The La Luz hiking trail in the Sandia Mountains right outside of Albuquerque is one of, if not the, most popular hiking trail in central New Mexico. We have been on this trail two times before. The first time we hiked up and then across the mountain to take the aerial tram car back down. The second time we went out to hike to the Sandia Crest (10,678’) and then back down. However, we severely underestimated trail conditions and hit fresh snow that was almost a foot in drifts. So, we turned around and headed for home.
We wanted to start our 2020 hiking year off with a bang, Ladron was a dud on New Year’s day, so we came back to our nemesis from 2019 and accomplish the whole monster of La Luz in one go. This time we were not going to let a lack of preparedness be our downfall. We anticipated snow/ice towards the top so we brought our trail crampons and rented some MSR snowshoes from REI. It took a little playing around to get the snowshoes strapped to our packs the night before but we figured we would be ready for any conditions we might encounter.
Knowing it would be a long day we woke up a little after 6am on Sunday. The alarm was set for 6 but the snooze was hit once or twice before we managed to get up. We threw all of our gear in the Jeep and made a quick stop at Starbucks for some much needed caffeine. We started our hike about 15 minutes before 8am. So much for a semi-alpine start. The first four miles are a gradual uphill that covers about 1,200’ of vertical gain which we managed to do in right at one hour and 30 minutes. We have a spot on the trail right at the 4 mile mark that we like to take a little break. Within the next mile the snow started to become more consistent and had thawed and then re-frozen as ice in places. I might have taken a solid slide right onto my ass on one such section.
At 1:50ish into the hike we hit the 5 mile marker. At this point La Luz has a warning sign that beyond that point the trail may be impassable in winter due to snow/ice. For some geological reason, probably the lack of sun on this section, the rest of the trail has a lot more snow than the lower section; It’s almost like a line has been drawn across the mountain with that white crayon no child ever uses. Unlike our last time the trail seemed much more packed down so we put on our hiking gaiters and started up the 17 switchbacks that make up the next 2 mile section that gains 1100ish feet. We just kept going back and forth and it never seemed like it would end. The snow made for slow going. The trail was so chewed up and the path so narrow that we decided against the snow shoes and just walked it. Most of the snow would hold our weight however every so often we would punch through an air pocket and fall up to about knee high. So bumbling like a bunch of drunks we slowly made our way up to the 7 mile marker.
The 7 mile marker was our previous high point. There are two options there: the path across the mountain to the tram or the path up to the Sandia Crest. This time we were dead set on making it to the crest. I was also dead set on using the snowshoes that I had carried for the better part of 3 hours so far. So I started breaking trail up the crest trail in my fancy snowshoes. I had fun in my snowshoes for about a whopping 20 minutes before we hit a staircase in the trail that was completely frozen over. So off came the snowshoes and on went the our trail crampons. Snowshoes were fun while they lasted.
After we managed the frozen staircase we had to do some traverses that definitely pushed the limits of our experience. There were sections of trail across ice chutes that hadn’t been hiked since the last slide. They were pretty steep in the area of 35 degrees and the runout was long and treacherous. Man, the one time I didn’t bring my sweet ice axe and I could have actually used it. Luckily the snow was pretty soft with an icy crust so we could kick in steps across the chute. We covered three such chutes in our journey to the crest. One of those chutes was an accident because we had gotten off trail by continuing straight instead of making the switchback that we couldn’t see at all under the snow.
A little bit of sketchy snow hiking and a total of 8.5 miles in 3:45 of moving time we reached the Sandia Crest. It was a pretty surreal achievement that we legitimately worked hard for. Slightly undermined due to the crowds taking pictures at the top, you can drive up the backside of the mountain. So we didn’t spend much time at the top but went a little ways back down the trail to gather up our gear and start the return trek. The thought of taking the tram down was seriously debated but it would only cut so much off of the hike as we would have to hike back across the base of the mountain from one trailhead to another. Plus, we had really set out to do the whole trail, the shebang of going up and then coming back down.
The going on the way back was noticeably easier on the stamina but really beat up the body. We stayed on trail so we didn’t have to cross one of the chutes and we had already kicked the steps in on the way up so the way back was easier work. It really was an uneventful trip down that we just wanted to finish. Once the motivation to summit was gone it was more of an effort to gut it out to the finish. Especially, as the pain and soreness of a long day. Achy knees due to a long list of previous injuries started to make their discomfort known and feet felt like they had been hit with a meat tenderizer. Even though there was a little discomfort we made it back down to the car in some semblance of one piece. It really was a great feeling to get all the way up and back down under our own power. It was also more about setting a goal and achieving it even if we failed to do so twice before.
