We left Fort Worth and drove to Eagle Nest on Saturday and spent Sunday, July 4, acclimatizing by attending the annual Fourth of July Parade in the afternoon and watching the fireworks show from the edge of Eagle Nest Lake that evening. After the show, we returned to the cabin and began preparations for the next day’s climb.
We left the cabin at 6:00 AM and quickly drove to the old logging road that leads to the trailhead. Unlike our previous trip, we had no trouble locating the trailhead. While my wife helped the girls get ready, I pulled out my GPS to get coordinates at the trailhead for the mountain page. After putting layers on the girls and adding water to our packs, we began down the trail at 7:30 AM toward the saddle. My youngest daughter remarked the trail was like walking through a Christmas tree farm with the small fir and spruce trees lining the old logging road. Our first “difficulty” came at the first switchback. It appeared that the road forked. The road ahead appeared to have been blocked with brush and the road to the left appeared to be cleared. After some discussion about our previous trip, we decided to head left, down the hill, and were rewarded with the sight of a rock cairn confirming our suspicions.
We shortly reached the saddle and I recommended we take a short break to make any required adjustments. While the girls shed layers and everybody ate and drank, my dad discovered numerous animal tracks in the dried mud on the saddle. Some were easy to identify, such as the walking mule deer most likely browsing the low cover. Others, we had not seen and were not easy to recognize. One, a central pad with four, apparently large, claw marks could only be the print of a bear. This definitely got our attention. Later in the day, we would notice the proliferation of wild strawberries growing in the saddle that would attract the local bruins. Prior to continuing our hike, I jumped two mule deer, in velvet, while heeding the call of nature.
We continued our hike up the mountain and encountered our second routefinding challenge. Once upon a small boulder field, the trail seemed to disappear. From our past hike, we had no recollection of a any split in the trail. I forged ahead and found some downed timber that appeared to have been arranged to line the trail. Once again, a small rock cairn confirmed our routefinding.
A short while further, our youngest daughter, age 5, began to whine that she was tired and didn’t want to go any further. After some time, we convinced her to continue until we reached the timberline since there was a good place to stop and wait with her mom until the rest of the team returned. I strapped her pack onto mine and we continued to timberline. Once to timberline, our youngest did what my oldest always does. Once they see the rocks, they are reenergized and are ready to go. After a short break, we continued into the boulders.
My dad, son, and oldest daughter took the lead and made short work of the boulders up to the alpine meadow. My wife and I, carefully supervising our youngest daughter, were quite some distance behind the lead group, who stopped to wait for us at a rock shelter just below the alpine meadow. After a short break with some food and drink, we all forged ahead to the summit. My dad stated that it would probably take an hour and a half to reach the summit. Thirty minutes later, we were there, at 11:30 AM.
For the first time, we could spend some time and enjoy the summit. No one was cold and no storms were brewing. We took several of the obligatory summit photographs and everyone explored the broad summit and soaked in the views. The girls found a small rock shelter and ate while my son and I found another shelter and took naps. After about an hour, at 12:20 PM, we decided to head down the mountain.
Everyone performed very well on the descent to the saddle. We took a long break and ate and drank prior to the final uphill push on the logging road to the trailhead. The girls were beginning to show some weariness from the hike. My son informed me that my dad was going to hike ahead, drop his pack at the truck, and return to help with the girls. Approximately ¼ mile from the trailhead, my youngest finally gave out. My wife, frustrated, began to lose her cool. I picked up my daughters pack and wore it on my chest. I then picked her up in a fireman’s carry and began to carry her up the road. By the time I met my dad coming down the hill, she had fallen asleep and slept on him while he carried her to the truck. My dad returned to carry my oldest daughter to the truck, approximately 100 yards.
In all, we had a very nice hike. The girls performed very well and should be very proud of themselves. There was very little complaining from my oldest two, and my son showed some strong leadership in encouraging the girls up the mountain. Most of all, I think my wife, who has lost quite a bit of weight, has a better appreciation of the reasons I spend time in the mountains.