Monday, September 25, 2023

Sandias Crest Trail a Marathon Thru Hike


Fall is just around the corner and soon the high country will be bursting with vibrant yellows and oranges.

But with fall comes the increasing risk of running into inclement weather that might interfere with any late-season wilderness excursions. Now is the time to make that big backcountry trip happen that has been on the back burner all summer.

For those of us who don’t want to make the drive into the Sangre de Cristos or the high southern Rockies in Colorado, the Sandias can offer a surprisingly satisfying high-elevation fix. This isolated range boasts exposed cliffs, isolated granite spires, and plenty of solitude despite its ready access to the East Mountains.

Lucky for us the Crest Trail traverses through all that the Sandias have to offer.

The elevation of the trail ranges from 5,988 feet at its lowest point at Canyon Spring Trailhead all the way to the Crest itself at 10,679 ft. The reward of ascending over 5,000 feet is experiencing the impressive diversity of flora and fauna that the Sandias harbor.

Officially titled Crest Trail 130, the Crest Trail is actually two trails: North Crest Trail and South Crest Trail. North Crest trail begins at Tunnel Spring Trailhead located near Placitas, while South Crest trail begins at Canyon Estates Trailhead located near Tijeras. The two trails meet at the Sandia Crest House on the crest.

The north of the range sees significantly more moisture than its southern end and this becomes increasingly clear as one descends (or ascends) through vast stands of quaking aspens and mature conifer forests.

The south end of the range is far drier and rugged in nature. Its high desert foothills host a number of piñons and junipers before eventually transitioning into ponderosas and Douglas firs at higher elevations.

The thick forests of the Manzanos retreat into more sheltered alcoves once on the crest. Punishing desert winds have either cleared the highest elevations or have stunted anything strong enough to take root on its rocky cliffs. Without the dense forest cover found at lower elevations, hikers are presented with an unparalleled view of the high desert.

The Middle Rio Grande Valley carves its way through the dry landscape evident by the vein of green that disappears into the sandy horizon. The Jemez and its gentle high slopes tower to the northwest. Mount Taylor peaks above the high mesas to the west. The southernmost extent of the Rockies crashes into the desert to the north.

At 26.9 miles and boasting 5,754 ft of elevation change, the Crest Trail will prove a challenge to even the most experienced hikers and can be a great first-thru hike for beginners. Fellow hikers will be sparse at best once away from the Crest. Whether it’s a long day or a multi-day backpacking trip, the Crest Trail is sure to reward any visitor.


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