All told according to Strava run on my Apple Watch we covered 16.72 miles with 4,732’ of elevation gain with a moving time of 7:05. It was our biggest day by mileage, elevation gain, and time. I remember our first backpacking trip back in Arkansas of the Butterfield Hiking Trail. We did an overnight to cover the 15 miles of the trail and I wondered back then if I could ever do that in a single day. Well we managed to cover a little extra with three times the elevation for good measure. We’re going to have to make a trip back to Arkansas just to do the Butterfield in a single day now.
After our large failure last weekend of La Luz at roughly 14 miles, a 10k trail run with the Trail Doggo on Saturday, and a backlog of chores it seemed like something easier to just get us outside would be the best way to finish off the weekend. So I found a loop route on All Trails that was a mashup of several trails just south of Tijeras which made for about a 5 mile hike that was only a 35ish minute drive away.
Our route started from the trailhead down the Tunnel Canyon (05145) Trail. It was a super easy trail to follow but pretty muddy due to melt off from the recent snow a couple of weeks ago. It was a gentle uphill but only gained about 500’ in the first 2.3 miles when our route intersected the Western Ridge (05268) Trail. The All Trails route called for a 0.5 mile out section to hit the Otero Canyon Trail the another 0.5 mile back. We didn’t really see the point in doing that so we skipped it and just took the Western Ridge Trail the other direction 0.3 miles to hit the Birdhouse Ridge (05411) Trail.
The Birdhouse Ridge Trail paralleled the original route we started but on the upper part of the ridge. It provided much better views than the Tunnel Canyon section. Might have to go back in the spring to see if the Tunnel Canyon section has more foliage resulting in better views. There were several icy sections that where slick especially when the Trail Doggo decided to give an inopportune pull of the leash. But they were too short to justify getting out our spikes. The trail did provide a really cool view of the Sandia Mountains from the East side. Usually we see the mountains from the west living in Albuquerque. There was also a nice overlook about half a mile from from the trailhead. But all in all it was a rather uneventful but easy hike.
The trails are really meant for mountain biking but I could definitely see doing some trail running on them. The whole thing is just a series of interconnected trails that could be done in any number of combinations to achieve whatever distance or time goal you were looking to do. Our particular route was just one I found on All Trails. However, it definitely made for a nice change of pace by providing a really easy day of hiking not far from home. We ended up with 5.4 miles covered in a little over two hours with 719’ of elevation gain.
This last weekend we made another attempt at the famous La Luz trail in the Sandia Mountains and for the second time we failed to reach the summit. This time, it all came down to being unprepared for the trail conditions we encountered.
La Luz (Trail #137) is one of the most popular trails in the Sandia Mountains right on the edge of Albuquerque. The trail starts at 7,050’ and goes up for 7.5 to 8 miles depending on if you go to the Sandia Crest Summit or over to the Tramway. During those miles La Luz gains over 3,775’ of elevation and passes through several different climate zones. Because the full out and back trip is 15-16 miles most people hike sections of La Luz or only hike the up section. There is an aerial tramway that can be used for the descent.
Back in late September, about a month after moving to Albuquerque, was our first attempt of La Luz in which we hiked up and over to the tramway and rode it down. According to my gps on that trip we did 9 miles with 3,773’ of elevation gain. However, as we only did the up and decided against the extra mile round trip to reach the Sandia Crest, we knew we would have to go back to make the “full” trip.
We woke up a little before 7am and made the customary Starbucks stop, we need really need a sponsorship from them, and started our second ascent of La Luz right around 8:15am. We received several inches of snow two weeks ago in Albuquerque which hasn’t completely melted in the mountains. So we brought along our Hillsound Trial Crampons assuming that whatever snow was still on the trial would be packed down into ice as La Luz is probably the most popular trail in the Sandia’s.This assumption would be our undoing.
The first 5 miles of La Luz went by pretty quickly. We covered them all at between 2.3 and 2.6 mph and that was while gaining almost 2,100 vertical feet. The only problem was that part of the way up we realized through a packing mishap that only one pair of the trail crampons had made it into the packs. So we had some pretty big concerns about our ability to cover the last couple of miles if the ice we were expecting was present. This was also amplified when two hikers on the way down asked if we had brought our spikes and warned we would need them. However, one said something strange when he mentioned a foot of snow.
La Luz covers several different environmental zones starting in the desert and working it’s way up. The 5 mile mark is one of the bigger changes as the trail starts to have an alpine feel about it. This is also the point where traveling higher up on the trail becomes difficult in the winter. There is actually signage at this point warning that the trail ahead may be impassable due to snow and ice. Like I mentioned earlier, we assumed due to the lack of fresh snow and the popularity of the trail that any snow that still remained would be packed down into a layer of ice. We could not have been more wrong!
Once we crossed the 5 mile mark and started the series of switchbacks that criss cross a boulder field the unpacked snow was at least 6 inches deep and noticeably higher in places. We were not prepared at all for these conditions. I had opted for my Saucony Peregrine ISO trail runners over my Salomon’s with Gor-Tex. The Saucony Peregrine’s are super comfy and also very breathable, not waterproof in the least. Also, both of us neglected to bring gaiters. We had just assumed there was no way that the trail would have significant unpacked snow.
