|Alum Mountain & Copperas Peak, NM|
|Alum Mountain & Copperas Peak, NM|| |
Alum Mountain & Copperas Peak, NM
|Hiking||8.67 Miles|| 6 Hrs 36 Mns ||1.43 mph|
|2,857 ft AEG|| 33 Mns Break|
||no linked trail guides|
|Day 4 (NM Peak Bagging Trip, Part 2)
After a very peaceful night of car-camping along a forest service road located less than a mile from the visitors center of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, I woke at the first signs of daylight and was eager to start hiking. Sometime during the night, some fountain cleanser in a dark colored truck had literally pulled in and parked all of about 10-15 feet away from my Forester… it’s one thing if the parking options were more limited; but the person could have easily tripled the distance that he/she had parked from me. Having slept incredibly deeply, I had not even heard the truck pull in during the night; and when I bolted from my Forester the next morning to relieve myself of the loads of water I’d chugged the previous evening, I was literally not a happy camper at the sight of the truck. The thought of now having to drive several miles down the road in order to piss in private, [all because some moron decided to park practically on top of me], was beyond irritating; and not more than a few seconds had passed before I thought, ‘screw it…’, blocked myself from the view of the truck as best I could, and proceeded to take care of biz on the spot. In the unlikely event the moron happened to get out of the truck in the process and give me hell, you better believe I was prepared to dish it right back and give ‘em a crash course in Car-Camping Etiquette 101. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.
Next I hopped into my Forester and headed back toward Gila Hot Springs trying to figure out what to do. Not expecting to end up in this area, I had only a handful of other hikes routed, [and most of them were quite long… in the 17-30 mile range]. After my 19+ miler from the previous day, I wanted to go easy on the distance; and I was also hoping to be back early enough to hit up the Cliff Dwellings & check out the visitor center. The only nearby option that fit the bill was the ‘bifecta’ of Alum Mountain & Copperas Mountain. The previous evening when I was considering my options, I wasn’t too fond of this combo. Both summits are very close to Hwy 15 [just over 1.60 air-miles for Alum Mountain and a mere 0.30 miles for Copperas Mountain]; and tackling them both in true-loop style as I was planning wouldn’t be more than about 8.5 – 9.5 miles RT. However, with some very rugged terrain – AND at least 7 miles worth of bushwhacking – this could easily turn into a 7+ hour adventure with many cliff hanging moments and/or brushy battles. However, not in the mood for another super long hike, [and even less in the mood to drive at least 60 minutes to the next area where I had some shorter options routed], I defaulted to the Alum & Copperas combo.
I’d figure I’d start with the more questionable of the two [Alum]. That way if things got rough and I had to turn back there would at least be enough time to grab Copperas, [which was right by Hwy 15 and did not look at all cliffy or overly brushy], and then head back toward an area where I had some shorter options to round out the day… but luckily it never came to that… unlike the previous day where nothing seemed to go right, everything feel into place for me on Day 4, and in more ways than one…
…first was a little ‘dirt road redemption.’ My cell phone had failed to power off during the night and I awoke to a 49% charge. Needing to kill a little extra time en route to my planned starting point, I headed down FR 4301B, which runs nearly parallel to Hwy 15 for about 1.25 miles before re-joining Hwy 15. I don’t know what compelled me to turn onto such a shitty looking road… [and trust me when I say, this one was definitely up there on the shit factor scale for a vehicle with under 9” of ground clearance]… especially when it would not have given me any advantages whatsoever in terms of a better starting point for my hike. Despite having to negotiate several spots that were just as bad if not worse than the spots that caused me to ‘tap out’ with the Forester on the road I attempted the previous morning, the Forester prevailed like a champ and complete this road unscathed.
In the spot where FR 4301B reconnects with Hwy 15, there is a very large pullout / viewpoint; and, while I had about four potential launch points planned out, this one looked quite ideal and very convenient. The first challenge was getting down the steep embankment to reach the floor of Alum Canyon without cliffing out; and if that was successful, then I’d make my way to the base of Alum Mountain, [ideally by way of Alum Canyon, although given just how cliffy the terrain looked in many places, I was prepared to do some extra ‘up & overs’ of along any of the neighboring ridges in the event I cliffed out in the canyon].
Although Alum Mountain is clearly visible from my launch point, [and is a “landmark feature” from many viewpoints along the West side of Hwy 15 in this area], I was not exactly sure which mountain it was at the start of my adventure, [which was probably a good thing given that the sight of the mountain toward the end of my adventure gave me butterflies and had me thinking, ‘holy shit… I was just on top of that…!’].
