Friday, October 04, 2013



South Sandia Peak (9,782 ft.)
or: Marjean's First Summit

1 October, 2013: Still whittling away at the many ranked peaks contained within the Sandia Wilderness, I decided that Marjean, my sweet little rescue dog, was finally ready for a major hike/climb. So we headed out to the Embudo trailhead on the east edge of Albuquerque.
I chose this peak and route because the distance given on the description on SummitPost was only 6.4 miles. In retrospect, I think this figure is seriously low. I think it was really more like twice that! Still, we made it, although it taxed poor Marjean to the limit.
We linked four trails for this route: The Embudo Canyon trail, then a left onto the 3 Guns trail, then a right onto the Embudito  trail, finally linking up with the Crest trail for the final push to the summit. For the first mile or so, the Embudo trail is a bit hard to follow along the bottom of the drainage. But, if you just keep heading upstream, a clear trail finally emerges. The trail junctions, and the other trails, are all deliciously clear and easy to follow. 
The junction with the Crest trail is marked only with a rock cairn, and you have to know (or guess right) to make a sharp left to follow the Crest trail north, on one of the rare sections where it actually traverses below the ridge crest on the west side. Contrary to what most maps show, there is actually a trail right to the summit.
We saw hardly anyone all day, but did meet a hiker named Otis at the summit, who took the photo above.
More photos are at:

https://picasaweb.google.com/100899014042863795610/SouthSandiaPeak

RT: 7 hrs., 30 min. (including 20 min. at the top)
Vert.: 3,360 ft.

Long life and many peaks!

Saturday, September 21, 2013


North Sandia Peak (10,447 ft.)


18 September, 2013: This peak, while highly visible from the north, is actually unranked. My real purpose in heading up toward it was to scout out its neighbor to the south, the Needle, which is ranked, and one of the most challenging climbs on the Sandia Crest quad. If I had had more time,I would have made at least a start at climbing the Needle, but I was under time constraints and couldn't do a really long day.
I started from the only trailhead available that doesn't have a parking fee attached: the Tunnel
Springs trailhead far on the north side of the Sandia massif. As it turned out, this didn't matter on this particular trip, as, due to her own schedule constraints, my darling Suzanne had agreed to drop me off at the trailhead in the morning and then pick me up at the end of my hike. But, if you're planning this route without a helpful driver, you'll appreciate the fact that you can leave your car at this trailhead on any schedule that suits you without having to pay a fee.
The Tunnel Springs trail connects to the main Crest Trail in two ways: There's a long, gently sloped loop which takes off to the east from the parking lot, or a much shorter, steep and loose trail up the drainage directly to the south which quickly makes the connection. I had taken the long route the previous summer with my brother, coming down the drainage for a loop. Based on this experience, I knew that the short route was entirely doable, and would suit my needs well on this trip. So, up it I went. I found the route better than I remembered, easy to follow and occasionally cairned, and in about 25 minutes I was on the first of many switchbacks of the Crest Trail.
The trail wanders east and west, up to and away from the actual crest, in long, lazy switchbacks, as it heads generally south and up. Along the way, it meets several other trails coming up from the east (none from the west!). For this reason, the whole gently sloped eastern side of the massif is covered with a network of trails, a potential runner's paradise. Along the way, I found myself signing my song of the day: the love theme from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (in both English and French). Why? No idea.
Up to 9,200 feet or so, the vegetation is dominated by scrub brush and grasses, but, finally, the trail plunges into a stand of actual trees. From there on, the landscape begins to resemble what I'm more accustomed to seeing in Colorado: Aspen forests, mixed with a bit of evergreen, and a forest floor of leaf litter and wildflowers. Asters in particular were out in abundance.
At the first western overlook where the trail briefly comes out of this forest, I found the junction of the “10K” trail (apparently popular with cross country skiers in the winter), as well as their first view of the summit of North Sandia (see photos). There is also a low wall of stonework, which I assume was built by the WPA some eighty years ago. In fact, most of the overlooks featured some sort of structure of this sort, which provides a convenient place to sit and enjoy the view.
Plunging back into the forest, I got out my GPS and began looking for the best place to leave the trail and head west and up to the summit. I actually backtracked a bit after going farther south than the literature latitude of the summit. In the end, I more or less arbitrarily picked a spot which seemed to be roughly on the ridge and sported a relatively sparse tree cover. It only took a few minutes to get to where I could see that the slope was relenting and the summit could not be far away. I could also see, finally, the Needle, which I stopped to photograph.
Then, as I turned uphill again, I made a discovery. There _is_ a trail leading to the summit, even though it doesn't appear on the topo map. To my surprise, I met a group of three hikers who had come from the south. From them, I learned that the trail comes off of the main Crest Trail somewhere between Sandia and North Sandia. Looking to minimize the bushwhacking, I followed the trail down for a ways, but decided to go back to bushwhacking before reaching the trail. I didn't have to bushwhack much to re-connect with the main trail.
After one slight scare where the trail didn't seem to look familiar—leading me to think I might somehow have missed a turn—I once again spied known landmarks and sped on down. The sun came out and stayed out about 5 hours into my hike. So, I slathered on some sunblock, and considered taking off my pant legs. I considered it, but didn't do it, because I wasn't really hot, and that would have required more sunblock.
On the last leg, I found the gully back to the trailhead to be easier than I remembered. Maybe it was just familiarity, as this was time number three, but the trail is actually easy to follow, cairned here and there, and really no worse than Class 2+. One last summer hike!
Photographs are at:


