The La Luz Trail, Albuquerque, NM, USA – 13 May 2007

First trip to the great American southwest (yes, another first) to visit my good friend Dae Il. Meeree left a few days ago so we decided to try our hand at hiking for the first time. We bought some gear from REI and set out the day before to hike the Petroglyph National Monument. It was so easy we decided to try the La Luz trail in the Sandia Mountains about 10 minutes northeast of Albuquerque. We figured a 9 mile hike shouldn’t take more than 6 hours. Little did we know…

Woke up, had brunch, gathered our stuff together. Really didn’t rush at all even though it was now after 1pm and we were still weren’t even at the trailhead yet. The plan was to get to the top to catch the sunset around 7:30/8pm and then take the tramway down. We didn’t actually start the hike till sometime between 2 and 3pm. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had no problems finding the trailhead. 9 miles, about 3775ft of elevation gain, starting point at 7050ft, 4 different climate zones.

Thankfully we came prepared with about 3 liters of water each, plenty of bars, and lots of layers. It gradually got colder as we ascended up the mountain so the layers came in handy. A few hours in, we started to come across lots of hikers on their way down. Some of whom warned us of difficult terrain involving snow and that we might not make it to the top before nightfall. But we naively ignored their warnings and pressed on anyway. After about the 5 or 6 mile mark, the sun was starting to set. This is where things got worrisome. 

So about our packing, we only brought one kinetic flashlight. And we didn’t bring crampons. After a while the sun went down completely and it was so dark I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. And on top of that, we were too far up the trail to turn back and not close enough to the top to feel secure. The trail narrows out at the top; lots of areas are maybe 2 or 3 feet wide, the mountain face on one side and sheer drop on the other. Not a good scenario when it’s pitch black out. But we had to press on! I held the flashlight and Dae held onto both our mobile phones for light – one in each hand. And then it got worse. We reached a series of about 6 consecutive switchbacks completely covered with snow on top of ice. And as I said earlier, no crampons. At this point it was about 830pm and we were over 9000ft elevation. Oh and the tram was already shut down for the night.

In one area between the snowy switchbacks there was a more open area with mini-caves where we could take shelter for the night. I was starting to get real worried. But Dae wasn’t having it. “Fuck you, this isn’t brokeback mountain. I’m going to the fucking top. ” It took what seemed like an eternity but we made it past the snow and ice area alive. I slipped a few times but thankfully didn’t fall off the mountain.

Near the top, we came across a wooden staircase and thinking that we were at the summit, ran up it as fast we could! What a letdown! Still not at the top, and now we were completely winded from the high altitude. We were probably now at about 10000ft. And that’s when I shot this:

So since the tram shut down we had no way of getting to the bottom. So Dae arranged for one of his friends to pick us up at the top. But later on we called to confirm the ride and his friend wasn’t picking up. So we called another friend and she said she’d come get us. But then later on we couldn’t reach her either. Shit!!

After a few more hours of me taking a few steps forward, then stopping to shine the flashlight back towards Dae, we eventually reached the top just after 11pm. One car in the parking lot. We walk up to it shining the flashlight. Turns out it was a couple making out. And despite the desperate looks on our face, no offer to drive us down, only an offer to give us a taxi company’s number. So we tried Dae’s friends again. Still no answer. Then all of a sudden a big white pickup truck rolls up…it’s the park ranger! They got a call from Dae’s friends!!! The ranger said if we weren’t up there they would’ve sent a helicopter rescue team. Whew!! He drove us down to the bottom and Dae’s friends were waiting for us down there. Turns out all their batteries died and the others who were with them didn’t have our numbers. And then they filled us in on the call, which went something like this:

Dae’s Friend: “Our friends are hiking up la luz and they haven’t made it to the top yet. They’re over an hour late.”
Ranger: “Are they experienced hikers?”
Dae’s Friend : “They’re both from New York.”
Ranger: “We’ll send someone right over.”

And that’s how we nearly died in the Sandia Mountains. 2 guys from NYC, 2nd day we’ve ever hiked in our lives, 1 flashlight.

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