The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Climbing Palomas Peak

—Ty Belknap

It's a sad day when a devout recreationist finds himself without the time or money to recreate. That never has to happen here in Sandoval County, where outdoor fun is practically at your doorstep. Maybe it's just a walk or a bike ride—or maybe it's rock climbing in the Sandias.

Last month a friend took me and my fourteen-year-old son, Evan, climbing on Palomas Peak, which is the very tall peak overlooking Las Huertas Canyon. We drove up the canyon on NM 165 past the picnic ground, just before the burn area, and parked on the left in a wide area next to some concrete barricades. Despite some confusing signs along the way, it is legal to park along the road if it's wide enough. No permit is required.

A beautiful one-and-a-half-mile mile trail of moderate difficulty leads through the woods and winds its way up to the limestone bands that wrap around the peak. Sport climbers have bolted metal rings along a large assortment of fifty- to one-hundred-foot climbs of varying difficulty. Evan had previously only climbed in the gym, and I hadn't done any technical climbing for twenty years. We tried to pick something easy to start with.

Our friend and instructor is a purist and traditional climber not wanting to be named in an article about sport climbing. He has climbed El Capitán several times. I'll call him Cliff. Cliff reminded us how to get into our harnesses, how to tie a few knots, and how to operate a belay system of ropes and mechanical devices. Satisfied that he could entrust his life to our newly acquired skills, he said, "Climbing!" and headed up after receiving the "Climb on!" response. Clipping in to the sport-climbers' supports on the way up, he looped a top rope through a ring at the top of the pitch, announced, "Take [my weight]!" to the belayer who replied, "Got [you]!," and was lowered to the ground.

Now it was Evan's turn to find out that real rocks are a lot different than those plastic doodads in the gym. He fell a couple of times and learned to trust the safety rope, but was soon looking for bigger challenges. Cliff explained that traditional climbers (trads) don't like to fall because it hurts to snap to the end of the slack in the rope, and climbers have to rely on their precious array of spring-loaded devices and nuts that are wedged into cracks. Bolts permanently installed with a power drill are more secure. With a top rope, you don't really fall at all because the belayer doesn't give the climber much slack in the rope.

Before long I found myself belayed by Evan and climbing a crack that afforded a handhold only by inserting an open hand and making a fist. Even with him tied to a tree and operating a supposedly "fail-safe" belaying device, I tried not to fall. Cliff says struggling and wondering what the hell you're doing up there is part of the fun.

And by the end of the day it was fun to be bear-hugging a giant rock nose while trusting sticky rubber shoes to hop up without toe holds. Evan and I are thinking of investing in our own harnesses, shoes, and ropes and becoming sport climbers. Cliff has promised to take up "The Thumb," over on the west side of the Sandias, for a two-thousand-foot climb. He says that after an introduction to a real mountaineering experience, we might decide to become trads instead.

That sounds pretty good, too.


Local wildflowers explained

Pearl Burns, who was born and raised in Las Vegas, New Mexico, will present a slide lecture entitled “Wildflowers in our Part of New Mexico” for the Corrales Historical Society Lecture Series on May 6 at 7:00 p.m. She will illustrate the beauty of wildflowers and explain their historical uses as food and medicine. Burns has a degree in biology from UNM and has loved wildflowers from early childhood. She is the retired director of nursing at Kaseman Presbyterian Hospital.

The program, at the Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales, is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served following the program. For further information, call 897-9109.


Las Placitas Association member Kate Nelson tells mountain bicyclists  about the Placitas Open Space prior to last month’s bike hike led by Ty Belknap.

Las Placitas Association member Kate Nelson tells mountain bicyclists 
about the Placitas Open Space prior to last month’s bike hike led by Ty Belknap.

Explore plants and archaeology on the Placitas Open Space

Las Placitas Association continues its free 2003 Education Series on May 17. From 8:30 to noon, plant expert and author Bill Dunmire presents “Native Plants of the Placitas High Desert.” Dunmire will take you on a hike through the Open Space and introduce you to the variety of plants native to this high-desert area. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring water and sunscreen. Meet at the east access to the Open Space at 8:15 a.m.

On May 24, from 9:00 to noon, Jeanne Schutt of the Archeological and Historic Research Institute will lead an archaeology hike thousands of years back into history. The hike is planned as part of New Mexico’s Historic Preservation Month; the Open Space is listed on the State Register of Cultural Properties. The trail is steep, and good footwear is essential. Bring a hat, sunscreen, water and a snack. Meet at the east access to the Open Space at 8:45 a.m.

Directions to the east access to the Open Space from I-25, Exit 242: East on Highway 165 for 6.9 miles; left (north) onto Camino de Las Huertas for 2.9 miles; left on Llano del Norte, go 0.4 miles—as the road bends left, follow it around; follow the dirt road west about 0.7 miles; the ‘main road’ bends to the left at a fence, keep going straight on the two-track road; drive along the fence about 0.1 mile until you bear slightly right and you come to a gate marked BLM Property; drive through the gate (please close it after you) and follow the two-track road around to the left; go through the second drop gate and keep following the two-track road. You’ll come to an Albuquerque Open Space sign—where you should park.





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