Friday, June 9, 2017

After being forced to bail out of this hike a week ago, due to storm clouds and thunder, we came back out to the 10K Trailhead today to finish our loop hike. The day’s weather was in complete cooperation with our hiking plans, but signage and lack of signage would present some unexpected challenges! 🙂

Short review from last Friday’s hike:

The 10K Trailhead is not far below the Sandia Crest, just off the Crest Highway. Elevation at the trailhead is 9,953 feet. The trailhead is a fee area, so bring $3 for parking unless you have a pass. There are two parking areas with adequate space for a lot of cars. The 10K North Trailhead is on the north side of the highway, while the 10K South Trailhead is on the other side of the highway. There is no shade over either of the two parking areas. There are pit toilets.

The 10K Trail gets its name because the 10K North Trail tends to follow the 10K contour line, as seen on a topo map. The north part of the 10K South Trail tends to follow that same contour, but the south part deviates down-slope to around 9,400 feet.

On with the hike:

After crossing the road from the 10K Trailhead, we took the Challenge Trail back up to the Ellis Trailhead, which is where we were forced to bail out last Friday. Our plan was to hike up to the Kiwanis Cabin, then take the Crest trail down to the upper tram terminal, then follow the Crest Trail farther down to its junction with the 10K South, then follow the 10K South Trail back up to its trailhead. Looked like a pretty straight forward hike to me! However, getting to the Kiwanis Cabin from the Ellis Trailhead was anything but straight forward. Then, later in the hike, deciding which fork to take at one particular trail crossing on the 10K South would prove a bit confusing to someone hiking north on the 10K South for the very first time. So, naturally, since this was our very first time hiking the 10K South, in either direction, we took the wrong fork! 🙂

Okay. Where do I start?

About 350 feet up the access road from the Ellis Trailhead, we were met with four different trail signs pointing to four different trails: The Rocky Point Trail, the Switchback Trail, the Kiwanis Meadow Trail, and, yes, a second sign pointing towards a different trail for the Kiwanis Meadow. Okay, two signs pointing to two different trails, both going to the Kiwanis Meadow. And this was just the start of a confusing hodgepodge of trail intersections, complete with a hodgepodge of trail signage, except when there was no signage, required to get to the cabin, at least for those who haven’t gone this way before (like us!). And in the video, on a number of occasions, I questioned whether I could write this all up in a way that wouldn’t leave you folks so confused as to think it much better — and less painful — to just stop reading and poke yourself in the eye with a sharp pencil! And the truth is, I don’t think I want to take that chance, so you’ll just have to watch the video to sort out this part of the hike. That would be much easier on you… and me! 🙂

And as it turned out, there are actually two different ways to get to the cabin, but only one of them is shown on the plexiglass-covered map the forest service has installed on a wooden stand right there on the access road, right in between the two Kiwanis Meadow signs pointing to two different trails. And naturally, the route shown on their plexiglass-covered map is the long way! From the access road, that long route, the route we took, is 0.8 miles. The shorter, alternate route would have only been about 0.4 miles. I made a valiant attempt to sort all this out in the video. Who knows whether I succeeded? Anyway, this was a bad omen. 😦

Fast forward… we are now at the cabin.

The Kiwanis Cabin dates back to the early 1900s. The cabin was built at the behest of the local chapter of the Kiwanis Club. The first cabin was built out of wood around 1927. That cabin burned down in 1929. The second cabin was also built out of wood. That cabin blew down. Enough was enough. The third cabin was built in 1936 out of local limestone. That cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and still stands today.

In the early years, the Kiwanis Cabin was used for meetings, and due to the spectacular panoramic views, probably close to 200+ degrees, the area was a popular place for family picnics. In fact, the parking lot in front of the cabin could be accessed from the Kiwanis Cabin Road (now Trail #94), and the area surrounding the cabin had lean-tos, picnic tables, and pit toilets. Unfortunately, heavy vandalism in the 1940s lead to the removal of everything except the cabin. Vandals continue to do their dirty work today. As recently as 2016,  the cabin was defaced with graffiti, and there is still graffiti on the interior of the cabin today.

