Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mt. Taylor (11,301 ft.)

9 October, 2012: We ended up with a day with no firm commitments, so Suzanne (to my surprise, somewhat) suggested that we take the day, just a few before our anniversary, to drive out west and hit Mount Taylor. We had been to the trailhead the previous fall, and it looked like a fairly easy, short hike.
Taylor has a lot of unusual characteristics to recommend it. Ranking only 65th in elevation in New Mexico, it is one of only four peaks in the state with over 4,000 feet of prominence. Thus, it is isolated and visible for great distances. This contributes to its being the southernmost of the Navajos' four “sacred” peaks; their name for it translates as “turquoise mountain.” It is also the high point of Cibola County, and the highest peak in the Zeboletta range, which sits just east of the Continental Divide.
So it was worth the rather long drive to the town of Grants. From Grants, we took NM 547 northeast up Lobo Canyon, for about 12 miles, to FR 193. Five miles east and south on 193 brought us to the clearly marked trailhead. From here, the literature indicates that it is about 3 miles, and almost exactly 2,000 vertical feet to the summit.
The first third of the trail meanders through mixed pine, deciduous, and aspen forest, gradually rising up the (climber's) right side of the Gooseberry Creek drainage. We found it totally dry, and didn't take the short diversion which the map indicates would take us to the actual Gooseberry Spring, for which the trail (also officially known as Trail 77) is named. Slowly pulling up from the drainage bottom, the trail finally emerges from the trees at just about the same point that it finally hits the gently rounded crest of the ridge southeast of the creek. We were not above timberline—none of this trip is—but geography and climate have conspired to render the south slopes of this mountain above about 10,000 feet mostly devoid of trees. As a result, the views begin to open up at this elevation, including a fairly clear view of the summit area.
When we stopped for a food, water, and rest break, however, Suzanne was rather suddenly beset with altitude symptoms. We lingered nearly 20 minutes to see if her discomfort would pass, as she had been doing really well up until that point. She finally said that she still felt weak, however, and decided to start back down, imploring me to make a fast break for the summit. I was reluctant to leave here, but I could clearly see that I could make the summit fairly quickly. I also felt confident that I could probably get back to her even before she made it back to the car. So, after exhorting her as gently but firmly as I could to be careful on the way down, I took off uphill at the best pace I could manage.
After just a couple hundred feet, the steep section of trail we were on reached another ridge crest and leveled out substantially, so I was indeed able to keep motoring toward the top at a respectable pace. In less than 15 minutes, I found myself at the base of the large, prominent set of switchbacks that lead to the actual summit area. We'd seen these switchbacks almost as soon as we emerged from the trees, and can be clearly be seen from closer up in one of the photos I took at about this point.
The wind came up a bit, so, despite the continuing clear sunshine, I left my long sleeves and earmuffs on as I powered my way up the final slopes. Just after the trail goes through a gate in a cattle fence (see photos on this one, too), I rounded one more corner to the right and found myself looking up at the large sign which marks the summit. It had taken me just 52 minutes to climb the last 1,200 feet.
The views from this mountain are impressive, especially to the east and south. On a clearer day—which, unfortunately, this wasn't—I'm sure both Arizona and Colorado could be seen. (Tress blanketing the north side make views in that direction much harder.)
I spent just four minutes on the top, but took twenty-odd pictures, including a full panorama. Then it was time to high-tail it down, as I needed to get back to Suzanne as quickly as possible. I decided to pick up my trekking poles by the middles, and run down. Once I got going, this felt great. I hadn't actually had a really satisfying mountain trail run for quite a while, and I worked into it very nicely. The fact that the trail is really superb most of the way, eliminating most of the danger of slipping and falling.
I had initially hoped to make an out-and-back to hit UN 10607, which sits less than a mile to the east of Taylor, but the need to hurry made foregoing that an easy one to pass on. However, as I know very few people have climbed this gentle peak, compared to the number who have reached Taylor's summit, I have to plan on going back some other day.
When I reached the spot where I had left Suzanne, just 35 minutes off the summit, I found that she had a total lead on me of just about 90 minutes. Figuring that I was right on the cusp of catching her still on the trail, I paused just briefly for some water and a picture or two, then took off with renewed energy.
Surprised that I still hadn't seen a single other hiker on this gorgeous fall day, I slid back down into the trees, continuing to enjoy the great quality of the trail. Sure enough, I came up behind Suzanne just at the top of the final hill, about five minutes' walk from the trailhead. Time down: 1:05.
I'm now looking forward to engineering trips to bag the three remaining 4k prominence peaks.
Pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!


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