Bear Canyon Trail - December 28, 2011
Hunter Peak lies across the canyon from Guadalupe Peak and was an obvious second climb both due to its proximity to the campground and the availability of a trail to the summit. I knew that there would be snow up high and also most likely in the canyon portion of the trail to the top, but I'd just finished kicking a route up the higher peak so what the heck . . .
I left at 7 a.m., starting from the same trailhead as Guadalupe but immediately cutting over to the Tejas Trail and stuck with that course for about a half mile outbound from the canyon to the Frijole Trail. The route to the top would be via Bear Canyon but long before reaching the base of the canyon, I'd have to get around the base of the mountain. The snow on the trail was beaten a bit but just as icy as the start the day before. The ice crunched underfoot but soon enough I was at the start of the Frijole Trail that would wind for a mile around the base, gently climbing along the way and dropping in and out of small drainages.
After a bit over a mile, the trail up Bear Canyon lay at my feet and I had only to push up about 1500 feet over about 1.8 miles, mostly in the sun but perhaps one third in shadow. I knew from the day before that shadows would mean snow but I soon found out that sunny areas also promised snow in this ascending canyon. The first section switched back on the southern flank before traversing up to cross over the drainage at about the one third mark. The trail was now in shadow and working its way up the right sidewall through boulders and scrub oak. The snow got deeper, many sections of 18 to 24 inch snow with one lovely section where it had drifted to about 4 feet in depth, perhaps not 4 feet exactly but I know it came up to my armpits after the crust gave way.
I fought my way up through the center third until the canyon widened out and I could see that the upper lip that I hoped was the rim was in fact the rim proper. But to get to that rim, I had a good dozen switchbacks to contend with and lots of trail onto which the wind had deposited that perfectly triangular drift of snow, you know where you can skirt the trail's outer edge or, if just inbound a bit, you get to posthole to your heart's content. I got some crust, some postholes and some trail edge, now pushing beyond the end of a track previously kicked as far as the center section of the canyon.
After one of those eternity periods (probably all of an hour), I postholed through deepening snow to the rim's edge. I figured I would at least get the satisfaction of a trail juncture sign, marking the route to Hunter Peak versus the route into the "Bowl", the tree covered plateau that lies behind the precipices of Hunter. What I got was no sign and no sign of a trail to the summit of Hunter . . . why should there be, the area was covered with 18 to 24 inches of snow. I reverted to old fashioned map reading and took the shallow gully that would lead to a point just to the right side of the summit and intersect the cliff edge for sure. I found some wind hammered sections but they were few and far between as I mostly postholed my way upward until I spotted a trail swale in the glancing light.
The swale was obviously the trail but it soon petered out and I orienteered for another hundred yards before again catching sign of the trail and then, once the trees got thick, picked out trimmed limbs and the shadow of the trail runnel. After perhaps a half hour of slow slog, I spotted a trail junction sign and found that it indicated the start of the short stub trail the summit of Hunter Peak. Ten minutes later, I trudged the reverse slope behind the cliffy face and stood on the summit proper. I'd ended up kicking a route from the middle of Bear Canyon upward but it worth the effort to be the first person post storm to summit this less popular peak.
A brief lunch on the wind free summit and then I was headed down, retracing my trail through he woods to the top of the canyon. I descended and at perhaps the half way point, I encountered the tracks of another climber who had turned. Not surprising . . . as almost all of the other climbers I came across were ill prepared for the snow . . . simply a sign of the conditions anticipated as these conditions appears to be the rare exception for the more southerly based climbing crowd. I exited the canyon and found a more traffic on the Frijole trail as the afternoon hikers came out to enjoy the warming temps and noticeably less amount of snow on the trail.
The climb of Hunter took seven hours, surely more than the route would have taken if done as a non snow climb on a dry desert trail.