Saddling Up - May 10th, 2013
I had some time to waste after landing in Portland, so I drove across the border and had a few drinks in Vancouver, Washington, celebrating by myself the fact that with one fell swoop I had officially knocked down the last two states in the lower 48 that I had yet to step foot in. As it got dark I got the text I had been waiting for and headed back to the airport to pick up Kamy, Ashley, and Mariel, who had a slightly longer flight in from Boston. We had three days to check out the city and the area, and though most of that would be spent checking out bars, restaurants, and brunches, we had some time to explore some nearby places as well.
After checking in late to the hotel and grabbing a few drinks at a hipster dive down the street, where we found ourselves politely turning down invitations from strangers to go smoke with them at 4 AM, we got off to an early start in my rental Prius and headed west (after getting some delicious bfast at a food truck, of course!). I wanted to take my friends on a moderate hike, get a good peak and experience something they wouldn’t normally see back east, and Saddle Mountain in the coast range seemed to fit that criteria exactly. Plus it was close to Portland, and we arrived after some pit stops and false starts, and despite the Prius somehow bottoming out a few times along the paved road leading to the trailhead parking lot. All of us beheld how startlingly green it was along the drive, lush trees and rivers everywhere. It was a welcome change for me coming from the desert, and even for my friends, since much of this greenery was quite different from what you would find back in the Northeast.
The hike itself was great. The trail is wide, easy, and great for the casual tourist or hiker, yet the rocky scene near the top with its volcanic rocks and precipitous ledges was breathtaking and unique. Even below treeline the vegetation is fascinating to look at and wade in, and missing the greenery of New England I felt right at home in the Coast Range’s lush environs.
It was a little humid and we all broke a sweat heading up, but the tradeoff with the clear sunny day made up for it. We chatted with folks at the summit, many of whom were fellow tourists, and enjoyed the views, though I was dismayed that this early spring haze blocked the view to the nearby volcanoes; St. Helens was the most obviously visible, and you could barely glimpse Adams behind it, but it took awhile for us to be able to find Mt. Hood barely perceptible along the horizon.
We descended and headed to the beach.
I had always been fascinated by the Oregon Coast, a place that I had never been to but had always held within my imagination a sort of longing mystique ever since I learned from Elementary School many moons ago the stories of Lewis and Clark.
We ended up at Ecola State Park where, as promised by others who knew the area, a warm day 20 miles away turned to cold and fog once we rounded the ridge into the beachfront area. We enjoyed a late lunch at a cool brewery in Cannon Beach, then had a pleasant walk down to the fameis Haystack Rock.
I drove us in the Prius to Astoria to continue satiating my hunger to relive my elementary school history lessons, driving to the Astoria column atop Coxcomb hill and beholding the views into Washington, the Columbia River, and back south to Saddle Mountain, where my friends felt the satisfaction of viewing a peak that they had already climbed.
The rest of the weekend we enjoyed in the city, but after brunch on our last day there we had some time to kill before everyone flew back home, so I took the Prius 30-40 miles away to take everyone to see another famous tourist destination, Multnomah Falls. We had enjoyed a very rare stretch of more than two straight days of sunshine, a relative heat wave or so we heard, for Portland in early May, but the page had turned back to the usual rain and gloom on Sunday, but I think it was appropriate for us to enjoy the falls surrounded by its usual quota of fog and mist. The falls stood out despite the very crowded visitor center, restaurant, and gift shops, and made for a fitting finale to our trip.
3 Peaks 3 States 1 Day(s) - May 24-25th, 2013The Portland trip left me exhausted, which is partly why I spent only one day the following weekend going after Mt. Elliott. Another reason I took it easy that weekend was because I had planned no rest for the weary; with Memorial Day weekend coming up I wanted take advantage of the three day weekend to visit New Mexico, another state in which I had yet to summit a summit. Greg had planted the seed in my head, as he had left the week before Memorial Day for a week long sojourn down into central NM. I toyed with the idea of joining him later on in my three day week, but it seemed too far to travel for such a short long weekend; besides, I had plenty of places to keep me occupied in the northwestern portion of the state, so we ended up in the same state but going after different peaks.
