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

A Day in the Life of Ruth

Overlooking Medford from Lower Table Rock.
Overlooking Medford from Lower Table Rock.

Who else but my daughter would start her day by getting up at 4:30am to pack her husband’s lunch and then get herself dressed in her biking gear in time to head out on her bicycle to meet a group of friends at 5:15am for a 20-mile sunrise ride? Not only can she motivate herself, but when she decided the night before to do the sunrise ride, all she had to do was post the plan on FB and she has enough dedicated followers that half a dozen other people actually showed up to do the ride, too (her mother wasn’t one of them)!

Returning from the sunrise ride, she made sure her daughters got off to school and that her guests (me and Lee) had our breakfast. Then she filled the house with the yummy smell of dinner preparations as she assembled a delicious meal to simmer in the crockpot. She already had the day’s outings planned and wanted to make sure dinner would be ready for everyone at the end of the day.

We packed our lunches and drove north of town to do the 5-mile hike at Lower Table Rock. We had done the Upper Table Rock hike several times before on previous visits, but hadn’t yet been on the lower one. The lower trail is quite different, but after reaching the top, it provides the same beautiful views of Medford from a slightly different angle. We usually aren’t here at this time of year and were excited to see a lot of gorgeous wildflowers along the trail and bright green fields and hills in the distance.

Approach to Lower Table Rock.
Approach to Lower Table Rock.

An unusual photo.  I didn't think I ever managed to be in front of Ruth on a hike or bike ride.
An unusual photo. I didn’t think I ever managed to be in front of Ruth on a hike or bike ride.

One sample of wildflowers.  We learned that the common name is "farewell-to-spring."
One sample of wildflowers. We learned that the common name is “farewell-to-spring.”

Made it to the top of Lower Table Rock.
Made it to the top of Lower Table Rock.

After hiking and biking you’d think it might be time to go home for a nap. But, no, the next thing on the agenda was to go to a friend’s house who had offered us a “pick your own” visit to her garden. She had a large strawberry patch with the berries just beginning to ripen. It was hard to get those berries into the bucket instead of into my mouth. My mother raised strawberries and I got spoiled growing up always eating strawberries fresh from the garden. All the years since, being forced to buy them from the supermarket, I couldn’t believe how great it was to eat the strawberries right out of the garden, fresh and vine-ripened like God created them to be.

Freshly picked strawberries, rhubarb and turnips.  Yum!!
Freshly picked strawberries, rhubarb and turnips. Yum!!

This busy day happened to be Tuesday, and, of course, my active daughter, even with guests for the week, could not postpone the Tuesday Night Ladies Ride that she faithfully organizes every week for women in the area. When she had posted the planned ride she noted that her mother would be joining. I felt like I couldn’t bail out of this ride. Not to mention that she also spent extra time putting different pedals on her road bike so that I could borrow it. And sacrificing her road bike meant she would be doing the ride with her mountain bike. But don’t think the extra effort required to pedal a mountain bike while the rest of us were on road bikes slowed her down any. The only reason you might have seen her anywhere except in the lead would be because she was being considerate and hanging back to keep her lagging mother from feeling left behind.

I had been afraid to ask how long this evening bike ride would be. I’m familiar enough with Medford that I figured I could turn around and find my own way home if it looked like I wouldn’t be able to pedal as far or as fast as this enthusiastic group. Rain clouds had been threatening us the whole way. When it started to rain in earnest, the group decided to shorten the ride. I breathed a sigh of relief because just before that we had discussed the next turn and how much further it was going to be and I thought there was no way I wanted to go that much further before turning around. As it was, by the time we got back we had done a 20-mile ride. A second 20-mile ride for my super athlete daughter on top of a hike and a busy day as hostess and homemaker extraordinaire.

I’ve described just one day in our weeklong visit to Oregon. I didn’t get around to sharing the wonderful hike that Ruth led us on Monday. Today Ruth and Lee are getting ready for a bike ride to Ashland, where we are meeting others for lunch. And this evening is the big graduation event for our eldest granddaughter. I can’t keep straight all the other things Ruth has planned for us this week, but you can be sure we won’t be sitting around!

The Tuesday Night Ladies Ride group.
The Tuesday Night Ladies Ride group.

Ruth is famous for this pose.  This one was yesterday's hike up Grizzly Peak.
Ruth is famous for this pose. This one was Monday’s hike up Grizzly Peak.