To The Grotto And Beyond!
By Lone_Star on 5/22/2013
Distance: 15.80 Miles Duration: 7 hours, 55 minutes
After hiking the strenuous Guadalupe Peak the day before, I thought I would take a day to recuperate by hiking to the Pratt Lodge and out to the Grotto since the trail looked fairly flat. However, my legs loosened up along the way, so I decided to hike up McKittrick Canyon to the McKittrick Ridge campground. This part of the hike was strenuous since it involved a 2700 foot elevation change (from 5013' to 7716'). I would have went farther (to the Tejas Trail intersection), but I ran out of time. This area of the park is Day Use Only. They lock the gate at 6:00pm, so I had to frantically get down the mountain and get my car out before they locked me in!
The hike out to the Grotto is nice and one I highly recommend. The Grotto is a cool little cave, complete with a few stalagtites and stalagmites. It is not deep at all, but more of a little sheltered overhang. The roundtrip distance to Pratt Cabin is 4.8 miles and the roundtrip distance to the Grotto is 6.8 miles. The trail is rocky, but well-marked.
The hike up the ridge is an entirely different matter. It is steep, narrow and somewhat overgrown by vegetation. Do not wear short pants. Like the Guadalupe Peak trail, there are sections with steep drop-offs of several hundred feet. If you slip or faint, your fall could lead to serious injury or death. Do not attempt to climb the ridge if you have health conditions or are not in good shape. Also, take plenty of water. There is no water in the backcountry and you will drink more than you think you will need to carry. If you do hike the ridge, you may want to consider camping at the McKittrick Ridge campground overnight. You will need to get a backcountry permit first from the park HQs. This helps the rangers know where people are in the backcountry.
The views are absolutely spectacular. There is one place (informally known as "The Notch") where the trail goes through a notch in the rocks and takes you from one side of the canyon to the other. Also, there is an incredibly scenic part of the trail (I call it "The Bridge") where you walk along the top of the ridgeline with steep (several hundred foot) drop-offs on both sides. Amazing!