RT: 13.6 mi., 7 hrs., 40 min.
Vert.: ~4,000 ft.

Long life and many peaks!


Thursday, August 22, 2013


Crestone Peak (14,298 ft.)
East Crestone (14, 260 ft.)

7 & 8 August, 2013: This was to be my second attempt to knock off the fabled Crestone-Peak-to-Crestone-Needle traverse this summer. The weather was still awful. After a night in Westcliffe, we drove to the South Colony Lakes TH, finally loaded ourselves up with expedition packs, and hiked up the old road/new trail to Lower South Colony Lake. It took longer than it should have, as I am just not accustomed to carrying that much weight these day. Note to self for next year: start serious hiking and climbing earlier than August!
But, we finally got to the lake. Off and on rain had already started when we set up camp just off the trail near the "Crestone Needle, Standard Route" sign. We had already decided that Wednesday was just going to be a rest day, so that we could get a early start on Thursday morning without feeling tired. Sure enough, much of the afternoon was drenched in rain and hiking would have been miserable, which put the kibosh on possible plans to climb something short that afternoon. And so, to bed...
Dim and early Thursday, we hit the trail, well bundled up against the chill, with dawn only just breaking. Broken Hand Pass was work, as always, but we got to the top shortly after 7 am.
As we dropped down toward Cottonwood Lake, on a good trail, we still had partly blue sky, and the day began to warm up. Once at the lake, we shed some clothes and donned helmets while eyeing the Red Gully.
The Gully was much as I remembered it, and didn't seem nearly as intimidating this time. I confidently forged a path through slabs and cliffs, up the left side. As usual, water flowed continuously down the center of the drainage.
We made good progress, but we were climbing into increasing fog and clouds. By the time we hit the top of the gully--the saddle between the two summits--we were effectively in pea soup, with visibility reduced to less than 100 ft. But, we headed left and ascended the great ledges which grant access to the summit ridge. We got there just before 10 am. Unable to see whether or not serious weather was moving in, let alone see our route, we made the final decision to forego the traverse.
It turned out to be clearly the right decision. Just as we passed Cottonwood Lake, light rain began to fall. After a few minutes, a little graupel was mixed into it. After a few more minutes, instead of letting  up, the rain intensified and the wind came up. We had been just about on the verge of peeling off some layers, but, instead, we bundled  back up, pulled up our hoods, and started what looked to be a long, miserable trudge up the pass.
Not only did the rain (and wind) not let up as we climbed the pass, it continued--with the wind, amazingly, seeming to reverse directions at the top--and made most of the descent of the pass slow and uncomfortable as well. Thus, wet and tired, we arrived back at a wet camp somewhere around 3 pm. After a brief break for hot drinks, we launched into the drudgerous task of packing up our wet gear in the rain. What fun! I don't know how many pounds of extra weight in water we slung on our backs for the trek out, but it sure didn't help. Late, late in the afternoon, we finally stumbled around the last bend and was the welcome sight of James' truck at the trailhead.
After another exercise in wetness to get our gear back into the truck, we could finally get off our feet for the 2½-or-so drive back to the lower trailhead, where Trisha was waiting for me.


photos are at:

https://picasaweb.google.com/100899014042863795610/CrestonePeakRedux

RT: 5.2 mi. (without hike out)
Vert.: 3,680 ft.

