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Sierra Blanca 11981, NM

no permit
125 4 2
Guide 4 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southeast
4 of 5 by 1
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 9.25 miles
Trailhead Elevation 9,863 feet
Elevation Gain 2,120 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,250 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 20.5
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Creek, Perennial Creek & Peak
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
22  2017-09-16 nobert15
60  2014-05-15 Jim_H
25  2012-11-27 Jim_H
18  2004-09-13 rwstorm
Author Jim_H
author avatar Guides 55
Routes 44
Photos 7,651
Trips 1,615 map ( 9,681 miles )
Age 40 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep → 8 AM
Seasons   Early Summer to Early Autumn
Sun  5:51am - 6:00pm
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Monarch of Southern New Mexico
by Jim_H

Likely In-Season!
Sierra Blanca is the highest mountain peak south of Interstate 40, the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, and the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. Just shy of 12,000', it feels a little higher because it is so much higher than the surrounding desert. It is also steep on all aspects, giving it a rugged feel. There is some debate about the summit elevation. It is probably either 11,973', or a more recent USGS update of 11,981'. Given that 11,981' is an updated elevation, I am using that figure for the summit height. An erroneous elevation from a Rand McNally map generated a false 12,003' elevation. I have never found a credible scientific source for this figure. Either way, Sierra Blanca is a fine alpine summit in an area otherwise lacking high, alpine elevations. It is also a minor celebrity, even if you didn't know it, having appeared in some scenes of a 2007 Robot based film.

The hike begins from the "Scenic" trailhead, just outside of Ski Apache. You start on trail # 15, and take this up a couple of switchbacks and a nice grassy slope to an intersection with trail # 25, the Crest Trail. The sign is currently falling apart at this junction, but further on a small sign with, "Trail # 25", makes this clear.

The next section of trail passes through a couple of miles of burned forest from the 2012 Little Bear Fire. Trail conditions will vary here for a while, and it will probably be close to the year 2020 before this area recovers with aspen and grass. In May of 2014, the trail had a few down trees, some eroded trail, and lots of standing dead Engelmann Spruce and Douglas Fir. However, I found that a small Elk herd liked this area best. How will this affect recovery? Only time will tell.

The trail crosses a small creek, or creek bed, and begins to ascend some switchbacks passing through the burned forest. Soon, you round a bend and end up opposite the ski slopes and on a grassy hillside. This takes you to a junction with another trail. Ignore this side trail, and descend slightly to Ice Springs, coming directly out of the hillside. From here you will climb up through intact spruce to the ridge leading up to the top of the resort's new gondola lift. The area of dense forest holds snow well into spring, even in dry years. Once on the ridge, there is another trail junction sign. Simply turn left, or south, and towards the higher ground and you'll be heading in the right direction.

Once at the gondola lift, you can either go directly to the saddle on a graded dirt path, or to the top of Lookout Mountain. If you go to Lookout, you can add in extra elevation. Either way, you cross the saddle and ascend the steep north slope of Sierra Blanca. There are a few social trails, but it is still off trail hiking. Near the top it is very steep, and class 2 at times, but as long as not ice covered or very windy, it should be fine. Enjoy the green, grassy summit, sign in at the mailbox, and descend the way you came. You will very likely be alone on top. One interesting note, is the appearance of the mountain from different aspects. The west and south have huge rocky and grassy ridges leading to the summit, creating the illusion of a much higher peak. The north and northeast views have trees almost right to the top, letting you know you are not on some 4,000 meter mountain. I believe this is the result of wind.

In theory this hike is illegal, but there is no shortage of names in the summit register. It is obvious that many people head up here every summer. The summit is on the Mescalero Apache Reservation and while there were no signs or anything in the area indicating it is a closed mountain, internet rumors exist saying it is. The Ski area, owned and operated by the Apache Tribe, is on USFS land. Funny how that works out. Lookout Mountain makes for a nice, but substantially less than summit, should you find yourself unable to reach Sierra Blanca. I had no issues either of the times I hiked Sierra Blanca. From what I have read, permits are not given for Sierra Blanca by the Apaches.

