A Peak Experience

One of the things we enjoy about living in Albuquerque is the view of the Sandia Mountains to the east of the city. There are two major summits: Sandia Crest at 10,678 feet and South Sandia Peak at 9700 feet. We have been to the Crest many times, since it is accessible by road from the east side of the mountains, by the tram from the west side, and by several hiking trails we have done at various times. South Sandia Peak is not as accessible.

The only way to get to South Sandia Peak is by hiking. There are several trail routes that will get you there, but none of them are easy. From our apartment on the west side it is the South Sandia Peak that we can see; the Crest is out of our viewpoint. So always looking at South Sandia Peak from our windows and knowing that we hadn’t yet made it up there, was a challenge we knew we had to meet. Today we finally did the 11-mile hike on the Embudito Trail that got us to the 9700 foot summit.

The trailhead starts at 6200 feet, which means over 3000 feet of elevation gain in the 5.5 miles it takes to get to the top. Thankfully, we got an early enough start in the day, as it ended up taking us 8 hours to go up and back. The middle of June could have meant a sweltering day, but the weather cooperated. By the time the morning started to warm up we were in the shaded, forested part of the hike. In the afternoon, on the way back down, when we reached the lower elevations where it is more open and can get pretty hot, a thunderstorm moved across the city and we benefited from the clouds and cool breezes. We didn’t even put on our rain jackets when we started to get wet because it felt so good to get cooled off and there was only a short distance back to the car.

I’m glad that we finally bagged South Sandia Peak, but I don’t think it’s a hike I will be anxious to do again anytime soon.  11 miles is a lot of hiking to do for one day!

Starting to get high enough for views of the city below.
Starting to get high enough for views of the city below.
We were pleasantly surprised by all the greenery on the crest.
We were pleasantly surprised by all the greenery on the crest.
There was a sort of "false" crest where we thought we had reached the top.
There was a sort of “false” peak where we thought we had reached the top.
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To the right and around the corner is the South Peak summit. In the distance is the Sandia Crest summit.
There's the elusive South Peak up ahead.
There’s the elusive South Peak up ahead.
Looking to the east from the South Peak.  San Pedro and Ortiz Mountains in the distance.
Looking to the east from the South Peak. San Pedro and Ortiz Mountains in the distance.
Afternoon thunderstorm building up over the city on the way down.
Afternoon thunderstorm building up over the city on the way down.

Wagner Butte Hike

When Ruth said we were going to hike up Wagner Butte, I pictured a flat mesa with great views from the top. Once we reached the top, the great views were there, but I had a hard time understanding why it was named Wagner Butte, instead of Wagner Peak. The 7140-foot summit makes an abrupt appearance as a large pile of rocks up ahead through the trees at the end of a 5-mile hike. The last stretch is a scramble up the rocks to a small platform that still has remnants of the foundation of an old fire lookout tower.

The trail was a steady climb, gaining about 2000 feet of elevation over the 5 miles. But there were many switchbacks, making it much less strenous than the trails we are used to in the Sandia Mountains. We also enjoyed the varying terrain, passing through deep forests, then coming out to mountain meadows, and then back into the forest, all the while getting more and more of a view of endless mountains stretching in the distance.

We would have been able to see Mt. Shasta from the top, except that during the time we were up there a big cloud was covering it with just the base of it visible. We were able to see Mt. Ashland behind us to the south and Mt. McLoughlin on the horizon to the east. And, of course, awesome views of the Rogue and Applegate Valleys. It was perfect weather for hiking and will certainly go on our list as a Southern Oregon favorite.

VIew 1
West towards Applegate Valley, partway up.

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One of the forested sections of trail.
View 2
Looking north towards Medford, closer to the top.
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One of the trail sections through meadows.
Ponderosa Pine
Ponderosa Pine. Trees are big here in Oregon!
Left side, peeking through the trees, you can see the rock pile that is our summit goal.
Ruth's cairn
Ruth took the time to rebuild this cairn. It had been here when she did the hike several months ago and she had been promising that we would see it and was upset to find it knocked down.
Last section up rocks.
Me and Lee at top
Me and Lee at top. Mt. McLoughlin is on the horizon just above Lee’s head.
Ruth’s signature pose.
Heading down.
Heading down.
Trail map
Trail map