|We'll follow the light all the way to the summit!|
then, as the slope increased, started to switchback.
About a mile in I came across a second sign announcing the start of the La Luz trail:
|Wait, what was I walking on before?|
The sun came slowly over the Sandias, marking their contours in shadow. The trail passed in and out of its light, then settled there to stay. At the crest of a spur I looked back towards the city:
|...and there it was.|
By this point I'd gained 1000, perhaps 1500 feet from my starting point in the foothills. The air still felt the same, but I'd passed into a very different climate zone, as you can see:
|One with actual trees.|
|At the valley's center.|
|No town for you.|
I paused for a rest at the turn of a switchback:
then continued up towards the Sandia spires:
Further on, I came to an officially-designated "scenic view"--as if those words didn't describe the whole trail:
|Right up thataway.|
|Can you spot the river? Hint: it's long and green.|
|...and understandably so. Yowza, those are some cliffs.|
It skirted around that particular cliff, then headed up a narrow valley dominated by several talus fields (or "boulderslides," in the common parlance). Sweet, I thought when I saw them--are we going to do some scrambling?
But as La Luz led me up, across the first boulderslide, into the woods a bit, then back around to re-cross that same slide, I realized it was taking me up a perfectly good scramble on switchbacks. Really? Taking matters into my own hands, I sprang off the trail and clambered up to the next trail-crossing... then immediately slumped over, gasping for breath. Fine, Luzie--switchbacks it is.
And so my progress slowed, due both to the thin air (I must have been at least 9000' high) and the trail's circuitous route. I inched up the valley, marking my progress by the spurs on its northern wall:
|Two-thirds of the way through...?|
|Since the name is Spanish for "watermelon..."|
By this point I was feeling the elevation pretty bad. It was nothing like the chest-tightness I'd experienced in Colorado, though, just a heaviness in my limbs and a slowed recovery from exertion that reminded me far more of the month back in high school when I'd tried to train for cross-country while anemic. It wasn't easy to make it through a practice when the warm-up lap left me as winded as a four-mile run used to; just so, it's hard to climb a mountain when you need a breather at the end of each switchback. But if there's one thing we mountaineers are known for, it's persistence:
|...even when you reach the end of the trail and learn there's still another half-mile to the summit.|
|Not pictured: the 50-foot drop to the left.|
A short way from the summit, the trail passed by a clear spot along the edge of the cliff. I ventured out to take a look...
|...and was amply rewarded.|
And, of course, looking down I could see all the switchbacks I'd so painstakingly shambled up to get here.
|At sea level, you scramble. At 10,000 feet, you shamble.|
Like Cheaha Mountain and Mt. Washington back east, the official summit was given over to car-tourists (who'd driven up the much gentler eastern side of the range). A huge restaurant/gift stop dominated the apex:
|I should have guessed.|
|Radio towers I understand. The rest, not so much.|
So there you have it. If Katahdin is the only "western" peak east of the Mississippi, Sandia Crest is one of the few "eastern" peaks west of it.
After surveying this mess of civilization, I settled down to snack on a concrete step. Halfway through I was joined by a fellow hiker, an older woman I'd passed on my way up, who sat down beside me and pulled out her own lunch. We chatted for a bit. I forget what-all was said, but the topic eventually came around to thunderstorms. Today? With those clear skies? Unlikely, I thought, but you never can tell with mountain weather. I gave the sky another look--nothing but harmless cumuli as far as I could see--and predicted we'd have another hour or two of clear weather, at least.
With that, I headed down the way I'd come:
|Back to the wilderness...|
|Gravity was on my side!|
|Seriously, Albuquerque? Do you not know the meaning of the word "desert"?|
|"I know," I replied, "I can see it."|
|Storm? Who, me?|
but La Luz had one more surprise in store for me:
"Hey," I said, in my best snake-shooing voice, "I'm coming through."
He didn't move.
Now, I could have sic'ed the Lars on him--their Rock-type moves would kick his scrawny Poison-type behind in no time--but that didn't quite fit the ethics of Leave No Trace (Pokemon battle-sites are the #2 cause of trailside erosion, you know, just after switchback-cutting), so I had no choice but to wait... and wait... and wait... until he finally slithered off into the bushes, then leap over the spot where he'd been and run for the trailhead.
Seven and a half hours after I started, I arrived back at my car. Not bad for a sixteen-mile round trip, I'd say. With all due ceremony--none--I stripped off my hiking boots, chugged the last of my water, and drove back to town.
|I was there!|