We couldn’t just give up so we decided to give it the old college try. Luckily, someone had broken some trail before us but it was a single set of footprints that plunged 6 inches into the snow. We tried our best to step into the tracks but we only managed to cover a mile in the next 30 minutes and I could feel my socks soaking through from the snow. At mile 6 our hopes were dashed when the tracks stopped and the trail continued on unbroken. We were a mile or so from the summit but we knew there was no way we could break fresh trail through 6 plus inches of snow without freezing our feet. Neither of us had waterproof boots, gaiters, and only one set of trail spikes between the two of us. So sadly we turned around and spent another 30 plus minutes trudging back down the snow field, which was actually worse than going up.
The path back down was uneventful. Once we were back below the 5 mile mark we were able to pick up the pace again. I still think going down on trails is way harder on the body than going up. The effort might be easier but it just feels like it beats my knees up. At 9 miles in we did a small off trail section out on a ridge. It had a little bit of exposure but definitely provided some of the best photos of the day looking back up into the Sandia’s. Someone took a small fall right into a cactus and scrapped up their knee. Nothing too crazy just one more thing to add to the less than ideal trip.
Back on the trail we coasted down and finished up with 13.85 miles according to Strava run on my Apple Watch. We covered 3,065’ of elevation gain with a moving time of 5:30 at an average speed of 2.5mph. Total time was 6 hours and 2 minutes.
It was really disappointing to fail to summit the Sandia Crest this time. We were both feeling great and moved pretty quickly up the mountain without taking too many breaks. The weather was phenomenal! The trail conditions were just not at all what we had expected and we could have managed the last mile or so through the snow without issue if we had brought the proper gear. Our winter hike of Mount Taylor had way more snow but we were prepared for that. Really sucks to fail due to lack of preparation not technical skill or physical abilities. But we live and learn and will be better prepared for next time and our third attempt at La Luz.
After a big last couple of weekends hiking and a hectic holiday weekend I decided to do a solo trip on Sunday. My goal was to take my hiking doggo, Ripley the German Shepherd, and just get in some easy miles. So I went looking through Alltrails for something that would fit my criteria and settled on the Stripmine Extended Trail Loop, that’s the spelling on Alltrails but the trail is actually Strip Mine #51. It is listed at 5.6 miles with 1,059’ of elevation gain. The route is located on the northern edge of the Sandia Mountains by the town of Placitas. I have never been hiking in this part of the Sandias before so why not.
Ripley and I got up out of bed around 7:30am without an alarm. Like I said my goal was a relaxed day of hiking. We ended up leaving right around 8am and made our customary Starbucks stop for a coffee and a pupcup. Then we made the 25ish minute drive up to the trailhead which was empty except for two other cars. I grabbed my pack and got out my new Patagonia R2 Techface Hoody-which I was excited to use. We set off and didn’t make it 100 yards before someone, aka the trail doggo, decided she needed to use the restroom. Great, it was going to be a blast carrying a poop bag for the next three hours.
We went a short distance down the Strip Mine Trail #51 until it intersected the High Voltage Trail #59. The trail was pretty easy with a gradual undulating uphill course punctuated by a few short, steep sections. After a few switchbacks we scrambled up a small hill for a view that was sadly nothing special then continued on our course. After winding through the desert scrub landscape the High Voltage Trail again intersects the Strip Mine Trail in a T. The Strip Mine goes back to the north to complete the loop however, there is a small out & back section that goes up a “hill.” So of course we went up the hill.
Weirdly enough the trail doesn’t go all of the way up the hill. Who hikes part of the way up a hill without making it to the top? The answer to that rhetorical question is not the trail doggo. So we made our own trail through small bushes, trees, and a bunch of cactus. For some reason the trail doggo just doesn’t get the whole cactus concept and my attempts to keep her out of them more often then not backfired with her all but sitting in them. I think I pulled one cactus spine out of her snoot and somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 more out of her feet, not to mention the countless I would eventually pull out at home. It added 300’ of climbing through a couple inches of snow but we made it to the top of our unnamed hill.
After enjoying our view for a few minutes we descended back down the hill which was much easier going thanks to the unexpected snow making our trail still visible. Back at the intersection of the High Voltage Trail and the Strip Mine Trail we took the Strip Mine Trail back around to complete our loop for the day. The route back was rocky and pretty unimpressive. Plus wherever the trail wasn’t rocky it was super muddy. I guess on the way out earlier when the temperature was around 27 degrees the ground was nice and frozen but by the time we where on the way back it thawed out and turned into a mud pit. It felt like I put an extra couple of pounds on my feet in mud.