Long life and many peaks!

Sunday, August 18, 2013


UN 13,828 ("Huerfano Peak")
Iron Nipple (13,500 ft.)

6 August, 2013: After returning from California Peak the previous day, we (James, George, and I) moved James' SUV and thereby moved our camp from the Lower Huerfano TH, about one mile up the road to the Upper Huerfano TH, sometimes known as the Lily Lake TH. This is the end of the vehicle road. We got—for a change—a decent, full night's sleep.
There was rain and noisy wind during much of the night, making us reluctant to crawl out of our bags and poke our heads out in the morning. The result of this was that we once again got a late start by mountaineering standards. We hit the trail around 6:30 am.
Once again, the morning sky was largely clear early on, but we tried to make good time, expecting some clouding over later. After crossing the Huerfano River a mile or so in, we hit the section where the trail is braided and sketchy. It was still hard to follow—despite having been there twice before—untl the trail settled in alongside the river tumbling down the steep section of its drainage.
Clouds were already gathering by the time we broke out above timberline and began the steep climb to the Mt. Lindsey/Iron Nipple saddle. We met a descending climber who had gotten a more sensible alpine start (i.e., before sunrise) and successfully climbed Lindsey. He advised against attempting Lindsey in view of the incoming weather. This was something of a disappointment to James and George, who, up until that time, had harbored hopes of doing just that in conjunction with Huerfano. But, being realistic, we all agreed that the wise thing to do was make directly for Huerfano, and re-evaluate the weather when we got there to see if, just maybe, Lindsey could be done second.
I say “directly” but that's a poor description of our actual route. It turns out that the crux of a climb of Huerfano by this route is getting either over or around the summit of Iron Nipple. To avoid giving up substantial elevation to bypass “the Nipple” entirely on its south side, we had to come very close to its summit. So, the decision was easy to go ahead and climb it. Neither of my co-conspirators had previously climbed Iron Nipple, and it gave us a good view of the start of our ridge traverse to Huerfano. I installed a register for Iron Nipple, and we set off down the ridge.
That descent off the summit was definitely the toughest climbing of the day. We descended on rough—though not particularly loose—talus near the ridge crest, to and actually a little beyond the low point between the two peaks. After that, we were back on gently sloped tundra, only occasionally interspersed with small rocks, until we neared the summit of Huerfano.
There's a small, rocky summit area along a curving ridgeline, which we reached as light rain mixed with graupel began to fall. It wasn't particularly cold or windy, but we could see more clouds moving in from the south and west. It was clear that foregoing Lindsey had been, and still was the right decision. So, after a few minutes' celebration and picture-taking, we began re-tracing our steps.
Of course, we still couldn't get all the way back without, once again, having a couple of small route finding adventures in the braided section of the trail (just before the river crossing), but we did make it down in less time than up. Some pictures are at:

We made it back to the TH well before sunset, loosely packed up, and headed down the road with Westcliffe as our goal. We planned on a good dinner in town, and a comfortable night in a motel before packing into the South Colony Lakes TH the next morning.

RT: 7.9 mi.
Vert.: 3,630 ft.

Long life and many peaks!




Wednesday, August 14, 2013


California Peak (13,849 ft.)

5 August, 2013: After having been picked up in Rio Rancho by new hiking partners James and George the evening before, we drove north to Colorado. We arrived at the Lower Huerfano TH (37.6389° N, 105.4712° W), up the river from the tiny town of Gardner at about 11:30 pm. After deploying the amazing car-top tent (see photos), we set the alarm for a lazy 5 am, and settled in for a half-night's sleep.
We followed the good Zapata Trail through a series of switchbacks in lush forest, up to a saddle on California's long north ridge. From there, it's technically easy going, but this route is a real test of patience. We counted four major false summits, plus numerous smaller ridge bumps, which had to add at least 500 vertical feet to the climb.
Still, it was an enjoyable ridge run in generally pleasant, sunny conditions. We finally hit the summit somewhere around noon. Because this peak doesn't see a lot of traffic, few people get the truly amazing view of the Blanca group fourteeners that one gets from here (again, see photos).
This was a new peak for all of us, and brought me to 62 centennials.
Some pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Sandia Crest (10,678 ft.)
Sandia Wilderness HP (10,620 ft.)
The Thumb (10,107 ft.)


