Hikers and Climbers Guide to the Sandias. Mike Hill. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1983. XII + 234 pages, black and white photographs, route diagrams, charts, map, bibliography. $9.95.
There is much to commend in this daypack-size guide to the Sandias. The book is divided into three parts. There is a section on trails and a larger section
on routes for rock climbing. There are also numerous appendices providing information on flora and flauna as well as a listing of first ascents. As my own hiking and climbing in the area dates back to the early 1960s, I read each of the sections with some nostalgia.
For those unaccustomed to hiking in the Sandias, this book provides a valuable compendium of both the common and out-of-the-way trails. La Luz, one of the more popular trails, will expose the hiker to much of what the Sandias offer in their beauty and in their ruggedness. I have been on it when it has been simple, formidable and impossible. I remember the fall day when the upper reaches were hedged with blackberry briers, laden with fruit. Each dozen yards or so we would stop to stock up on more. But, within the time it took to ascend the last and steepest two miles, the clouds rolled in and the surging wind released creaking and groaning sounds from the swaying pines. When we reached the coffee shop at the trail’s summit, chilled to purple and beat, we had no recollection of the berry picking in the sun-dappled forest. But now I think of it.
The climbing section covers much rock. For the Shield (what Hill calls “the greatest wall in the Sandias”), no less than nineteen climbing routes are identified—varying in difficulty from a 6–pitch, 5.4 route to Rainbow Dancer listed as a 10–pitch, 5.10+. The favorite route for the novice climber is the Knife Edge which, for many, rivals La Luz for its view of the Sandias.
It is difficult for me to assess the accuracy with which the routes are described. It is my impression that this book would be helpful to someone familiar with the routes but probably would not provide sufficient information for those unfamiliar with the mountains. Nonetheless, the guidebook is useful in describing the approaches to routes and their potential difficulty. Many of the more spectacular climbs start at elevations near 8500 feet and even the modest Prow requires a stiff scramble and inching progress. In the Sandias, one takes one’s climbing pleasure in lumps.
When I found this guidebook a pleasing refresher for many experiences in the Sandias, I also found it somewhat too limited for my full enjoyment. The new and less knowledgeable hiker might have wished for a bit of information on what makes each trail distinctive. We have a bit of such color in the description of Sandia Man Cave Trail. Is interest not likely to be piqued by noting that the inky-black cave is better viewed with a flashlight or that the gateway town of Placitas is worthy of a glance as well?
I understand the limitations imposed by a “map” approach to a climbing guide and the ever-present limitations of size. However, there is a distinct difference between a road map and an atlas and I would have wished for more of an atlas in this guidebook. After all, there was enough space to remind us to wear our rubbers—so to speak. Nevertheless the Hikers and Climbers Guide to the Sandias provides a valuable update of material on the Sandias.