With our extra off trail section the trail doggo and I did 6.2 miles with 1,453’ of elevation gain in two hours and seventeen minutes. It was nice to get out for a while and just hike but honestly I wouldn’t recommend either trail. The High Voltage Trail was the better of the two and I think it would make for some solid mountain biking but rather uninspiring on the hiking front. This is especially a factor when there are so many great trails in the vicinity. But hey a bad day of hiking is still pretty solid in my book and the trail doggo is now passed out so that’s definitely a positive.
This last weekend we decided to try something new for us and hike in the snow! Coming from Arkansas snow hiking wasn’t really an option so we haven’t ever done it before. Pair that with a recent set of snow storms that swept through New Mexico and we figured it was an opportunity to try something new, the only question that remained was what trail. When we hiked Mount Taylor via the Gooseberry trail back in late October we ran into another hiker, Mac, who told us about a trail that runs along the north side of Mount Taylor which he strongly recommended. When I looked at the forecast I figured we were in for an interesting day with several inches of snow and temperatures anywhere from the low 20’s up to freezing.
We left Albuquerque around 7:45am after our obligatory coffee stop and headed towards Grants, New Mexico which is about an hour away. After leaving Grants we drove up into the Cibola National Forest and the highway turned to snow covered dirt road. Then it was down Forest Service Road 453 to the trailhead. The route I found on AllTrails.com recommended one location but we ran into some hikers at the trailhead who inquired about our route. After telling them where we were heading they said our original route was doable but about 2 miles longer for no reason and gave us directions to the “normal” trailhead for our route which was about another mile up the forest service road. So we headed up there and found a nice trailhead with a picnic area and a vault toilet.
When we set off our on hike the Jeep said the temperature was 28 degrees! The trail had about 3-4” of snow at that point. Surprisingly, we actually got hot really quickly. Cold weather hiking is new to us but we were both expecting to deal with cold temperatures however it wasn’t an issue at all. We hadn’t been going for more than 20 minutes before we were both down to only our thermal base layers. The first mile or so was a consistent but very manageable uphill through the pine and aspen forest. We were able to get some really great pictures of the winter weather. Around the mile mark the trail opened up into a huge meadow that had phenomenal views back out over the plains to the west of the mountain.
Around this point the amount of snow had started to increase to 4-6” and the incline stayed a consistent uphill so we went ahead and threw on our Hillsound Trial Crampons for some extra traction. Over the course of our hike I was really impressed with the trail crampons. As long as they continue to hold up well they will be a great piece of gear. Around mile two the trail intersects with Forest Service Road 453E but not before a nice steep little section that really gets the heart rate going. Our route continued to the east down FR 453E for another mile until it intersects the Gooseberry Trail. This section of the trail was completely untouched and although it was beautiful it was tiring work to break trail through six or so inches of untouched snow. FR 453E continues east from that intersection to hit FR 453 which goes up to La Mosca Overlook. Originally heading to the top of La Mosca along with Mount Taylor had been part of our plan but we were moving rather slower than we had anticipated so we decided Mount Taylor was enough.
We took Gooseberry trail back towards the southwest and the summit of Mount Taylor. The route hugs the edge of the mountain for a half mile and feels very much like an alpine climb, just hugging onto the edge with a big drop off. After that half mile Gooseberry again intersects FR 453E but the summit route continued uphill. We found out later that the route is called Heartbreak Hill and I can definitely understand why. The switchbacks to the summit are relentlessly uphill and the snow definitely didn’t make it any easier. But we made it up the summit at 11,301 feet and got to enjoy some stunning views that were only improved by the snow. I don’t know why but mountains, especially snow capped mountains, have always fascinated me.
After 10 minutes at the summit to take some pictures we headed off down the west ridge. AllTrails showed a trail that led down the ridge and linked up with the Continental Divide Trail and some forest service roads to make a loop back to our trailhead. However, after half a mile of hiking in 12-18” snow drifts we couldn’t locate any sign of the trail. Obviously, the trail was completely obscured but we saw no mounds that could have been cairns or any blazes. So after we ran into FR 453E we decided to change plans and follow it back to Trail 02421. I had really been looking forward to hiking on the CDT as I have done a short day hike on the Appalachian Trail before. But we figured without being able to locate the actual trail and how long we had already been out it was more prudent to take the more direct route back to the car. Plus I was getting tired of breaking trail and someone had already snowshoed down FR453E so the going was noticeably easier.
We made great time on the way back down Trail 02421. It was actually crazy to see how much snow had melted just since we had started our hike. Most of the trees below the meadow had sloughed off their snow and on the trail it was starting to compact which made it much easier. Funny enough we actually ran into Mac, the hiker who had recommended the trail to us a month earlier. He was heading up Trail 02421 to Mount Taylor and remembered giving us the recommendation. We thanked him again for recommending the trail and he seemed pretty happy that we had taken his advice.
