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Serra Lucero Range New Mexico


The SOTA cow around Albuquerque has been milked dry. Like our ancestors we keep pushing out the frontier and SOTA is no different. Just to the West of Albuquerque is the Sierra Lucero Range. The mountains are a mix of Volcanoes and Sandstone bluffs. The geology is so broken that large parcels of land were rejected for homesteading. Even the Navajo and Laguna Nations turned their nose up when it came time to draw treaty lines. When you see the Disney Cartoon “Cars” that is what you are seeing. Over the last two years El Cerro De Los Lunas SL-015 has become a early spring shake down for the Summer Alpine season. For nearly three years it was the only peak in the Sierra Lucero Range that had been activated. KE5AKL on 09 Oct 2012 pioneered the breakthrough and activated Mesa Redonda SL-014 In February it was activated twice in two weeks. One of those activators was George WB5USB aka “Lost George” aka “George has gone Feral”, of Geocache fame. While he was on top of Redonda, George was struck by the vision of a Volcano etched in the southern skyline. It was an epiphany.

Was it a SOTA Peak? Wwas it accessible?,Was it on Navajo land?, T the questions swirled around the 58 radio group. HT Battery’s went dead, XYL sued for divorce and there was a mad rush to get the Acoma BLM maps. Google earth saw a surge of browsing. Homeland Security questioned the interest in a small desolate parcel of land containing one kaput volcano.

No more reconnaissance, we attack. On Saturday March 2 WB5USB George, NM5TW Tom and NM5SW headed out the Old US 66 Highway, Just west of Albuquerque. Even from I-40 Cerro Verde is visible and distinct. It is the only cone shaped mountain in a sea of flat top Mesa’s. It sticks in your brain, there is this urge to climb. Access is via Indian Service Road 54. This is a combination road, partly maintained by the county, BLM and the respective Native Nations. So long as you don’t deviate, you are allowed to pass without getting staked out spread eagle on an ant hill. This mountain sits smack in the middle of a BLM Township. It is so rugged and blotched by Lava flows that the entire 10 square miles was written off. Hence it became BLM land. In fact the 24:000,000 Quadrangle map is named Cerro Verde. Imagine that.

George was our pathfinder. Once off the all-weather BIA 54, He picked a route where a small track allowed vehicle approach to within half mile of the summit. This track is treacherous and only a high clearance vehicle should even attempt it. Even then we would get out of the truck to roll basketball size lava bombs out of the trail. The lower flanks of the mountain are strewn with these nasty boulders. These rocks were thrown out by a fairly violent Hawaii style eruption. This is a shield type volcano with a cone at the top. Higher up on the slope you encounter a mix of Lava Bombs and pumice. The trail head, if you could call it that was at a water tank 2/3 up the slope. From there on it was a matter of picking your way through the lava and cinders. The steepest grade encountered was 30 % . There is no way to avoid that last steep pitch. It is here we encountered the pumice slides. The upper layer is weathered and fairly smooth with a footing like waking on ping pong balls. Just underneath this layer the pumice is still pristine and razor sharp. There is no vertical exposure here; however a fall would be nasty: Like dragging your epidermis across a cheese grater. There is a slight false summit, but when on top the view is spectacular. We had view ranged from Wheeler and Trutchas peaks to the north to the Magdalenas in the south. You could pick out Acoma pueblo on its lofty perch to the west and the foot hill neighborhood in Albuquerque.

This is a Crappie Pole mountain. Though George found one forlorn Juniper to use as a end support, there are no trees. There are no friendly rocks. In fact this lava has high Iron content and probably acts as a dummy load. Tom and George worked the usual suspects on 10 and 14 Mhz CW. SSB was a bust due to the contest. I worked the minimum to get VHF activation. Incidentally we had 4 bars on the Cell and 3G coverage. That is because this mountain overlooks the Mother Road I-40/US 66. We were able to get SMS spots out. Mega Link coverage was excellent and the 145.29 machine on the Sandias was full quieting. I also got a good APRS track. I belive we need to have a rough Channel system for SOTA. We all seem to congragate right around 14.061Mhz. I have been trying to keep my activations on VHF or non traditional frequencies 18 mhz ect. I can tell tactics are starting to develope. Things like one CW op and one SSB op. My openion is that we should hang in there until everyone is worked and the pile up is put to bed.

This is not a particularly hard mountain even with the hike from the main road it would only be about 3 ish miles round trip. There are hazards. Beyond April this country becomes rattle snake city. Hantavirus lives here so don’t crawl around any Pack Rat middens. Wolves are rare but you are in their range. Don’t feed them or let them feed on you. Firearms are not necessary so long as you run faster than your partner. You need a minimum of two liters of water per day just to survive. A very real danger is weather. A breakdown or error in navigation could have you spending days lost or frozen. Thunderstorms love Volcanoes and you don’t want to turn your brand new KX3 into plasma.

Epilog: At the summit of Cerro Verde I found a Mason Jar with a brand new Peak Baggers log book Dated March 1 2013, Yesterday! We take a lot of our lessons from that great program.

As always if you are DX or just passing through, we would be glad to guide you to our peaks, usually we charge one green chili cheeseburger.

Scotty Wright
QRP ARCI #10970
ARS #1130
« Au-delà des montagnes il y a montagnes »: proverbe Haïtien
"Beyond mountains there are mountains" Haitian proverb


In reply to NM5SW:

however a fall would be nasty: Like dragging your epidermis across a cheese grater.

For me reminiscent of the GM/SI summits of Jura, which are largely scree with many 30% or more grades. Every step scrunches into the sharp blocks of metamorphosed rock.

Great report Scotty, I really enjoyed reading. As a geologist, I’d love to do that summit, but rattle snakes, Hantavirus and wolves would scare me.
73 Jim G0CQK