Monday, October 15, 2012

Hiking Albuquerque Sandia Wilderness - Embudito Canyon to South Summit

When most people think of hiking Albuquerque the famed La Luz Trail to the Tram comes to mind. But the vast Sandia Wilderness is a veritable hiking mecca with many incredible trails to be explored. Personally, my favorite is not the La Luz Trail but the trail that winds up Embudito Canyon to Sandia's South Summit.
View of Sandia's South Summit from the Embudito Trail
This 12-mile out-and-back hike is a very do-able day hike that is strenuous enough to give you an enormous sense of accomplishment. Whether you live in Albuquerque or are just visiting, you will want to check out the amazing hike that is the Embudito Trail. The Embudito Trail is more scenic than La Luz, in my opinion, with more expansive and widely varied views. I also love that the Embudito Trail isn't full of lazy tourists at the top - there is no road, no tram, and no ski lift. You really have to do some work to get there, and the people you meet along the way share the same passion for the true adventure of hiking.

The sun-drenched lower portion of Embudito Trail, Mt. Taylor in distance
The key to doing this trail - or any hike for that matter - is to be prepared. Depending on your pace, this hike can take between 6 and 10 hours to complete. Take plenty of water (4 to 6 liters is recommended), and plan ahead with lunch and snacks to keep up your energy throughout the day. Plan to set out from the trailhead as early as possible - check for sunset times and plan for 10 hours on the trail, even if you may be able to do it quicker. Also, this hike can be brutal in the summer since about two-thirds of the trail is under direct sunlight. Make sure you wear a hat, bring along sunscreen and re-apply frequently.

Sandia's South Summit in view - to the right of the massive rock formation
This is a moderate to strenuous hike. You will go through three major phases in the six-mile hike to the summit. The first two miles follow the scenic north wall of Embudito Canyon. The initial ascent is sun-drenched and the trail is lined with juniper, cholla and prickly pear cactus. At the two-mile mark the trail descends into an upper branch of the canyon, crossing over to the canyon's south wall. The second two miles are tree-covered. Here you will enjoy the shade of aspens and pines, including the stately Ponderosa.

Sweeping views from Sandia's South Mountain, Manzanos in the distance
Just before you reach the four-mile point the Embudito Trail arrives at Oso Pass. Here, the Three Gun Spring Trail joins the Embudito from the south and the Whitewash Trail comes in from the southwest. Turn left at Oso Pass and just beyond the junction you will find a great place to sit and have lunch. You'll need the energy to fuel your final ascent to Sandia's South Summit!

Don't celebrate too quickly - this is a false summit!
The last couple of miles on the Embudito Trail are quite strenuous. You will feel the burn as the trail rises steadily above the lower peaks of the southern Sandia mountains. Look up to your left and you will see a sheer rock wall - beyond that is the South Summit. Continue heading south and east on the trail for some time until you are nearing the crest. As you make your way diagonally across a steep slope covered in scrub oak, just before you reach the crest, keep your eyes peeled for a small cairn on the left side of the trail that makes a sort of switchback up the mountain's west face toward the summit. Turn left here and continue on. En route from here you will experience two false summits. Keep following the trail until it ends where you reach your goal - Sandia's South Summit.

The approach to Sandia's South Summit along a narrow, rocky path
Should you be up for the challenge of trekking up the Embudito Trail to Sandia's South Summit, here are some of the important details to help get you on your way:

Trailhead: Located at the end of Trailhead Road in Albuquerque, take Tramway Boulevard to Montgomery Boulevard and go east toward the mountains. Turn left on Greenwood Hills Road and then right onto Trailhead Road. The Emubdito Trailhead is at the north end of the parking lot at the end of Trailhead Road.
Distance: Some guide books say this trail is 11 miles out-and-back, but I say it's 12 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 3,400/3,400 feet (1,036/1,036 meters)
Map: A must-have map for hiking Albuquerque's Sandia Mountains is this GPS Powered Trail Map from Dharma Maps. A free map is also available from the Sandia Ranger District (11776 New Mexico 337, Tijeras, NM 87059).
Hiking Time: Depending on your pace, this hike can take between 6 and 10 hours to complete. Take plenty of water (4 to 6 liters recommended), lunch and snacks to keep up your energy.
Best Times to Hike: Plan to leave the trailhead as early as possible - check for sunset times and plan on 10 hours on the trail even if you may be able to do it quicker. This hike can be brutal in the summer since about 2/3 of the trail is under direct sunlight.
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous. The six miles to the summit isn't the hard part; Coming down is tough on the legs, so make sure you're in good shape for this one.

Celebrating the victory of reaching Sandia's South Summit
Once you reach Sandia's South Summit, celebrate your victory, have another snack, and prepare yourself for the descent. The six miles to the summit isn't the hard part; Coming down is tough on the legs, so make sure you're in good shape for this one. Pace yourself. Though you will want to hurry down, be careful not to slip and fall - the trail has some loose, pebbly soils and it is easy to make a misstep when you are already tired and longing to plop into the seat of your car. And don't forget to save water for that final two miles back down the canyon - that's when you will need it the most!

This is a unique hike in that it is nearly 100 percent within designated wilderness and a National Forest, yet you almost constantly experience views that remind you of the fragility of our world's protected spaces. I highly recommend this scenic hike the next time you're in Albuquerque. In fact, I would even say this hike is worth planning a special trip to the Duke City. Please leave me a comment below, and if you have any additional questions as you plan this hike, feel free to ask!

Happy hiking!

Learn more about the author at about.me/brian.schwarz. Follow HikeyHikey blogger Brian Schwarz on Twitter @MyFitLife2Day. Check out his other blogs, Man of Merit and MyFitLife2Day. And make sure to stop by Brian's Hubs on the popular writing site HubPages.