A short while later we made it back to the car. According to Strava on my Apple Watch we covered 7.77 miles in a moving time of 3:39 which comes out to an average speed of 2.1mph. We were definitely slower than expected in the snow but to be fair there was a lot more snow than we had anticipated. I had expected four or so inches. But we consistently were in 4-6” and broke trails through sections that were well over 12”. In hindsight some snowshoes would have been really helpful especially on the sections on FR 453E and down the west ridge of Mount Taylor. All in all it was a great trip and we got some great pictures. It was also really cool to be the first people to summit Mount Taylor in the snow for 2019.
We definitely found the temperatures much easier to handle than expected. When we started the car read 28 degrees and when we finished it was 33. I really have no clue what it was on the hike or at higher elevations. It was a phenomenal weather day though with a clear sky and almost no wind at all. I really need to get my hands on a small thermometer to take hiking. It is good to know going forward that temperature won’t really be the limiting factor this winter but instead it will be snow conditions and wind. We definitely still have a lot of learning to do this winter about how the conditions will be throughout the season but we aren’t to keen to just kick up our shoes for the next 3-4 months. If anyone has some advice for great winter hikes in New Mexico please let us know!
After a couple of big weekends in a row we decided to take it a little lighter. We also had “normal” life stuff going on Saturday so we decided to make the drive up to Sandia Crest on Sunday and do a short hike. The Sandia Mountains are an interesting place. Along the west side of the mountains are some of the area’s most famous trails such as La Luz which is about 13 miles and 3,500’ of elevation gain up to the top. But what makes it kind of funny is that you can drive to the same point via the east side of the mountains.
Our trip got off to a rough start right from the beginning. We slept in pretty late after festivities the night before. I think we finally left the house around 9ish. We went to make our quick trip to Starbucks for the customary pupcups for the dogs. Well Ripley, the German Shepherd, has gotten pretty accustomed to her pupcups and a little impatient. As I was pulling out of the Starbucks she climbed up on the center console to try and reach her pupcup. At almost the exact same time someone cut me off so I had to slam on the brakes. Which equaled a flying German Shepherd who exploded one of our coffees all over the front of the car. Of course we had to turn around and get a replacement coffee. Then it was back to the house to clean the car up and try to restart the trip.
Once the coffee was cleaned up as best as we could manage we took back off to the Sandia Crest. It was right at an hour drive in most of a circle to go around the mountains and then back up to the crest. Once at Sandia Crest we found colder temperatures than expected and some significant wind. The car said it was 36 degrees out but it felt well below freezing and colder even than our day on Deception Peak. We went to use the facilities at the trailhead before starting our hike with signs on the door stating that they were maintained by the shop at the crest. I am not sure why they claimed them because even for vault toilets they were literally the nastiest I have ever seen.
So several minor tragedies managed we finally got to set of our hike. We planned to follow the North Crest Trail (Trail 130) a short two miles north from Sandia Crest, the high point of the mountains, to the North Sandia Crest which is a point at about 10,430’. The hike really wasn’t the best and was solidly rock and with plenty of tree roots. Tree roots were all over the trails in Arkansas but are a rarity in New Mexico. I don’t know if the dogs were just fired up from being cooped up while we were gone the day before or what but they were not good hiking companions. Ripley managed to apply just the slightest pressure on her leash that caused me to trip over a rock or root.
The trail really wasn’t that good but it did have a bunch of off shoots to lookouts from the mountain back over Albuquerque. The North Sandia Crest actually didn’t have much in the way of views due to trees but several of the lookouts before provided a great background for some nice photos. We turned around and covered the short mileage back home including a small side trail adventure. All in all we ended up doing 4.6 miles with 733’ of elevation gain in 1:42. On the way home we stopped at Brickyard Pizza and grabbed a green chili Lobo Pizza for lunch which might have been the high point of the trip.
Sadly this hike was meant to just be a nice easy one that we could fit into an otherwise busy weekend but it really didn’t deliver. I guess you can’t win every weekend and we have had some great trips over the last couple of months. Usually our dogs are solid on hikes. Lilly the Siberian Husky has a knee issue so she is capped at 4-6 miles but they pups did not make this an easy trip. Hopefully we can turn the luck around next weekend and have another great trip.
After my hike of Santa Fe Baldy on Saturday we decided to take a day trip up to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area or as it is more commonly known Bisti Badlands. This trip was actually our furthest one to date as Bisti Badlands is about two and half hours from Albuquerque up in the northwest corner of New Mexico. We got up about 7am and got all of stuff including our Siberian Husky, Lilly, and our German Shepherd, Ripley, loaded up and ready to go. We had to make a customary stop at Starbucks for pupcups, little espresso cups full of whipped cream for the dogs, and then we headed off to Bisti Badlands.
