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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Can't Stand the Heat? Run to the Hills!

For anyone who resides in the harsh environment of the desert southwest, the seemingly omnipotent and powerful astronomical body of the Sun is a universal force that shapes the land, altering the most simple activities and patterns of our lives. The desert is both beautiful and treacherous, inhabitants must proceed with respect and caution, but when you can't handle the heat it's best to get the hell out of the kitchen! With temperatures consistently hovering around 107F in the Mesilla Valley and no reprieve in sight for the next 7 days, being seared like a pig on a spit wasn't an option I was willing to accept, not when the call of the White Mountain Wilderness of southern New Mexico was beckoning for us to find some refuge in the coolness of it's translucent springs, aspen lined trails, babbling brooks, towering balds and unobstructed vistas.

This was truly a spontaneous trip for me, as most trips require me to coordinate with my wife the dates and scheduling weeks in advance. With her and the kids heading up to Albuquerque for a family affair and me attending my good friend's wedding, the opportunity to get up in the high country quickly and with minimal impact on our life was an opportunity I wasn't going to flounder.

Saturday felt like a marathon to say the least, I literally sprinted out the back of the chapel throwing my shoulder into the steel double doors after saying my farewells to my workmate and his newly acquired wife. Ripping off my tie and shaking off my dress shoes as I got into my cruiser to pick up my father and sort through his gear and give him the seal of approval. This would be my fathers first backpacking trip with me. Without a doubt my father and I are two of the most hot headed individuals and often the catalyst to our heated exchanges usually is a result of our blatant similarities, what can I say, like father like son! Somehow we managed to get on the road without a hitch. Leaving Las Cruces shortly after 6pm we were making the best of the nearing summer solstice and were hoping to be through the town of Ruidoso, NM by around 8pm with just enough waning light to make our way up Bonito Creek and camp, our jump off point into the White Mountain Wilderness Area in the Sacramento Mountains.


My gear laid out Saturday morning ready to go inside my Burn for the weekend

My father and I arrived at the Big Bonito trailhead after 8 with few minutes of light left, it was considerably cooler and hard to believe that only 1 1/2 hrs. prior we were wilting away in the 107F heat, the temperature was now a pleasant 74F. We slung on our packs and hiked up trail about 2 miles to the Big Bear Canyon intersect and found a perfect grassy spot along Bonito Creek to settle into for the evening.



Dad loaded up and happy to have some cool relief

Arriving at camp shortly after 9 we treated some water for the evening and I began stoking a campfire to start a boil for dinner which would consist of Sweet Corn and Black Bean chowder and Western Style Tamale Pie and Beef, a flask of single malt scotch and a bar of dark chocolate. I think the idea of eating food out of a freezer bag with a long handled spoon struck him as odd, however the look on his face after he began eating was priceless. We sat around the fire for a few and tucked away for the night around 11 with full stomachs and a gentle creek lulling us to sleep with its music. It would be a superb and cool evening under the stars.


The early light of dawn creeping into our campsite around 630


Dad lingering a little too long in the quilt come morning


Our camp. I was very impressed with the MLD Grace tarp, pitches fast and tight, accommodating 2 comfortably.

Temperatures were quick to warm up and my BPL Beartooth Hoody was all that was necessary for the chill of morning, furthermore, my Caldera TiTri Inferno heated things up around camp as I stoked a blistering fire that roared on through the morning boiling enough water for 2 bloated meals of hot cereal and pressed coffee. I had hot coals that glowed for many minutes after, talk about incineration!


MSR Titan Kettle, my backcountry workhorse


Blazing hot coals, several minutes after we started eating


My father consumed some odd concoction of hemp seed, flax seed, gluten free, cardboard, fiber twig, sugar free, paper and hot water.... it was surprisingly better than my oatmeal!


With the light of morning quickly filling the canyon, we decided to clean up, wash up and pack up so we could make the best of the cool morning and have plenty of time for a beer in the afternoon in town. We made fast on breaking down camp and packing up; my newly acquired Mountain Laurel Design Burn was the ideal pack for this fast and light weekend excursion. I only had 2 goals, to have fun with my father and get up in the mountains and hopefully snag a trout in the backcountry on my new Tenkara Iwana rod, one of those would happen, one failed to come to fruition.


MLD Burn pleasantly loaded and rearing to get on the trail.