After taking in the views from the cabin, we were about to head back the way we came, but we happened to notice a sign off in the distance.  After checking the sign out, we discovered there is another trail leading up to the cabin from the Crest Trail. Taking that route is not only shorter, it also bypasses the hodgepodge of trails and trail intersections we encountered on the long route. Nothing wrong with knowing both ways to get to the cabin, but if I hike up there again from the Ellis Trailhead, I will take the shorter route and use the Kiwanis Cabin Trail (#93) to get up to the cabin from the Crest Trail. Again, this is all explained in the video, as best I could explain it! 🙂

But here are the directions in writing, just in case:

Now that I know both ways, unless you want to navigate the hodgepodge of trails we navigated, the easiest and shortest way to get to the cabin from the Ellis Trailhead is: From the Ellis Trailhead, follow the access road to the plexiglass-covered map. Then follow the trail to the right of that map where the trail sign reads,”Kiwanis Meadow Trail #16.” You will pass two, unsigned intersections, but continue following the trail you are on, don’t fork off at either intersection. When you get to the Crest Trail #130, turn LEFT (we turned right). Follow the crest trail south until you get to another plexiglass-covered map and a sign that reads, “Kiwanis Cabin Trail #93.” Follow the cabin trail about 0.2 miles up to the cabin. That’s it! How easy. If we had only known!! 😉

After unconfusing ourselves about the different routes to the cabin, we hiked the 1.1 miles down the South Crest Trail to the upper tram terminal. There is a lot of construction going on so we had to detour around all that, which added 0.1 miles to an otherwise one mile hike. As I understand it, they are building a new restaurant to replace the old restaurant. The upper tram terminal is a good place to take a break. There are restrooms and a vending machine inside, and plenty of places to park your butt for a while. It’s a good place to do some people-watching as the tourists try to find the best place to take in the incredible views from the Sandia Crest.

Upon leaving the terminal, we headed down the Crest Trail, on our way to the junction with the 10K South Trail. Just south of the terminal, we encountered numerous tourists on and around the trail, walking up through the woods, all in an attempt to find a good photo op along the crest which was away from the tram terminal. Marty and I both thought that looked a little dangerous for neophytes to be traipsing through the woods like that, but I don’t recall ever hearing about losing any tourists up there.

About a half mile south of the terminal, there is — apparently — a junction where the Crest Trail has been rerouted. I say “apparently” because we never saw a sign to indicate that, or anything else, in that area. More sign problems! And about 0.6 miles farther down the trail, there is another junction where the rerouted Crest Trail rejoins the main trail. It was only after finishing the hike, and reporting a half-dozen trees that were down across what we thought was the Crest Trail, that we found out we had actually hiked the 0.6 miles of the old Crest Trail that had been decommissioned! Why was that part of the Crest Trail decommissioned? I have absolutely no idea, but if you want hikers to stay off that part of the trail, it might be a good idea to put up signs, or bigger signs that can be easily seen. And guess what? I’ve been told those “bigger” signs are coming. Okay. I rest my case! 🙂 Check the topo map for a visual on the Crest Trail reroute.

As you leave the tram terminal, there is a sign that indicates the junction with the Tree Spring Trail is 1.75 miles. That junction is also the junction with the 10K South Trail. My GPS track shows it is only 1.5 miles to that junction. I suspect that 0.25 mile difference is due to the Crest Trail reroute, which, on the map, looks to be a bit longer than hiking the decommissioned part of the trail like we did.

No. No. We aren’t through with sign problems, yet! 🙂

After arriving at the 10K junction, we headed north on the 10K South Trail. Hiking north on a trail with “south” in its name seems a bit weird, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out we are pretty much the only ones who would do such a thing. Oh, not really. We can’t be the only weird hikers around here! You know what? I don’t think the Forest Service expected anyone to hike this trail from south-to-north, either. I say that because hiking about a mile north on the trail with “south” in its name, we encountered a trail intersection. It was like a Big X in the middle of nowhere.  And since I like the way “Big X” sounds, that’s what I’ll call that intersection.

