Day 8 – Agua Sarca Canyon to just north of Little Korea

Agua Sarca Canyon at dawn, with the full moon and my little tent

This is my favorite picture of the through hike.

We got up at first light. I started doing my morning routine – dress, pack up bedding, tidy up inside, find gear for breakfast.

The bear bag was right where I left it, and we had a nice breakfast up on the little hill. Watched the sun come up and spread light over the hills. You can see contours and depth to hills better then than at any other time – the way the angle of the sub hits, some middle areas get lit up first, and then in other spots it takes forever for the sun to reach. It’s a nice way to wake up and eat breakfast, enjoy a second cup of coffee – watching the light spread over the hills in interesting ways, showing you folds and contours of the mountains you might not notice otherwise.

We had both slept well, and wanted to get out early. It was so early, I was a little worried about getting my pants wet from dew, but that never ended up being a problem.

It’s a fine walk for the first hour or two. The fields open up a lot – if we had kept walking a bit further, we could have found thousands of fine places to put a tent. The little dry stream starts to get wetter the further in you go, too. About 2-3 miles along, it was wet enough to get water if you needed it, and then it became a really nice steady stream trickle a bit later.

There is some climbing, but it’s not severe. And it’s beautiful back there. I would be happy to see it again.

Eventually we came to an unusually large field and what was supposed to be a trail junction on the far side of the field. There was an excellent source of water here – a beautifully kept livestock trough with crystal clear water.

Look for the fence corner just beyond it. This is a view looking back over the field we walked through to get to it.

At first I tried following the very clear path that winds behind the fence, but the gps showed that was not the right way. So we went back, and made our way up a wee canyon-shaped area. This:

This is what it looks like if you look back towards the trough:

This ended up being one of those paths on the map that doesn’t not exist. I tried to follow the gps as best I could, so we were never really lost, but it was a hard, confusing up, made worse because there were a couple of elk around, and Riley went bananas trying to chase them. He was, of course, tethered to me, so that didn’t work. But boy did it make the up hard. I was tired already.

We had to bushwhack for a bit, clamboring through fallen trees up a very steep slope. I was tired just from the thought of losing the trail (“what the hell do we do then?”) when we finally came to a dirt road. It was literally at eye level when I saw it, but we climbed up the very steep slope. I was really happy to reach a nice, flat, well-defined road.

We were headed for Romero Lake. According to the gps and maps, the rest of the way was nice forest roads. And it was. We passed a flat, entry-like area about five/ten minutes later. I wonder if the real path didnt begin there and follow the slope of the hill down to the fence and the trough (the gradual slope, not the killer bushwhack thing we went through).

It was a pretty nice walk for quite awhile. We were a little short on water (for some dumb reason I did not refill our water out of the trough). I was counting on Lake Romero for nicer water.

When we got to Lake Romero a while later, I regretted not using the trough. Lake Romero is basically a large dirty puddle. It is very shallow – maybe two feet deep at most. And it is frequented by cows. Lots of cows. And their dung. So as you carefully walk to the edge of the boggy lake, you are walking among cow piles every 10-15 feet. And then when you fill your water bottle, you get bits of dead bugs and whatnot. Not anything like the clear, fresh, highly oxygenated creek water I prefer.

One nice thing Lake Romero does have is some shade. There are evergreens just across from it, and a camp site, too. We hung out and rested while I triple-treated the water. At one point Riley saw something in the woods behind me that he was growling at, but I couldn’t see anything. I don’t doubt him… but whatever it was, it went away.

The cows showed up a bit later. They were a big herd – about 100 head – and of course Riley wanted to attack the whole lot of them. But he was tied to the leash. Eventually I just tied him to a tree so he wouldnt’ keep yanking me while I was using the delicate steripen.

After water was treated, we packed up.

And here is where the Sardinas Canyon fire started causing problems again.

This map basically explains what happened. After leaving Romero Lake, we found the big field shown in the map. And I got to where the trail I wanted to take branches off. It’s confusing around here (there are additional “off roading” roads for vehicles that aren’t on the map that look like the trail I wanted to take).

Day 8 rerouting around forest road 76

I found the trail, but it had heavy blow down, and was crossed off and I believe it was marked closed. I was feeling a little leery at this point. Didn’t want to go too far from FS 76. Didn’t want to go too far out of the way, either, because we were both tired. It occurred to me that if Route 76 had been reopened, that would be by far the better way to go. Texted Rob via the Garmin and learned… it was still closed.

Fretted over the map for several minutes. I was tired, and this did not help. If I had to do it over again, I think I would have tried to take that “closed” trail. But on some of my maps, that trail looks very much like a county line (Mora and Taos County) rather than a trail. Looking at it then, I thought maybe I had been really stupid and mistaken a county line for a trail.

The Polycaripa Canyon trail was definitely our best way out, but that comes out on FS76, and below the Sardinas Canyon split. If the road was closed, they definitely would not be happy with us walking right through their triage area. But – I hoped – if we cut through the forest and came out maybe a mile to two miles above the split, and just zipped up to Little Korea, hopefully nobody would notice or care.

