Sunday, December 17, 2017

Frustrated by Gates in the Jemez

Not for the first time, I've found myself on a geocache inspired drive through rugged and remote back-country. This latest trip was in the Jemez mountains, taking back-roads between Espanola, the Cladarea, and Abiquiu. One of Santa Fe's local cachers recently placed a bunch of new caches on a back road out there, leading up to the high point of the Jemez mountains, Chicoma. These caches, and the few peaks along the route were my main goal, but there was one very lonely cache on dirt road connecting the road near Chicoma to Abiquiu that I also was interested in getting, mainly for the Lonely Cache Points. Why not right? I'll tell you why not, that road was a rocky, rutted mess. Twice I used the maps I had both in the car, and on my GPSr to find ways to get off that road and to other parts of the mountain range, but both times I failed. The first time the road ended up at the edge of a plateau. My map showed a zig-zag path down this steep slope, but there was no passable road to be found. The second time I ran into a locked gate. I bet that road would have eventually gotten me off of the Polvedera plateau, but what can i do about a locked gate? Not much.
So what I originally thought was going to ba a half-day trip driving up into the mountains, turned into a full-day rough trail ride. Luckily, i had the presence of mind to fill up my gas tank in Espanola before tackling the mountain roads.

This part of the Jemez is pretty inaccessible. Sure there are some roads that can get you back out there, but they are slow going. There is also a lot of exploring that can be done out here though. Not hiking trails, just old logging roads, mining camps, remote volcanic peaks... I'll have to come back out some time to see what i can find.
Clara Peak Lookout GC7AYAE

Near the top of Chicoma Mountain GC7DZ1Z

Great views at GC3RGCK

The Carnales Memorial, GC3QKXX

Herd of elk on the way to Abiquiu

My dusty TB

A very lonely cache deep in the Jemez on the Polvedera Mesa, GC3RGEB

Friday, November 17, 2017

Late season hike into the Sangre de Christo Mtns: Trampas lakes and beyond

Right after moving to Santa Fe, I took the family on a camping trip on the Trampas river. We took a long round-about way to reach a nice back-road campsite, and settled in for a weekend of hanging out in the mountains. On our last day, we hiked up the Trampas Trail for a about a mile and a half, picking wild strawberries and cooling our feet in the icy mountain stream.  This trail continued way into the Pecos wilderness and I knew then that I wanted to hike the rest of it some day.

Fast forward to November 17th, 2017. I had an off Friday from work, the kids were in school, and I could tackle any number of geocaching adventures for the day. I had been eying the Sangre De Christos all week, wondering if there would be too much snow up there to pursue some of the higher elevation caches. while there was some snow, it didn't seem like much so i decided to reutrn to Trampas for an adventurous day-hike.

My overall plan was to hike up to the end of the trail at Trampas lakes and search for all the caches along the way. One cache in particular,  GC64JX9, still had the FTF up for grabs and I was hoping to score that and add to my Lonely Cache Points for the year. Another cache, GC6PG39, was my stretch goal. This was also an unfound cache, but getting to it would mean an arduous trek over the ridge-top... and back again. The snow and ice could be a problem for this, as well as my time deadline. I had to complete my hike and be back at the car by 3:00 pm in order to drive back to Santa Fe to pick up my kids from their after-care program. Deadlines, deadlines... always make for some added fun.
Trampas Lake
I left Santa Fe at 0500h and drove up to the trailhead in the dark, making it there at 0630h. Surprise, surprise, no other cars at the trailhead! I quickly hit the trail and was soon motoring my way up to Trampas lakes. The trail started out clear of snow, but around 10,000' there was light blanket of snow on the ground. Fortunately, the trail was already packed from previous hikers. I made a few stops at geocaches along the route, GC4DX01, GC5BKW7 and GC4DWZD. These were all micros placed just off the trail and fortunately none of them took long to find. It was pretty darn cold and soon as I stopped hiking I would get chilly fast. I do enjoy hiking in cold weather though. As long as you keep moving at a brisk pace, there is no need for lots of layers of clothing to stay warm. The trick is finding the right balance between your pace, and the heat transfer coming off your body. Once you get this right you can hike all day without having to worry about getting cold or hot.

