Polar Vortex or Pino Trail?

Polar Vortex?
Polar Vortex?

Maybe we were trying to identify with the rest of the country that is feeling the effects of the “polar vortex” causing record breaking cold weather in much of the nation. Living in New Mexico, even in January, there are plenty of hikes out in the desert that don’t require trudging through snow and ice. Whatever the reason, the hike we decided on today was a steep, 9.2 mile hike in the Sandia Mountains on the Pino Trail, that we knew would have wintery conditions.

This trail begins in the Sandia foothills at the Elena Gallegos Open Space, heading east along Pino Canyon and ending at the ridgeline between Sandia Crest and South Peak. Lee and I had done this trail once before, but we did it before the winter snows came to the mountains. I wouldn’t have thought of doing a hike in the winter months in this area, but that was before I knew there was such a thing as YakTrax. For those of you, like me, who don’t pay much attention to equipment for winter sports, YakTrax are devices that attach to the bottom of your boots to give you traction for walking on packed snow and ice. My friend said she had a pair that I could borrow, if I wanted to do the hike. I’m willing to try just about anything at least once. So up we went.

Why couldn't we stay down here in the nice, dry desert?
Why couldn’t we stay down here in the nice, dry desert?

Reaching icy sections and stopping to put on YakTrax.
Reaching icy sections and stopping to put on YakTrax.

My boot with the nifty YakTrax
My boot with the nifty YakTrax

There was definitely packed snow and ice on the trail and I’m not sure I would have made it safely up and back down, if I hadn’t had the YakTrax. The climb up is hard enough without having to deal with an icy trail. There were also many fallen trees along the way that we had to struggle over or under or around.

Example of the many fallen trees across the trail.
Example of the many fallen trees across the trail.

Trudging along through the snow.
Trudging along through the snow.
Breaks from the snowy sections on south-facing slopes.
Breaks from the snowy sections on south-facing slopes.
A long snowy section of trail that made us think it would be nice to have a toboggan for the trip down.
A long snowy section of trail that made us think it would be nice to have a toboggan for the trip down.
View from the top
View from the top

Pino Trail on the Crest connects to Cienega Trail that goes down the ridge on the other side of the Crest.
Pino Trail on the Crest connects to Cienega Trail that goes down from the ridge on the other side of the Crest.
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The EveryTrail GPS track of our climb up the Pino Trail. Remember this is only half of what we did, because we also had to come back down.

As difficult as the climb is, once at the top it’s well worth the effort. And I’m really thankful that I could do a hike today when so many other people are dealing with sub-zero temperatures and can’t even get outdoors at all. I’ll take the Pino Trail over the Polar Vortex any day.

Opening the New Year at Albuquerque Open Spaces

Since our last hike of 2013 was at one of the Albuquerque Open Space areas, it seemed appropriate to “open” the 2014 hiking season with another hike at an Albuquerque Open Space area. Although geographically close to each other, these 2 areas have a very different physical environment, which is part of what makes our city such an interesting place to live. That, combined with the fact that the city is committed to investing in public lands that all outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy, is one of the main reasons we chose this city as our home.

No other large metropolitan area in the US has as much public land per capita as Albuquerque. Nearly 29,000 acres of land under the city’s jurisdiction has been set aside to preserve unique landscapes, protect sensitive habitats, and provide miles of recreational trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

The map below shows the diversity of areas that are included in the Open Space. The area in the upper right corner (larger of the 2 polygons and the one furthest to the right) is the Golden Open Space where we hiked last week. The hike today was at Manzano Open Space, southwest of Tijeras, in the Sandia foothills, on the south side of I-40. We live on the west side of the Rio Grande, but it takes no time at all on a Saturday morning to drive across the city to enjoy these east side Open Spaces.

Albuquerque Open Space map
osa_overview

There were six of us on this group hike, which normally would have started with loading a van of hikers at one of the senior centers. But, since there weren’t any available van drivers on this particular day, the hike started with everyone meeting at the traihead. The weather forecast was predicting a storm front for the weekend that would begin with strong afternoon winds. Although the winds did noticeably pick up later in the morning, we couldn’t have asked for better weather as we began our trek up through the foothills. With the clear air and bright sunshine we have come to expect on New Mexico winter days, we had awesome views of the city below us to the west and Tijeras canyon and I-40 to the east.

Patches of snow on north slopes.
Patches of snow on north slopes.

Trekking along around the foothills.
Trekking along around the foothills.
Ups and downs winding through the foothills.
Ups and downs winding through the foothills.
Albuquerque airport landing strip visible in distance at far right.  A plane is landing, but only a tiny dot in the photo.
Albuquerque airport landing strip visible in distance at far right. A plane is landing, but only a tiny dot in the photo.
View to the west.  Mt. Taylor visible on the horizon.
View to the west. Mt. Taylor visible on the horizon.
View of Manzano Mountains to the south.
View of Manzano Mountains to the south.
Looking east, Interstate 40 in the distance.
Looking east, Interstate 40 in the distance.
A different kind of "tent" rock.
A different kind of “tent” rock.

2014 is off to a good start and we look forward to spending our second year enjoying the outdoors in the beautiful land of enchantment.

Every Trail map showing the track of our hike.

More photos on Flickr.