23 May, 2013:
Part 1: Sandia Crest and Sandia Wilderness Highpoint
Sandia Peak (or Sandia Crest), of course, dominates the view from anywhere in the Albuquerque area. It is to Albuquerque as Pikes Peak is to Colorado Springs. It is also one of only four peaks in New Mexico with over 4,000 feet of prominence. Still, I had never climbed it. But the needed factors finally came together: A day of great weather, and the ability to let the car sit idle at the trailhead most of the day.
I figured if I was going to invest that much drive distance and that much trail distance in the peak, I might as well make the small additions of two other worthy goals, both of which are located just a hop-skip-and-a-jump off the La Luz trail which leads to the summit. The Sandia Wilderness High Point is just that—not even a peak, just a slope point on the wilderness boundary. But, what the heck, it is, as they say, “on the list.” And only a few extra minutes would suffice to bag it.
The Thumb, on the other hand, is one of the seven other ranked peaks which dot the Sandia Crest topo quad. And unlike the main summit, this is no walk-up. Its easiest route is Class 3, and its little summit is a dramatic island in the sky. So, as long as time permitted a modest diversion from the basic route, I couldn't see passing this one up.
I didn't get as early a start as I would have liked, but I had all day. So, I wasn't worried when I left the TH at 7:38 am. I had taken the time to strip off my long pants and long sleeves right from the start. A trail seems to head off to the left and uphill, but I soon found out that the correct route is the more level one to the right.
Over the next couple of hours, I was surprised by the number of other, minor trails which weave around and across the La Luz. It would be interesting to explore some of them. Fortunately, there is good signage anywhere a hiker might really be tempted to take a wrong turn. Thus, I made good progress, passing a trail junction signpost telling me I had come 2.4 miles in well under an hour, and another one giving the distance as 2.9 miles at right around one hour. Along about here, I began to leave the New Mexico desert landscape, and transition into something more like familiar Colorado mountain forests.
The trail is heavily switchbacked all the way up, owing to the heavily convoluted nature of the land. That's why the trail is 7.2 miles long instead of something like four. I believe I counted 17 switchbacks before reaching the summit. Mostly they're long and lazy, as the well-built trail minimizes the grade up steep cañon walls.
About 0.6 miles from the top (according to the sign), the trail reaches a small saddle where a sign informs one that proceeding on horseback is prohibited because there are stairs ahead. It's true! I soon encountered a flight of 36 concrete steps built into the side of the mountain. My guess is WPA. This is in the one place where lazy switchbacks finally don''t suffice to get through or around the prominent cliff band just below the summit, which can be prominently seen from the trail below.
After that, there are just a couple more switchbacks before walking out onto the huge paved area at the summit. I spent about half an hour there, taking pictures, strolling over to the highpoint, and eating lunch. When I finally started back down, I paused at a switchback point which overlooks a portion of the trail. I studied it carefully, as that leads to...
Part 2: The Thumb
Seven or eight switchbacks off the summit, the trail passes directly under the northeast side of the Thumb. My reading of the topo map indicates that this is at about 9,560 ft. I studied it carefully from above to help me find the right exit point. That point is at the base of a steep boulder field, which leads up toward a saddle between the Thumb and another rock outcropping to the east. It took me about 20 minutes to get up the boulder field. Most of the boulders are large, but, fortunately, most of it was very solid and immobile.
A short hike up through some trees then led to a headwall about 10 feet high. Climbing that, via the one available weakness, put me right on the crest of the ridge. Then the standout climbing of the day began.
I turned right and was immediately confronted with the first obstacle: a section of bare slab rock which had to be climbed. I would have to get up it mostly on friction. It's not that there were really no cracks or ledges for hands and feet, but they had to be looked for carefully, and they were all small. Fortunately, the rock offers good texture. Still, the feeling working up this section is very exposed and vulnerable. Had the rock been at all wet, it might have been distinctly worse and more dangerous.
Did I just say “exposed”? What was I thinking? After the slab walking, I came to the real exposure on this route.
