Mount Livermore • Highpoint: Jeff Davis County
• Range Highpoint: Davis Mountains

Date Climbed
August 19, 2000

8,378 feet

2 miles round trip

3 hours (hiking)

1,000 feet

Nice but hazy

3,918 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

Entrance to the U-up-U-down
Ranch, with Livermore way
off in the distance

Livermore as seen from
Mount Locke (January 2004)

On the summit

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The Davis Mountains are located in the center of the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas, with its summit, Mount Livermore, the second highest peak in the state after Guadalupe Peak. Mount Livermore (sometimes called Baldy Peak) is an attractive fin of exposed rock jutting above the skyline. The extensive foothills that surround the highest peaks are a mix of forest and grasses, hiding numerous canyons and streams, which historically have been home to ranches and other private lands, with public access into the range being limited to very few places.

Despite the restrictions on access, there is much to do around the Davis Mountains. Fort Davis, the county seat of Jeff Davis County, is a nice city, billing itself as the highest city in the state at over 5,000 feet elevation. Old garrisons at Fort Davis proper are open to the public for walking tours. The McDonald Observatory is nearby, with its various public events. The highways in the hills form loops that attract bicyclists from all over. There's also a Davis Mountains camping area not far out of Fort Davis.

Up until about the late 1990s, access to Mount Livermore was closed to the public, as it and all the surrounding lands were on private property called the U-Up-U-Down Ranch. The Nature Conservancy bought much of the ranch, including Madera Canyon, and turned it into its showcase property, allowing public access and events on a tightly-monitored schedule. For Texans wanting to see what mountains in Texas look like, the Conservancy Lands allow for the best opportunity to get far up into the Davis Range instead of on its perimeter. Unlike the Guadalupe Mountains which are more desert-like, the Davis Mountains are much greener and more like the peaks one might find in the southern Appalachians or Ozarks.

I first became aware of Mount Livermore in late 1999 when planning a Big Bend trip over the 1999-2000 New Years rollover. Knowing little of the peak and of the region, I quickly learned that "just showing up" to hike wasn't going to cut it here. I needed to do some homework first. Nevertheless, on my trip here (I was here first on January 2, 2000), I did some exploration and talked to some people who made me aware of the Nature Conservancy, getting some leads on a future hike. After a few phone calls and emails, I eventually got in touch with Ms. Crawford Marginot, who was a million dollar's worth of help to me. Thoroughly friendly and informative, she let me in on their schedules which at the time were still fairly limited. For instance, access to the summit of Livermore was offered just a couple of times a year, with the weekend of August 19 & 20 of this year being next up, so I made sure to pay my dues, get a plane ticket and be here on that day.

I filled up the intervening months with things like work, sleep, tv, Dodger baseball, and other peaks. August rolled around and I was finally on my way. I flew into El Paso just in time to meet up with the remnants of Hurricane Beryl, which had slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast a few days earlier and now was breaking up over El Paso and New Mexico (and probably Mexico too). I had planned on a hiking up Sierra Blanca in New Mexico the day before, but as I drove up from El Paso into Ruidoso, the storms were brutal, with violent rains and lightning. The next morning I drove up to the Sierra Blanca trailhead but gave up almost immediately, as I hit zero-visibility fog, and the rain was still dropping pretty good.

The amusing post-script to this is this: I'd left my hotel at around 4 a.m., but couldn't get the door to lock! So I left it unlocked and left the key in the room, not planning to come back. Anyway, when I got back into Ruidoso after turning around on Sierra Blanca, I was tired and had no other plans so I simply "broke" into my own room again and slept some more. Who would know, right?

I spent the rest of the day driving south into Texas and the Nature Conservancy lands for the next day's hike up Livermore, arriving in the mid-afternoon. They had campsites set up for us, but all I had brought with me was my biv-sac, so I essentially slept in the open, although I had scored a good tree spot to keep me sheltered above. I spent some of the afternoon milling with the others. Most were from within Texas and most it seemed were here for the birding and other activities they had planned. I'd guess about 100 people where here total. The lands were stunning! All traces of the hurricane were long gone, the day was clear, and I slept well.

Early the next morning I met up with the others interested in the Livermore hike at the main ranch complex. Our group numbered about 20, and we piled into two or three big SUVs, each driven by a guide, as we lumbered slowly up the rough tracks into Madera Canyon toward Livermore Peak. The drive covered about 7 miles and gained 1,500 feet as I recall. It was steep with some rough sections and stream crossings, and the drivers did very well. We eventually parked at an opening on Bridge Gap located just to the east of the peak.

The hike covered about 1.5 miles one way to the top, with a gain of 1,000 feet. The initial leg was along a rough track that was steep in sections, but easy to follow. The guides were locals and knew a lot about the region, and they gave very good talks on just about everything under the sun. As it was, we moved slowly and had to stop often to listen to the talks and let the slow-pokes catch up. We were in no hurry so there wasn't a problem. Normally I'm one of the slow-pokes but today, I was a sprinter compared to some of the others. Another guy with hair and beard longer than mine was also in the lead. He was cool and we'd often sit up a few yards ahead while the group convened and the guides pointed at things.

In time (maybe 90 minutes) we'd reached the end of the road, where it curls around the north side of Livermore's summit, its bare rock forming a small but impressive palisade of cliffs on all sides. From the end of the road, the final vertical hundred feet involves some slightly sloppy talus to get to the solid rock, then a short scramble to the top. The scramble part was very safe with excellent hand and footholds, but very exposed too, and a few people decided to skip the final bit to the top for this reason. Finally, we'd reached the top. The summit was an elongated platform of bare rock, with some small repeater boxes. At the summit was a small depression filled with thousands of old arrowheads and shards, a remarkable archeological artifact with a great story attached, I am sure.

The dozen or so of us remaining crowded around the top, although there was plenty of room. The guides told us about everything, and I had fun picking out peaks all around me. The Guadalupes were plainly visible to the north, and the Eagles off to the west. The day was slightly humid and hazy, so far-off peaks were kind of obscured. We stayed on top for 15 minutes before working our way down the tricky moves and on to firmer ground. Hiking down, we followed an old trail instead of the road, which was much more interesting and lead us right back to the cars. Our total time: three hours. Once all heads were accounted for, we got back in the vehicles for the slow drive out. I didn't stick around much afterwards: I had to be in El Paso that evening for my flight home, and needed a place to clean up. I got moving, found a truck stop near El Paso to shower and clean up, and flew home that night. The next day classes started at ASU and I needed to be ready to go.

In all, the trip went very well and with nearly no logistical issues. I wish to thank Ms. Marginot and the Nature Conservancy as well as the guides for the hike. They all did a top-rate job and I had a great time. The Davis Mountains are very beautiful and I have been back since a couple times, once to bring my wife and do some sight-seeing at the observatory and around the lonely highways.

(c) 2000, 2011 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.