Bernalillo County High Point Trip Report

Sandia Crest (10,678 ft)

Date: January 20, 2002
Author: Jennifer Roach

I was not particularly interested in driving in a car or utilizing the tram to reach the top of this peak, so I chose the best way for me, which was the La Luz Trail. This is an excellent trail, with wonderful views all the way. The 3,618 feet of elevation gain is all on good footing with a steady grade. With a slow pace, many breaks to take photos, and a nearly one hour stay on top, the round trip journey took me about 9 hours.

To reach the trailhead, you can use either I-25 or I-40. From I-25, get off on the Tramway Boulevard Exit, and follow Tramway Boulevard 9.8 miles east to paved Forest Road 333, and follow it for 2.5 miles to the La Luz Trailhead, which is at the upper end of the Juan Tabo Picnic Ground. There are plenty of parking spaces and pit toilets at this urban trailhead, as lots of folks use this trail for running and strolling.

I started at first light, and had no snow on the trail for the first 3 to 4 miles. This dry start can fool you in winter, when Sandia harbors plenty of snow on its upper slopes. The La Luz Trail (Trail 137) is well marked and has only two intersections. The first junction with Trail 82 happens early on, and is well marked. Released from its pedestrian start, the famous La Luz Trail traverses up through several life zones, going from a high desert zone to several montane zones. The scenery is beautiful, and the steep canyon walls are impressive.

Upon reaching La Cueva Canyon, the trail ascends steeply in the shadowed canyon, and winter snows accumulate here. On this January day, the weather was excellent, and there had not been any recent storms. Still, there were drifted sections, but I saw enough faint tracks in order to follow the path. A few miles from the top, a little sign warns novices about the mountain dangers above them. Above this, I reached the second of the two junctions. Turning left here, I noted another sign that demands, "No Horses Beyond This Point!" This is due to the flight of concrete stairs a little higher up. On this day, the stairs were the hike's only hazard, since they were encased by a steeply sloping ice flow, which was very slippery. Someone had chipped away at the outside corner of a few of the lower stairs, and it was a tricky effort to get to the higher, sunny steps for safety. I wished that I had brought my ice ax.

Above this, it was a short hike to the top. I could tell that I was nearly at the top, because I smelled a mixture of auto exhaust and frying food. When my head popped up, there was the restaurant, parking lot, hoards of people, noisy kids, happy dogs, and a forest of antennas. I wandered around a bit to locate the highest point, which I believe is a rock in the middle of the viewing platform.

On my descent, I did a self-belayed butt slide down the ice flow stairs, then trotted down the trail in warm sunshine. It was a great day. Hiking this wonderful trail is much more aesthetic than a car ride to the top!