I bode farewell to my office a few hours early on Friday, hoping to sneak in Cedar Mountain and North Horn, two P1K’s in the Utah Top 100 Prominence list near Price between work and nightfall. Traffic jams from SLC through Provo slowed me down however, so I decided to just go after Cedar, a pleasant gravel road drive-up with great views of several remote canyons in the San Rafael Swell from the summit, and great peripheral views of the Book Cliffs and the Wasatch Plateau throughout.
After getting lost a little on the circuitous dirt roads leading back to US-6, I sped down past I-70 and Moab to Monticello, where I found a side road to park and spent the night in the back of the 4Runner. Five sparse hours of sleep later I woke and continued my drive at sunrise, as I needed all the hours I could get in for the day.
Monticello and all places further south was new territory for me, and I enjoyed the roadside views past the Abajos and down into the Four Corners desert. The Carrizo Range beckoned from across the border in Arizona. To me, they signified a sense of unfinished business, with a failed attempt at a long snowshoe up Pastora Peak many years ago had kicked my ass long before I could even sniff the summit.
This time the ascent proved to be less the problematic. As expected the crux of the trip was the drive up; after finally locating the right road after a couple of wrong turns (ironic since I found the right road on the first try four years prior), the 4Runner had to brave some horribly steep and rocky roads, the section past the shelf road abutting the lower canyon, and up to the high plateau of the Carrizos. Once ascended, the road smoothed out, although several section were still badly rutted. The landscape here was gentle, relaxing, pastoral, even. Several ranches surprising sat here in the heart of the range range, their domestic horses grazing casually in the high pastures thousands of feet above the desert below. I wondered whether these isolated ranches operated during the winter; probably not.
Following the directions on SP I was able to make my way pretty close to the summit, a small hump rising from the large, uneven plateau. The last miles up to this point had been rough as well, and I parked maybe a quarter-mile or so before the road reached the base of Pastora. It was a quick walk there, then a short but steep ascent to the summit. There were brushy areas on the ascent, at the summit, and on the descent, as well as some talus, but no major difficulties. The summit area is large with several spots contending for the high point and adorned with cairns, so I paid a visit to all of them. The views southeast into the Chuskas, Beautiful Mountain, and Roof Butte were great, as was Shiprock below, though it looked tiny and insignificant juxtaposed against much larger mountains. To the west ran the colorful hills of the Carrizo plateau, and in the opposite direction Sleeping Ute Mountain in Colorado, and glimpses of the still snow smothered San Juans further back. The best views north towards Monument Valley back towards Utah and the Abajos are reserved for the ascent road.
A rocky drive brought me back to the highway, and many many miles of monotonous driving through the Navajo Reservation until I reached the freeway at Gallup.
Despite the noontime traffic Gallup seemed like a delightful place based on a quick foray through the downtown area; with its many small cafes and adobes, from a superficial glance the town seems to capitalize on its location along the historic route 66. Grants, my next stop down the road however, was a shithole and a half…prime breeding grounds for meth and such I’m sure. But nevertheless it serves as the gateway to Mt. Taylor, my next destination for the day. I had foregone a snowshoe there years before due to iffy weather…the same day that later saw my ass kicked by Pastora. Backtracking through that last trip was a trippy experience indeed.
Taylor I found absolutely delightful, if none too exciting. After all the shit road driving in Arizona it was delightful to breeze down a highway and then a smooth dirt road all the way to an established trailhead and a well signed trail. I feared that the late afternoon sun would prove to be overbearing, but the vast ponderosa forest the trail travels through for the first few miles kept you shaded and cool; I’m pleasantly predisposed to ponderosas anyway after a brief but memorable residency in Flagstaff Arizona during my late elementary school years, and anytime I get to travel through a high ponderosa forest rekindles fond memories.
