Monday, September 19, 2011

Sierra Blanca

Sierra Blanca

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 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.
Scenic Trailhead

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.
Trail Junction

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.
Lookout Peak

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
Sierra Blanca from Ski Apache

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.
Eric on Sierra Blanca

Sierra Blanca Benchmark

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.
No Access!

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.  

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