At any rate, I got out of my vehicle and headed down a human-looking route that took off down the embankment right in front of where I’d parked. Based on the topo contours, the worst [steepest] part in terms of reaching Alum canyon was in the very beginning. While the human routes seemed to fade out entirely within about 0.05 miles or less, the resident animals did an excellent job from there; and if something didn’t particularly appeal, there was usually at least two or more route options in sight at any given time. Although things were definitely on the steep side in the beginning, [along with some loose footing and brush to combat], the descent was not nearly as difficult as I anticipated, and it actually went quite smoothly. I’m usually pretty good at not getting ‘psyched out’ by the terrain; but after having my confidence shaken just prior to leaving for this trip, I was definitely feeling more than a little intimidated at the start of this adventure, and it felt really good to break through those barriers.
Since negotiating loose footing is NOT my forte, the steep, beginning part of my descent was on the slow side; but the footing proved a lot more generous than I anticipated and before I knew it, I had reached the more gradual area and was having an absolute blast as the somewhat brushy / rocky slopes had transformed into pine-covered dirt slopes that I could glide down with ease. NOT having a clear line of sight to the bottom of the canyon until I had practically reached it, I really tuned in to the surrounding terrain, [and managed to do a very good job in terms of choosing where to drop and where to contour to reach the floor of the canyon without having to blast through any super brushy spots and/or perform any cliff-hanging maneuvers].
For 95+% of my descent, there was a very nice shade cover; but in the handful of sunny spots I encountered, the bees were already out and about and buzzing loudly; and when I reached the canyon floor which was lush and had some pretty spots with flowers, I could see / hear quite a few bees at any given moment. Generally speaking, the bees in NM do not seem to get nearly as peeved by my presence as the bees in AZ… but nonetheless, they made me a bit uneasy, given that reaching my vehicle [or a nearby trail] would NOT have been a fast or easy process. Thus, aside from a handful of spots where the shear beauty of the canyon captivated me, causing me to pause to take in the awesome scenery amidst the buzzing bees, I did my best to enjoy things on the move and did not even stop for water. There is a very distinctive red rock outcropping that can be seen from many spots along Hwy 15, and my journey through Alum Canyon literally took me right by the base of it, which was quite an awesome area. Near the red rock outcropping was also some white rock, and by the base of it, the rock had crumbled so finely that it looked just like beach sand; and for a stretch of about 40-50 feet along the canyon, the “footing” literally consisted of a white ‘mound’ of this sand. It was a total blast to go through and felt very similar to walking through the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley.
I was in Alum Canyon for only about 2/3rds of a mile, but this short stretch was incredibly beautiful and never came close to cliffing out. Next I reached a tributary heading SW [right in the direction of Alum Mountain] and headed up it for about 0.20 miles, at which point it was time to begin my ascent. Initially I had planned for a slightly longer approach that would allow me to experience more of the area; but given just how rugged some of the spots were, I wanted to play it safe and take what I felt would be the fastest and most direct route to the summit. Although I had a fairly clear line of sight for most of the way up, there were a handful of questionable spots where I did not have clear line of sight… and although I’d drawn up a route for myself ahead of time using satellite imagery, the part of the mountain I was about to ascend was no where near it. With many craggy areas to negotiate, cliffing out [although unlikely from what I could see], was still a possibility.
The partially “blind” ascent definitely added to the fun [and made reaching the summit so much more rewarding]. The slope I’d selected for my ascent was super steep; but with many excellent animal routes to choose from, and excellent gripping footing, it was pretty much just a matter of powering up. With an extremely high VO2 max, my heart & lungs rarely feel challenged while hiking… but trust me when I say, this ascent gave both a good run for the money. The views during the ascent were absolutely spectacular and kept getting better as I climbed higher… [and thankfully there were enough spots here and there where the terrain flattened out and allowed me to take it all in; cuz for much of the way up, the slope was so steep that attempting to stop resulted in sliding downwards OR bracing my body in such a way [to prevent from sliding down] that my calf muscles were burning after just half a minute.
The awesome views made the ascent go by incredibly quickly… in fact, I suddenly found myself standing on top of a huge rock crag, [that I had originally intended to skirt], on the NE end of the summit. Contrary to what the super gradual topo contours may suggest of this area, there is a bit of generalization going on and you cannot simply stroll the rest of the way up to the highpoint… from just past the 6,680’ contour line at the NE end of the summit to the highpoint at the SW end is all crag. Luckily, by staying just North of the summit ridge, it’s possible to easily circumvent this craggy area; and after working my around and over to the highpoint crag, [which was fairly obvious by this point], it’s a very short but fun Class 2+ climb up. The highpoint crag is not a particularly large area, but there is room for a good 5-10 people to sit comfortably and soak in the exceptionally awesome scenery. I saw a couple of bees on the summit, but they minded their biz and never once buzzed me, allowing me to take a good 30+ minutes to thoroughly enjoy this sensational summit with breathtaking 360 degree views.
