About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

North Franklin Peak via the S. Ridge

No Hike for Old Men. I first read this article in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine when I first moved to this region years ago. While I'm not exactly an old man (almost), I became alarmed after reading it, but equally intrigued.  The article chronicles a traverse of the Franklin Mountains ridgeline here in El Paso, TX. Some of my running buddies also want to hike the entire ridge sometime this Fall so I have been out exploring some routes in the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Mammoth Rock and S. Franklin Peak
Trans Mountain Hwy below the ridge.
The Franklin Mountains, the largest urban wilderness park in the US, are about 23 miles long rising over 7000' above sea level in places. They are very rugged covered in sharp prickly vegetation and inhabited by rattlesnakes, a runner's worst enemy. While there are many trails in the park, no official trails exist on the ridge except for several miles of the Ron Coleman Trail that includes a section of chains to assist your ascent to window rock. Other parts of the ridge have infrequently traveled routes, but they are sketchy at best.

Read my post: The Window

The mountain range that runs South and North is split in the middle by Trans-Mountain Hwy that carries travelers East and West. At the top is Smuggler's Pass where I started my hike to the top of N. Franklin Peak (7192') via the South Ridge. I started all alone in the early morning just before sunrise and was a bit nervous because I really didn't know if I could make it all the way to the peak using this route. It's only about 2.5 miles along the ridge and, once at the top, you pick up a well traveled trail that takes you down to the Tom Mays Unit of the state park.

Barrel cactus bud
Cholla cactus
From the highway, I picked a gully to ascend to reach the main ridge. I brought trekking poles because I knew it would be steep in spots. We had heavy rains the night before and a small trickle of water was still flowing down the gully making the footing slippery. It was hard going and I had to skirt around some ocotillo cactus and other spiny plants. Soon I made it up to the ridge though and was greeted by a stray billy goat who has been living up there for at least several years. TPWD says he escaped from a ranch or was released intentionally by an unknown person.


Anyway I picked up a trail for a while, but thought it was going in the wrong direction so I went off on my own route that I figured was the main ridge line. The weather was nice and cool so far, but summers in the Desert Southwest can get brutally hot during the day. Pretty soon fog started to roll in as it was burning off the valley below making visibility almost nil. I bushwhacked around a large rock outcropping and arrived on a saddle and picked a line that I thought was the main ridge. The fog made it impossible to tell which direction I was traveling in though so I decided to check my Avenza Map App on my phone. I had downloaded a geospatial map of the Franklins so I could see my position on the map to ensure I didn't get lost. Well, I'm glad I did, because I was on a side ridge going in the wrong direction (East). A tough steep ascent got me back on the main ridge and I continued north.

A stand of New Mexico Agave
Wildflowers abound during the rainy season
I was hoping to find a trail because in studying Google satellite images I could see a faint path following parts of the ridge, but I couldn't find it. Everything was quite overgrown though because of all the recent rainfall. The ridge is very rocky with lots of tall grass, ocotillo, barrel, cholla and prickly pear cactus. Shin dagger (lechuguilla), sotol and other agaves made the travel difficult and I was constantly skirting around plants and rocks searching for the best path forward. Since the plants  were so overgrown I couldn't always see where I was placing my feet and was quite afraid of stepping on a rattlesnake as they are very active following rain. This is the last place I'd want to encounter a snakebite because I was all alone and people rarely travel this route. For that reason, I  used my poles to poke around in the brush as I went.

The ridge I climbed.
Pincushion cactus
The scenery was spectacular though with the fog rising up out of the valley and Mammoth Rock in the distance. I could see all the way over to Juarez, MX and the city of El Paso wrapping around the mountains below. The desert explodes with life during the monsoon season and the usual brown vegetation turns a lush green and the ocotillo cacti that look dead all year even grow leaves. These spindly plants with their wildly growing stalks remind me of Medusa hair.

Ocotillo in a rock garden
NOT N. Franklin Peak
I continued following the ridge and came to a tall pointed peak thinking it was my destination but after consulting my map, discovered  I had barely covered one measly mile. I started to climb wondering what obstacles I might find on the other side. I slogged on, clinging to the western side of the ridge, but came to some precipitous drop offs so I had to go up a very steep rocky slope to find safer passage. Once I reached the top I continued on easier ground and the peak, with it's iconic antennae, came into view. I could also see the neighboring Indian Peak that has a rusted metal hut on top. I've never visited that one since it is on the former Castner Army artillery range that was being considered for a National Monument. Signs warn of unexploded ordinance so I stay off that mountain lest I have a really bad day.

N. Franklin Peak!
Indian Peak
I continued picking my way through brush, over rocks and around boulders and finally reached the base of the peak. I was hoping to find a trail or other easy access to the top, but it didn't happen. I had to scramble up a steep rocky cliff like face using my poles and hands in places finally coming to the short talus slope that surrounds the peak. It was a tough climb, but well worth the effort. I was greeted by a swarm of lady bugs (Convergent lady beetles) that migrate to a bush on the peak year after year. The view was as stunning as ever so I rested for a short period and took some photos.