As we approached the Big X, there was a small sign on the trail we were on, but facing the opposite direction. As we passed the sign, we turned to see that it read, “10K TR No. 200.” However, the Big X was void of signage. Oh, no. Not again! So there are three possible forks for us to take from the Big X and none of those three forks had a sign indicating which fork was the 10K Trail. What is it with all the sign issues on this hike? However, if we had been hiking north-to-south, we would still have had a three-fork decision to make, but the one sign we passed, the one facing backwards to us, was there for just that purpose — to let those hiking south know which fork was the 10K Trail. So northbound hikers on the 10K South get no respect?

Now this is where you can learn from my mistake. The right fork was wide and well-traveled. The straight fork was narrow and didn’t seem to be well-traveled. The left fork hooked sharply back in a direction we knew was wrong. So in our infinite hiking wisdom, wisdom we’ve gained from infinite hiking, not to mention, old age, we quickly decided the well-traveled right fork was, well, the “right” fork. Okay. Okay. I only said “we” because Marty and I are really good friends and I wanted to “share” the blame with him. In truth, as you can hear on the video, I was the one who made that snap decision without thinking it through, without looking at the map.

That snap decision caused us to hike an additional 0.9 miles, and when we finally made it back up to the 10K Trail, we were 0.6 miles farther down the 10K from where we took the wrong “right” fork. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to go back a week or so later and hike back out there to get a GPS track for the 0.6 miles of the 10K Trail I missed getting on this hike (oh, the things I do for my hiking blog!). Lesson: Don’t make snap decisions in the wilderness or you’re likely to come off looking like an idiot… or worse! Have I made a snap decision like this before that added distance to a hike? Yes. Did I learn anything from it? Apparently not. But we won’t talk about that right now because I’m embarrassed enough as it is! Anyway, I hope that’s the last time I do something like that because two times is two times too many! 🙂

Other than me mumbling and grumbling to myself all the way back to the trailhead, the rest of the hike was uneventful. We made it back to the 10K Trailhead and the ice chest was there waiting for us! At the trailhead, we visited with some other hikers and ended up telling them about taking the wrong “right” fork. Guess what? They made the very same mistake, at the very same place, the first time they hiked north on the the trail with “south” in its name. See. I told you we couldn’t be the only ones. I’m feeling better already!!! 🙂

After watching the video, I don’t expect you to make the same mistake I did, so I have corrected my GPS track to show the hike as it should have been done. That said, the total distance for this part of the loop hike was 6.4 miles. From the Ellis Trailhead, hiking the long route, it is about one mile to the cabin. Hiking the short route, it will be about about half that. You don’t absolutely have to hike up to the Kiwanis Cabin, but don’t cheat yourself out of those incredible views just to shorten your hike by half a mile. It would have taken about five hours for us to complete this hike, including stops. Total climbing was 1,441 feet, with the steepest grade being 8%, and the high-point being the Kiwanis Cabin, at 10,588 feet, and the low-point being the 10K South / Tree Spring / South Crest Trails junction, at 9,492 feet.

If you decide to do this hike as one long loop, subtract twice the hiking distance on the Challenge Trail, between the 10K and Ellis Trailheads, and that will give you a total hiking distance of 11.1 miles. That is easily doable if you are in good shape. However, long hikes at elevation require an early start to (hopefully) avoid afternoon thunderstorms, especially during monsoon. So pay close attention to the weather forecast, not for the city of Albuquerque, but for the Sandia Crest.

Next hike Up: Winsor Trail / Raven’s Ridge / Deception Peak ~ Santa Fe

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10K - Ellis - South Crest Loop - Part 2

Trail Route and Terrain Map



Elevation Profile