This peak is a fin of rock. Both sides are steep. The right (northeast) side isn't as close to vertical, but near the crest, it consists mostly of more of those sloping slabs—with precious little on which to plant one's feet or hands. Thus, the “easiest,” and safest, route, involves consistently staying to the left, right at the top of the cliff which falls away to the left. It's virtually vertical, the the fractured nature of the rock on that side means that there really are many small ledges, flakes, and cracks offering secure purchase.
I benefited greatly from the route description on summitpost.org, which emphasizes staying to the left, despite the temptation to go right. At one point, there is a blind corner, where the route over the precipice seems to lead out into thin air. But if you go right to the limit of what you can see, and peek around the rock you're grabbing on your right, you miraculously find a tiny staircase of ledges and handholds leading very easily up to the next small plateau.
Just above that, I eased myself up a very exposed chimney which probably qualifies as the crux of the route. The handholds are there, but they have to be searched for, and, especially on the way down, I stretched carefully and tentatively to keep in compliance with the rule of 3. The point here is, time and again, the climber must ignore the temptation of what looks like an easy way out of the exposure, and keep stringing together tiny handholds hanging over hundreds of feet of empty air.
After navigating what is probably no more than an eighth of a mile from the headwall, I finally crawled out of the top of a small crack onto terrain where I could walk again. The cairn marking the summit was clearly visible less than 100 feet away.
As expected, I found a Mike Garratt register. Not as expected, I found that even though it was only two years old, there were 131 entries! My initial shock was tempered by noticing that a handful of the names repeated over and over. Apparently this is a very popular climb with accomplished rock climbers in the area, as many of these entries also noted that they had used the northwest ridge route (5.6 – 5.9).
Due to its position, this peak offers a unique look at the west side of Sandia. You can see a couple of sections of the trail far below, as well as a vertical view of the surroundings, including a close view of the one intermediate support point of the tramway cables to the south.
After about 15 minutes on the summit, I headed down. In a couple of places, negotiating the difficulties going down was a bit tougher than doing so on the way up. It did, however, help that I was now confident of the route, and I only had to face in at one point, that being the exposed chimney. When I got down below the headwall, I worked my way along the westward (left) side of the boulder field. I found that in some places (especially near the bottom) I could escape the boulders altogether, and take the softer ground under the trees. When I got back to the trail, I glanced at my watch and found that the total time for my excursion had been one hour and thirty-four minutes. One of the best hour-and-a-half periods I ever invested in anything!
Part3: Back to the trailhead
By the time I started back down the trail, the afternoon had heated up and it felt like summer. I was surprised to find very few people on the trail despite the beautiful weather. After a while, I slathered a little bit more sunblock on my legs and began to consider how long it would actually take me to get back. I was pleased (and maybe a bit surprised) to find that my knees and ankles were holding up quite well after a winter without any long hikes. Somewhere around 3 pm, I met one other runner who was coming up. We talked briefly, as he was interested in my times—probably assessing whether or not he had really made a realistic decision by heading up from the trailhead so late in the day.
He was the last person I encountered before getting back to the parking lot, just about 3:45. As I had originally allotted 10 hours for this round trip, I felt pretty good about the day.

Some photos are at:


RT (total) : 15.7 mi.
Time: 8:06
Vert:4,260 ft.
RT (Sandia only): 14.4 mi.
Time (moving, excluding time on summit): 6:13
Vert: 3,670 ft.
RT (Thumb only): 0.54 mi.
Time: 1:34
Vert: 450 ft.

Long life and many peaks!


Friday, October 19, 2012



Mount Ouray (13,971 ft.)

17 October, 2012: On the way up to Colorado Springs, I took a detour off US 285 to hit Centennial 13er Mt. Ouray. I knew it would be windy, but I didn't know how windy. I know there were gusts of at least 50 mph, and I strongly suspect that some were over 70 mph. Even with double layer gloves, the tips of my fingers got cold, despite the fact that the actual temperature never got down anywhere near freezing.  As a result, I wasn't willing to bare my hands, even briefly, to take any pictures at the higher elevations. I literally couldn't stay upright on numerous occasions. Even worse, I had to crawl on all fours, both up and down, for roughly the top 1,000 feet. This made for very slow going, and a much   longer day than planned.
A few pictures are at

https://picasaweb.google.com/tcogwr/MountOuray

RT: ~6 miles
Vert.: 3,100 ft.
crew: just me

Long life and many peaks!