I stopped a bit longer at GC64JX9 which I happily found and traded items. The only other person to attempt this cache was WOLF11469, and he got stymied by both spotty coords and deep snow. The CO had since posted spoiler pics, extra coords, hints... I had a much easier time than him in finding the cache. Kind of unfair of him to lose out on the FTF, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I reached the lakes in good time, right around 9am. In fact, my time was good enough for me to entertain crossing over the high alpine ridge to go after the new cache at Quemado falls. I picked a chute on the ridge above and made my way up it. The going was very slow. Not only is it a steep ascent, but there was a layer of snow covering the terrain making it more difficult to get footing. The snow wasn't deep enough where I could kick steps up it (or make an avalanche danger), but not shallow enough to completely disregard. So it was a slow slog. I did see tracks from what i presume was bighorn sheep, taking the same route up over the ridge.
My route was up the right-hand chute
Looking down the chute at Trampas lakes

Once on the other side of the ridge, the South facing slope was much easier. No snow at all, an an open woodland slope to traverse down. At the top of the ridge, I was actually quite close to a geocache I had found in the summer of 2016 when i hiked the Truchas Peaks for the first time. I considered stopping by to check on that cache, but decided that I had to save my time for the descent and return trip. I did have a deadline after-all. I made quick time down to Quemado falls and enjoyed an early lunch at the frozen waterfall.

Quemado Falls

A long time ago, I would have been super keen on ice climbing this fall. In fact, standing beneath it, i felt that itch again. What would it take to break out my tools and give this ice a climb? Well... first I'd need to hook up with a climbing partner... then I'd have to make sure my gear is still in usable shape... then I'd need to actually figure out how to get to the Rio Quemado trailhead. This was my second time at the falls, but I have yet to hike to it by the actual trailhead that gets here. Maybe another day...

Despite being pretty tired, I made good time back up and over the ridge to Trampas lakes. I made one more slight detour on my return hike, taking a side trail to hidden lake in order to grab the last geocache in the area, GC5DDBY. The trail to hidden lake had no footprints in the snow, meaning I was the first person to visit it in the last few weeks since the snows hit. Kind of cool. i wonder how many people come up here for winter hiking? I bet this trail makes a fine snowshoeing destination. And I know that alpine skiers come up here from seeing trip reports online. Hidden lake was nice, but not as nice as Trampas lakes in my opinion. If I were to come back up to this area in the summer and backpack, i would shoot for one of the gorgeous campsites around the Trampas Lakes. maybe next summer with the family?

The rest of the hike down was quick and easy, and I was back to the car by 1400h. Plenty of time to drive back to Santa Fe and get the kids. Not a bad day's hike for a little late season high altitude geocaching.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

New caching project: Juggling?

Worked on some items for a new geocache i am planning to hide soon. it will be a puzzle cache of course.... can you guess the theme?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Deer trap Mesa with my Mom

 I work up in Los Alamos, but have not actually done very many hikes in the area. There a re a ton of nice trails though, so when my mom and her husband asked about doing a short dayhike, i knew just where to go... Deer Trap Mesa.

My mom's husband, Milo, dabbles in geocaching. It is not something he really is excited about (like me), but whenever we are visiting, or they are visiting, he helps me look for geocaches along our hikes. Deer Trap Mesa had a couple nice old geocaches to hunt.

 One cache in particular, GC2538, was pretty far out on the mesa, beyond where the trail ended. We scrambled our way over to it and found this good old cache. Inside was a note about another few caches, and the note included coordinates. After entering these in, we saw that it was only another 1/4 mile away. But it involved some rock scrambling and possibly also a ladder. Of course I was game for that!
 I made my way over to the "One tree Mesa" but did not find the ladder. instead, i used a rock pile to assist my climb up onto a small rock tableau, maybe 50' long and 20' wide, and protruding 20' or so up from the surrounding ridge-top. There was a scraggly old tree up there festooned with Christmas lights. There were also a few spots where a geocache could have been placed, but I couldn't find any old container. It was a pretty cool discovery though and gave our whole trip a sense of adventure that otherwise it might not have had.


