Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sandia Mountain Crest, North Trail 'Our Earth' 'Warm Earth' 'Cool Earth''Casting calls', click on 'In Production' and 'bulletin board' or 'for locals'.

The drive to the top of Sandia Crest, the last 14 mi (22.5km) from hwy 14, with the numerous 'Crotch Rockets' passing at each area with out a blind curve (they are not stupid), is always a pleasure. The fantastic mountain views are around each bend in the road, like a moving panorama. After paying the 3 dollar parking fee at the Sandia crest parking lot
  • near the dozens of antennas, powering up the GPS and checking my gear one last time, I started the days small adventure.
    Hiking the North Trail.

  • Looking at history, it is like taking a day trek back into the distant past. Ten Million years ago, the Earth's crust was slowly raised by the relentless 'Faralon Plate' starting to dive beneath this Western section of the North American Plate, into the Magma beneath the remnants of the Western Interior Seaway.

  • The end result was the 'Range and Basin' effect prolific throught the Western interior states, dropping the valley floor a difference of over 5mi (8km) lower than the Sandia Mountain Uplift, at 10,678ft (3,254m) above sea level, called The Sandia Crest, capped with 300 ft (91m) of limestone from the previous Interior Seaway marine shellfish. The face of the Crest is near vertical and over a mile (1.6km) above the city of Albuquerque New Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley below. The plunging Faralon Plate took down, over 15,000ft (4,572m), a portion of the Limestone that remained from the Inland Sea.

    Now that is a good way of getting rid of waste. Why hasn't anyone thought of that? The magma that was trapped during the shallow plunge was squeezed up and out of the rising crust of The North American Plate along a line extending for hundreds of miles. It's like having too much peanut butter in the sandwich.

    A lot of the cores and lava flows from 120,000 years ago, forced out during the raising, are still very visible on the horizon, though now dormant. Well that is, except for the area near Socorro NM 80mi (129km) to the South where the last magma flowed through the Valley of Fires about 1,500 to 2,000 or so years ago. A 5.8 magnitude Earthquake occured there about 1906, shaking Socorro. Small ones still happen at times. One of the prolific excellent viewpoints is along the edge of the Crest Trail. On clear days, excellent viewing of over 100 miles (160km) is possible.

    I sorted my Day Backpack, which to a lot of people is an Overnight Pack. I bring along a combination 'shelter half/poncho', a foil 'Space Blanket', a double layer light jacket with a rain hood, and a spare lightweight long sleeve shirt. Remember anti-biotic ointment, sterile wipes and light bandages for abrasions. Although the weather is usually very mild and sunny during the days up to November, this mountain chain sticks up at 10,678ft (3,248.5m) above sea level. As I mentioned previously, a mile (1.6km) above the surrounding landscape. No mosquitos have oxygen equipment for this altitude.

    Clouds and storms are attracted to this mountain quite frequently. Many people out on a little day trek, have been stuck in raging snow storms overnight, sometimes longer, waiting for professional rescue teams to bring down their half frozen carcasses. I don't intend to be one of them.

    I also hike alone, so I have to be self sufficient, with a couple of butane lighters, a compass to augment my small GPS. What a great little modern engineering marvel. Capitalism sure beats the snot out of Communism. Of course a light rope may come in useful. Sportsmans Warehouse has a 4mm (5/32 in) rope that can support 1000 lbs (453kg). I spent a number of fun years of my youth, as a member of 'The Boy Scouts of America'. I never forgot that training and have tried to always "Be Prepared" as the motto was drilled into me.

    My sandwich is enough for a couple of meals along with my apple and various snacks just in case. Always carry more water than you need. This will allow you to survive long enough in case of anything unforeseen happening. The extra water and shelter just might help another unfortunate hiker survive as well.

    A few years back, one of my sons rode along with his small group of mountain bikers, high up into the Mountains of southern Colorado. As I mentioned happens frequently in mountains, the weather changed within minutes and they were trapped on top of a very rough peak. The snow and sleet became so oppressive that they lost the trail back down. Knowing that the darkness was fast approaching and a vertical drop off was along side their narrowing path, they had to stop. The small group wearing spandex type, riding gear, (not very good for survival in a blizzard) huddled together near a small mountain tree while the endless lightning strikes raged around them. (also not recommended)

    The non-stop, freezing sleet covered the small group. The lithe person that was the champion hill climber of the group, began to shake uncontrolably, hallucinate and huddled close to my large, bear like, son for protection from the Hypothermia that was overtaking the group. My son was wearing a 'Timex Indiglo' watch. The group would ask him often to light their faces for reassurance that they were all still alive. My son said that he became aware of his mortality at that time And began praying. The night passed with the hours extremely longer than any they had ever experienced.

    The dedicated Rocky Mountain Rescue Teams, were already gathering for the search during the nights storms. The first crack of light brought the riders to their feet to begin the perilous trek back up to the trail that had been missed in the storm. Then began the ride for their life down the correct trail. Riding without falling down numerous times, was becoming impossible for one rider, my son hung back to watch over his tortured walk down. Soon my son had to reluctantly leave him behind to guarantee his own survival and get help.

