Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hiking: Setting new goals

I've been hiking up a storm here in Albuquerque and have finally adjusted to the altitude. After about four hikes, each with a 1,200-foot elevation gain, today I tried a hike with a gain of 1,800 feet, and I felt like I could have kept going once I'd reached the summit. Long story short: I'm ready to get back to work on completing the final requirements of the BSA Hiking Merit Badge. This means I'll be planning three final hikes - two 10-mile hikes and one 20 miler.

I'm not sure yet what I'll do for the 20-mile hike, but I have a few 10-mile hike options picked out for when the snow along South Sandia Crest has had a chance to thaw. Here they are:
  1. Three Gun Spring Trail north from the trail head in Carnuel, to Embudito Trail heading east to Sandia Crest Trail Junction, then back, 11 miles.
  2. Trail 135 (from the trail head near Tijeras) and the CCC Trail to the summit, then back to the trail head along the South Crest Trail, 10 miles.
  3. Pino Trail east to the summit, then South Crest Trail to the upper tram terminal, taking the tram to the lower terminal and continue the hike via Foothills Trails back to the Elena Gallegos parking area, 10 miles.
Since I'll probably want to get a start on finishing this up before the spring thaw, I will most likely hike a 10-mile network of Foothills Trails, starting and finishing at the Copper Trail Head, sometime within the next two weeks.

For the 20 mile hike I'm thinking I may do the entire Crest Trail, from Placitas to Tijeras, which would actually be more like 26 miles. I think this would be an amazing capstone to this project. What do you think?

Friday, January 27, 2012

FADA Service Project: Adopt an Open Space

"U-Mound" along Trail 401, Albuquerque Open Space
Over the past several months I have been working on an idea for starting a community organization aimed at getting people involved with fitness-promoting outdoor-stewardship activities in the local community. I'm calling it FADA: Fitness, Action, Direction of Albuquerque. The belief behind this organization is that fit bodies and minds are prepared to take action to improve communities and able to find direction in a world that is often confusing to navigate.

The primary goal of FADA for 2012 is building membership and developing a long term vision. In order to get the ball rolling, we are adopting a trail in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. This activity will get our members out onto the trails on a regular basis and promote our mission, which is to foster self respect (in the way we eat and exercise to live long, healthy lives) and respect for others (by taking care of the places we live and being mindful of the resources we share).

Trail 401 in the Sandia Foothills, Albuquerque Open Space
This week I met with three members of the Albuquerque Open Space Division: Jim Statler, resource management and visitor services supervisor; William Pentler, parks program specialist and open space education coordinator; and Jolynn Maestas, volunteer coordinator. Together we have identified a trail for us to adopt that is accessible to public transportation and is part of a well-maintained trail network that supports fitness activities related to both hiking and mountain biking. 

The space we will adopt is the section of Trail 401 that runs between Trail 400, just south of the U-Mound, and Trail 285, to the north. It is a beautiful stretch of trail that needs our help for three primary reasons: 1) it is littered with dog poop, 2) it has poor signage, much of which has been tagged with graffiti, and 3) it suffers from soil erosion issues because of heavy usage.

Magdalenas in view from Trail 401, ABQ Open Space
I'm excited to get started on this project, and am fortunate to be getting help from a core group of volunteers. The next step will be completing and submitting all the necessary paperwork to Jolynn and arranging to meet with Jim and William on site to identify the areas of greatest need. Soon after that, we will begin scheduling work projects for the coming months and devising a plan for mobilizing more volunteers.

Meanwhile, I will be arranging several short hikes with our core leadership, including Kristen Frueh, our parent and volunteer coordinator, and Khizer Ashraf, our nutrition and fitness coordinator, as well as with anyone else who's interested in participating in our organization. For more information on FADA, like us on Facebook.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hiking: Going green to the Sandia Foothills

I live a short walk from the Rio Grande, so I'm close to the Paseo del Bosque trail and a network of flatland valley trails called acequias in Albuquerque's North Valley. But the mountains are more my thing. Fortunately, the Sandia Mountains lie just about 10 miles due east, but there's a long and steady elevation gain of approximately 1,000 feet between the river and the mountains, so the best way for me to get there is by some sort of motorized transport - at least until I've built up enough stamina and lung capacity to bike to that altitude.

That-a-way to the Eye!
Since I'm trying to live more green these days, unless I can carpool I'd rather not drive to my hikes, so I'll likely be relying on the decent Albuquerque bus system whenever I want to hit the trails. ABQ Ride's services are limited on Saturdays, though, and they're severely limited if not non-existent to many areas on Sundays. So as I set out on my first trip to the foothills by bus today, I'll need to plan accordingly.

The most convenient access to the foothills is at Copper Avenue, between Central and Lomas just east of Tramway Boulevard. The Copper trail head is served by the frequent-running 11 bus and has direct access to the Albuquerque Open Space Foothills Trail System, which in turn has access to many U.S. Forest Service trails that lead into the Sandia Wilderness.

