If it’s Saturday and I’m in Albuquerque you will frequently find me on the mountain. It’s a routine and I’m pretty stuck on it. But this Saturday when I woke and saw the blanket of cloud covering the mountain I lost all motivation to even think about climbing it.
I’ve not climbed to the summit since November, or maybe even October of last year. I’m out of good climbing shape and then when you add to that the fact that the upper third of the mountain has sloppy snow and ice on the trail, you have to then add hours to the total hiking time.
About 11:00 I saw that the skies were going to clear and I had a burst of inspiration and started throwing together my clothes and other gear. But then I sat down and started to add up the hours, and decided that even if I got on the mountain at 12:30 I could extend a fit 3 hour hike into an unfit four and a half hours, and then, adding for the snow, be looking at possibly six hours or more to summit.
I decided that it was time to take out the tram pass and head for the summit and skip a torture session.
It had been a week since I had last been here and my primary purpose was to check out the trails to the south of the tram and then walk along the connecting trail toward the saddle.
Unlike the trails north of the crest parking lot, the main trail heading south from the tram was very packed and would not have made for good cross-country skiing. Hopefully this next week brings new snow and the cycle of packing down the snow will start all over again.
I had hoped that the ice fog that blanketed the south end of the range near my house would have extended to the tram but there was almost no evidence of it from the day before. However, the south peak, six miles distant, was still covered in the remnants of the ice.
Since I love panoramas, I added this one of the view to the south peak.
As I mentioned, the trail was not in good shape for cross country skiing or for walking with snow shoes. This is the type of snow that requires that you use hiking spikes on the bottom of your boots.
After passing the tram I stopped for a minute to put on my spikes because I was sure I was going to be slipping and sliding on the next section of the trail.
In some places the snow was almost gone. This very spot was featured in my entry from last week when it was covered in snow and bathed in the golden last light of the day.
Meanwhile the occasional burst of cloud provided the afternoon’s mysteries.
The trail conditions covered every possibility you could imagine on the mountain, wet, dry, muddy, slushy, deep snow and a crown of snow filling in the trail.
As can be seen, the slope is extremely steep in places and each step needed to be carefully placed.
When I was in line to get my ticket at the bottom a couple of guys announced that they were going to hike to the summit and ride the tram down. One of them was dressed in cargo shorts, low top running shoes and a long sleeve shirt. It never ceases to amaze me how poorly people prepare for what is high alpine hiking. I warned them about the snow, and since it was 4:30 when I bought my ticket to the top I know that they were a long way from the summit. There is nothing half-way about climbing the Sandias, either you get to the top, or you don’t.
I did meet a hiker just a bit past this section who was tired and quite sick of the slog through the snow. He said he had been on the trail for 6 hours and from our meeting place I know that he had about 40 more minutes to go. Happy for the rest he chatted for a bit and told me that he had been advised that there was a short cut in the corner of the trail to avoid the section we were crossing with its sometimes very treacherous 45 degree slopes.
He told me there were some aspens marked with ribbons and I recalled that I had seen them a week or so ago but had no idea of why the ribbon was attached to the trees. I walked past them and took a rest on an overlook in the sun. I enjoyed my perch at 10,000 ft until more clouds hid the sun and the temperature dropped by 20 degrees in just 5 minutes.
I reacquired all of my layers that I had shed from inside my pack and headed back for the tram, intent on finding the “by-pass” shortcut with a promise to skip the dangerous slopes on a hard packed more level summit trail.
The route is there alright, and is one of the steepest pitches I have climbed in all of the Sandias. It’s a 1:1 slope for about 200 feet and tapers off a bit for the last 100. The climb was more of a “haul yourself up from tree to tree” while trying to deep from sliding down the mountain in the mud. Once I started I was committed to finish and I did.
However, if the trail is good to the crest house, I think I’d rather ascend that way and then walk through the woods to the tram.
This is my first attempt to photo the route, a stacked panorama that should have a couple more images to make it complete. The route finishes in the upper right hand corner of the photo as it follows the tree line up into an intersection with the meadow at the top. Note how thin and small the main trail looks as it heads west below the CCC Cabin on the corner of the main face. Click on the image to enlarge and if you double zoom you can see the evergreens growing in the tight notch that is the “trail.”
As expected, the trail just over the ridge was hard packed and quite icy. Spikes are recommended.
All in all, it was a great way to spend the afternoon in the mid-winter sun. I shared the tram with a skier on the way down.