Overview:

Vicks Peak from FR 225

Vicks Peak from FR 225

This route takes you into the San Mateo Mountains of Socorro County (there is another range named for Saint Matthew in Cibolo County, quite a ways further north). In the Socorro range you will find a network of trails that brings you in to high, cool and striking terrain. The Apache Kid Trail (#43) takes you from the Springtime Campground up a canyon to a high ridge line. Pause to enjoy the gendarme-laced terrain as well as the complete absence of mesquite bush and prickly pear. Turn south onto Shipman Trail (#50) as it bobs down into forested canyons and hops back to the ridge line for new vistas. Views are mostly to the west, taking in the Tularosa Mountains and the Plains of San Augustin (sometimes written “Agustin”). On return you will have a chance to study San Mateo Peak and portions of the northern San Mateo mountains. The col containing Myers cabin is a wide, grassy meadow framed by stately ponderosa. The original destination for this hike was Vick’s Peak, which lies above and south of Myers cabin. Recent years have not been kind to the climber’s tread that once lead to the peak, so this route description only goes as far as the first prominence (point 10100) south of the col.

Driving Directions:

This list of driving instructions was used on March 22, 2014. For those who are driving south on I-25, e.g. from Albuquerque, getting off at Exit 115 makes perfect sense. For those who are driving north on I-25, e.g from Las Cruces, getting off at Exit 115 means having to double back. An alternative route is suggested below.

  • From University Avenue in Las Cruses, enter I-25 going north.
  • After 112.8 miles, take Exit 115 for Route 107.
  • After 0.2 miles, at the end of the ramp, turn east (right) onto NM Route 107.
  • After 200 ft (at a T-intersection), go south (right) on Old US Highway 1. (There is no road sign for US 1 at the intersection, but a sign appears a short distance to the south)
  • After 11.7 miles, go west (right) onto Forest Road 225. This is a gravel road.
  • After 13.3 miles come to a fork (signed), go right onto 225A for Springtime Campground
  • After 0.4 miles, enter the campground.

A look at Google Maps suggests that those coming north on I-25 might want to get off I-25 a little earlier.

  • At exit 100 on I-25, signed for Red Rock, go right.
  • After 200 feet, at the end of the exit ramp, go west (left) onto a road that is not named on my maps. This will lead immediately to an overpass over I-25.
  • After 0.3 miles, at a T-intersection, go north (right) onto Old US Highway 1.
  • After 4.6 miles. Turn east (left )onto FS 225. Then continue as above. This alternative route has not yet been tested.

Forest Road 225 is in generally good shape, but there are important points of exception. Each time that the road dips into an arroyo bed the road quality drops dramatically. For drivers of high suspended trucks it will not be a problem. Drivers of family sedans, however, will have to make case-by-case decisions. It takes a long, long time for soft-suspended cars to travel those 13.9 miles – but slow and patient driving will do the front end of your vehicle many favors. Stormy weather could produce brisk alterations to the road bed so it might be a good idea to keep a shovel in the vehicle.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry, resting for a moment beside one of the lean-tos.

The mighty Camry, resting for a moment beside one of the lean-tos.

The trailhead lies within the Springtime campground and is signed. I did not see any trash receptacles or water. An older article in the Taos News suggests that the campground has an outhouse, but I didn’t see it while strolling by. There is quite a long stretch of PVC pipe along side the trail, so there may be a faucet somewhere among the campground lean-tos (do not count on it). You can drive up the canyon, going past the trailhead for a short ways, by turning left over a cattle guard and driving among the lean-tos. The road is poor however, and the drive just raises dust among the campers. It is better to park near the cattle guard, which is near the Apache Kid Trail sign.

Oddly, the Springtime Campground does not lie in Springtime Canyon, but in Nogal Canyon. Springtime Canyon is the next big drainage to the north.