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2014-05-16 Jim_H
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Sierra Blanca 11981
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    With last weekend's storm in Colorado, Santa Fe Baldy was not to be. I ended up deciding that I should pay another visit to Sierra Blanca. I'm glad I did. This is a pretty nice little hike, and the top is a lot of fun. It feels like a true mountain summit.

    For some reason, I wore shorts. I had planned to hike the south slope, as I did the last time, and descend the trail, but the wind was up, and I was not doing that when I got out of my car at the Windy Point scenic overlook on 532. With the trails open, and the cold air, I opted for a more enjoyable way. I was fine until near Lookout Mountain, as even in shorts the cold air was tolerable while moving with wind protection. After Lookout the wind made things a lot harder than I wanted. It was probably in the 30s on top. The wind really wasn't too bad, but the saddle accelerated it, and well...SHORTS!!

    Snow in the trees was an unexpected find. It was like a freezer in the shade with the ice while hiking down. The summit is very green, very different from the Peaks, but being so steep and rocky, not like alpine in northern NM. Also, I spotted Elk mowing the south ridge, when I hiked a few hundred feet off the summit.

    I added in some extra for Lookout, and the top excursion. I may not yet be over 12,000' for the year, but this was a fun hike and summit.
    Sierra Blanca 11981
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    I couldn't live with myself if I didn't summit this before the year was out. I would have like to have done it while still dry, but it was a really nice day even with the ice and snow. The Little Bear Fire closure has the trails normally used to access the area closed, as well as the ski area-Ski Apache, but I came down that after dark. I don't think walking through the burned forest would have been that nice anyway, so I think I had a preferable hike. It was all off trail, and rough in spots, so I won't do a write up for this peak.

    I parked at a side road that leads to Buck Mountain near 10,100, dropped down to the creek at 9600, crossed that and hiked to the summit across a steep wooded slope. I lost and regained a lot of elevation on the ridge coming up to the peak, and a GPS would have been great to track that. Oh well. I do not know if I would do that route again, as I think there might be better ways to access this off trail. Judging by the vegetation, it would be poor for a snowshoe summit, as the snow likely blows off, and the steep forest section reminded me a lot of La Plata Canyon in Colorado last winter, which was terrible for snow shoeing.

    Great summit views, but I came down the north ridge and it was icy. Not fun without the right gear. Down through the ski area to one of the snow water lakes, and back to the car. Lots of up and down, and far colder than I hoped for. I might come back this winter to snowshoe in the spruce forest, but I am unsure of summiting the peak. Partly due to the nature of the ridge, but partly due to the ski area and what I have heard about access. There are other peaks, so I can still do something, but it won't be a Humphrey/ Peaks replacement.

    This mountain feels a lot bigger than you might think, but it has been a while since I was up high. The drop off to the west is immense at nearly 8,000'! It was nice being back on volcanic rock. I would have liked to see the area before the fire, but what can you do. It is not as convenient as I had hoped, taking almost 2 hours for me to get to the area, and with the closure, access may be an issue for a while. I was reminded of how friendly and inviting the Peaks are, but they are too far away for a day hike. How often will I come up here? Only time will tell, but I doubt it will be a new Humphrey. Maybe more like a Fremont.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Alamogordo, NM, take US 70 north to Ruidoso, NM. Turn left on to NM 48, and follow it north through the Village of Ruidoso, past the shops and over the numerous speed bumps( 48 takes a right at a traffic light, and this is signed). Continue to follow 48 north, now leaving the more urban center and heading into ranchette country. After some rolling hills and a nice view of Sierra Blanca, turn left on to NM 532, which is signed. Follow 532 for 12 miles to Ski Apache. Park at the "Scenic Trailhead" just out side of the ski area.
    page created by HAZ_Hikebot on May 16 2014 10:23 am
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