Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Epic hike ignites dormant muscles, sparks spring fitness fury!

Today I went on one of my most epic hikes of recent memory. I don't usually go off trail, but I've been hiking the Southern Sandias pretty extensively since I got here a few years ago, and I felt curious today to find out where an unofficial trail would lead me. As a result, I ended up scaling a canyon wall, crossing an amazing high desert prairie-like landscape and crossing paths with a gorgeous, big blond coyote before finding a familiar trail I knew would take me back down to the trailhead. All in all, I'd say I hiked around four miles with an elevation gain/loss of more than 1,000 feet.

Sunshine + Mountains = Bliss

The best part of the hike is that I feel exhilarated, re-invigorated to achieve my fitness goals, and on fire for hiking and wilderness exploration once again.

Copper Trailhead with view of the U-Mound on the right
Starting off at the Copper Trailhead in Albuquerque's Southern Sandia Mountains, we walked around the west and north sides of the U-Mound and took the arroyo there that leads east to a whitewash, which is basically a dry waterfall with a white hue from mineral build-up, at the mouth of an unnamed canyon.

View of the whitewash, heading east through an arroyo
My friend and I had come to the same whitewash last week, but we came up from a trailhead south of Copper, so we hiked over the saddle, passing the junction where the south branch of the Eye of the Sandias trail joins the trail to the top of the U-Mound. I remember pointing out the south branch of the Eye of the Sandias trail to my friend, thinking we might take it sometime, as the Eye hike is one of my favorites, especially in the winter.

A look back from whitewash ascent at U-Mound and ridge up to the "Eye"
So we made it up to the top of the whitewash and decided to continue going beyond the whitewash. We stayed in the canyon and hiked up the arroyo, which in the New Mexico mountains is the name for an intermittent mountain stream. It has been very dry this winter, so the stream bed held no visible water today. It only became evident that the ground was slightly damp where an animal had dug into the canyon floor and turned up dark brown earth, a stark contrast to the typical light brown color of surface soil here in the western Sandia Foothills.

Typical gritty trail surface on the Sandia Mountains' west face
We hiked a ways past the whitewash, but I don't know if it was a quarter mile or half a mile or what, because at some point we came across a huge boulder, the size of a small bus, and we decided to head off trail and scramble up the wall of the canyon. The intense scramble took my attention away from estimating the distance we'd traveled. In fact, all attention was focused on my hand and foot positions, and all spare energy was directed to my legs, especially my quadriceps, which, once ignited, were called on over and over again to lift and push my 280-pound body up to another ledge, to top one massive boulder after another.

Ascending southern wall of canyon, from about 1/4 mile east of whitewash
Once we made it to the top of the canyon wall, we realized we were not too far from the south branch of the Eye of the Sandias trail. We would have to cross three deep-gully arroyos to make it to a saddle between two other prominent Foothills peaks. That's where we found the upper part of the south branch Eye trail. We sat for a moment to have a snack and more water. And just as I sat down and looked back up the trail I saw the gorgeous blond coyote come up the hill we'd just come up and run off into the distance.

It looks easier than it is! We had to cross three gullies to reach that saddle
From here we took the Eye trail back down to the trailhead. The Eye trail's south branch comes out underneath the set of electrical poles just above the saddle by the U-Mound. From the saddle we took the switchbacks on the south side of the hill to make it back to where we'd begun.

The Coyote headed up this trail as we headed back down to the trailhead
What made today's hike so epic is that it was one amazing workout for the body, but it also was a workout for my brain. I love maps, and I often pore over maps of the Sandias - the Southern Sandias in particular, because they are so accessible to central Albuququerque, where I live. So today's off-trail adventure helped me weave together my book-larnin' with actual on the ground experience. It's like those topographical maps have come alive in my head, and I'm more ready than ever to get out and explore some more!

Feeling exhilarated (and spent) as I walk into the sunset toward my truck
I'll be posting more great hikes in the Southern Sandias, as well as other New Mexico hikes, soon, on my blog HikeyHikey. (You'll also find hikes there, from the all over the United States, including New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and elsewhere in the Southwest and Southern California.)

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