The rest of my morning was straight forward. I ran down the standard route along a rocky trail and old dirt road to reach my water cache near the parking area in the park. The hard part was running back up Trans Mountain Rd to reach my car. The highway was loud and smoggy with cars and tractor trailers climbing the mountain. Although there is a wide shoulder on the side of the highway, I rarely run this road because people drive too fast and there are many accidents. I actually ran on the other side of the guardrail in the dirt for safety. The heat was really getting to me at this point too so, in hindsight, I should have parked near the state park gate and ran the highway early in the morning when there was less traffic.

Collard Lizard
I hope to continue hiking more sections of the Franklin Mountain ridge line in the future. We are so lucky to have such a gem here in the center of our city. Our state park has nearly a hundred miles of maintained trails and is teeming with wildlife, unique plants and interesting geology. There's even the Wyler Aerial Tramway that will take you up to the ridge at Ranger Peak (5632') if you don't want to bushwhack through cacti, dodge rattlesnakes, fall into Spanish bayonet, trip on shin dagger or otherwise worry about being eaten by a mountain lion, stung by scorpions or swarmed by killer ladybugs.

 See you on the trail. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Yellowstone National Park

Before my last race, the Bighorn 100, my family spent a week in Yellowstone National Park. I didn't run very much since I was tapering and resting before the race, but we walked the boardwalk trails and watched wildlife. The geologic features are absolutely amazing in this place, our nation's first national park. The weather was cold with some rain and even snow while we were there, but we didn't let that put a damper on our fun. As always, whether I'm running or not, I take a lot of pictures so I wanted to share some of my favorite photos of God's Country.

(Click photos to enlarge)
Brown-headed cowbirds follow bison because they stir up bug when they graze.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bighorn 100 Mile Trail Run

After a grand week in Yellowstone National Park with my family, I find myself sitting nervously on a wooden bridge overlooking the Tongue River in Dayton, WY. Last week, we experienced cold, rain and even snow in the park and today’s forecast is calling for rain showers.

Pre-race selfie
Cara and Maddie in the Bighorn Mts.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Jemez Mountain 50 Miler

All I want to do right now is QUIT! Sucking thin air while plodding straight up a black diamond ski slope on a Saturday morning is not even a little bit fun. While most normal people are sleeping in, I find myself at mile 15 of the Jemez Mountain Trail 50 Miler in Los Alamos, NM. The good news is that the climb will be over soon. The bad? That I’ll have to do it again later today in mile 36. The burning in my quads is so painful that I really contemplate quitting before I have to do this all over again. 

However, I remember a quote from Navy SEAL and retired Admiral, William H. McRaven. He says, “If you want to change the world, don’t ever, EVER ring the bell”, meaning the brass bell that sits in the SEAL training compound that trainees can ring at any time to quit their rigorous training program. I will be thinking about that bell all day as I try my best to finish this Jemez course that tops out at 10,400’ elevation.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Grand Canyon R2R2R

When you visit the Grand Canyon you expect to see vast sweeping views of colored stratified rock revealing eons of geologic history, interesting rock formations protruding upward from the canyon floor and maybe even a glimpse of the serpentine ribbon of water wearing an even deeper groove into the Earth. All I can see this morning though is the oval beam of my headlamp as I run down the South Kaibab Trail, the wind pushing against my body. I camped last night at the Mather Campground with some of my running buddies and three of us left bright and early at 4am while a faster group of five runners left after us.

(Click on photos for larger view)
First light on the S. Kaibab Trail

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bataan Memorial Death March 2017

If the Bataan Memorial Death March wasn’t painful, it wouldn’t be as meaningful. No matter how miserable the experience though, it can’t even come close to the misery the original marchers had to endure. To honor and thank the heroes of Bataan, we all want a glimpse, no matter how insignificant, of what they went through during WWII. This year’s event at White Sands Missile Range, NM did not disappoint. With temperatures pushing 90 degrees, 7000 marchers and runners showed up to remember the fallen and shake the hands of survivors on this 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March.

I was there along with many of my fellow Team RWB Eagles to try to tackle the 26.2 mile mostly dirt and sand course. This was my sixth year running and I was on the field when the ceremony started before sunup. Several survivors were in attendance as well as many wounded warriors, active duty and veterans of all ages. The highlight was when several Army Black Daggers parachuted in with red smoke trailing from their feet as they spiraled down and landed on the field. The Black Daggers are trained to jump behind enemy lines with special parachutes with ram-air airfoils to help them control speed and direction. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sierra Vista Trail 30K with Team Red, White and Blue

Earlier this month I ran the Sierra Vista Trail 30K in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces, NM. I ran the inaugural edition of this race about five years ago when it was free and have watched it grow into a legitimate trail ultramarathon while still maintaining a real down-home feel. Runners from El Paso, Las Cruces, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and all places in between gathered for a day of beauty, camaraderie and, of course, some misery while tackling the Sierra Vista Trail beneath the towering needles of the Organ Mountains. The race is organized by the Southern New Mexico Trail Alliance and offers 5K through 50K distances as well as a kids fun run. I decided to do the 30K since the Bataan Memorial Death March was looming several weeks later. 

Organ Mountains