These finger mesas are very cool. When I got home I did some reasearch and found the original listing for One tree Mesa geocache, GC19E5X. It was archived when the land it was on was transferred to the San Idelfonso pueblo back in 2014. The more I dug, the more I found a bunch of cool old archived caches that are now on the Pueblo lands, and no longer accessible. Cool hikes and scrambles up many of the neat rocky mesas out here. Of course, there are still lots of neat places that you are allowed to go out here, and I fully intend to do so. Lot's more exploring to do around Los Alamos.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Not one of my better ideas

 The weekend comes and there aren't any set plans or agendas for the family. So I suggest, why not a geocaching adventure hight up into the mountains to see some nice fall colors? The family agrees, we pack up a nice picnic lunch and head out for what should be a nice little drive. My target is Glorieta Peak (GC6MVDF), one of the accessible mountains near Santa Fe. I should put "accessible" in quotes though. While the Santa Fe Ski basin and Tesuque peak you can drive right up to on nice paved roads, Glorietta peak requires driving out to Pecos first, then taking old forest and logging roads for a good 12 miles. The going is SLOW. And to make matters worse, I miss a turn off on our way up, wasting even more time.

By the time we reach Glorietta peak, it is well past lunchtime and the kids are famished. We get out of the car and it is freeeeeeezing cold. Much colder than it was in town. A cold front must have been moving in as we drove up, and along with the cold temperatures, we are also socked in by clouds, unable to even get a nice view. Our outside picnic is a flop, everyone is too cold to enjoy the food. My plan to do a little hike down the ridge to Mt. Taylor and GC6MVDF, is quickly abandoned. no one is in the mood for this. Why did Dad drag us all up here again? Next time we stay home and watch movies and eat popcorn.... sigh...

One cold kid

Lovely views eh?

Sunday, October 1, 2017


 Or maybe it was a rock squirrel or some other rodent. Anyways, my nice new plastic ammo can that I used for my cache, Ear Worm, wasn't even out for 4 months when some kind of rodent successfully chewed all sorts of holes in the container. This really gets you to rethink using plastic containers out here in Santa Fe.

The final has been replaced with a metal container now. I do love checking on the Earworm Cache as I get to listen to all the fun recordings geocachers have left. Makes cache maintenance pretty fun.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hiding a massive new Multi Cache: Winsor Trail

I've had this idea to hide a long multi cache on the Winsor Trail, outside of Santa Fe, since I first hiked some portions of it. The trail is 22.8 miles long and goes from Cowles, NM to Tesuque, NM. It crosses over a nice high mountain pass between Santa Fe Baldy and the Santa Fe Ski basin, and some of the sections of it are very popular. indeed, I first hiked a section with my family when going up to Nambe lake. Over the year I found myself on hikes doing portions of the trail, and thinking to myself, "I bet I could hike this entire trail in a day".

Well that day finally came, on one of my off-Fridays. After getting my new GPS, I needed a good long hike to test it out on and it was time to tackle the Winsor trail. My plan was fairly simple. I would drive to the Cowles trailhead very early in the morning, and hike up over the high mountain pass, and then down to Tesuque, arriving around the time my wife would be getting off work. She would then pick me up. We'd have to retrieve the car at Cowles, so to make this more fun, I stashed most of our camping gear in the car that I left up there and we would have a little fall camping trip for the weekend. It sounded like a decent plan to me....

My hike got off without a hitch. This would be my second attempt at hiding a big long multi cache and I was prepared with a nice final container, and a dozen small pre-form tubes to use as stages along the way. My first attempt didn't end that well though. After much planning and hiding, the whole cache (all 9 stages) was stolen/taken. And only five days after it was published! This one would be about the same number of stages, but a much longer hike, more than double actually.
Starting the hike near Cowles
After a couple miles of hiking I hid the final at a spot with a suitably nice view. I left an unactivatted trackable as FTF prize as well as some other nice goodies.
View near the final