The trail becomes something of a former dirt road as it climbs out of the trees and up a naked slope. Then it turns and you face an awesome drainage, lined with deep dikes formed maybe by volcanic activity from Taylor’s past, maybe from erosion, or maybe a combination of both. No matter what the cause, it’s not something you see everyday, and makes for a nice sideshow next to the very pleasant trail.
The trail then loops around again past some cliffs and towards a deceptively large slope, its final switchbacks flirting with tediousness. I reached the top well before the 24 hours had passed since I had stood on Cedar Mountain in Utah, giving me three (albeit very easy) peaks in three states in less than a one day time window. A large group with a bunch of kids and teenagers were squatting about the entire summit area and seemed neither inclined to chat nor share. No matter…with the tree cover to the north the summit surprisingly didn’t have open 360 views, so I waded through the trees and the brush around the summit to try and get some views to the north and west.
The descent was quick, though the late afternoon sun as well as tired legs did make the last mile drag a little.
I made a pit stop at the Acoma Casino further down I-40 to watch the end of the Bruins Rangers playoff game. I prayed for a B’s win and clinch not only for the sake of the B’s themselves, but also to avoid the prospect of having to find and make time to watch a game 6 on Memorial Day Monday, a day that would involve the long drive back to Utah. Fortunately the B’s bailed my travel plans out, and I continued down to Albuquerque. I drove through the city past areas with various degrees of sketchiness, through downtown, and eventually towards the campus of UNM. Past that the neighborhoods got better, and I found myself in a delightful section of town surrounded by restaurants, breweries, and pubs. It was Nob Hill, apparently, the nice, hip, and gentrified part of the city, so I paid a little extra to stay in a motel here, had dinner and a few drinks in an “Irish” pub across the street (if you’re from Boston, there ain’t no true Irish Pubs in the US west of 128 ). People were friendly, girls were cute, and I only wished that I had a later curfew.
La Luzin' It (& Pajarito) - May 26th, 2013Sandia Crest
I got less than my preferred eight hours of beauty rest before I was up and early the next morning, delighted to find a Dunkin Donuts between my way and the highway. Adequately fueled by donuts and iced coffee, I drove north and fumbled around asking for directions before eventually finding the parking lot for the La Luz Trail for Sandia Peak, one which was quickly filling up.
Though the peak has a road all the way to the top, I decided to truly immerse myself in the Sandia experience I had to hike its flagship trail, and a few miles in I realized I made the right decision.
It was nice to do the first few miles in the early morning, shaded from the sun to the east by the massif of the Sandia Range itself. The views really opened up before the halfway point, as endless rock fins, pinnacles, and buttresses surrounded the still pleasant and wide foot highway to the summit.
Further up loomed the summit towards, several cliff bands, and even rows of yellowish trees which I guessed were maybe early season aspens. It was nice and crowded, lots of trail runners and casual hikers, all friendly and happy to be out on such a glorious day (contrast that from SLC, where apart from the few easy trails to one or two popular lakes most paths, despite even closer proximity to the city, are practically deserted by Colorado, and apparently Albuquerquean standards).
I made it to the anticlimactic summit in two and a half hours. The views south and west were decent, but I walked up and down the road and the nearby hills searching in vain for passable viewpoints to the north and northeast. Alas they were nonexistent, though I wonder if driving the actual summit road would offer up decent views of the Jemez.
I could explore the summit ridge trail further north, but I still had a packed schedule for the day, so after tallying around the summit for longer than I had planned, I made my way down, half running, and half fast walking.
It was interesting to see how the logistics of the mountain's visitors worked. I had the summit (with its visitor's facilities still closed) mostly to myself as the trail runners had long passed my fast-walk pace and, I assume, had trucked down in stowed cars or preplanned rides. On my way down I kept seeing and greeting the more casual dayhikers making their way up the mountain, with friends, families, and puppies. It was pleasant and once more, the friendly vibe of everyone in the Albuquerque area was interesting to note. The descent took less than two hours, though I came away bloodied by slipping and sliding my palm through the rough sandpaper terrain of the lower trail after slipping while trying to run the last few miles back through the now scorching heat. I got bandaids and Neosporin at a nearby gas station, then waded through the strip mall traffic in nearby Bernalillo, stopping to stock up on iced coffees and Starbucks, before saying farewell once more to the civilized world of the city and heading north towards the Jemez.
