Two weeks ago I hoofed on over to the three gun trail because I wanted to hike, but I also wanted nothing to do with snow. After a most brutal New Years Day hike up the La Luz, I pretty much swore off the mountain until the snow was gone.
There is good news and bad news in this report, for although I can report that for the most part, most of the snow is gone, and that which remains, is pretty passable; I must also add that the light snow-pack is not good news for our mountain.
During my time in the snow I never did get annoyed, I needed minimal gear, and all in all, for my first hike of the “season” I made it up to the tram in just 4 hours. Seeing how my best time ever is three hours, I’ll add half an hour for being out of shape, and half an hour for dealing with the snow, and there you have it.
The forecast claimed that temps today would reach 75 degrees and I had a mental toss-up going on, Ski in Santa Fe, or hike in Albuquerque. Hiking won, primarily because I thought that the high temps would ruin the snow in Santa Fe. Judging from some of the slush and pools of water on the high trail, it was probably the right decision. I don’t like to ski in snow that is so sticky that it feels like Elmer’s glue.
High clouds dominated the day, and I doubt that the mid 70’s were ever reached, but nonetheless, it was a great day for a hike. I waited for it to warm up and did not get started till 10:45, primarily because the day just was not heating up the way I was hoping.
The trail conditions were great, and I finally ran into my first snow about 7,400 feet, but only in the shade, and quite frankly, very very little of it. Every other year that I’ve hiked in early March I’ve had to put on my spikes somewhere around 7,400 feet, and the snow just got deeper and deeper from there.
With so little to report, this first image was taken at the LaQueva overlook, at 9,000 feet. Looking east you can see the snow covered switchbacks that snake through the rock slides. I for one hate the rock slides and their brutally uneven surfaces, but I can say that a foot or snow or more does tend to even out the hiking experience.
There was absolutely no snow on the trail until just feet before the metal sign that marks 5 miles from the trail-head. Last year at this time the sign was buried up to it’s flat surface, and this year, there was not a flake on the ground next to it.
Generally in the winter, there is only one route up the canyon and it does not include the switchbacks. Known as the old LaLuz trail, you could also call it the snow trail during the winter months. Winter climbers know the route and don’t need any extra slogging through deep snow.
This shot was taken just 5 minutes or so east of the 5 mile marker and shows a well defined trail, icy with only three to four inches of snow on the ground. Near the top where the snow trail merges with the main trail there were sections that had no snow at all.
Just past where this photo was taken the snow trail passes just to the north of the main trail and I took a panorama shot to show the condition of the switchback trail.
As you can see, there is very little snow to contend with, but if you do decide to hike this section of the trail, I recommend that you use spikes on your feet, because the snow is very very slick and icy in many places.
Once the trails merged I was unhappy to see that the rocks were still too covered with snow to boulder up the field, so across the switchbacks I went.
This panorama is from the point where the snow trail merges with the main.
I’m including one more image to show that yes, there are still portions of the trail that are covered with significant snowfall, but they are not nearly as treacherous as I have seen in the past. Remember however, I did this with poles (with snow baskets) and with spikes. The snow was so solid here that I did not need Gators, but I suspect in another week or two there will be places on the trail that you may dig some deep post holes. Once the trail reached the limestone, there was sufficient sun to have blasted away almost all of the snow. The very last switchback to the saddle was snow covered for the very last shaded portion, but for the most part, it was clear.
From the saddle to the tram I was pleased to find that the majority of the trail was completely clear. Every east / west exposure was basically clear, and the north / south exposures were somewhat snow covered. I was able to navigate this stretch without spikes, although there were portions of the trail that were significantly muddy. Since some of the most dangerous winter slopes are on this section of the trail, I was very happy to complete the trip without worrying about sliding off the mountain.
For myself, I declare the La Luz hiking season officially open. It’s time to start using that tram pass and I’d like to get my time down to below three hours if possible.