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Endure the Punishment, Experience the Paradise
Plain and simple: to say this is not a beginner’s bushwhack would be an understatement… this off-trail adventure will beat the crap out of you in more ways than one. Endless patches of catclaw and super steep grades with very loose footing will test you physically; while the potential sighting of huge mountain lion prints [or maybe even the animals themselves], possible gunshots, and just knowing that the summit is located a little over 1.5 air miles from the Mexican border will test some mentally. If all of that weren’t enough, I do not recommend attempting Pajarito [pah-ha-REE-toe] Peak without use of a GPS device/app like Route Scout; with many intersecting ridges and neighboring peaks that are similar in elevation to Pajarito, it’s very easy to lose your way or end up on the wrong peak or perhaps even in Mexico! I also highly recommend the following: trekking poles, long pants, and at least 3 liters of water. For those who are up for the challenge and successfully brave the elements, a true paradise awaits; read on for details.
Hike: From the TH, you’ll hike South on FR 4195 for about 1/4 mile, at which point the road splits, with FR 4195 heading off to the right and FR 4197 beginning and heading to the left. If following my route, you’ll want to stay to the left, [on FR 4197]. This jeep road will now start to ascend gradually, and it soon becomes rocky. A short while later, catclaw will be reaching for you from both sides of the road and even from the center. You’ll likely be a bit scratched up by the end regardless; but long pants, along with and trekking poles to ward off some of the brush will go a long way in minimizing damages.
As you continue up the jeep road, you’ll pass the Morning Mine, which appears as a huge ‘hole’ to the left of the jeep road; you can’t miss it! While it’s been filled in, the drop to the bottom is still big enough to do damage so take caution if you stop to investigate.
About 1/3 mile after the Morning Mine you’ll come to a saddle-like area where FR 4197 terminates. At this point, you have two options: a) descend toward Walker Canyon by heading down to the SE; or b) head up the ridge that runs to the SW [relative to the saddle area] toward UN 4905 and then at some point along this ridge bank down into Walker Canyon. Here are some further details about these options:
a) In looking at topo maps, descending toward Walker Canyon by heading downward to the SE [relative to the saddle area described above] should amount to 1/4 mile of bushwhacking or less before you reach the terminus of another jeep road [FR 221], which will then lead you the short rest of the way down into Walker Canyon. This is the option I choose for my descent into Walker Canyon; and it’s hard for me to give it a good recommendation. The footing on this slope was extremely loose, and the brush was on the thick side at times [although luckily nothing too thorny]. Additionally, [either due to the thick brush and/or potential lack of use/abandonment, I never found FR 221 and instead simply made my way down into Walker Canyon. The advantage of this option is that you will spend about 0.40 miles more in the beautiful Walker Canyon compared to option b).
b) The alternative is to head up the ridge that runs to the SW of the saddle area toward UN 4905, [with the objective of banking downward at some point into Walker Canyon]. You may even end up on this ridge because, [although topo maps show FR 4197 terminating at the small saddle area], a jeep road continues for part of the way up this ridge, after which you’ll have some routes that make the going pretty smooth. However, at some point you’ll have to bank down into Walker Canyon. If following my tracks, then you’ll want to head down at the prominent point located that’s located 0.20 – 0.25 air miles to the NE of UN 4905. On my return trip I traversed up this slope. It’s going to be very steep and the footing will be rather loose but the footing seemed a bit better than the alternative [option a)] described above.
Once you’ve managed to get down into Walker Canyon, [hopefully in one piece!], you’ll be in for a special treat: the canyon is absolutely beautifully; and when I was there, it had a small amount of flowing water and several small pools that were extremely clear. With a soft-sandy bottom in most places, and larger sturdy boulders in others, the canyon is not at all challenging and you’ll have a very pleasant stroll before you start your ascent toward Pajarito Peak.
After about 0.90 miles [if you opted for a)] or 0.50 miles [if you opted for b)], there will be a side branch to the right and almost immediately after another side branch to the left [while the main part of Walker Canyon continues straight ahead]. At this point, you’ll want to bank up the ridge to left, heading almost due East. In a little over 1/3 of a mile, you’ll connect with Pajarito Peak’s NW running ridgeline. Head SE up this ridgeline for about 1/4 mile, and you’ll soon reach the summit where 360 degrees of awesomeness awaits. Soak in the views, sign the register [located by the summit cairn which is to the SE of the solar panels] if you choose, and return the way you came.
NOTE: For those who are seasoned in off-trail hiking/peak bagging and want something more challenging, see the lasso loop variation [which is the actual route that I took] in my triplog… the short [0.25 mile] exit out of Walker Canyon and up to a different portion of the ridgeline leading to Pajarito Peak from the NW will not disappoint…
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This is a difficult hike. Arrive fit and prepared or this could get ugly.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
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