Jemez to Bandelier
Though the rest of the my visit was to be devoted to the Jemez area, it seemed way too brief as mile after mile I passed by bars, cafes, hot springs, and other attractions that I vowed to come back and check out. I did stop by Jemez State Monument, which featured some old but intact Pueblo ruins and surrounded by the scenic canyon walls lining both sides of the main highway heading into the mountains. After making my contribution to the NM State Park rainy day fund I headed on, past the fascinating Valle Caldera, likely at its lushest time of the year, and through the high passes down to Bandelier National Monument.
I had hoped to explore this place more, but it was running late in the day (the roads, though scenic, have a very low speed limit, which seems a common theme in the state, and regardless it’s very tough to speed through a very crowded three day weekend), and I only had time to walk the main loop trail from the visitor center. It was still a fascinating experience, bringing you up close and personal to the cliff wall dwellings of the ancient natives.
I backtracked and drove through the semi-top secret government roads (nevertheless open to the public) into the town of Los Alamos. I decided on here rather than nearby Espanola for Sunday night as the latter seemed to have somewhat of a reputation for crime and meth. Knowing of its attraction as a historical site dating back to the Manhattan project…I was disappointed to find it a very quiet and subdued, if overpriced, town, with none of the downtown hubbub that I had been hoping for… not quite an Aspen, or even an Albuquerque. First, before town, was one last peak for the day. I drove up the access road to Pajarito Mountain, a ski resort in the winter, and a steep ascent up a wide ski run during the summer. I was as close to sheer exhaustion as I had ever been, what with all the driving, and the peaks the day before, and a long hike/run of Sandia dating from earlier in the day as well. This last thousand feet of Pajarito took every ounce of willpower I had, though the views of Chicoma Mountain to the north made things a little better.
I was dismayed upon reaching the top of the ski run to find that the true summit was still a small downclimb and maybe four hundred feet or ascent away…I grumbled grudgingly these last few hundred feet of torture, but the views near the summit down towards the Valles Caldera, now basking and glowing amid a golden sunset, made it all worthwhile.
(The true summit, as far as I could ascertain sans GPS, as a nondescript spot in the nearby woods).
I finally found a motel in Los Alamos, exhausted as I had ever been, and passed out with no thoughts of flirting with my self imposed curfew.
Chicoma & Cerro Grande - May 27th, 2013Chicoma Mountain
I felt a little more rested the next morning, coffee’d up, and drove north into Espanola, where I was able to find the road leading to Chicoma Mountain without much trouble. The mountain, though light in ascent stats, presented some problems, as I had read several accounts of hikers getting lost in the wooded terrain between the summit and the nearby forest road. I tried my best to commit every bit of imagery from Google Earth of the road respective to the peak to memory, and had even bought a compass the week before to insure against getting lost. With such a wooded mountain, I tried to map my ascent to maximize open areas as well so that I could get as many views in different directions as I could. As a result, I drove past the summit to approach it from the northwest, making my way through open woods and a small cattle pond. I crossed the dirt road that some have followed on their ascents, heading in a generally southeastern direction. There was a low saddle above me, and I figured I’d either reach it first and enjoy the views south, or keep contouring southeast until I crest the southern half of Chicoma’s summit ridge, from which point I could follow the ridge crest up until there was no more up to follow.
It was one of the crispest mornings I had ever experience, the temperature sitting just in that perfect middle ground between chilly and warm, and a clean and fresh feel to the air augmented by the smell of conifers. From my parking spot I ascended a small open drainage past the cattle pond that I remembered from my scouting. I did cross the 4WD road, which doesn’t lead to the summit, and continued past it to reach the edge of the ridge, at an open spot.