While researching possible hikes to do over Labor Day I came across a Dallas Sierra Club trip to New Mexico Sangre De Cristo Mountains. In particular I noticed a trip to the highest peak in New Mexico, Mount Wheeler. I had never done a trip with the Sierra Club before, but since the club rents a bus to drive everyone out to the mountains, I was able to do the trip over the long weekend without taking any vacation days from work.
The bus pulled up at the trailhead early in the morning and dropped us off. I had just spent the night cramped into a tiny space next to a stranger on an uncomfortable converted bunk bed, so I was lacking some much needed sleep. Yet being in the fresh mountain air of New Mexico, with the promise of adventure on the trail ahead of us, eroded any sleepiness I was harboring.
After gathering up our backpacks, adjusting straps, buckles, shoelaces and walking poles we formed a semi circle and made introductions. A few people knew each other from previous Sierra Club trips, but most of us were strangers. After we all shared our names and random piece of personal information we set out on the trail.
The weather was cool, with a bright sun that provided welcome warmth. We made slow steady progress uphill for most of the day before arriving at our campsite, a forested area next to a small stream coming off the mountains. It was an easy hike on a well-established trail, and all of us could have kept hiking. Instead we took our time setting up camp, and hanging out. As the days heat began to escape in the evening, we all crowded around the fireplace despite the Sierra Clubs policy of no fires.
After a great nights sleep, and a hearty breakfast, we set out to climb the summit of Mount Wheeler. It was a treat to leave our campsite set up and just take a daypack. The climb was more strenuous then the day before, having escaped the tree line we battled with the thin air of 12,000 feet. We would scramble up some rocks for about a minute before having to stop and try and catch our breath.
At around noon we reached the summit of Wheeler at 13,161 feet. There was a handful of people at the summit who had hiked to the top from the other side of the mountain. We shared the limited summit space for a short amount of time, took a few pictures and headed back down.
We broke camp in the morning, and began our hike off the mountain a different route from the one we took up. Once again the trail was well established and since it was mostly downhill we made good time. Before we knew it we were back at the trailhead waiting to be picked up by the bus. We had some extra time so we dumped our packs by the side of the road and scrambled down the gravel bank to a large stream and washed in the ice-cold water of the river.
Latter that week reflecting on the hike to the highest peak in New Mexico, I became inspired to climb the highest peak in every state. A goal that would soon consume the rest of my outdoor pursuits for the rest of the year, and something that I would devote a year of mountaineering and climbing training to.
Justin McCormick grew up in the Yukon Territories in a cabin on Nisutlin Bay. Being surrounded by the majestic and harsh wilderness of the north, he developed a passion for canoeing, hiking, mountain climbing and skiing. He currently resides in Texas and is trying to impart his passion for the outdoors to his four children.