My friend Jay and I started our hike at 9:50 am thanks to mishap with my alarm. We had eaten breakfast at the Frontier Restaurant just 30 minutes before and felt well enough to embark on our first winter overnighter.
Within half an hour, we encountered our first problem. Meandering visitors to the foothills had unintentionally created a confusing web of trails that led us astray. Instead of skirting along the sides of the canyon, we managed to entangle ourselves in the dense foliage and boulder heaps at the bottom of the canyon. It took us another thirty minutes to find a faint opening up the side of the canyon to the correct trail. From there to the ridge, navigation was cake. The only difficulties came from carrying forty-pound packs up to 9,500 feet from the trailhead at 6,200 feet. We slogged our way to the ridge and along South Crest Trail 130 until the shoulder of the South Sandia Peak was clearly visible. At 3:15 pm, we topped out at the summit.
Overnight at 9,000'
After retrieving our packs from just off the trail, we continued north for nearly two miles until the sun sank below the mesas of western New Mexico. We camped some fifty feet off the trail in a surprisingly flat area near the intersection between South Crest Trail 130 and Barts Trail. The absence of wind made for a fairly pleasant evening but an unexpected patchy night of sleep paved the way for a painful morning.
Traverse to Sandia Crest
Again, thanks to a hand-me-down wristwatch, we got a late start and didn’t leave camp until 9:30. The trail north proved irritatingly windy and uneven with lots of needless elevation gains and loses. We made it to the intersection with Piño Canyon Trail within an hour and continued to stick it out with hourly breaks. After a wildly long switchback, we arrived at the tram station around 12:30 pm where we relaxed and stretched for half an hour before continuing on. Strung out and relieved, we took the last steps up to the crest at 2 pm. We looked back to South Sandia in dismay, as the distance we covered seemed minuscule compared to the anguish we had put ourselves through. Yet, we celebrated anyway and enjoyed our drive back to Albuquerque where a hot tub and ribs awaited.
Absolute Elevation Gain: ~4,500’
Total Elevation Gain: ~6,400’
Distance: ~15 miles