Not a Normal Activation Day

Doc’s and my planned activations today included Cerro Vista (11,939’ ASL) and Cuchillo de Fernando, 11,400’ ASL. Both are in the Taos, NM area. Weather forecasts had both Taos and Santa Fe at 0% chance of precipitation and moderate temperatures in the mid-70’s to low 80’s. Checking the Weather Underground’s iPhone app “Storm” earlier this morning, a weather front was actively passing through the area (it was windy) but no precip was indicated within several hundred miles.

The access route to these peaks is from the south, off of Rte 518 and just east of Tres Ritos on Forest Road (FR) 76. The drive is about 2 hours from Santa Fe. It was pleasant enough with clear skies but, as we approached Tres Ritos, dense clouds completely obscured all peaks in the area.

The elevation at the turnoff onto FR 76 is about 8500’ ASL. Temperatures along the drive had generally been in the low 60’s but at the turnoff had dropped to 52F. As we drove deeper into the forest, the cloud cover, fog and dampness increased. By the time the elevation on the road reached 9700’ ASL (a little more than half way to the Cerro Vista Parking spot), the temperature had plunged to 37F and freezing mist was wetting the windshield. Considering that our first hike would take us to nearly 12,000 feet, sub-freezing temperatures, wind and freezing rain could be expected.

Could it clear in a few hours? Maybe, but we decided to hold out for a better day. So much for Plan A and so much for the 0% precipitation forecast - a reminder that mountains make their own weather.

Having already driven several hours, we needed an alternate Plan B. Neither of us had activated Picuris Peak this year. Its access road has been reported to be in bad shape but decided to give it a shot since (1) it was reasonably close to where we were; (2) it was in a direction clear of that cloud cover; and (3) my F-150 4x4 is pretty good off road if you don’t count flat tires.

We drove 12 miles to the Picuris Peak access road and headed in. Within about 100 yards, the road became deeply rutted and with some standing water. It got progressively worse with deeper/wider mud bogs (AKA truck traps) and large rocks scraped the truck’s undercarriage. Especially steep and rocky stretches required dropping into “low 4x4” range. After creeping along white knuckled for a while I’d had enough, so we parked in one of only a few viable spots and hiked to the summit.

Activation was a pleasant surprise. Despite poor propagation indices, contacts were made on 30m, 20m and 17m. Weather on the summit was sunny and cool, just about perfect. As always - Thanks to all Chasers!

Next trick was getting back out to the main road. We took the time to stop and push a few large rocks out of the way and seemed to better negotiate the mud bogs. With Plan B successfully executed, we made a quick stop at the well known (to those who know it well) Sugar Nymph Bistro in Peñasco for some well earned refreshment.

We’ll try Plan A again soon but won’t bother washing the mud off the truck.

John K1JD