Between Final and next/previous stage
 The weather was nice and cool, but there was a pretty stiff breeze. more like a howling wind at times. This kept me pretty cool, but made me worried a bit that a storm would blow in and dump on me.
Nice aspen grove near Stage 8
 My approach to this multi was to hide stages roughly 2-3 miles apart and have each stage be at a location that is significant. By significant, I was thinking a stellar view, or cool stream crossing, or neat rock formations, or beautiful meadow... basically a spot where if you were hiking the trail, you'd think to yourself 'this is a great spot to stop for a break'. At least that is what i had in mind. Some portions of the trail I hadn't been on before, so i didn't really know where the nice spots would be along these sections. And after hiking a suitable distance I often found myself wanting to place a stage where I was rather than keep going further. And a few times, I passed by locations that would have been great thinking that I needed to put a bit more distance between stages.
One of the many trail junctions. Still haven't been down the holy Ghost trail....

An old trail junction not shown on the updated trial maps, but still on some older maps. This trail would have made a nice shortcut for the first few miles of the Winsor trail. poh well.
 One of the nicest spots along the trail is Spirit lake, a remote alpine lake that is pretty deep into the Pecos Wilderness. According to literature, it is a popular backpacking destination and I can see why. There was also an unfound geocache there, GC77WWW, which I was keen on grabbing the FTF on.

Stage 7 near Spirit Lake
 Stages 5 and 6 were along the very popular section of trail between the Ski basin and Santa Fe baldy junction. This portion of the trail was all pretty wooded, and there were also a fair number of existing geocaches along the trail that I had to work around, so my hides for these stages weren't all that spectacular. But what are you going to do right?

DNF on GC57YHY, my 2nd time too!

 Let's just say, this is a pretty long hike. It was later in the day than i thought it would be when I hiked into the Santa Fe Ski basin parking area. The trail actually skirts just around the parking area. I seriously considered calling my wife and having her pick me up there, and doing the rest another day. But then my determination to complete the whole hike set in. The rest was downhill afterall, should be a piece of cake right? But also... hmm.. are those rain clouds moving in?
I found this sign amusing, and might have to come up with a geocache hide around it....
 There were some cool spots that I should have hid stage 4 at, but I had passed them by and then ended up hiding stage 4 in a rather lame spot. It is even near an access road making it easy to get if someone were breaking up the stages into separate hikes. Again, all I could do was shrug this off. I have no way of knowing how geocachers will actually tackle this cache.
Huge stick fort dounf along the trail
Stage 3 was in a slightly better spot, near a rock outcropping and just out of siight from the main trail. I saw a few mountain bikers down this way, doing the Borrego trail loop maybe? There were also another geocache for me to find down here, which I happily made a small detour to get.
Getting very tired... junction near Borrego trail
 On the down side, it started to rain a little and I was getting quite sore and chaffed from all the miles. At the Chamisal junction, I still had 3-1/2 miles to go, but I was wipe.
Chamisal trail junction... almost done
 The sun was setting as I reached the Tesuque trailhead and called my wife to come pick me up. The final count on stages was 9, including the final. Stretched out over 22.8 miles that's about 2.5 miles per stage. A darn good multi cache if you ask me. Now... who's going to go find it?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Why not Latir today?

Latir Mesa is a remote wilderness area in the Northern part of the state that I have been eying for a hike for a year now. The main reason being... there are two very lonely, unfound geocaches high up above treeline. Why hasn't anyone bothered to visit these? Is the hike horrendous? Is the drive out simply too far to justify going after a few little geocaches? Is the mountain range not worth a visit? I had to find out for myself. And on September XX, I did.

Here is my answer to the above questions:
  1. While the hike is long, it is not horrendous at all. In fact, mostly it is on well maintained trails, and a huge portion of it is above tree-line, with scenic views all around.
  2. The drive wasn't too bad. 2.5 hours from Santa Fe, and mostly on nice highways. The last little bit up to the trailhead was a bit rough, but nothing I would call terrible.
  3. The Latir Wilderness is fantastic! Remote high peaks, great views, beautiful lakes. Sure they aren't as rocky and jagged as some stuff a bit further north in Colorado, but still... great hikign area.
Here are some pics of my hike.

Some bolete mushrooms I harvested along the trail


Puffball mushroom on the mesa

Cabresto Lake

Oh... and I did manage to nab a FTF on both GC6MHF5 and GC6MHED. WooHoo!