The first trail we went to was the De-Na-Zion section trail that was on the south side of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. The trail was okay but mostly just followed a dry creek bed or arroyo. It wouldn’t have been a bad hike but it was a pretty common hike that can be found all over the southern half of New Mexico. I thought our trail came right next to another one so that instead of the out-back route that was on All Trails we could turn it into a loop. Well I didn’t zoom in enough on the map to realize that they two trails didn’t connect. So we set off on our own to find a way to reach the other trail; which actually ended up being the best section of this trail. We reached the top of the canyon above the arroyo and the view was much better. There were also some interesting rocks that Bisti Badlands is famous for.
We followed our new path down a dirt road back towards the car. Somewhere along the way we missed a turnoff, probably at the point where we saw some deer lounging in the sparsely shaded area, and our dirt road took us out to the main road and not the parking lot. Rather than retrace our steps we climbed under a barbed wire fence and followed the main dirt road that runs along the southern edge of Bisti Badlands back about a quarter of a mile to the trailhead.
It was safe to say we were rather unimpressed with our first taste of Bisti Badlands but we figured we drove a long ways to get here we might as well check out the rest and I’m glad we did. We drove roughly 30 minutes to another trailhead on the west edge of Bisti Badlands to hike the Bisti Badlands Trail. Although calling this a trail is definitely a bit of a misnomer. There really isn’t a trail at all. Basically this section of Bisti Badlands is like another planet. It is barren and interesting shades of red, white, black and brown that you don’t normally see. Spread throughout this crazy landscape is a bunch of unique rock formations and you basically just wonder from rock formation to rock formation in whatever pattern pleases you.
The best part is that outside of the special rock formations you are free to climb up and over whatever you want. We basically spent most of time in Bisti Badlands climbing through a series of canyons that reminded me of a smaller version of Tent Rocks National Monument. In hindsight it might have been a bit more on the rough side than we had meant to do with the dogs in tow. There were a few times that I had to perform pup lifts, in particular with Lilly the Husky who was not a fan of the crevices. We then hiked a little further into the Bisti Badlands before looping around the outer side to head back towards the car. We then piled everyone in and started the drive back to Albuquerque.
It was cool to see another side of our new home state. One of the biggest selling points of New Mexico is the crazy number of vastly difference landscapes. New Mexico has everything from desert to alpine environments and everything in between. I would definitely recommend skipping the first area we went to and going straight towards the Bisti Badlands Trail area. We hiked around 3 miles at each location but I think 6 spent at the second would be a much better use of ones time. All in all it ended up being a solid trip but one that I’m not sure I would feel the need to do again.
A Busy Weekend Part 1 With a weird schedule this weekend we actually managed to get in a couple of trips. As someone had to work on Saturday, I went for a solo hike to the peak of Santa Fe Baldy. Santa Fe Baldy is a 12,632’ peak in the Santa Fe National Forest. My planned route was to hike the Winsor Trail (254) to the Skyline Trail (251) then to the summit of Santa Fe Baldy. At a distance of 13.5 miles with 3,517’ of elevation gain it was going to be a long day. My planning was slightly complicated by unknown weather. Depending on which source I looked at I found everything from 28-38 degrees for the day to 38-58. Twenty degrees might not sound like a lot but it really can be in those ranges. Also, the area had received 4” of snow two weeks prior and with relatively cool temperatures I was unsure how much would be left or if it might have turned to ice.
The Trip I got up at 6am and made a quick trip to Starbucks for a little morning pick me up then made the hour and a half drive up to the Ski Santa Fe area inside the Santa Fe National Forest. The drive was pretty easy and I was able to start hiking right after 8am. My car said it was in the high 30’s when I started so I was pretty sure I had more stuff in my 7.6 kilo pack than I was going to need.
The first mile or so is uphill until you cross through a fence and start back downhill. The decline lasts about 2 miles then the route becomes a gentle uphill for a while. This section had a decent amount of snow but it was mostly packed down and a bit crunchy. Traction wasn’t really an issue. I did get out my gaiters to prevent any snow from getting down into my Salomon’s. I had really wanted to use my Saucony Peregrines for this hike but decided against it at the last moment because I thought they might soak through from the snow, it was probably a smart call. This section of the trail was solid but nothing super memorable. There were a couple of creek crossings-one was flowing but the other two were frozen. It was cool to hear the water flowing underneath the ice as you walked right across the stream. Water features are one thing I have definitely come to appreciate in New Mexico as they are few and far between.
