The dramatic Valles Grande through the burned-out trees by the Cerro Grande Fire of 2000
6 FEBRUARY 2022 W5N/SE-021
After all my years of mountaineering using ice axes, ice screws, crampons, cross country skis, chocks, cams, ropes and despite all that; I had never actually strapped on a pair of snowshoes. Over a foot of snow fell on Cassie’s little adobe on the 2nd and 3rd, so any activating was going to be in some pretty deep snow. This afforded me the opportunity to address my lack of snowshoe experience.
I rented a pair from Jason at Adventure Ski Shop Norte in Taos. Jason was very friendly and helpful and I would definitely recommend Adventure Ski. They let me pick them up on Saturday and return them on Monday and I was only charged for Sunday.
I left around 6:30AM from the casita in 9°F weather with partly cloudy skies. There was a chance of snow, so this was truly going to be a winter ascent. I was surprised to see ice forming on the Rio Grande River as I made my way south through the gorge. I drove around Los Alamos on Highway 4 through White Rock, a route that is longer but avoids the checkpoints in Los Alamos.
Traffic was light and there was only one car parked at the Coyote Call Trailhead. The snowshoes were pretty easy to figure out and soon I was happily clomping along a well established trail that had been tramped down. After about the one mile mark the tracks curved back around on other trails and I was breaking a trail up the slope.
Given all of the deadfall from the massive Cerro Grande fire in 2000, the route on snowshoes soon became very difficult. I finally took them off and left them at a marked waypoint along with my 20′ Jackite mast that was frequently getting stuck on the deadfall. In retrospect I wish I had fastened the snowshoes on to my pack because once the falled trees abaited, the snow was still knee-deep.
As I labored up the slope slowly I began to wonder if it was prudent to continue. The weather was looking like snow and one of the first principles of mountaineering is knowing when to turn around. I decided that I would give myself until noon. That would give me plenty of daylight to retreat if the weather really turned bad.
I made the summit about 11:40 after starting at about 9:30. While over two hours would be ridiculously slow in other conditions to do about two and a half miles, this is what it took me in deep snow.
The summit is a lovely SOTA summit with plenty of trees and a nice activation zone. I set up the Packtenna quickly expecting to make my four qualifying contacts and beating a hasty retreat. Cell service from Verizon was okay after initially showing 4 bars but no mode of service.
My idea of a quick activation was met with a huge pile-up on 20m. I hung around longer than I otherwise might’ve to try and meet the pack’s demand. I apologize if I didn’t get to you. Thank you all who chased me.
I had no summit-to-summit contacts but I did get a cool call from NS6OI aboard the USS Dolphin. A WWII diesel submarine. My late father Wayne served on a similar sub in the late 40’s.
On the trip down I decided to try a little different route. The middle trail looked a little longer, but it looked like it had less elevation gain on the return. I would say it is only a modest amount of saving that is probably not worth the extra distance. It was a lovely hike anyway as the snow flurries increased. It was snowing pretty hard by the time I got back to Whitedog.