Saturday, July 7, 2012

No Hike for Wussies (or Quintagenarians)

Hiking down Chimney Canyon for a change
John on the Osha Spring Trail

Second Part of the Hike
First Part of the Hike
Yesterday I "celebrated" my 20-year service anniversary at Sandia National Laboratories by taking a long, brutal hike with John Brewer, who not only is my primary "big hike" hiking partner but my supervisor at SNL. John recently turned 50 years old, so now we're both in our fifties, an age at which one might think we'd start becoming less-ambitious respecting the 3-4 hikes we get to do together every year. However, I consider myself to be somewhat like Matthew Broderick's title character in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in that I'm not sure how many more "killer" hikes I have in me, so I'd better make "this" one count.  Yesterday's hike "counted" and then some.

Multiple hiking guides to the Sandia Mountains have contained trail descriptions for something called the "Osha Spring Trail," an old mining road for most of its distance; however, I'd never hiked it because of (a) the relative inaccessibility of the bottom trailhead, which is not far from the village of Placitas at the northern end of the Sandia range, and (b) the relatively long distance from the upper terminus to an easy pick-up point.  I'd also never hiked Chimney Canyon in the downward direction, something the current hiking guide author recommends as an alternative to the strenuous hike up, which I'd done on perhaps a dozen occasions through the years with various people (the first 2-3 times by myself).  Somehow I got the idea of doing a "traverse" of the mountain that involved both hiking up the Osha Spring Trail and hiking down Chimney Canyon.  I was more than a little apprehensive about taking such a long and arduous hike; however, John was game for it, so John's dad Jack (who, by the way, was Dorine's bishop when she was a teenager) dropped us off at the Osha Spring trailhead a little before 8:00 am yesterday morning.

The lower part of Osha Spring, briefly, was a killer for me, as it is both steep and exposed to sun and caused me to expend hundreds of calories that I hadn't "banked" by eating breakfast. Things got better after I ate something and drank a "Five Hour Energy," and after clouds rolled in that provided us with perfect hiking weather for most of the day.  However, sustained uphill hiking is not something that sits well with me these days, as both my age and my mal de debarquement-related physical limitations cause me to have to stop a lot on the way and catch my breath.  (I was never much of a "hare" in aerobic terms, but I'm definitely a "tortoise" now.) 

Notwithstanding the great weather we had, several factors threatened the hike we'd planned.  One, the Osha Spring Trail was much longer and harder than I'd anticipated.  Two, I'd forgotten just how far it is from the northern terminus of the 10K Trail, on the Crest Trail, to the primitive path leading off to Chimney Canyon.  Three, the idea of walking over to the upper Tramway terminal, then riding the tram down the mountain, presented itself as an appealing alternative as the day went on.  We'd originally planned to hike up to Sandia Crest and eat something at the gift shop there before heading back down Chimney Canyon; however, between the late hour and the effort required to go a mile or so out of our way, the only way we were going to go down Chimney Canyon was to forgo the Crest entirely.  (What finally settled our continuing down was my statement to John that I knew I'd count myself a wussy -- only I didn't say "wussy" -- if I didn't finish the hike we'd planned.)  Luckily, John had brought a big pouch of tuna and some crackers, most of which he gave to me to eat as we rested up for the trek down Chimney Canyon.

Chimney Canyon in the downhill direction isn't the aerobic ordeal that is hiking up it, but it's twice as dangerous and half again as scary.  After one finally gets out of the steep, loose couloir near the top of the route, it becomes somewhat easier to follow the "trail" down the canyon, and John and I were finally able to trace out the lower part of the route where it intersects the La Luz Trail.  (Hiking up Chimney Canyon, we'd always got onto the route by bushwhacking up from the prominent inside bend of the La Luz in the immediate area; frankly, now I'm not sure that isn't the easier means of accessing Chimney Canyon from the bottom.)

Finally, after getting onto the La Luz Trail, we almost immediately went off it again to take the variant trail that bypasses the lower switchbacks and puts one on the Tramway Trail about 200 yards from its intersection with the lower La Luz.  Then we hiked down the last mile of the La Luz to its lower trailhead, where Dorine, bearing ambrosial 44 oz. sodas from Sonic, came and picked us up at 4:30 pm.

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime hike: having hiked up the Osha Spring Trail once, I will never do it again; and likewise, having hiked down Chimney Canyon once, I will never do it again, either.  (It may be a moot point if my current physical trajectory holds.)
Looking back up Chimney Canyon from the lower part of the route