Beware: Cougar Country!
“The tram is closed today” the attendant at the check in station tells me. “Well, that’s unfortunate” I say, thinking that I’ll turn around and find something else to do in Albuquerque for a couple hours. I was at Sandia Peak with the intention to take the tram up to the top. Only, apparently I had come by just when they decided they were going to close the tram down for repairs for a couple days. “How long does it take to hike up there?” I asked. He went on to tell me it takes about 5 t 6 hours to hike the 7 miles to the top. Well, that was more hiking than I had planned for the day 14 miles was a lot. I decided I would at least take a look at some of the other trails so I parked my car.
I was not prepared for a hike. Especially not a strenuous one! I did have a water bottle and realized I had a second one in the back of the car. Climbing out of my car thinking about how I didn’t really want to be exercising right now seeing as I had just had a large lunch at a local brewery I saw some workers nearby. Ambling up to them I asked if there was anywhere I could fill up my bottles. In Broken English one of them described where a spigot of fresh water was on the side of a near by building. After wandering around in circles a couple times, getting strange looks from employees and workers I finally found it and then headed towards the trail head.
There, in big bold letters was a sign stating “This is Cougar Country” with a description of what to do if you encounter a cougar on the trails. Wonderful I thought. I’ really not ready for this. Glancing down at my attire I noted my toe poking out through the foot of my bedraggled sneakers. I thought about how parts of the sole of those sneakers had been slowly peeling off for months, and how I’ve been meaning to get new ones! Then my gaze rested on my jeans. Not shorts, or athletic pants of any sort, but nice designer jeans. Not exactly hard hiking attire
Well…. I thought, I have a couple beers in me so at least I’m hydrated! Right? J. I wanted to get to the top of that mountain one way or another. “You’ve been intending to start back into your exercise routine and kick your ass back in shape for a while now. You’ve been slacking and gaining weight this past month. You need to get back that beach body for your upcoming trip!” I think to myself. What better time than now. What better place than here. Let’s do this, 14 mile hike here we come!
The trail is no piece of cake. It’s very hilly and constantly up hill. Lots of big boulders strewn about that require climbing over and high stepping. One hour in and my legs are feeling it. That slow and steady ache deep in your muscles slowly grows. One and a half hours in and I’m hurting. The flies are circling me, they know dead meat when they see it. Time to turn on some tunes to help the time pass and keep those juices flowing! Two hours in I’ve got a second wind and a hit a bit of that runners high. But I’m drenched in sweat. Peering over the edge of a cliff I stand precariously on there are mansions all below me right at the base of the mountain. One directly below me has a crystal clear, crisp blue pool that calls to me. Jump! It calls. It promises a nice cool watery embrace to make this heat fade away. I’m really regretting the choice of wearing jeans today. I’m sweating my ass off. Really had not planned for a serious hike today. Onward and upwards I go!
3 Hours in and I meet my first fellow hiker coming back down the mountain. “Did you make it to the top?” I ask. “Sure did!” he responds, going on to tell me its about another two hours or so to the top from here and the trail is in fairly good condition until the last mile and a half or so which still has a lot of Ice and snow on it. As we head our separate says I look back down at my toe poking through the hole in my shoe and feel the paper thin soles between my feet and the ground. I really was not ready for this. Onward and upward though!
Shortly thereafter, I get my first glance at some white snow up top in the distance. Holy shit! There really is still snow up there I am surprised to see. Must be a lot colder and windier up there compared to the 80 degrees at the bottom of the mountain. As I pick up my pack and swing it back up to my shoulder after snapping a couple pictures, disaster strikes.
Crack! Hissss I hear down by my feet. There, on a sharp rock by my feet was a cracked open water bottle. With it’s precious life sustaining water seeping into the earth underneath it. Worse yet, it was my water bottle! And my full one no less. The remaining bottle I my bag was less than a quarter full. That’s the last time I buy a cheapo water bottle from Walmart! I’m now stranded with hardly any water. I have maybe 250ml of water left to me with no water source in site. My heart tells me to push on and make it to the top! I can see it I think! Maybe there will be another water spigot at the building up top. But my gut tells me that the chances of that are slim. And with no assured water source up top, nearly another two hour hike at least way, my gut knows I need to turn around and hike down the trail. It would be too dangerous to hike on and would assuredly result in dehydration if I did not find any water up top. My heart tells me to push on, but my gut tells me to turn back. I follow my gut and letting out a deep sigh of regret head back down the mountain. I will conquer you another day I tell the mountain!
It’s a good thing I did too. Cause in that heat and even going down the mountain it was tough going. I did my best to ration the water I had remaining but I was ever so dry. It was not long before I was down to mere drops in my last remaining water bottle. I could tell I was slightly dehydrated as I reached the last hour of the hike down. My throat was so dry. I would get slightly light headed when making a quick position change after putting my camera way in my bag and standing back up. I was fatigued, moving slower than I had been. I needed water, and I needed it soon. As I came over the last rise, the sight of the tram and the visitor center were a beautiful thing. An even more beautiful sight was that water spigot on the side of the building.
It was a close call. I made it back, but I was dehydrated, sun burnt and exhausted. I was proud of myself for doing as much as I had. It was the most exercise I had gotten in a couple months. And that was the first step to getting back into a routine. Next time though, I’ll be better prepared. And I’ll be back to Albuquerque to hike to the top and conquer that mountain before I leave New Mexico!
Have you ever had any close calls? Any times when you’ve wanted to keep doing something, but known in your gut that it wouldn’t be safe?
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