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Sometimes a Pleasant Hike

Monday, March 14th, 2022: Hikes, Little Dry, Mogollon Mountains, Southwest New Mexico.

Apologies to my loyal readers for the long hiatus between hiking Dispatches! No surprises – life’s been a little challenging lately, and an earlier attempt to resume my hiking routine was kind of a bust.

This Sunday morning, the time change confused me, because I rely on my iPad’s alarm to wake me, and the iPad was set on Phoenix time from a flight I made months ago. The time change makes New Mexico an hour later than Arizona, so I was sure I’d lost an hour of hiking until a mile or so up the trail when I realized the sun – and my body – was still on the old time, and despite what my watch said, I had a full 8 hours to do a serious hike.

The hike I’d chosen was actually my third choice for the day, because I’d done it before and it had ended inconclusively, short of a ridge top, at a logjam of wildfire deadfall. But the important thing, after a hiking hiatus, was that it gained me plenty of elevation. It was a real workout.

The day started just below freezing but temperatures were expected in the 50s by afternoon, under clear skies. The creek in the canyon bottom was running strong from continuing snowmelt. Small butterflies were everywhere.

This is the canyon whose middle stretch is choked with debris flows and deadfall, twisting between sheer bluffs and giant boulders that require constant detours. The trailhead logbook featured a recent entry from a couple who’d continued over into the next canyon, to the remote creek junction I’d bushwhacked to last year. They’d done it as an overnight and complained about the bad trail condition – I’d done it as a day hike.

One thing that surprised me in the canyon was the large number of seemingly healthy firs and alders which had fallen recently. I don’t think of a narrow canyon with sheer walls as supporting the kind of wind that could bring healthy trees down, but it’s hard to imagine a hidden disease that would weaken such different species, and drought shouldn’t be an issue in this well-watered canyon.

The trail traverses steeply out of the canyon to a pass where the trail into the next canyon begins. But from there, I continue up and across the west wall of the first canyon, snaking around massive rock outcrops and following a scarcely visible but well-remembered route which is now only maintained by elk. In fact, elk love this trail so much their scat and tracks were all over it. There was no sign of human use since my last visit here – this route is generally believed impassable.

Like before, I was able to follow the elk trail all the way to the deadfall logjam near the ridge top. Whereas my first visit had been frustrating – the top is tantalizingly close – this time I was just glad to be back hiking and reaching my highest elevation since last summer – 9,750′.

I’d tweaked my back, which remains on the edge of severe pain, climbing over a big log in the trail, so the first thing I was looking for on the way down was a clear, level spot to stretch. It took me nearly a mile to reach that, because the upper trail traverses and switchbacks across steep and rough ground, including talus slopes. Finally stretching on a grassy saddle high in the sky, in the warmth of the sun, felt wonderful.

I reached the vehicle exactly 8 hours after starting. No adventures, and at this point that’s a good thing!

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