Monday, October 4, 2010
Confirmation that life ain't all that bad:
A) On a single hitch, I got a ride from Salt Lake City to Albequrque. With bunk beds and a tv in the truck to watch Nacho Libre to boot!
B) The smell of juniper smoke floats around camp while I cook at night.
C) I traversed the crest of the Manzano Mountains
Over the course of these 5 days, the smiles have been piling up higher and higher...
You know a trail is going to be good when it immediately starts with a 4,000 ft climb. This climb was on the legendary "La Luz" trail up and through a canyon choked with the yellow leaves of aspens. The feeling of wearing a heavy backpack was amazing, and I was pulling up the steep climb with ease. From the top, 9 miles later, the views were unlike anything I've ever seen before. Well, that's not entirely true. Maybe the views were something like those in Southern California or Northern Baja, but much more extreme. Visibility was around 100 miles, 80 miles of FLAT AS desert, then mountain ranges beyond. Arizona likes to call their isolated mountain ranges the "Sky Islands", but these mountains in New Mexico seemed no different. Islands of rock poking up from a sea of barren desert. Muy bonita.
4,000 ft up means 4,000 ft down to the valley below. That's 4,000 ft down on really sore feet and knees, on a body still not fully recovered from running 100 miles 5 days prior. I ate a sub at the Tijeras Subway, packed a sub for the road, and headed out into the most boring terrain yet. Maybe I've become a scenery snob over the years, but the climbs through Tunnel and Ontero Canyons just didn't do it for me. I saw loads of mountain bikers from ABQ on the trails, and I couldn't help but think that I'd rather bike than hike through here. It was in this section that I learned to always have my compass in my pocket to verify my direction amidst the sea of jeep roads. The route had finally topped out on some plateau, and there were unmapped jeep roads and trails and etcetera all over the place.
The road hit a deadend at a barbed wire fence. I started off following the fenceline like the maps suggest, but soon realized that there was a road that sliced through this fencewalk, cutting the distance in half, and getting rid of the overgrown and steep hiking. I hiked this as quickly as I could, with no breaks other than the now standard 15 second check of the map. Just when darkness came and required the use of my headlamp, I found the junction with another barbed wire fence that I was looking for. There was just enough time to cook dinner over a juniper fire and steep some chamomile tea before the thunder yielded a drizzle, and I was forced to crawl under my tarp.
Today had to be better than the last. This is the beauty of each new day in an adventure like this. You never know what you will see and how it will affect you. To start the day I was only staring at another walk along a barbed-wire fence though. I was to walk a road up on this tree-covered plateau, paralleling the fence, then find a junction with yet ANOTHER fence. When I couldn't find this junction with the fences all covered in trees, I had to make it my own way. Plan "B" was to take said road half a mile, hope the fence, and take a bearing on the eastward and orange sun, until I hit that fence. Bingo! Now follow that and hop it at a petroleum at the USFS border for more fun roadwalking.
Water carries. I'd been getting by on only 2 different water supplies at this point, all from chlorinated taps. Now I had to find a tasty cattle trough up on this featureless plateau. GPS is always a last resort, and one that I haven't had to resort to just yet. I was ecstatic when I found a cattle trail which went off into the woods and toward my water. Nice yellow water that is. Another hour on the road found me hiking an hoest to G.O.D. hiking trail. It felt as if I'd never done this before, and the snapping of pine branches underfoot was irresistible. I found another spring, this one miraculously gushing out of the ground and running clear.
And here I saw people again. We all climbed seperately up to the crest of the Manzano Mountain Wilderness. Just like on the Sandia Crest, the 4,000 ft of relief gave huge views over terrain that I was becoming increasingly familiar with. To the north is the craggy spine of the Sandia, west was the green slice around the Rio Grande (fording this in 2 days), and further southwest was the Magdelena Mountains. Up high on the ridge the spine of the Manzano's was very wide. The route alternated through overgrown trail, and wide open grassy meadows with the way marked by ginormous cairns. My feet were getting more blistered, so I didn't feel the least bit guilty when taking a bit of lazy time to soak up the views and sunlight on that ridge. After a steep and thorny descent to find water at Ojo del Indio, there was an even steeper climb to Capilla Peak.
As soon as I saw that there was a fire tower on the peak at 9,200 feet, I knew that I needed to find a way to camp up there. With huge clouds building, I wanted to be up high for the show. Of course the tower was locked and there really wasn't a spot to sleep and stay dry. Even though there was a flat spot for camping, logic sadly got the best of me and I decided it probably wasn't in my best interest to sleep on the top of the largest peak around in the middle of a lightning storm. sigh. On the way back down from the tower's pearch, I saw the most beautiful, silky, pastel-pink sky I've seen in months. In 30 minutes that beautiful sky was dumping hail that was piling up by the fistful outside of my tent. A gusts of wind came, tore out a stake, and left me cursing while I scrambled to put on my shoes and fix the tarp....
"There's a dead moth in my dinner. DAMMIT...I hate it when that happens!"
Duly noted: don't shine headlamp into mac and cheese as you stir it or it resembles the bright orange flames that they become martyrs in. Not even 217 moths could bring me down from my buzz as I stretched out under my tarp, juniper flame at head, and began to write this entry.
When I had awoken this morning, I arose with nerves about the hideous, fire-induced, bushwacks that lived on in internet infamy. My map marked the boundary of two different burns, comprising some 8 miles of trail. Listening to this, I had visions of 7 mile days and running out of food. It should come as no surprise to find that the hype was overblown and I still managed to hike over 20 miles. That doesn't mean today didn't provide the most overgrown trail that I've seen yet. Even while pushing my way through scrub oak and briar patches, the burnt trees left tons of open space between their missing branches for huge views. The trail was incredibly vague on the many switchbacked descents to saddles, but my sixth sense of "traildar" always surprisingly found the way.
After 30 minutes spent staring into space at the top of Manzano Peak, it was time to drop off the north side of the Manzanos, for good.
Posted by Eric Payne at 9:44 AM