From mile 3 to mile 6 the trail continued uphill at a solid incline but nothing that raised the heart rate too much. However, that all changed when I found the signpost and left the Skyline Trail to start the route up Santa Fe Baldy. From the transition from one trail to the top was right at a mile with almost exactly 1,000’ of elevation gain. So safe to say it was a steep mile. The highlight of the trip though was a wildlife spotting. I was just a couple hundred feet from the summit of Santa Fe Baldy when I came over a point and a huge big horn sheep was just standing in the middle of the trail. Then I realized he had a bunch of buddies. There were about 8 or so big horn sheep all over the trail and to the sides. I also realized I was rather close, probably no further than 50 feet or so but the sheep didn’t seem to mind me at all. I thought of the potential newspaper headline of man dies after being rammed off of cliff by sheep... My wife would not have been amused. After taking a bunch of pictures I slowly walked towards them and they just meandered off of the trail to let me pass. A short trek later the incline leveled off and I was at the summit of Santa Fe Baldy.
The views were impressive and I relaxed for 10 minutes or so to have a snack. Right as I was getting ready to leave the sheep got spooked by another hiker’s dog and took off running down what seemed like a sheer cliff. It was pretty amazing to watch and seemed right out of a National Geographic special. It had taken me 3 hours and 20 minutes to summit Santa Fe Baldy so I was hoping to go a little faster on the way out as I still had a 90 minute drive home to deal with. I did a bit of a trot/jog down the steepest sections and tried to stay around 3 mph down the decline. It worked for an hour or so but towards mile 11 or 12 I just lost all momentum and I was ready to be done. The uphill section back to the gate was just a slog. I ran into several rude hikers including one lady who was having a speaker phone conversation while hiking. That really seems to defeat the entire purpose of hiking to me. Safe to say I was worn out and happy to make it back to the car. My trip ended up being 15.1 miles with 3,522’ of elevation gain in a moving time of 5:45 according to Strava run on my Apple Watch.
Summary All in all I would say Santa Fe Baldy is a great climb. The final mile is steep but the views are constant and the summit is pretty satisfying. I will say my hike was helped by phenomenal weather. It probably warmed up to the high 50’s so I was doing sections of hiking through snow while wearing a t-shirt. At the summit there was almost no wind at all. The little wind speed meter I bought off of Amazon for $17, super reliable, was between 1-3.8 mph. I will say the approach miles are a bit rough. It isn’t a bad hike by any stretch but definitely not the most scenic and trudging back 7 miles with nothing to motivate you can be a bit rough mentally. The climb is great but the approach mileage not so great. I would definitely recommend the hike but just be aware of what you are biting off. I got back to my car around 3pm so it was pretty much an all day event. I ran into a lady right below the summit who said it took her 5 hours to reach the top and she was hoping to finish the return trip in 4.5 more.
It definitely felt like a solid achievement to summit one of New Mexico’s 12,000’ peaks. This hike actually ended up being my highest mountain summit to date and the longest hike by mileage and by time. Definitely a big step for me as a hiker. To be Continued...
On Sunday, 11/03/2019, we set out to hike to the top of Deception Peak. The goal was for this to be our first winter hike as Santa Fe, NM received about 4” of snow in the week before. Being from Arkansas originally we have done absolutely no snow hiking. So we got up around 6am, the extra hour of sleep was awesome, so that we could grab Starbucks and be on the road to Santa Fe by 7am. The drive took about a hour and a half to reach the trailhead in the Santa Fe National Forest and right by Ski Santa Fe. We were only the third car at the trailhead. We got loaded up and started around 8:30am with a temperature of around 30 degrees.
The first mile is a gradual uphill through a pine forest. There was a stream right by the start that was frozen over but you could hear the water running underneath the ice. At the mile-ish mark we hit a fence. At this point we were supposed to make a sharp right hand turn to go up Raven’s Ridge but we missed the turn and continued on until All Trails alerted us that we were off course. We turned around and located our turn on the second try. There seemed to be about 2” of snow still left so we put on some REI low hiking gaiters that we had purchased the week before to keep snow out of our shoes. It was definitely a good call.
We followed the trail down a barb wire fence on a gradual uphill for another mile before making another sharp right hand turn to head up towards Deception Peak. We saw our first few views on this section of the trail including frozen Nambe Lake down below. That might be our hiking objective next week. We hiked upwards for the next mile or so up to about 12,000’. The trail has two slight downhill sections to break up the ascent but we could tell they would be a pain coming back.
Once we broke through the tree line the wind picked up like crazy. To the point that it felt like it would almost blow you over. The snow disappeared at this point and it was just a straight hike up loose rock to the ridge and a short walk down the ridge to the summit of Deception Peak. We took a few pictures from the summit and then I decided to give the ridge scramble across to Lake Peak a try. Supposedly this was a class 3 scramble that depending on who you ask was either rather difficult or easy. Safe to say I found it rather difficult. I managed to snake my way back and forth across the ridge looking for a path to the halfway point. Then I encountered a bit of an obstacle that I tried to down climb around. But I decided it was too sketchy for me and turned back. Somewhere along the scramble back I managed to rip the top of my new gaiters. Hopefully I can repair them with some sort of patch.
