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My Life Outdoors

Pine Peak, Texas – 7,710 feet – The Trip From #$@&?

Since the first time I set foot in the Davis Mountains I have been in love. The Davis Mountains are the largest chain of mountains in Texas and second highest chain in the state. The problem is, most of this chain is privately owned, which means hiking and camping are off limits in all but just a few places.

Mount Livermore, Davis Mountains, Texas

One of the only exceptions is the Davis Mountain Preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. But even here access is limited to only a few days a year. Not long ago my family and I had the opportunity to go and hike on the preserve. We had hiked here before, in fact about the same time last year we climbed the highest peak in the range…mount Livermore. This time around, however, I was looking for something new.

The McIvor visitor center on The Nature Conservancy’s Davis Mountain Preserve

I’m not exactly sure why but I settled on Pine Peak. Pine peak is not the highest, the steepest, or the longest. There is nothing really to set it apart from any other mountain. At 7,710 feet Pine Peak is the fifth highest in the Davis Mountain Range, and the 12th highest in the state (or 13th depending on who you ask).

Pine Peak seen through the trees on The Natures Conservancy’s Davis Mountain Preserve

On paper, Pine Peak seemed like an easy hike. Roughly 2.5 miles one way to the peak with about 1500 feet of elevation gain. An old jeep road would serve as a trail for all but that last half mile. From there we would bushwhack the rest of the way to the top. I looked at my wife, 10 year old and 19 month old daughters…it was nothing they couldn’t handle.

My 19 month old, ready to do some hiking
My wife and oldest Daughter with Pine Peak in the Background.

I was wrong. From the moment we set foot on the trail things were difficult for them. The midday temperature would reach nearly 100 degrees, and the first mile seemed to be straight up hill.

My oldest daughter became hot and tired very quickly. We agreed to go just to the next batch of shade and rest…then to the next, and the next. This made for some slow going, resting every 100 to 200 feet. We did this till we made it all the way to Pine Peak lake 2 miles from where we started at Shoe Tank.

The view from one of the many shade stops we took along the way.
Sign pointing us toward Pine Peak
Approaching Pine Peak Lake

We were happy to make it to Pine Peak lake. But Pine Peak lake is hardly a lake. In fact after such a prolonged drought this year it wasn’t even a puddle any more. Just dry cracked ground. We stopped here in the shadow of the peak to eat lunch and I wondered if my family would be up for what was going to be the hardest part of the hike.

Dry Pine Peak Lake. I had read Pine Peak lake was resilient and persists annually “even in dry years.” Goes to show how bad of a drought we are in right now. 
Pine Peak lake from above.

Somehow my wife managed to bring socks that were too big and began to develop huge blisters. We had stopped to doctor them along the way and did everything we could to prevent them…but it was no use. By the time we had reached pine peak lake her heals were in tremendous pain.

To my surprise, however, she wanted to continue. We had come “too far to quit” she said. We left the trail and started up Pine Peaks eastern and most gradual slope. I still had our 19 month old on my back and was finding it difficult to avoid low lying tree limbs. My wife began to fear her daughter would lose an eye to a poorly negotiated limb. every 5-10 feet I would hear her gasp as I tried to duck and crawl through thick trees.

The side of Pine Peak
A view through the trees on Pine Peak

Despite even slower progress, we made it to the the false summit where Pine Peak levels out right before the top. My family was not enjoying themselves. We sat and rested for a while and talked about whether we should turn back or push on. My 10 year old was in no mood to continue. We settled on a compromise…I would go on to the summit while they stayed behind to wait for me. With the plan in place, I unloaded just about everything, took a bottle of water and made the final push to the summit.

View from the false summit
Looking down on the false summit where my family stopped to wait for me.

Near the top I encountered quite a bit of scrambling I hadn’t expected. It was good the girls stayed behind…I could have never negotiated the summit with a baby on my back. But the scrambling was worth it. As I had expected the views on the top were simply amazing. I could have spent all day there taking in the mountains that seemed to reach forever. I knew, however, that my family would worry if I was gone too long. So after just a few minutes on the summit I began to make my way back down to them. From there we would retrace our steps back to the jeep.

Some large boulders that required a bit of scrambling. You can see McDonald Observatory in the background
My first view from the Summit of Pine Peak
Looking out at the pine covered mountains from the top of Pine Peak
Looking down from on top of Pine Peak
Looking at the West side of Sawtooth Mountain far in the distance. Not many people ever see this side of Sawtooth.
Blue Mountain viewed from the top of Pine Peak

Everyone was glad to be heading back. The hike proved to much more difficult than it appeared. On the way down I think all my girls shed a few tears as they dealt with blisters, sore feet, and cramped toes. My wife says she learned a valuable lesson…anytime I say “its just a little bushwhacking” she knows to sit this one out. It was not the leisurely hike I thought it was going to be. But in the end, I enjoyed the time with my family, even if they didn’t.

Map of Pine Peak, Texas
Pine Peak, Texas Elevation Profile

The Hike:
Distance: 2.9 Miles One Way
Starting Elevation: 6,201 feet
Ending Elevation: 7,710 feet
Elevation Gain: 1509 feet
GPS File of Pine Peak, Texas (GPX Format) 
Davis Mountain Preserve Roads and Trails Map

Getting There:
Davis Mountain Preserve Gate:  30°42’15.80″N 104° 6’53.99″W
McIvor Visitor Center:  30°42’2.91″N 104° 6’53.12″W
Shoe Tank (Starting Point):  30°40’19.04″N 104° 7’41.46″W
Pine Peak Lake:  30°39’23.64″N 104° 6’33.85″W
Pine Peak Summit:  30°39’19.02″N 104° 6’48.13″W

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  • Jeff

    June 20, 2011

    Great report Steven. Thanks.

    The views from the summit are fantastic.

  • Anonymous

    June 20, 2011

    Looks like a nice trip, despite the setbacks. I too have been there with the blisters so broken and painful I couldn't walk in shoes — never again!

  • Great Pictures!

  • Dave

    August 1, 2011

    Having spent the last four years in Central Texas and all the private land, I understand. Back to New Mexico were most is Federal (BLM) land. Nice post and great pics. Ever get to Balmorrea SP?

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