And so that’s what we did. We got to the Polycarpia Canyon turn with no problem. Then went up the ridge that follows FS 76.

This actually didnt’ take long. We were out there maybe two hours. But damn, was it a hard two hours. I dislike being off trail – I’ve a believer in Murphy, and being off trail just seems like sending loud signals to the bad part of the universe “Let’s have something go wrong here!”. Bushwhacking through forest, especially think hemlock groves, also sucks. At one point something stung me. I was so focused on getting through I just tugged it out of my left shoulder and threw it aside. Didn’t even look at what it was (didn’t want to know). Just said to myself, “I hope that wasn’t poisonous.” And being that I was still fairly conscious 20 minutes later, I figured it wasn’t. Was probably a bee or something – the bit did sting hard for about half an hour.

We did get lucky part of the way just by following animal paths. They make excellent paths, especially along ridge lines. So we were on a very steep hill, but walking level with it. That helped some of the way.

What I didn’t expect is how damn steep the walls on that side of FS 76 are. We went down and down. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but when your legs are REALLY tired, you get clumsy. And with a 40-lb pack on, it’s harder to balance on steep ground with crappy footing (rocks and logs and gravel). And having a 65 lb dog yanking on your hips the whole way… well, it wears me out fast. I worked really hard to be kind to Riley. When I get that tired (and that scared, a little), I can be mean to him. And I hate that more than anything, even the bushwhacking and the anxiety about if we were going to be able to get down, and if I was going to get into trouble for being on the road, even a mile above where the action was.

We went down a series of crazy steep slopes – basically little micro-canyons – chutes almost. And then we went down a hillside so steep I had to just get dragged down on my butt (amazed – totally amazed – I did not tear through my pants). And then BOOM. I saw the creek. And with another ten foot, near straight down drop – Boom. we were on a beautifully flat little patch of ground, with a nice stream in front of us, some small trees screening us from the road, and a nice flat (FLAT) field beyond. And just on the edge of that – the mythical forest road 76.

I almost cried with relief. We were trashed.

When Riley approached the little stream, there was this massive splash and a huge fish took off. A trout. I had not expected a fish that big to be in water that shallow. After the initial panic, it was funny. I was just so glad to be out of the buskwhacking and the crazy steep slopes, I might well have welcomed a bear.

We rested next to the little stream for about half an hour. I refilled all our water containers, and we both had a bit of food. Then we packed up and headed north up 76… hoping to not meet anybody.

To no avail. About 20/30 minutes later the white forest truck appeared. I waved hi, being friendly. I honestly thought that maybe he’d keep going.

Nope.

So he pulls up – a big guy with a beard, and asks me “Are you aware that this entire area is closed?”

Here’s where the being an officer’s daughter kicked in. It was probably helpful. I informed the officer (the ?) that I did know it was closed, but that we had just bushwhacked for two hours to stay off the road as much as possible, and that I was profoundly sorry for being on the road, but that we were not stopping – we were passing thourgh, and that I would be off his road within 45 minutes. I apologized again, and said I very much respect the work they’re doing, and I apologized for being there at all. “Please sir, we’ll be off this road in 45 minutes.”

And he let us go. I said “bless you” at least twice. I believe I actually gushed gratitude and goodwill. And I meant it.

So he left, and we had 45 minutes to get three miles. Which, I realized after he left, was going to be damn near impossible given how exhasuted I was. I had been carrying Riley’s pack because I felt so bad about what I put him through with the buskwhacking, but he had to put it back on. With gel chews every 20 minutes, we just hoofed it as fast as we could go up FS 76. Its a very slow, gradual climb. The camping sites looked lovely, and there were a couple of trout ponds with glass-clear water and some seriously large trout. We kept going. We passed another herd of cattle, and the curve of the road past Little Korea. And then a bit more of a climb, and a bit further, and we finally passed the orange fire blockage signs. I read them briefly (when we were on the safe side of them) and was reminded that the maximum fine for being in a fir-restricted area is up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail.

Whew. Had I remembered that, I don’t know if i would have been so confident. I don’t know what I would have done. Honestly, at one point talking to the officer, I was afriad he might foce us into his truck and drive us to 518 and drop us there. And which point I probably would have cried. I just wanted to get through. I can’t express how badly I wanted to get through. I still don’t know why or where the drive to get through came from, and why it gripped me so hard.

But we got through. We found a lovely little campsite hidden from the road near the intersection of 76 and 76f. We had enough time to put up the tent, make dinner, treat water, do the bear hang and get into the tent.

Nothing bothered us through the night. We both slept like the dead. It had been a brutally long day, and kind of scary for big chunks of it.

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If we had had a little more time, I would have probably preferred to go up to Huero Lake. It was probably only a mile and a half away (1.12 miles according to the gps) and just 479 feet up.

I will try to get out there again, and walk up there to test the trail and get a photo. It looks like a nice-sized lake.

Side trip to Huero Lake

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