A New Year on the Winsor
We decided that our New Year celebration should be an adventure this year and agreed on an overnight winter ski trip up the Winsor Trail outside of Santa Fe. After late night preparations we departed Bernalillo with a latte and sweet roll from the Range. Our packs were filled to the brim with all the necessities of a backpacking trip, plus extra clothing for a cold winter night.
The new snow gave the trail almost perfect conditions. Powder everywhere! This trail can be challenging in the best of times and the added forty-five pounds made each turn that much more of an accomplishment.
At the entrance to the wilderness we met a young man who had just summited Santa Fe Baldy, with an elevation of somewhere around twelve thousand feet, on his skis. He talked of great snow and his inability to do telemark turns as he skied off the face of the mountain. All I could think of was the incredible feat he had just accomplished and that he was heading home, all before two in the afternoon. The distance to the summit is about seven miles with an altitude gain of about four thousand feet.
We skied to just beyond an ice-laden creek and decided it was time to find a camp. The sun was making its way west and we wanted to be settled before dark. Winter camping has its eccentricities. You don't just stop and settle in for the night with a cocktail in one hand and a guitar in the other. There is work to be done! The snowshoes and shovel we had carried on our backs were the tools, along with our skis, for tamping down the snow to make a solid place to set up the tent. Trying to walk around camp can be a chore in itself when you have four feet of powdery snow to deal with.
A coordinated effort soon found us with a cozy tent set up and a little breathing room around the edges. Darkness came quickly, as it does in the winter backcountry. My hands and feet were tingling from the cold and the camp stove was spewing fuel like the MSR Valdeez. As I sat warming up in the tent, my partner tinkered outside with the malfunctioning stove, and soon dinner and hot chocolate were moments away.
With winter camping you tend to spend a lot of time in your tent after the sun goes down. As the temperature dropped below thirty degrees we decided that the sleeping bags were the coziest place to be. For the next several hours we dozed, read about avalanches, talked, and dozed some more. The tent glowed with the light from the candle lantern that hung from the ceiling. I woke up at one point just as the candle was taking its last breath. It was 12:02. I whispered greetings to the New Year. I sent thoughts to my daughters, who I'm sure were celebrating at that moment. Peace and protection were what came to mind.
After warm drinks and food at dawn, we clipped into our skis and headed further up the mountain. The water bottles had survived the night, and the water remained in liquid form. We had wrapped the bottles together, along with the water pump, to protect them from freezing. The one lone bottle that was left out in the tent was frozen solid.
The climb up to Puerto Nambe, which is a beautiful meadow just below the saddle to Santa Fe Baldy, was a pleasure, and the freedom of light packs exhilarating. We spent the next few hours touring around the area enjoying the pristine snow, mists of the morning, and quietness of the day. Cross-country skiing, even when done with others, is a very solitary experience. You travel to your own rhythm. The soothing sound of skies on fresh snow can take you places in your mind that you just can't get to on ice. My mind traveled to a time twenty- six years ago when I had skied this same trail with the same partner. Life has brought us many treasures and adventures. The mountains and canyons we have visited have helped our journey from young adults to middle age come more gracefully.
The snow was just right for carving a few turns on our decent back to camp. We loaded the gear onto our backs and headed back to civilization. The aspens along the trail glowed in the early afternoon sun and brought a sense of majestic beauty to an almost perfect scene.
The last two miles is a climb that takes you out of the Nambe Valley. It's always one of my favorite parts of the ski. I found it easier to climb out with the extra weight than it was to ski down this part of the trail. All that was needed was a little more of that breath. We made it back to the car in one piece. The morning clouds had given way to one of those brilliant blue New Mexico skies. We settled in for the ride home and talked of our first winter camping trip many years ago and decided we had learned a lot about being in the backcountry since that time, and were ready to push our limits a little bit more. It is a new year and a time for beginning different journeys. Wishing you peace and joyful times in yours.
NM birds in most threatened ecosystem in America
The Central New Mexico Audubon Society will present a program by Dennis Prichard, from Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, about New Mexico birds in the most threatened ecosystem in America. On February 17 at 7:15 p.m., the first of three winter classes, The Allure of Grassland Birds, will be held at St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church, on the northwest corner of Copper and Jefferson NE.
What do grasshopper sparrow, upland sandpiper, and mountain plover have in common? Denizens all of prairie grassland habitat and on New Mexico’s bird checklists, these species are in the group of birds which has the lamentable distinction of being the fastest declining nationwide. Is that because they also feed, breed, and raise their young on the most threatened ecosystem in America: the prairie grasslands? Prichard will discuss the wonderful variety of birds that comprise this group and speak about the birds’ habitats and threats to their populations. Prichard, refuge operations specialist and assistant deputy manager of the Sevilleta Refuge, will also present good news about management techniques used to help correct these declines.
CNMAS usually presents a public program on the third Thursday of each month at the church. Charges are $6 for each program or $15 for all three; children are admitted for $3. Winter field trips, usually two per month, are free. For more information, call CNMAS 255-7622.
Audubon bird walks:
- Thursday, February 24: Alameda Open Space. With Karen and Gary Boettcher: 281-6726, email@example.com. Meet at 9:00 a.m. in the open space parking lot, on the south side of Alameda Blvd. and east side of the Rio Grande (River).
- Saturday, February 26: Cochiti Lake. Meet at 8:30 a.m. at the Far North Shopping Center near the Village Inn restaurant. Bring lunch and expect to return home around 3:00 p.m. Target birds include Bald Eagle, Common Loon, Clark’s and Western Grebe, Black-billed Magpie, and waterfowl,
- Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers among others. Call Rebecca Gracey at 242-3821 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.