In every walk with nature one receives far more than (s)he seeks. -John Muir
Do you have a favorite walk or hike? Mine is climbing up and down Sun Mountain (“Monte Sol” to use the Spanish name). A short hike but a great workout, a little under a mile, an 800-foot gain in elevation. It starts out mildly, spiraling upward on a piñon-studded slope, then becomes rocky and steep. The curves segue into sharp zig-zags, better known as switchbacks. After half an hour or so, one reaches the summit for a rewarding, panoramic view of Santa Fe below, the Sandia, Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance. Closer in, one views Atalaya Mountain, Picacho Peak and even closer up, Moon Mountain.
I’ve hiked Sun Mountain hundreds of times, too many to count, but I had never tackled its sister peak, Moon Mountain. Even though Moon is only 100 feet taller than Sun, it’s a far more challenging hike. Not much in the way of an actual trail, rough, scraggly, slippery terrain and more boulders to scale. Two weeks ago, I decided to take it on. My neighbor Joalie (https://tinyurl.com/mcsll7x) and I set out on a fine Saturday morning, prepared for exploration, adventure, and challenge.
That day, we were to experience all three!
8 a.m. Starting from Santa Fe Trail, where there’s an official trailhead, we hiked up the user-friendly route. Lots of people out today. Sometimes solo, but often with a dog or a child in tow. The view from the top is magnificent. Not only the three mountain vistas described in my first paragraph, but also Santa Fe’s south side stretched out below. We didn’t linger. Rather, we started down the south side of Monte Sol, never finding a path but instead zig-zagging across underbrush and rocks, aiming toward the valley between Sun and Moon.
We’re the only hikers around. At last we reach a sort of neutral zone, a scrubby area between the two peaks, and that’s were the adventure begins. We climb up through a piñon forest hoping to find a Moon Mountain trail that Joalie has heard about. Does it even exist? Slow, steady slogging; hard work: this makes Sun Mountain seem easy.
Unexpectedly, Joalie spots a trail snaking across the incline just ahead. Though there is no sign, we realize that it can only be a trail leading to the top of Moon. Great! We are happy to be following a route rather than haphazardly guessing where to go next. All is well until the trail seems to end in a huge outcropping of boulders. Joalie starts right up but I am incredulous. Isn’t there a way around? Maybe we could find another route? No, it’s up or nothing.
Telescoping my trekking poles into foot-long packable size and putting them in my knapsack, I move myself up one big rock after another. Joalie, the younger and nimbler of us, is up above, having switched to the spider mode. No sooner have we climbed one batch of rocks than another looms above. Will they never end?
I feel over-terrained, unable to continue. “Really?” I say aloud, not expecting an answer. Joalie, from above, calls out “Just take your time. Only 100 feet more to go.” The reason she knows that is because Moon Mountain is exactly 100 feet taller than Sun and before we started the boulder climb, we looked across the valley to the top of Sun. OK, I tell myself, I can’t go back down, I can’t stay here clinging to a rock, the only choice is to keep going up.
A saying comes to mind: “Hard by the mile, a cinch by the inch.” Does that apply to today’s hike? It’s not what I’d call a cinch. Rock by rock…at last, we reach the top. The panoramic view is exhilarating. We walk around a bit at the top of Moon, then enjoy an al fresco lunch. Joalie shares her homemade nori rolls, I offer cheese and homegrown pears. The day is getting on, so we decide to head back down a “back way.” Rather than climbing down the boulders, which would be more precipitous than either of us want to undertake, we will go down Moon to an arroyo which we think will lead us back to Santa Fe Trail. Instead, we meander for another hour. At last we end up at St. John’s College and walk along the road to our Sun Mountain Trailhead, where, five hours ago, the adventure began.
It’s been a beautiful outing, and I’m reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous saying “Not all who wander are lost.”