Monday, September 19, 2011
For a long time now the possibility of ascending Sierra Blanca, the highest point in southern New Mexico, has intrigued me. While I fully understand that the peak is located on the Mescalero Apache reservation, the information which I have read on the internet including Summitpost.org has all made it seem as though the reservation officials tolerate people making the ascent up Sierra Blanca. And so last evening after work, I hit the road headed up into the mountains to give Sierra Blanca a try. Before I started my hike I created some conditions under which my ascent would end. These conditions stipulated that if I encountered anyone who told me that making the climb was not permissible, or if I saw any signs stating the area was closed, I would turn around without making the ascent.
The drive out of the desert last night was refreshing. I found a nice little campground at Oak Grove that was mostly deserted except for a few elk hunters. I even was treated to the sound of elk bugling as I set up my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. i checked my information from the Sierra Blanca page on Summitpost, one last time before drifting into sleep.
It was cold this morning when I awoke. I ate a quick breakfast then drove up towards Ski Apache. I parked my car just outside the ski area boundary at hit the trail at a little after 7.
The start of the hike was a gentle ascent up some long switchbacks in a grassy field. Soon I was at my first trail junction where I turned onto trail #25.
The hiking continued to be mostly easy and soon I entered into the slopes at Ski Apache. I followed some ski slopes to the upper lodge where I rested for bit and enjoyed the amazing view from a nice Adirondack chair.
After my break the hiking got a bit steeper and more difficult. I took a side trail to Lookout Mountain with its circular concrete bench.
I rested again for a bit and enjoyed the view once again. In the distance I could see some workers preparing one of the ski lifts for the upcoming ski season. I guessed I would soon find out if I would be going up to the summit.
Upon passing the ski area workers, no one said a word to me. "I guess its okay to climb Sierra Blanca after all", I thought. I skirted to the right of a long wooden fence
through a small saddle and then began climbing in earnest.It was a steep ascent and I found myself stopping quite often as I made my way up higher and higher. Soon I could see the summit, a jumble of boulders. I found the register and signed it. Then I relaxed for a bit and took a nap before taking a self-portrait on the summit.
Finally I started to make my way back down the mountain.
Of course the descent went a lot faster than the climb. i decided to go a different way then the way in which I had come and followed a faint game trail to a gap in the wooden fence. As I made my way through the gap in the fence I looked at a sign I had missed on my ascent. The sign declared that access Sierra Blanca was closed.
Immediately I felt my stomach sink. I had trespassed on private property. I felt so guilty. I was just another white American violating the rights of a Native American tribe. At that point though, there was nothing I could do about it, the damage was already done.
Somberly I made my way back to the car and then drove to the campground. I ended up going into Ruidoso to call Noelle before returning to Oak Grove for the night.