekking poles helped me navigate the rocky trail and pivot up tough spots.
The second hour was easier—a large section of trees provided welcome shade, and I noticed more flora, including jade-colored desert scrub and small waxy succulents. The trail was well maintained and easy to navigate, which helped guide me through the final stretch.
By the end, my legs were fatigued, but that seemed a small price. I was excited about completing the quest. When the shiny obelisk entered my view, the smile on my face reflected the joy I felt in joining my new community.
At that moment, it felt like the top of the world. It just so happened that it actually was.