Climbing The New Mexico Sandia Mountains South Peak
Hiking to the top of the Sandia Mountains is a daunting task. The North Peak is 10,678 ft and the South Peak is 9,782ft. Although the North Peak is taller, it also has many ways to travel up parts of it by car. The South Peak is not navigable by car and standing at the top means that you had to climb it all the way. The South Peak has always presented a unique challenge for local hikers.
The best time to make this hike is usually in late spring or early fall. The top of the mountain can be 20 degrees cooler than the bottom, so weather conditions are an important factor in taking the hike. It is best to start before 6:00AM in the morning so that you can be finished before the afternoon heat starts to takes its toll. It is strongly recommended that you carry no less than 3 liters of water with you. There are no sources of water along the hike. A great trick is to hide a bottle of water on the way up so that you can retrieve it on the way back down. Water can be heavy when you have to carry it for several miles and this is a good way to lighten the load.
There are several ways that you can approach the South Peak. One of the shortest paths is parking at the trailhead on Indian School Road and starting at the main trail at this location. Most hikers will take the Embudo Trail which leads to Three Gun Spring. The fastest way is to cut straight across to Whitewash Trail. This trail will cut 45 minutes off your time, but is a little steeper and a true test of your endurance. Once you make it to Whitewash Trail, you have about a 30 – 45 minute uphill climb that is relentless and taxing on your leg muscles. Once you have passed this rough part of the climb, the trail levels out and is a scenic and enjoyable walk for the next 1 ¼ miles through some nice pine trees. There are usually several kinds of wildlife along this trail including rabbits, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. Bears live in this area, but usually will stay clear of you unless they have young ones near.
At the end of the 1 ¼ hike up Whitewash, you will come to an intersection called Oso Pass. This is where four different trails come together. This is a great place to rest and get ready for the next phase. The next phase will be brutal.
Whitewash Trail ends at Oso Pass and now becomes Embudito Trail. Now that you are 2 ½ hours into the hike, you are ready for an easier climb. Unfortunately, the hardest part is just beginning. The next mile up Embudito Trail is steep and relentless. The trail switches back and forth but it never stops from being a steep climb. Once you get to the base of the South Ridge, the trail levels off and circles back to the other side of the mountain. The cutoff to the South Peak Trail is hard to find if you don’t know where to look. It is usually surrounded by growth, but someone has been kind enough in recent years to stack rocks at the entrance.
The South Peak Trail is steep but the sight of the top being only a couple hundred yards away will motivate you to keep climbing. The trail will suddenly come to a plateau that is about 100 yards square. At the other side of the plateau is another 50 yard uphill climb that will take you to the very top of the peak. The view from here is breathtaking. You can see for more than 50 miles in all directions. It is a great reward for the 4 ½ - 5 hours that you have spent struggling to get here.