Data:

  • trailhead elevation: 7480 feet
  • high point: 10,210 feet
  • net elevation gain: 2730
  • distance: 5.8 miles to point 10100 (one way)
  • maps: USGS Vicks Peak

Hike Description:

Gendarme guarding the headwaters of Nogal Canyon

Gendarme guarding the headwaters of Nogal Canyon

From the campground follow the Apache Kid Trail up canyon, passing lean-tos and tracking a considerable stretch of PVC piping (perhaps water for the campground).  In about 1400 feet come to a sign proclaiming the boundary of the Apache Kid Wilderness. At about a half mile from the trail head the trail swings left to contour around a rib and begins ascending in a north-trending canyon. From the map it appears that this canyon is the uppermost extension of Nogal Canyon, known to I-25 travelers as that point where I-25 leaps off a cliff and goes soaring into an abyss – accompanied by dire signs warning of gusty winds. Here the traffic is much less pressing, although the rock spires on either side of canyon are dramatic in their own way. At 1.3 miles the tread leaves the canyon bottom and switchbacks up a side cut coming in from the west. This part of the hike is open and quite warm later in the day. Re-entering a coniferous forest the trail follows a rib up to the ridge line at 2.1 miles. There are several camp spots which are dry but are likely to offer spectacular sunrises.

Bald knob on ridge above Nogal Canyon

Bald knob on ridge above Nogal Canyon

Go past the ridge top meadow and arrive at the junction of the Apache Kid Trail with the Shipman Trail (#50) at 2.2 miles. The intersection is signed. Turn south (left) on the Shipman Trail. The tread on the Shipman Trail is not as obvious as the Apache Kid Trail, but where the tread becomes puzzling stop and look for sawed logs and water bars. The trail heads south, initially at ridge top but then making a swing into a waterway that descends gently below the ridge top at 2.6 miles. Follow the trail as it follows the stream bed into confluence of small stream beds and a sheltered spot for a campsite amidst big ponderosa pines. Amidst those trees, at 2.9 miles from the trailhead, find another trail junction with trail 49A, which head north (right) down Milo Canyon. There were trail signs, but they had fallen to the ground and are easy to miss. Go south (left) on Shipman Trail and begin ascending back towards the ridge.

*09 bald bump at head of Nave Canyon

Second bald knob on ridge, at top of Nave Canyon

At 3.4 miles reach a col between the main north-to-south ridge  and a huge rib descending from the ridge to the northwest. This rib separates Milo Canyon, from which you have just ascended, from Nave Canyon, into which you will descend. The trail bumps along here, making little leaps and short falls as it traces the ridge line. At 3.7 miles reach a low point in the ridge and a look southeast into Corn Canyon. After reaching an open, possibly fire-cleared face the trail turns downhill and follows the course of Nave Canyon. Down and down, then down some more. Ask your thoughts to stay away from the prospect of ascending this passage on return. Be grateful when at last the trail crosses the bed of Nave Canyon and returns to a southerly course. Contouring out of the canyon, the trail goes past Nave Spring at 4.4 miles. The spring is about 30 feet below the trail, look for a metal barrel used to wall the spring.

Aspen reflection on surface of Nave spring

Aspen reflection on surface of Nave spring

Peering around just past the spring you may find the remnants of old trail signs lying on the forest floor. The Nave Trail (#86) will take you north (right) down Nave Canyon. Stay to the left on a faint tread as the Shipman trail pokes gingerly into an area of deadfall. The tread pretty much disappears here. An informal boot path going straight up hill and regrettably open to erosion can be found. I gave up on trying to find the formal trail and took the boot path. In no more than 20 feet it joined the old tread and resumed the march to Myers Cabin.

Stately firs and open meadows on Myers cabin col.

Graceful pines and open meadows on Myers cabin col.

Rounding a bend, the tread becomes a gentle, straight, southerly ascent along the bed of a wide waterway. There were lots of pinyon pine, Douglas fir, and still a good representation of ponderosa. There was also a fir with very compact cones, perhaps a white fir. At 5.3 miles the trees begin to thin and a broad meadow opens before you. The tread almost immediately disappears, but the open terrain invites rambling. Ascend to the high point of the col and discover that a circle of trees gracing the center of the meadow is actually growing on the tailings of an old mine shaft. Beyond that, on the far side of the col, find Myers cabin. Marvel at how much labor went into bringing a big wood stove up to into these mountains. I don’t know if hantavirus is much of a threat above 9000 feet, but rather than poking around inside it seemed best to take photos from a judicious distance.

view through two window and two doors of the (roofless) Myers cabin

view through two windows and two doors of the (roofless) Myers cabin

Myers Cabin col stands at the head of Shipman Canyon, into which Shipman Trail descends. The objective for this hike was Vicks Peak, still 750 feet higher than the col. In the 100 Hikes in New Mexico guidebook, Craig Martin says that a faint and unmaintained path should take you southeast towards the Peak. That guide was first published in 1995 (although updated in 2010), so it might be that the description is out of date. I could not find any trace of a trail out of the meadows.