I hiked parallel to the trail up through the stream, eyeballing the pools for small browns to catch, there would be no fishing to be had on this morning. Early on, the scenery was peaceful and invigorating.




Shortly after leaving our campsite (2 miles +/-), we arrived at the next junction and chose to hike up the Aspen Trail to connect with the Crest Trail a brief 2 1/2 miles gaining over 2,300ft. of elevation in the process.


Dense foliage along the Apsen Trail


Small clearing from an old burn area


Calling all entomologists, can you name the species?


The short hike up through the Aspen Trail brought us quickly up into view of the Crest Trail above us that runs the ridge line of the Sacramentos Mountains. The landscape changed dramatically as we entered this relatively dry and grassy landscape above 9,000ft. A series of steep sided switchbacks leads hikers up to 3 saddles before finally connecting with the Crest Trail, from there the opportunities to connect on both halves of the Sacramento Range open up.


The 2nd saddle out of 3 before arriving at the Crest Trail




Resting in the shade carbing up on some Twizzlers and gummi-bears amongst the Light and Shadow of the mountain


We were greeted by a young elk grazing among the grassy flanks of the Sacramentos. This elk let out a few calls and muscled up and out of sight. This was a bonus to a great morning.


Coming up over the top of the saddle, making our way up to the Crest Trail


This spiky little fella kept scurrying underfoot as I hiked for a few yards. There was something weird about being up at 10,000ft, snapping photos of elk and bald summits and one colorful and tough Horny Lizard all within minutes time. The desert southwest is full of dichotomy such as this


About 15 minutes later we arrived at the Crest Trail and chose to climb up White Horse Mtn. and check out a patch of snow we saw from the saddle below. When you live in New Mexico in June, snow is a rare occasion unless up above 10,000ft.



Nogal Peak in the far upper right portion of this image


White Sands National Monument, one of the natural wonders of the world as seen from the Crest Trail


Stoked to not be in the hot desert valley below!

After our short diversion along the Crest Trail we ran into a small group of dayhikers who had come up the west face of the Sacramento Mountains via the Three Rivers Route, an annually running group of small rivers created from snowmelt and fueled by springs later in the season. I had the opportunity to pull out all of my gear and give them a demonstration and quick tutorial on super ultralight backpacking and the possibilities it opens up for less fatigue and more fulfilling time on the trail. One of the individuals was a former Leadville 100 racer as well as an adventure racer so he was very open and completely understanding of the benefits of going lightweight in the mountains, he was most impressed with the shelter and the Caldera cone. What I think he was most interested in though was how going ultralight would free up weight and room in his pack to carry in the 15 beers he took on his trip! Of course I told him to check out backpackinglight.com as soon as he got home!


Ominously beautiful clouds starting to float quietly overhead, time to make our way down off the ridge.

As my father and I hiked quickly down the mountain a large storm cell began to brew above us. At this point I had carried my Tenkara rod on the outside of my pack like some kind of charm and was itching for the opportunity to cast some delicate fly presentations into a pool, even if I didn't catch a single fish!


2 miles shy of the trail head I was feverishly scouring the small pools and streams of Bonito Creek looking for anything slipping through the currents and finally spotted a few small browns darting in and out of an alcove in the water. I quickly dropped my pack and tied my line on and began casting into the small pool. I had 2 snag ups fishing in the dense and small opening along the creek which is what probably spooked the fish as I had to retrieve my fly. To my dismay, I failed to catch any trout, but it was a relaxing and pleasant experience that simply felt right. I will definitely be bringing my Tenkara rod along trips this summer and into the fall.

Clear pools along the trail


Tenkara style flyfishing is rather simple and intuitive to pick up, it seems ideal for even the most unimpressive sized creeks in the country.


With no success on the fishing front, I packed up my rod and we hiked out before the thunderstorms brewing overhead developed. As we made our way down into the town of Ruidoso, NM with pints of brown and hamburger on the mind seeking to conclude our trip, we relished in the cool mountain air on the drive down knowing the sweet relief we had found in the high country would vanish as quickly as it came. If you can't handle the heat, then run to the hills!

White Mountain Wilderness Sign


  1. Another great trip report, Eugene. That's your dad? He looks as buff as you do. Maybe it has something to do with that hemp seed concoction.

  2. that all sounds wonderful and makes me want to head out myself! Great pics - thanks for including those

  3. Superb photos of another great trip. Sounds your dad enjoyed the trip as well, which is great! Better luck with the tenkara fishing the next time ;)