Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hiking Again - South Sandia Peak

Today I was finally able to take the third of three hikes in the Sandia Mountains that I wanted to do this year. This time I went by myself, starting at the top of Menaul Blvd. and taking what Mike Coltrin's Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide calls the "Whitewash Trail." The top photo, taken from Google Earth (double-click for detail), shows my approximate route, which traces a more-or-less clockwise path from the starting point on the left. I first wandered my way up to the first little promontory at the head of Whitewash Canyon. From there, I was able to locate the main "ridge" trail, which skirts around the north side of the ridge, along the head of what the topo map calls "Long Canyon," before following the rest of the ridge, up and down, to Oso Pass. (I'd never been on the "ridge" route before, which is surprisingly well-defined most of the way up, even if it seems to meander its way past every boulder or rock outcrop en route.) At Oso Pass, I got on the upper part of the Embudito Trail, which is unrelentingly steep until it finally curves around to the east shortly before its terminus at the South Crest Trail, and then I took the little spur trail that leads directly to South Sandia Peak, which trail, judging from its well-worn condition, must receive a lot of traffic these days. (The photo on the right shows the approach to South Peak on the spur trail -- guess I needed to clean the lens on my camera.) I felt pretty crappy on most of the ascent, so I was surprised that I made it all the way to the top in three hours, fifty minutes -- pretty good time for me, given the difficult route.

I ate lunch at South Peak, snapped a few photos (see the photo on the left, which looks down on the ridge that I came up), and wrote in my journal for a few minutes. Then I went down off the back of the peak to find the enchanting little canyon we'd found in 2001 while backpacking with the scouts, which is notable for both its thick stand of aspens and a number of limestone pillars that resemble statuary. From there, I made my way east to the South Crest Trail, then took a swing past Deer Pass (one of my five favorite camping spots in the world) on my way back down the Embudito Trail. I'd already decided not to take the ridge back down, so at Oso Pass I took the Three Gun Spring Trail down to the Embudo Trail (the upper part of which is only barely recognizable as a "trail"), and followed Embudo Canyon all the way back down to where my truck was parked. (It was definitely the long way down!)

I was almost totally spent at the end, having been gone for nearly eight hours and hiking most of that time. It was a pretty ambitious hike, one that I'm not sure I'll ever care to repeat at this stage of my life. However, South Peak is perhaps the most-enchanting area of the Sandias -- in large part because there's no easy way to get there -- and I'm sure I'll see it again soon.