Sandia Peak, Wheeler Peak, Santa Fe Baldy - NM - August 2001

This was our family vacation trip out to New Mexico to see Maile. While not having any time to do any backpacking, I strategically planned our trip around making 4 day hike summit attempts. The first was at Sandia Peak which is adjacent to Albuquerque. I had Maile get up early with me and drop me of at the trail head to the La Luz Trail. This is a nice enough trail up the side of the mountain. Not a ton of views but there are some interesting rock formations that you go through. Having just come up from sea level this was an excellent hike to do a little acclimatizing on. You can drive to the summit so when you get to the top there is a parking lot, a gift shop and a concrete area where the summit is. It seems somewhat anticlimactic to get to the top and see grandma and the grandkids but its still a good hike. Now the best part is that I had Christy and Logan take the tram up to the top. So I met up with them and had a burger and beer at the restaurant at the top by the tram station. How many other summits can you do that at! Definitely beats a handful of Gorp and a swig of warm water.

The next was Wheeler Peak. The trailhead is in the parking lot of the Taos Ski Resort so we stayed at the resort hotel for the night. It was kind of like the Shining in that it seemed like we were the only ones in the entire hotel. I found out later that there was one other couple besides us staying in the 100+ room hotel that night. There are other routes that are shorter, but I elected to use Trail 90 via Bull of the Woods as I wanted to get the whole experience. This turned out to be a good choice as the other shorter route was a steep scree slope. The first part of this hike, from the parking lot to Bull of the Woods, was by far the hardest. First thing in the morning with tight legs, the first few miles are punishing. Once you get past Bull of the Woods and get above treeline this hike becomes very scenic. Nothing but grass covered mountains as far as you can see down the trail. I didn't see any other people until a little over half way where I passed a couple who was on a quest to hit the highpoints in all 50 states. Once you get near the top you crest a ridge and the wind starts to blow so it was time for the hat and capilene. There is a false summit, Mount Walter, that you have to cross first. But its pretty easy going from Walter to Wheeler. There was one other person on the summit who had come up the route from the backside. He took my picture and then I had the summit to myself for about 15 minutes until the couple I had passed caught up to me. Another fellow and his young son came up too and said they had come up the scree slope, "Big mistake" were his exact words. Although he felt like going down would be a snap. I took pictures for the other people and then headed back. Lightning started to strike off in the distance a little ways before I made it back to tree line. I don't remember the exact time but it was probably right around noon. I met up with the family back in the parking lot. They had gone up Trail 90 a little ways and couldn't believe that I had made it the whole way to the top. I told them that once you made it past the first 3 miles it got much easier. All in all this was an excellent hike that I would definitely do again if I was in the area.

The next day was Santa Fe Baldy. As we were driving from Taos to Santa Fe it started to rain heavily. Rain, isn't it suppose to be summertime in the desert?! Well it rained all night long and I was wondering whether I was going to be able to make an attempt or not. I got up 5AM and checked out the weather channel which indicated that I had a window of opportunity in the morning, so off I went. I selected the Winsor trail which starts off in the parking lot of the Santa Fe ski resort. Mostly because it was closest to where we were staying, but it turns out that most people use this trailhead for attempts on Santa Fe Baldy. Most of this trail is through groves of differing trees with periodic views of Santa Fe Baldy in the distance and once again you have to lose elevation before gaining it again. I was hot most of the way until you reach tree line at the ridge that takes you to the top at which point the wind was howling. I got cold real quick and whipped out the hat and the gortex. Dark clouds were overhead and looking very ominous. I hadn't heard any thunder yet so I made a push for the summit. The last mile or so is somewhat of a rock scramble mixed among a grassy field. I don't know if it was that steep or if I was tired from the previous days trip to Wheeler, but I was sucking wind and had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath. There is no official marker at the top but there is a pile of rocks that marks the summit that is pretty easy to see. The views would have been spectacular had the dark clouds not been directly overhead. And I mean directly overhead as in it seemed like you could touch them. It turns out that I was the first person out that morning and was the first to summit that day. I had the summit completely to myself the entire time I was there. I was hiding from the wind behind a boulder when I started to hear thunder from behind me. I got up and looked and the clouds were getting dark and the wind blowing harder, it was 10AM. I decided it was time to get the heck out of there. I passed several people on the slope down and then amazingly more people much further down the trail that were heading for the summit. I told them that the storm was coming and to be careful. Lightning started to strike about halfway back, but I was well within tree line at this point. I got back to the parking lot about noon and it was really getting dark. I had told Christy to pick me up at 1 PM, but I had also told them that if they saw a storm over the mountains to come get me because I would have already bailed out. No one was there to greet me so I decided to take refuge underneath an awning where the lift tickets are sold. No sooner do I get under it when the skies let loose. Wind, lightining, and hail that came down in sheets. Then came the rain, it flat out poured. I felt sorry for those poor people out on the trail, or worse yet ducking for cover on the summit. But hey, I warned them. After about an hour of standing there in my gortex trying to keep warm, the family showed up to get me. It turns out it was a nice sunny day down in Santa Fe when they looked up at the mountains and saw them covered in black clouds and hustled up to get me. All in all this was a good hike, and I would do it again if I was in Santa Fe instead of milling around tourist town.

I was also going to make an atempt on Mt. Taylor, an extinct volcano west of Albuquerque. But time limitations and bad looking weather didn't work in my favor. Maybe next time.

I'm too lazy to pull the pictures out and scan them in. I have included a scan of the trail maps.

Mark on the summit of Sandia Peak (10,678 ft) in the Sandia Mountain Wildnerness (New Mexico) on 8/6/01. A 3,618 ft elevation gain from the trail head, 7.5 miles one way (I took the Tram down) Sandia Peak - La Luz Trail Map
Mark on the summit of Wheeler Peak (13,161 ft) in the Carson National Forest (New Mexico) on 8/8/01. A 3,771 ft elevation gain from the trail head, 15 miles round trip. This is the highest point in New Mexico. Wheeler Peak - Trail 90 - Bull of the Woods Trail Map
Mark on the summit of Santa Fe Baldy (12,622 ft) in the Santa Fe National Forest (New Mexico) on 8/09/01. A 2,322 ft elevation gain from the trail head, 14 miles round trip. Santa Fe Baldy - Winsor Trail Map



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