View to Vicks Peak from the top of Point 10100

View to Vicks Peak from the top of Point 10100

What follows is an off-trail scramble in a forest, which is a navigation challenge. At the edge of the meadow opposite the cabin and beside a cross made of two big, fallen logs, head uphill. Dodge the thicker growths and downed trees. At roughly 300 feet from the meadow, encounter a faint tread rising towards the northeast, which seems like the wrong direction even if it could be a switchback. Following that tread brings you to a small bench on mountain-side. Drilled down into the bench is a deep mine shaft. The tread stops here. From the shaft, turn again to the steepest uphill direction and continue ascending on a broad mountain flank. The next three hundred feet are in rather featureless terrain – problematic for route finding. Soon however a relatively well defined rib forms. Stay on the top of the rib until the open boulder field appears – about 1600 feet after leaving the col. Clamber over boulders directly to the top of the false summit at 10,100 feet above sea level and 5.8 miles from the trailhead. Only half mile away, over what appears to be accessible terrain, is Vicks Peak. It was past my turn-around time, so with real regret I started back.

Return to the trailhead the same way as you came in.

Recommendations:

Author on Point 10100

Author on Point 10100

The term “lean-to” is used here as it is used on the Appalachian Trail. These are structures with floor, roof and three walls, open to the weather on the unwalled side. The Springtime Campground structures looked inviting from the trail, but they are packed pretty close together. As with most campgrounds, you will not find much privacy here.

In addition to the Nave Spring, the San Mateo spring is reported to be usually reliable. That spring can be found if you continue north on the Apache Kid Trail about a half mile past the junction with the Shipman Trail. Myer’s spring, below Myer’s col in Shipman Canyon, is characterized as “often running”. All spring water needs to be filtered or treated before consuming.

This route description makes mention of hantavirus, which is regarded as a health threat in New Mexico. There are several animal reservoirs for hantavirus, including deer mice. The issue arises because deer mice often occupy abandoned buildings like Myers cabin. Apparently, deer mice are found above elevations of 5000 feet and in Douglas fir forests.

Remember that in March the broad-leaf trees were all still bare. If you come later in the year, then those deciduous trees could make route finding more difficult.

Consider taking the opportunity to get out of the house and into the mountains. Drought conditions are not conducive to backcountry camping and 95% of New Mexico is already experiencing moderate drought or worse. The winter began well, but the final snow accumulation was far below normal. That was abundantly evident in this stroll to 10,000 feet. The biggest patch of remaining snow I saw was perhaps 20 feet long and about 5 feet at the widest, appearing to be just an inch or two in depth. It was a monster reserve compared to the dinner-plate sized snow patches elsewhere. Snowmelt is not going to save us from a dry summer. A great deal is riding on getting decent rainfall. While waiting to see how that turns out, take advantage of the today’s friendly conditions.

Links:

A PDF document from magdalena-nm.com includes succinct descriptions of he hiking opportunities in the San Madreo Mountains.

The Apache Kid Wilderness Area is part of the Cibola National Forest. The Forest Service website has good information on road conditions, active fires and fire hazard levels.

A brief report by Rob Anthony on Peak Bagger describes an all-scramble route up the southeast face to Vicks Peak. Notably, he was able to summit with his dog, suggesting that the climbing moves are probably not extreme.

Trimble Outdoors shows a map with an approach to Vicks Peak from the south, apparently getting onto Shipman Trail from Burma Road and ascending the trail up Shipman Canyon. This is a much shorter route than the one described here.

This peak is a 10-thousand footer, yet it has very few route descriptions on the internet. No wonder that it was so quiet up there.

 

 

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