Dispatches Tagline

Reset and Recovery

Monday, January 29th, 2024: Hikes, Little Dry, Mogollon Mountains, Southwest New Mexico.

I assume everyone has experienced setbacks, and starting over. Losing the ability to do something essential, and facing a slow, arduous recovery of that ability. That seems to be the theme of my life now – every few months, I lose the ability to hike, and I have to fight my way back to a slightly lower capacity than I had before – so that in the long run, I’m gradually losing capacity. One step forward, two steps back.

When I say essential, I mean hiking is the way I keep my blood pressure low. When I can’t hike at capacity, my blood pressure quickly goes up 30 points, and if it stays there indefinitely I’ll have to start taking daily meds like most people my age.

Today was supposed to be my latest recovery hike, after more than a month off. I knew I shouldn’t tackle a hard one, and my favorite crest hikes were inaccessible anyway because we had more snow last week. I finally decided on a canyon hike I hadn’t done since last May. It’s a slow climb through a flood-damaged canyon to a mid-elevation saddle, and from there I could descend into a second canyon if I had time and the inclination.

It was a little below freezing when I left town, but it was forecast to reach the mid-50s later. Approaching the mountains on the highway, I saw a lot of snow above 8,000 feet – my saddle would be at 8,200, which shouldn’t be too bad.

This is a trail I’ve hiked many times, but it was washed out a few years ago. Last May I discovered that the first two miles had recently been cleared, and beyond that, it was slow going but I could find my way.

This time around, I expected to be out of shape from the hiatus, and at 6,800 feet, beyond the cleared section, I was surprised to run into some snow, which made it even harder to get through the obstacles. Boulder-choked narrows that had to be climbed around, debris flows of loose rock, big snow-covered logs that had to be crawled under or cleared of snow and climbed over. And that was only in the canyon-bottom section.

A mile beyond the cleared section, I came upon three heavy-duty cardboard boxes with plastic handles, containing square seven-gallon water jugs, sitting right on the trail. These could only have been carried in by pack horses or mules, and had to have been left by the equestrian group that has the permit to do trail work. They had to have been left here since my May visit, but there was no corresponding evidence of additional trail work. This was the second time I’ve come upon gear left by these people – using public trails as long-term storage for their gear. The cardboard will rot – what were they thinking?

Three miles in, the trail leaves the creek and begins traversing in and out of side drainages, climbing, at a steep grade, almost a thousand feet to the saddle through dense oak scrub. Since this trail is seldom used by anyone other than me, the stiff scrub has closed over it, and fire-killed trees continue to fall onto it. Since last May, despite a poor summer growing season, I found it had become almost impassable. As a recovery hike, it was brutal, and I had to put on my gaiters halfway up to keep snow out of my boots.

In May it had taken three hours to go the four miles – today, with the snow and worse trail conditions, it took three-and-a-half. I’d really wanted to continue into the second canyon, but only about 50 yards down the side trail I sank into 16 inches of snow and gave up.

In the little saddle, my boots in the snow, I sat in the sun on the end of the only snow-free log, eating my lunch of nuts and jerky, and noticed the last storm had dropped about four fresh inches here, on top of the earlier snowpack. Despite the effort of getting here and my disappointment at having to turn back, the landscape was beautiful and I’d have a fantastic view going down.

The steep grade and tricky footing quickly took their toll on my knees, making the descent almost as slow as the climb, and painful. Remind me to avoid this one in the future, unless I can somehow rebuild my capacity without another setback!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *