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 spend countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, TX. I call it "going to church". I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Monday, July 9, 2018

Heart Attack Canyon Lincoln National Forest

As the name indicates, Heart Attack Canyon is no joke! I went to Cloudcroft, NM a few weeks ago to get out of the desert heat and enjoy some time in the Lincoln National Forest. I ran the Bluff Springs, Willie White and Wills Canyon trails that you can read about in my last post. Several years ago I ran the Rim Trail that mostly parallels the Sunspot Scenic Byway and noticed a sign pointing the way to Heart Attack Canyon. I became very intrigued by this side trail and thought to myself how hard could it be? Well, I went back to find out.

To reach the trailhead, I parked my car off of the scenic road on Atkinson Canyon Rd (first right past Upper Rio PeƱasco Rd). I ran one mile to reach Atkinson Field where there is a corral and some cattle pastures. I had a hard time finding the Rim Trail (T105) because of all the fencing and cattle gates, but used my Avenza Maps App to help find my way. Once I was on the Rim trail I found the junction for Atkinson Field Trail (T111). 

Atkinson Field Rd

I started down this gnarly rocky trail which became very steep in just a short while. Soon I was in a badly eroded creek bed and wasn’t even sure I was on the correct path. A look at my map app showed that I was on the right track though. I couldn’t run at all because the route was so steep and technical with a lot of tree cover and brush lining the creek bed. Dry leaves covered the boulders, rocks, sticks and other tripping hazards which made the descent really tough. After 1.5 miles I reached a “T” where I turned left onto Alamo Peak Trail (T109). If you turn right the trail takes you to Alamo Peak where there once was a fire lookout tower but is now occupied by a US Air Force telemetry antenna.

Alamo Peak Trail
This trail was mostly smooth and flat with a few eroded sections. In a short while I reached West Side Rd (FR90), a wide well maintained dirt road, where I turned left. I didn’t think the forest road would be very interesting or difficult to run, but I was mistaken. The views of the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument and the rugged canyons of the Sacramento Escarpment were exceptional. Several years ago I ran a 50K race with almost 9000’ of elevation gain from Dog Canyon (Oliver Lee State Park, NM) up the escarpment ending in Cloudcroft, NM. 

Westside Rd (FR90)
The forest road was mostly uphill so I alternated between a walk and run on this stretch.  Finally I reached my destination; Heart Attack Canyon Trail (T235). I could have run this route in a clockwise loop descending Heart Attack, but that sounded like cheating so I made sure to ascend it to see if its namesake was all it was cracked up to be. I didn’t waste any time and started up the mountain. 

The first part was an eroded gully of smooth red dirt and very steep. The trail leveled off a little bit and followed the contour of the mountain, but before long, I was climbing straight up on a rocky path. It was really hot at this point and I had to stop frequently to catch my breath. My heart was beating out of chest and all I could think about was how many poor souls actually had a heart attack trying to climb this damn mountain! Nevertheless, I chipped away at the trail slowly and steadily. 

Heart Attack Canyon Trail

I hadn’t seen a single person all day and knew why when I neared the top of the trail. It became even steeper so I had to completely stop to rest in the shade a few times. The National Forest Service lists this trail's usage as “Light”. In other words, no one in their right mind hikes it. Anyway, after much sweat and toil I reached the top and was greeted by a grassy meadow with some huge shade trees. After a short rest, I picked up the Rim trail and headed North.

View from Rim Trail, White Sands on the desert floor
I thought my climbing was over, but I started to ascend again right away. My water was running low at this point, but I knew my run would be over in a few miles. I reached the top of the mountain where there was an excellent vista looking down to the desert floor below. The gypsum dunes, a remnant of an ancient sea, were unmistakable. I continued running through the forest and eventually reached Atkinson Field where I ran down the road to reach my car. The total mileage was almost 11 miles with 2700’ of ascent. It was a tough loop, but very well worth the effort and I didn’t suffer a heart attack even though it felt like it at times.

Westside Rd as seen from the Rim Trail

See you on the trail.

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