After I got back to Deception Peak we again trudged through the crazy winds back to the tree line. We accidentally overshot the trail back down and made it most of the way to the top of the Ski Santa Fe lifts. Rather than backtrack through the wind we just made a diagonal path across and hit the trail around the tree line. Then we slipped and slid most of the way back down to the car.
Total distance according All Trails was 7.5 miles using my iPhone. My Apple Watch using Strava came out to 8.4 miles. I like to claim the extra distance using Strava with a moving time of 4 hours and 1 minute which makes for an average speed of 2.1 mph, definitely not blazing fast. On the way home we had to stop at a Ikonic Coffee Roasters for some coffee and bagels! It did end up being a much longer day than expected and we didn’t get home until around 2pm
I will say this hike was a bit of a tough sludge up the hill in the snow. And it was rather disappointing to not get to the top of Lake Peak. But the views from Deception Peak were pretty awesome and I would give our first snow outing a big thumbs up. Other than the crazy winds at the top the temperatures were pretty manageable and we never got too cold. We are both in agreement that Santa Fe might be our new location for a little while. Gear used for this trip (Links are to Amazon) Pack - Osprey Stratos 24L Poles - Black Diamond Trail Sport 3 Water Bladder - Osprey Hydraulics LT 2.5L Shoes - Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX Gloves - Black Diamond Mont Blanc Gaiters - REI Backpacker Low (Link to comparable product) GPS - alltrails.com on iPhone GPS - Strava on Apple Watch
This past weekend we hiked Mount Taylor which is an extinct volcano about 50 miles west of Albuquerque on I-40. Mount Taylor tops out at 11,301ft but has a prominence of 4,094ft. I was told to expect some fantastic views and I can say that Mount Taylor did not disappoint. I would actually venture to say this was the best hike to date in New Mexico. It was enough of a challenge but not so difficult that all of the fun was removed. And the views, the views were spectacular. We planned to hike Mount Taylor via the Gooseberry Trail which is the most common route to the summit. All Trails has the route as 6.2 miles round trip with 2,017ft of elevation gain.
Our trip hit a snag called three snoozed alarms at 6am. We both had long weeks so the motivation to get out of a warm bed was not high. Eventually we made it up and on the road with quick stops for gas and coffee. The trip to the trailhead took about 90 minutes. Most of the drive was down I-40 to Grants, NM then onto New Mexico Highway 547 with the last 5 miles down Forest Service Road 193 which was a well maintained dirt road. The trail head was small with only parking for about 5 cars however, we were only the second car there. We got all of our gear on and leashed up our German Shepherd who was coming with for this trip and set off at around 9am with a temperature of around 38 degrees.
The first 1.5 miles of the hike felt relatively flat although it was actually a slight incline. We were in a pine forest that makes for an easy start to the hike. Before we exited the forest we passed through some Aspen groves which I think are the prettiest trees ever. Just look at some of those pictures. Next the hike opened up into a huge field and really started the uphill. It felt weird to be out in a meadow like environment in New Mexico, I mean there was actually grass! At this point our view really started to open up and we get a hint of what this hike will be. The next six tenths of a mile was a solid uphill section that really got the heart rate going but then it eased up for a bit and the the trail wrapped around the mountain. This point had some stunning views of the elevation we still had to gain and of the surrounding hills.
As we continued around we come to see Mount Taylor and across the gully and the couple of switchbacks that lead to the top. I think when you can look across at a mountain and see the trail trace its way up is just one of the coolest sights in hiking. The last 1.2 miles had about 900ft of elevation gain to the summit. The path was a series of three switchbacks that had a bunch of wind exposure. We had to throw our rain jackets back on after warming up earlier. The last switchback provided a bit of a false summit that was a tad demoralizing. However, we only had about three tenths of a mile with not too much incline left to the summit of Mount Taylor.
At the top there is a big summit sign with the mountains elevation. We relaxed for a few minutes to eat snacks and took pictures before starting back downhill to the car. The whole trip took us 3 hours and 13 minutes with 2 hours and 52 of that moving. We covered 7 miles with 2,034ft of elevation gain averaging 2.4mph. We definitely sped way up on the downhill thanks to the German Shepherd tank who wanted to do the return at a solid trot. We stopped at Mount Taylor Coffee Co. in Grants for coffee and a muffin before making the drive back to Albuquerque.
Overall I can’t recommend this trail enough. It had some solid sections of incline but nothing that was just demoralizing or rough on the knees for the descent. Plus who doesn’t love a good series of switchbacks with a wide open view back across the way. The views were fantastic and unlike anything I’ve seen in New Mexico to date. I felt like I was in Colorado. The open fields provided a fantastic view of the Sandia’s and Monzano’s back to the east. Mount Taylor might not be the tallest mountain but its’ prominence completely makes up for it.