As per what seems to be the norm in these parts of NM, I was unable to find a register [or survey marker(s)]; and, I did not hesitate to leave a register [or at least a *partial one]… the few summits I reach that: a) do not already have registers; AND b) challenge me both mentally and physically like this one did are ones where I typically leave an empty Juvo container [which I use as a carrying case for my SOS device, headlamp, & cell phone re-charger]. This summit definitely fit the bill. Frustratingly though, the pen/paper that I also had finally remembered to put inside the container had fallen out the previous evening as I was re-arranging my stuff; thus, I needed to get creative and settled on using a rock to carve the name of mountain, as well as my name & date of summit, onto the outer part of the lid. The few times I’ve hiked with others, I’ve found that people often have writing implements & a scrap something or other to write on. In the event the next one to summit doesn’t, then there is plenty of room on the sides of the container to ‘sign & date’ via the rock carving method I used.
The second half of my journey involved getting from Alum Mountain to Copperas Mountain, and for this leg of the journey, I followed very closely to the route I’d pre-drawn for myself. The terrain in the beginning, [from the descent off Alum to the SW, followed by heading S/SE up a ridge and then doing some contouring to position myself to reach the ridge that would lead me to Copperas] looked to be exceptionally smooth sailing; and this proved to be case. However, there was one questionable spot, which proved to be a total beast. If looking at the topo, this spot is located to the S/SW of the Northwestward-most prominent point of Copperas’s NW ridge. Yet again, unlike the topo contours suggest, this prominent point is total crag, [at least from the direction I had approached]… and as I neared the base of the craggy area, I came upon an animal route that was like the grand-central station of animal routes. When it started contouring the craggy prominent point counterclockwise… I took this as a clue that attempting an up and over might leave me shit out of luck, so I decided to follow the animal route. While it was well blazed, there were a few steep sections where I had to perform some Class 2+ / Class 3- maneuvers up boulders while also dodging some light, [but ‘strategically positioned’] cacti / thorny shrubs in the process. Luckily, the shitty stretch wasn’t overly difficult, and I managed to pull off the climbs AND avoid getting impaled by the nasty vegetation.
After that, the rest of the way was exceptionally smooth sailing. The views from Copperas were very decent… but after getting super spoiled with the exceptionally awesome views atop Alum, I definitely was ‘oh’ing and ah’ing’ over them. Unlike many of the other summits in the area however, Copperas did have some nice cultural aspects; while there was no register that I could find, I located 3 survey markers. Two of them were your typical silver/gray color and out in the open, and the third appears to have been painted white and is serving as the “base” for a tall wooden rod/pole that is supported by a large rock pile and several additional wires. I have no clue as to was this is / once was, but I was able to angle my cell camera so that it focused in between the cracks of the rocks and capture part of the white-painted survey marker.
The descent off Copperas was as smooth as smooth gets, and it was really nice to get some great views of Alum Mountain along with the beautiful landscape in that direction [N/NW] as I descended. Views to the N/NW were completely blocked from the summit area of Copperas, and when they finally opened up shortly into my descent, it was really awesome. Toward the bottom of Copperas’s NE ridge, I picked up a jeep road that lead back out to Hwy 15 after about 0.10 miles; and after that it was a beautiful, 1.25 mile cruise along Hwy 15 to get back to my vehicle.
Rounding out the awesome day, I managed to make it to the country store in Gila Hot Springs about 30 minutes before closing. In addition to stocking up on some salty food, [which I had completely run out of], I snatched up the very last of this superb topo map atlas of NM by DeLorme. According to the store owners, DeLorme will no longer be making these maps [for the Southwestern states], and as such they are in high demand. Next I had time to make a very brief stop at the visitors center at Gila Cliff Dwellings NM. I didn’t make the cutoff time to be able to see the cliff dwellings, but I purchased the pretty National Monument pin anyways in celebration & remembrance of such an awesome adventure. Before heading back toward Silver City in preparation for my final night/day of the trip, I parked at a pullout right down the road from the Cliff Dwellings and scrambled down a 5-10’ vertical bank to get to the Gila River. It was exceptionally refreshing to sit in the river, [which was surprisingly NOT ice cold]; and VERY nice to be able to wash off [to some extent] after not having showered for the past few days.
|LET’S GO BRANDON! |