A few other buses make it up to different points along Tramway as well, but the benefit of Copper is that it has a great network of mountain bike trails, too, and my favorite hike so far - to Eye of the Sandias - is accessible there.

Eye of the Sandias
Today will be my third trip to Eye of the Sandias. This unofficial "user" trail that starts in Albuquerque Open Space and ends in Sandia Wilderness, and it is mysteriously maintained by an entity other than the forest service or the City of Albuquerque. Adding to the mystery is the painted eye, full of tears and glimmering with the Zuni symbol for direction and the sun. No one knows who painted it there more than 40 years ago, but urban legend has it that it's a symbol of sadness for the encroachment of city development onto the mountain.

The moderate to difficult Eye of the Sandias trail is a four-mile out-and-back inverted lollipop loop, which takes about 3 hours of steady hiking to complete, and it will take me about an hour and a half to reach the trail head.

I have the option of two buses in my North Valley neighborhood that will connect me to the 11 bus farther up in the Heights. I can take the 36 bus from Griegos and Rio Grande to connect with the 11 at the Alvarado Transportation Center downtown, or take the more frequent 157 bus froMontaño and Rio Grande to connect with the 11 at Lomas and Louisiana. Today I'll take the 157.

Certainly public transit is a bit more complicated than just hopping in a car and driving to the trail head, but it's a worthwhile challenge. The benefits of hiking for me are just too great to be sacrificed for the sake of convenience, and at the end of the day, reducing my carbon footprint makes me feel all that much better!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hiking: Building lung strength at high altitude

The Shield, from the Rincon of north Sandia Mountain
We arrived in Albuquerque New Year's Day and attempted a short hike in the Sandia Foothills to commemorate the end of our long journey from Boston, which began just before Christmas. The thin, cold air and mile-high altitude did us in after about a mile and a half along the trail - surprising since our last couple of hikes had been been five miles each and were a piece of cake!

Then again, those hikes were along the Missouri River bluffs outside of St. Louis, Missouri (Lewis and Clark Trail at just over 500 feet) and on the banks of Clinton Lake near Lawrence, Kansas (George Latham Trail at just under 1,000 feet). So it's understandable that we felt totally unprepared for hiking at the foothills' 5,700-foot elevation. But hey, we tried!

On the trail with Diego, George Latham Trail, Clinton Lake, KS
In the past week or so I've been building lung strength by doing several hikes of varying lengths and elevation changes of up to 1,300 feet (starting at nearly 6,000), as well as doing some biking and at-home fitness training. I feel I'm starting to gain the lung capacity I'll need to manage the kinds of hikes I'm accustomed to - I like to spend three to five hours on the trail several times a week.

Last week, after a week of walking down in the lower elevations of the Rio Grande valley, I hiked twice to Eye of the Sandias, which is a moderately difficult hike at Sandia's southern end. It's a four-mile lollipop loop with an elevation gain of about 1,300 feet. That's the greatest elevation gain I've tackled, period, so I was feeling confident I'd become used to things around here. But subsequent hikes have still been difficult, maybe more so. But I get out there at least every other day and am sure I'll be tackling the big mountain full force by the time it warms up a bit later in the month.

Sandia Foothills trails near Piedra Lisa Canyon
Yesterday Khizer and I hiked about a half a mile in on the south Piedra Lisa Trail (this one's not the Piedra Lisa Canyon loop we did on our first day - this one's located in the Rincon, just west of the iconic Shield, Prow and Needle of the northern Sandias). We were turned back as we were unprepared for the icy conditions. So we headed south to a volcanic mound near Los Lunas, about thirty miles south of Albuquerque.

That hike - to the top of El Cerro Tomé (Tome Hill) - was amazing. The hill is surrounded by flat farmland with the Sandias, Manzanos, Magdalenas and other famous New Mexico mountains off on the horizon. Being in the valley, and with a minor but steep elevation change of just more than 400 feet, this was a great hike to do for respiratory training!

Along the Canyon Trail at Kasha-Katue with Khizer
Today was another hike, this time with Khizer and our friend Kristen. We went to Kasha-Katue, also known as Tent Rocks, and hiked the Cave and Canyon trails at the national historic site near Cochiti Pueblo. The total hike was about three miles with about 500 feet of elevation gain, so it wasn't too difficult breathing-wise, but it was a bit technical because of snow and ice in the narrow slot canyons climbing up to the amazing overlook. This was an incredible hike, and it felt good to complete it without feeling as tired as other recent hikes have made me feel.

Monday we will likely do another three-mile hike along Jaral and Juan Tabo canyons in the north Sandias. I'm going to try to get in at least three hikes of three- to five-miles each at the mid-range elevations this week as well as do a few significant bike rides of at least 10 miles each. Along with that, I'm going to begin posting another thread related to the Cycling Merit Badge starting this week, so stay tuned!