Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The High Country: Deception Peak

A month ago, Miki asked me how I would spend a week off. Without thinking, I immediately answered, "four days in the mountains, three at my desk." It hadn't even occurred to me that I could do this. Which frightens the crap out of me, how accustomed I have become to my heavy schedule, as if it is perfectly normal to do little else but work.

So I cleared a week for my own use. The first day, Miki and I hiked the Bear Wallow/Borrego loop, my eyes scanning the forest floor for that massive vertebral column I'd see on this trail a few weeks ago. The air was cooler, and the trees coming into color made it seem a whole different place. We arrived back at the trailhead to meet a few of my fellow REI employees and the rangers who would lead is in a full moon trail clean-up. We were given our matching T-shirts, hard-hats, and glow sticks which we tied to our shoelaces. Not far down the trail we got to work, smoothing down small rises and creating channels for a more efficient water run-off. Being a guy, I had good fun using a couple new tools, a double sided axe called a 'Pulaski', (which I continually referred to as a 'kowalski,') and a heavy, metal rake thing called a 'MacCloud (though to me it was a 'McMillan and Wife'). After an hour or so, we moved off trail down to a camp area, for a campfire. With the autumn moon rising through the pines, we celebrated not in the usual Japanese way with tsukimi dango, but with the more American s'mores.

The following morning, Miki and I were once again heading to the high country, to meet Derek and Amanda for a hike up Aspen Vista. The trees that give this trail its name were ablaze with yellow. The hike took us up a fire road and into blue spruce country. Near the ski area, we had lunch under one spruce, as camp-robbers flew near to get a hand-out. We were happy to oblige, tossing stale bread into the higher branches. It was a perfect autumn afternoon, with the birds above and most of northern New Mexico far below. We stayed below the ridge until it curved downward like the crook of an elbow. From here, we shot straight up to Raven's Ridge, with Nambe Lake far below and winking at us until we got above tree line. From the summit of Deception Peak, the beauty of the deeper Pecos was revealed to me once again. The crumbly knife ridge over to Lake Peak teased, as did the trail further on to Penetente. Resisting these temptations and chose to instead sit in the sun up here awhile. Far across the high desert, canyons of deep rock led into those nooks where the Anasazi thrived. Within a month, when the snow once again takes the high country, those canyons will be our sole playground.

We could resist the colors far below no more. Heading off trail, we shot straight down the mountainside, into a riot of white and blue and gold. It went from summer to autumn within minutes. We eventually found a small trail, as a large dog bolted from between the trees. The previous winter must've been hard up here, for dozens of trees had fallen across the trail, with us climbing over or ducking under, in a back-country game of pick-up sticks. Back on the main trail again, we wondered if it were possible that the color had deepened even more since our ascent, as dozens of hikers passed us, kids and dogs in tow, heading one last time toward higher ground before the snows of October once again cover it all.

On the turntable: Ozomatli, "Coming Up"
On the nighttable: Robert M. Utley, "High Noon in Lincoln"

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