Been a while since I've checked in here, and even longer since I've posted. Sadly, at least in the context of my leisure time, work has been crazy-hectic and hasn't afforded me any opportunities to get out into the wilderness. That is, until a friend and I just randomly decided a couple of days before heading out, to venture into New Mexico for the first time and see what their mountains have to offer. Short answer: tons of adventure!
To add a bit of color to this report, I've only recently gotten into backpacking in the last just about 12 months. My methods are far from refined, my gear has however been given the multiple-time shake-out on short trips and through countless hours here learning as much as I can secondhand. But the latter only goes so far. With that in mind, we decided to take a shot at what we thought would be a 3 day, 2 night, hike around the Smokey Bear Wilderness.
Side note: how many goddamn names does one wilderness area need?! Smokey Bear Wilderness. White Mountain Wilderness Area. Lincoln National Forest. etc etc. I could probably find 3 more if I looked hard enough! LOL. Anyhow....
Here's a handy map of where we were.... http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5181492.pdf
- Friday night, drive from Austin TX to base of mountain(s)
- Saturday: wake up refreshed, head up Trail #41
- Take Crest Trail #25 south along ridge
- Camp somewhere along ridge
- Sunday: Continue #25 until #36
- Take #36 back down mountain to Argentina TH
- Walk couple miles to car parked at base of #41
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED:
First we left Austin a bit late. My buddy and I are off our travel-game and everything just took a bit longer, punctuated by last minute trips to REI for things we forgot. We DID manage to start at Coopers BBQ in Llano which was INCREDIBLY good. We pulled into Roswell NM around midnight and got a hotel.
ProTip: La Quinta takes dogs with no extra charge and their hotel style (vs their motel style) hotels are actually pretty decent!
Car trouble Saturday slowed our progress to the mountain. Then.....it rained. And by rain, I mean it poured. We decided to wait it out slightly but ended up heading up Trail #41 (Skull Canyon). The going was slow and painful; [large] partly to poor fitness and the first time either myself or my buddy were trying to do anything over about 5000', and partly because the rain made the thin layer of top soil quite slick. Every step included a small slide. My Lone Peaks were comfy but their tread is definitely at times outmatched by serious mud, but then again I wonder if anything wouldn't have been. A couple hours later we made it to the top of the ridge and were in aw of how beautiful it was, especially once the rain abated. Later we spotted quite a few elk along the periphery ridges watching us watch them. Their size, even at a distance, is apparent and they definitely aren't the whitetail deer I'm used to.
At that point we started to actually following the #25 trail which was considerably easier-going than the hike up, albeit still quite a bit of up/down. Through some not-skillful-but-it-felt-like-it (read: newbie who didn't screw up) routing I managed to get us to the top of the Bonito Canyon via the western trail along the ridge. We setup camp about 300y S of the major trail intersection and enjoyed our evening. Severe leg cramps started to really get to me, sadly, but no matter because I came prepared for everything with my tiny but well-stocked med kit that included both potassium, advil, and some muscle relaxers (for my back which is usually the first thing to go). I slept like the dead.
Sunday morning the skies were clear until about 9 when the puffy clouds started appearing. We lingered a bit too long on the ridge (in hindsight). We realized that we hadn't brought enough water that morning. Between my friend and I we were down to about 1L each and the dogs were hassling us for water constantly. It should be said, we set out with 8L between the two of us. Schoolboy error. I didn't realize how dry, even with rain, it would be and most of the seeps were just mud. Knowing we wouldn't make the rest of the loop we'd planned along the #25 to the #36 we decided to exit the ridge down #39 and head back to the car.
The #39 trail is quite beautiful and surprisingly different ecosystem-wise than the #41 trail we ascended: fewer types of underbrush, far more enormous pines and open ground level meadows. We also discovered that the stream/spring that runs through the base of the canyon had plenty of water just about 500y into the canyon. However, as the clouds thickened I was glad we hadn't decided to follow #25. Roughly 500y from the bottom of the #39 trail we heard thunder and the skies were grey like charcoal. Getting into our raingear I realized I had lost my dog's leash up on the trail while changing my shirt. Damnit. No matter, it was being good and the storm was a bigger issue.
.....then it opened up.
The storm blew in fast (maybe 10 mins from thunder to downpour). The last mountains I spent time in were the Appalachians when I lived in the NE but I didn't remember storms brewing quite that fast. Rain from this downpour was FRIGID. We were soaked immediately, everywhere not covered by WPB fabrics (basically, everything but torso and head). The dogs looked miserable. We were miserable.
.....then it started to hail.
We went scrambling for cover under some trees to wait it out. Thankfully it passed in about 5 minutes and we continued along the forest dirt road now heading from the Argentina Bonito TH back to our car at the base of #41. That was a long walk. More importantly, we quickly realized the downpour was flash-flooding the canyons and bringing down tons of mud, dirt, and small boulders, washing them in at least 4 spots across the road into 12" high mini-landslides. Right about now I realized why we were the only 2WD car (a sport hatchback no less) back in the woods while everyone else was in a truck or SUV. This would be interesting.
.....and sure enough it was.
After "Top Gear" style picking our way through the rubble washes in a truly inappropriate automobile, we crossed about 12" of standing water and proceeded to think the worst was behind us.
......not so much.
Ahead was a huge landslide across the road that was actually challenging some 4x4's so naturally we thought, being the college-educated retards that we are, that we could fill in some of the low spots, clear some of the high spots, and if all else fails, push a little at low RPM to get us through things. Also.....not so much. We ended up with a dug-in front wheel and a very lovely local lady in a Cherokee came plowing through and offered to pull us out. After locating a tow strap (from a second driver in a Wrangler) and my tow eyelet, we were extricated. But not before I managed to have to get out of the car in nothing but a tshirt and my 3/4 length merino base layer (and shoes) because everything else was wet and I was more comfortable nearly naked than wet and cold.
I can only imagine was the locals thought of us!
Overeall, the trip was amazing albeit cut short due to our ineptitude. I wish I had realized that they had lifted the burn ban the day we arrived. I can say with a resounding thumbs-up that Gaia GPS works a treat and was the best $20 I've spent on outdoor equipment (ProTip: even if you put your SIM in a waterproof bag, you might loose the tiny bastard like I did). I now have a base of experience for planning future trips, looking at topos and judging route difficulty, and for refining my load-out. I'm very VERY pleased to say I'm beginning to not need earplugs to sleep outdoors! Also, my friend had an amazing first-time that he enjoyed and is going to get himself his own gear (I lent him a ton of mine that I keep for just that reason).
Lastly, and quite possibly most importantly: I finally pooped outside, in a hole I dug all by myself. I can't say I enjoyed pooping outside finally (it's been probably 8 trips and no ass usually just shuts down) but I didn't manage to sh*t in my own pulled down pants, get bit in the ass by a rattlesnake, or generally make a fool of myself. I did however, manage to pee into my own pulled down pants, use damn-near half of my poop-kit, and nearly freak out when a bee landed on my exposed thigh. Apparently pooping outside takes practice and I'm definitely NOT looking forward to it.
Like I said, it was an adventure!!!
Pics to follow soon!