    The amazing high altitude Rocky Mountain rescuers were on foot, running up the high mountain trail and picking up the survivors, one by one. My son told them of the last rider and the Mountain Rescue Team found them all. The Colorado TV news reported the missing riders and the subsequent successful rescue. When my son returned from that ride, he changed his riding habits from 'always on the edge' to slightly more reserved and casual. Not quite as 'bullet proof' He is now a family father once more and a little more careful.

    I now also wear an 'Indiglo' watch, just in case, and think of my son whenever I press the button. My hike started a little later than I had hoped. 11:00 pm does not leave room for error. This hike is a short one today but the numerous trails from the top of the Crest are always in a down trek. Down is easy for hiking. The trail starts on the North end of the lower parking lot. The first mile or so is through pine and the trail is soft needles. The time was spent checking for the numerous areas to look over the edge and see the vista below. About 1.1mi (1.77km) as the bird flies, I heard a woodpecker.

    The binoculars revealed a black and white female (no red feathers) Hairy Woodpecker, colored like an 8in (20cm) flying 'skunk', which is rare in the Southwest USA. This high mountain climate area is 'Hudsonian' in nature with pine prolific. The pine Beetle has brought death to many pines. This bird is busy pecking away the flakes of bark and by working it's beak side to side in the larvae holes, doing it's part to slow down the beetle infestation.

    Not many people trek this path, so the bird was oblivious to my presence. She apparently heard about the prolific beetle larvae and decided the trip was worth it. Happy hunting girl, send more friends. Soon the over look that was my goal, came into sight. The limestone trail began to appear underfoot. The trees began to thin out and scrub became more apparent. The helpful Ranger working the top parking lot, told me where the best point to see the plane crash remnants that I was looking for. The GPS indicated about 1.3 mi (2km) when I saw the first overlook clearing on my left ahead.

    Nothing but the balled up fuselage is visible of this crash that occured a few months ago. The cross country pilot apparently set the trim and took a nap. Not a good idea in mountainous terrain. Altimeters can be off a lot. The single engine craft hit at about the 9700 ft (3000m) level, of the North West vertical face of the mountain. The rescue team finally found the wreckage a few days later, and lowered by helicopter, a member down to the inaccessible site. Bears greeted him as if he were a party 'Pinata', he wisely and quickly pulled back up. The next day a ranger with a rifle accompanied the rescue. Whoaa, 'Pinatas' that fight back. They found that the bears had 'Shall we say, had some chow'?

    I finally saw the ball of aluminum but found no wings or tail? The aspens are starting to turn their bright yellow. The scrub oak is turning red. The colors will be in full flare a little later this month. I thouroughly reccomend a visit to see the colors this time of year. The famous Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is coming up sat Oct 6Th through the 14Th, so it can be a grand sweep.

    I then proceeded to hike to the bigger overlook just above the recent crash site, but nothing of the aircraft was visible from that point due to a second outcropping below the limestone. The trees, Limber Pine, Gambel Oak, and mountain Aspen, always look different from above. Lunch was wonderful looking out over the 3 million year old, Rio Grande 'rift' (one of the worlds deepest rifts at 5mi '8km') valley spread out one mile (1.6km) below. The powerful updraft wind is something to experience. It sweeps up into your face, giving you the feeling of falling, which is entirely possible if you get too close. After lunch, the rest of my downward trek was through scrub and walking on top of the 300ft (91.4m) thick limestone remnant of that Mid Cretaceous Seaway of 100 million years ago.

    Soon I realised that I had traversed down below the 9700ft (2,956m) level. The afternoon was progressing rapidly and I was to be at a fish fry at 6:00 pm. There were far more enticing sights to see ahead. Many more high points over the valley. Reluctantly I turned back, knowing that a return trip is in the future. I will admit that hiking back up 1,000ft (305m) on a rock strewn trail, is not anywhere as easy as hiking down. I had to stop each 100 vertical feet (30.4m), heart pounding, to fill my lungs with the high altitude thin air available. The return was over 2.5mi (4km) but felt more like 5mi (8km). I wore cross trainers for this hike, bad choice, twisted ankles are not conducive to getting off the mountain in a timely manner.

    The return meeting of another hiker was a welcome rest period. Great meeting with an experienced hiker to share stories with. Keep trekking my young friend, I already know by his education, knowledge of the area and enthusiasm, he is hooked for life. I knew that the end of the trail was near. A large chain link fence for the last 1/4Th mi (402m) is along side the dozen or more, repeater antenna array with the diesel generators running 24/7. The Jeep was waiting faithfully, the GPS was checked for accuracy before being put to rest. The gear was stowed. The half hour return, driving down the twisting mountain highway to home, was pleasant, knowing I will return next week to find the remains of the RB-57 Reconnaissance Bomber that hit the Sandia Mountain Crest, apparently due to altimeter error, many years ago.

    I have the site mapped and I bought some very comfortable, higher leather, Sonoma hiking boots with good toe room for downhill treks. The return uphill is always a different story. Today at Kohl's, 42 dollars, they may just save me from an unpleasant experience. Until then, enjoy the greatest nation on Earth, The USA.

    The greatest little map and guide book for this mountain is 'Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide' by Mike Coltrin, published by University of New Mexico Press. It is unequivocaly the very best little packable reference guide I have found, The interesting sites are just as Mike describes them. In the back pages, the Co-ord's are listed for hundreds of waypoints. Mikes website also links to a great user guide for GPS basics. You are a true positive 'Guiding Light' in our society. Thank You Mike Coltrin.



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