Last Labor Day weekend a friend and I decided to head out to south-central New Mexico to summit Sierra Blanca. Sierra Blanca rises 11,973 feet (some sources say 12,003 feet) above sea level and about 8,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor making her the most prominent peak in New Mexico. The peak is owned by the Mascalero Apache Indian Tribe and is considered the sacred place where “the creator gave us life.”
|Sierra Blanca New Mexico|
We decided to make to most of the long weekend and camp a couple of nights near Ice Spring in the Lincoln National Forest Just three miles from the summit. Early Friday morning we arrived at the Scenic trail head adjacent to the entrance of Ski Apache. There was plenty of parking and only a couple of other cars present giving us hope of a secluded hike. We loaded up our packs and headed up trail # 15 0.6 miles to its intersection with the Crest Trail #25. Crest Trail continues to the right and left. We followed the Crest Trail to the right. A little after a mile from the trail-head we came into a large open area with a small wooden sign that reads “Trail no 25”. (located at: 33°24’7.44″N 105°48’15.73″W) It is difficult to see which direction the trail goes as it seems to disappear in the open grassy field. Turn left at the sign and look for where the trail reenters the trees.
From there we continued another 1.5 miles to the intersection with Lookout Trail #78 near Ice Spring. We checked to make sure we had enough water for the night before continuing up the Crest Trail to the ridge. We spent a little time trying to find a good place to set up camp and eventually decided the flattest ground was right next to the trail. We pitched the tent and then hiked about 100 yards to a nameless summit to cook dinner and watch the sun set.
Early the next morning we left most of our gear at our campsite hoping for light packs for the summit. We hiked back down the Crest Trail to Ice Spring to filter some water for the day. We then continued down Lookout Trail #78 toward Lookout Mountain. Both ice spring and Lookout trail, although on National Forest land, lie within the ski area boundary of Ski Apache. Lookout trail takes you along different ski runs eventually reaching the summit of Lookout Mountain (11,580 feet). Lookout Mountain is Sierra Blanca’s northern neighbor and is a worthy summit in its own right. For this trip Lookout was only a stopping point for us to eat breakfast.
At the Summit of Lookout Mountain the National Forest service has built a circular stone seating area with concrete bench seats and metal plaques pointing out interesting facts about the surrounding topography. It appeared that two of the plaques where missing (Both the Southwest and Southeast plaques were gone.). But The other plaques pointed out the location of the first A-bomb detonation to the Northwest in the Malpais Lava Beds, and the birthplace of Smoky Bear in the Northeast Capitain mountain range.
We cooked some freeze-dried eggs and fried a little summer sausage for breakfast before continuing. From the top of Lookout we walked along the ski area’s jeep service road before eventually leaving the ski area boundary. The saddle just north of Sierra Blanca is aproxamently 600 feet below Lookout Mountain and close to 1,000 feet below Sierra Blanca’s Summit. From this vantage point Sierra Blanca looked very intimidating.
Past the ski area there is no trail. Here and there you find various remnants of trails other hikers have taken to the summit. For the most part we made our own path zig zaging up the steep grassy ridge. The next 500 yards climb steeply at about a 32% grade before leveling off at 11,672 feet. We then followed a rocky exposed ridge 200 yards before the final push to the summit. The last 250 yards is a rock scramble up a 42% grade. At the top there is plenty of room and majestic views in every direction.
As we made our way up the summit we began to run into several other parties doing the same thing. As it turns out Sierra Blanca is a very popular destination on Labor Day weekend. We saw at least 3 other hikers who had their dogs along with them and began to joke that literally “everyone and their dog” had come out to summit. All and all we spent about 30 minutes on the summit resting and taking in the abundant views. We signed the summit log and took a few group pictures for other groups when a thunderstorm started to threaten the summit. We took this as our cue to go and headed back down the northern ridge.
We arrived at our campsite stopping once more at Ice Spring to fill up on water. The thunderstorm never hit us and for that we were thankful. In the morning we loaded up our gear and headed back down to the parking lot. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.
I highly recommend the Map and Guide book featured below. The map is published by the Lincoln National Forest Service for the White Mountain Wilderness. I use it extensively when hiking in the Lincoln National Forest. Purchase it through this link and help support MyLifeOutdoors.
Starting Elevation: 9,600 feet
Ending Elevation: 11,973 feet
Elevation Gain: 2,373 feet
Map: USGS Topographic Quadrangle cropped to 8.5×11
Map: Lincoln National Forest Trail Map
Trail-Head: 33°23’59.23″N 105°47’22.29″W
Trail #15 meets Trail #25 (go left): 33°24’1.12″N 105°47’36.19″W
Ice Spring: 33°23’56.01″N 105°48’55.02″W
Our Campsite: 33°23’57.26″N 105°49’6.59″W
Lookout Mountain Summit: 33°23’26.85″N 105°48’42.70″W
Sierra Blanca Summit: 33°22’26.55″N 105°48’32.65″W
Remember that just past Lookout Mountain you are crossing into the Mascalero Apache Indian Reservation. According to their website a permit is required to hike on their land. Such a permit is hard to obtain and may not even exist. Call Vincent Hubbard the Tribal Administrator at (575) 464-4494 for inquiries about a permit. No one we saw on the summit that day had obtained a permit and judging by the number of names in the summit log I suspect most people just take their chances. Use your best judgment.