The most common way to reach South Peak is up Embudito Trail, one of my favorite hikes, but my friend David keeps telling me of a social trail a little north of the official trail, that follows the ridgeline between Embudito Canyon and Bear Canyon- so yesterday I decided to find the trail and hike to the peak along this more obscure route.
A meadowlark greeted me before dawn as I got to the parking lot. The trail was easy to find, though like a lot of social trails there were several spidery choices cutting across the landscape, all of which eventually came together on a single trail, quite easy to follow, that wasted no time heading straight up the ridgeline. The official trail, Embudito Trail, is a well crafted route that does not waste your energy- it snakes around the canyon, going gently up and up to South Peak. The social trail I’m on follows the ridgeline exactly, all the way to each minor peak and then down to the next minor saddle. So, you lose a lot of your vertical progress with each subsequent descent- but in exchange you get more drama.
Sunrise over the Rio Grande Valley.
From the base of the trail, looking towards the north side of the Sandias, where the other tall peaks along the crest are.
It’s spring! Claret Cup Cactus.
The shadow of the mountain across the city.
Sooner than expected the trail gets woody, more juniper-woodland than I would have expected for an open ridgeline. Nice for walking.
The first good view of the target, once I was high enough to see over the low foothills blocking the peak.
Looking north again, from higher up, towards the rest of the Sandias.
A lovely tumbly-jumbly outcrop of boulders along the trail.
Some nice flat boulders higher up- good for meditation. Some future hike, perhaps.
Looking back at Albuquerque from quite high.
The peak gets closer. You can see the steep granite cliffs in front of it. Embudito trail, the official trail, goes behind these. I’m starting to wonder how this trail is going to get past them.
The view north over Bear and Pino canyons.
Barbed wire. Bear Canyon to the north used to be part of the Elena Gallegos land grant, which was private land until a few years ago when the city bought some of it and the National Forest the rest (and some got developed, and a little is still privately owned). This former fence marks the grant’s southern boundary. I caught a glimpse of it on my left, then noticed it was on my right, and now I am crossing over it again.
The peak. This wide-angle shot does not do justice to the way the peak is starting to loom over me. This is the view from the last ridge before the last descent into the last saddle, before the final climb.
The northern peaks. With the sun higher now you can see all the rocky cliff faces.
Northern Flicker. The trail, which had been going determinedly east, has now turned to the south, still on the ridgeline, heading straight towards South Peak.
This imposing cliff face is actually in front of the Peak, which is lurking behind it. To its right and left are what look like seriously steep slopes. I’m wondering if the trail climbs one of these…
…or if perhaps it is going to climb this slope further north. A choice between killer-steep and just terribly, terribly steep. And the winner is…
Terribly, terribly steep. The trail shifts west again and climbs this thickly wooded slope. For the whole hike I’ve hardly paused, just stopping to get drinks from my water bottles. On this final stretch I stop a dozen times to rest my legs. The trail, happily going up and down the ridge all this time, has realized that here at the last minute it has some serious climbing to do, and it does. Very steep.
Following a deer up the trail. Even the deer gives up on this trail a little further up.
Lingering ice and snow.
This is either the top visible through the trees, or one of those tops where you clear it and go, oh, just three more of those to go. I stop to rest twice more before getting to this clearing…
Which is the top! The crest is far more open close to South Peak- lots of grassy meadows and scrubby oak woodland, all still dormant. Spring has not yet come to this altitude. The peaks to the north are covered in Spruce-Fir forest.
The trail gets to the crest a little north of the peak. Another half-mile to go. Views from the top:
My reward- a fat chocolate muffin.
Heading down the south side now, towards Embudito trail.
Gets windy up here. This looks like a low-country picture, but I am still on the crest at 9,000-plus feet.
The turn-off from Embudito trail to the spur leading to South Peak. Easy to miss.
The slope to the peak. Not so full of cliffs and drama as the route from the north.
Oso Pass, a notable landmark, where Three-Gun Spring trail meets Embudito trail. Years ago it was marked by four tall, dead trees. 20 years on, just one still stands.
One is half-standing.
One is down…and the other I could not find.
Leaving Oso Pass on Embudito trail.
The peak behind me.
My buddy Chris calls this thickly wooded stretch of the trail Mirkwood. It’s a north-facing slope with a stream at the bottom of the canyon, cool and moist for the desert.
Awesome Ponderosa Pine. Smells of Butterscotch.
An old blaze for the trail.
A favorite spot, where the trail crosses a dry stream in an open Ponderosa woodland. This is the closest the two trails get along the route, besides meeting at the top. The northern social trail is just a short walk away.
The last good view of the peak.
More spring in the desert:
And a last view of the peak from the bottom, barely visible between foothills:
Then it was back on the bike for the ride home. All downhill!