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Buck Hannen Mtn & Middle Mtn & Loco Mtn, NM
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Buck Hannen Mtn & Middle Mtn & Loco Mtn, NM 
Buck Hannen Mtn & Middle Mtn & Loco Mtn, NM
Hiking19.55 Miles 3,325 AEG
Hiking19.55 Miles   10 Hrs   34 Mns   1.97 mph
3,325 ft AEG      38 Mns Break
1st trip
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Day 3 (NM Peak Bagging Trip, Part 2)
It’s not often that I wake up on the wrong side of the bed to begin with… let alone wake up on the wrong side of the bed AND still feel royally pissed & frustrated after a sensational day of hiking… but that’s exactly what happened today. And, while I can’t say I had a particularly good time as a result, there were a handful of moments I where was able to enjoy myself. Most importantly of all: the ‘piss ‘n’ vinegar’ allowed me to manhandle another 19+ miler and bag three peaks in the process. 8) Distance has never been a forte of mine but, [unlike a certain other health/fitness parameter where superhuman effort on my part still produces inferior results relative to average…], my efforts to withstand higher mileage have clearly paid off.

STILL having failing to attain that certain other health/fitness parameter [despite exceptionally hardcore effort] was the trigger for my shitty mood; and everything little thing after that pissed me the F off. The previous night I’d car-camped in a large area with tons of pullout spots/fire-rings right after making the turn onto a dirt road by the sign for the Military Road TH, right off Hwy 15; and the road continuing toward where I planned to start my hike looked almost car drivable from what I was able to see on satellite imagery. However, it was really putting my Forester’s 8.7” of ground clearance to the test, and for just under 1/2 mi each way, there were some spots that I decided where just not worth the risk. Not only was it frustrating having to turn back, the backing up / turn-around process was a total bitch and cost me nearly 20 minutes… given the shitty mood I was in to begin with, to say I was more than a little pissed off by the time I set out on foot down the jeep road would be a total understatement…

First on the itinerary was Buck Hannen Mountain and it’s right at the beginning, [I made summit in under 1.75 miles from my parking spot]. Reaching the summit is as easy as it gets in terms of the terrain… in fact, with such a gradual “grade”, [along with enough trees to block the views en route to the summit], the hands down most “challenging” aspect was the navigation; I was constantly having to spot check my GPS because there were several areas where the general direction of the highpoint was not obvious. Though unlike the peaks I did the previous day, the highpoint of Buck Hannen Mountain is obvious [once you make it to the highpoint area], and it consist of a small boulder pile. Reaching the highpoint boulder from the ground took all of a few seconds, but there is just enough room for one person to sit comfortably on it and enjoy the surrounding views, which were beautiful enough to snap me out of my uber pissed off mood, [or at least for the few minutes I took to sit up there and soak in the scenery]. And, although I encountered several buzzing bees going about their biz en route to the summit, [as well as during other places over the course of the day’s adventure], they must’ve sensed I was having a bad day and never once bothered me.

After leaving the summit of Buck Hannen Mountain, [which felt more like a mesa than a mountain], I headed back down to the trail and continued along it for about three] miles. Just after the trail passes Thirtytwo Tank, I started my bushwhack loop of nearly 8 miles, incorporating both of my next summits [Middle Mountain & Loco Mountain], in the process. The trail segment on this adventure was okay… the route finding factor was a definite 1 [i.e. not at all confusing]; and, having a rather long off-trail segment ahead of me, it was nice to have a trail that allowed me to cruise on autopilot for a good stretch. The surroundings are very peaceful; however, thanks to the surrounding tree cover and almost complete lack of distance views, the scenery ranks quite low relative to what this area has to offer. The footing on the trail was really ‘feast or famine’, alternating between very pleasant stretches of soft dirt and/or pine needles with no rocks to being filled with so many rocks that it literally felt like walking along a dried up stream/river. The rocks ranged in size from a ping-pong ball to larger than a basketball; and most of them were loose / on the surface vs. well-rooted into the ground, making it the perfect type of terrain for twisting an ankle. And with little to no room left to plant my feet on the solid ground in between, my pace slowed considerably during these rocky stretches. About 3.5 – 4 miles in to my adventure, I decided to chance caching some water. Although I was carrying my usual 3 liters, I was really struggling to make good time, especially on the rocky sections of trail. While I off-loaded just a single liter, it made a HUGE difference; and with a lot more float to my stride, I was able to make much better time.

The bushwhack from the trail to Middle Mountain was exceptionally well-routed by the resident animals, and it proved to be even easier than Buck Hannen Mountain thanks to a slightly steeper grade, which avoided the need for GPS cross-checks every 5 seconds to determine which way was up. Views from the summit were mostly blocked, and the few distance views to be had were on the plain side; though I didn’t particularly care since a large part of the fun of peak bagging, [at least for me], is the journey and not just the destination.

From the summit of Middle Mountain, I was around 7 miles in to my adventure. The 1.5 liters of water that remained in my pack would need to last me roughly 8-9 more miles before I’d arrive back at the liter I’d cached… and with at least 6 of those 8-9 miles being off-trail, it definitely made me a little nervous. Thus, I decided to cut as many corners as I could and opted for what I thought would be a slightly shorter & faster approach than I was initially planning to reach the final summit [Loco Mountain]. From the vantage point I had atop Middle Mountain, I was able to get a decent view of most of the ridges/terrain I’d be covering, and luckily most of it looked like very smooth sailing… however, if I ended up needing upper body protection for any length of time, then there was a chance I might fall a little short in terms of the water I had on hand and how much I was going to need.

Instead of riding ridges to reach Loco Mountain, the slightly more direct approach I opted for involved: dropping off Middle Mountain via a ridge to the NE, then into a drainage heading NE, and finally making a rather straight-up type of ascent from the Western flank to reach the summit of Loco. My one reserve was that the area I planned to ascend looked to be a little on the brushy side… but still pretty full of ‘piss ‘n’ vinegar’, I didn’t hesitate to tackle it head on. Relative to the previous day’s adventure, the brush never got quite as bad; but it was thick enough that I needed to suit up in my bushwhacking pants, jacket, gloves, AND safety goggles in order to continue making somewhat decent time. Given the many bares spots on the surrounding ridges, [and also the less brushy spots I’d observed on certain other sides of Loco Mountain], having to fight a brush battle put me in an even worse mood. And to top it all off, the summit area was incredibly overgrown and had absolute no views… although there were some very nice views on the descent. Unlike Buck Hannen Mountain, the highpoints of both Middle Mountain & Loco Mountain were not at all obvious; so I touched the many points in question on each. And, like with many of the other summits in the area, I was unable to find a register or survey markers on any of the three summits I visited during Day 3’s adventure.

Shortly after leaving the summit of Loco Mountain, the brush let up enough for me to complete the descent without safety goggles; and by the time I reached the saddle area to the SW of the mountain, I was able to remove my jacket and gloves. The next couple of off-trail miles along the ridge were very easy-going but a bit brushier than anticipated. It never got nearly as bad as the previous days adventure and/or required further use of the safety goggles, but it was thick enough in some places that I needed to re-suit a few times in jacket & gloves.

Fortunately, by the time I reached the water I’d cached, I still had about 1/2 liter remaining of the bottle that was in my pack. By this point, I’d covered 16+ miles, [nearly 10 of which were off-trail]… taking on an extra 2 lbs. for the final 3+ miles was not exactly my idea of fun. And since dumping water was not an option thanks to being low on my overall stash back at the Forester, I force drank the 1/2 liter to partially offset the weight of the 1 L I’d cached. By the time I reached the Forester, I was rather beat [and still felt pissed as all hell], but luckily the next morning, I awoke to my normal, chipper self.

After my adventure, I headed for Gila Hot Springs to hit up the country store that I kept seeing signs for along Hwy 15 ( ... ost/). I had enough water to get through the night/morning, but not for another day of hiking. Go figure, the store had closed by the time I arrived and the hours totally suck this time of year [they close at 4:30 PM and don’t open until 10:30 AM]. Given that it’s light before 6 AM, there was no way I was waiting around the next morning until 10:30 AM to get water. I figured I’d drive the remaining 4 miles to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, and if I couldn’t find water there I’d head back toward Silver City. Although the National Monument had closed, [and the 9 AM – 4 PM hours were not much better than the hours of the country store], the bathrooms were open and right outside was an area to get drinking water free of charge. The water was amazingly good; and I was thrilled to not have to drive back to Silver City.

My final minutes of daylight were spent checking out the nearby campgrounds. By this point, I was struggling to keep my eyes open and if the campgrounds were halfway decent like the ones in the Chiricahuas, I was ready to call it a night. However, for such an exceptionally beautiful area, I could not believe how poorly these campgrounds were designed… you pretty much park/camp in a paved lot with the vault toilets to your front and the road to your back… and to ‘top off’ the experience, the parking spaces were literally right on top of each other like any standard parking space at your local Wal-Mart / grocery store… no thank you! I’d sooner drive back to Gila Hot Springs and pay to stay at a bed & breakfast type place over this type of camping arrangement. Luckily there was no need; with forest service roads abound, it didn’t me long at all to find something peaceful, private (or so I thought… :o ), and very near by.
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