Saturday, June 7, 2014
Chippeway Trail( FT 250) - Lincoln National Forest
This is not a difficult trail,but I'm going to put all my caveats up front in the interest of not being misleading. First, it's probably best not to think of it as summertime hike. On clear days it's probably going to be too hot. It's without water as well, so it's not the best if you're bringing your dog. The western half of the trail is along an old road and is open to the sun. Any temperatures over 80 will feel much hotter with the intense sunshine at 9,000 feet.Once the monsoon starts, overcast summer days will be cooler, but since more that half the trail is a ridgeline walk, that same open section becomes a liability for lightning.
First problem I had here was driving past the trailhead. It's not that it's difficult to find, I was just looking left at the the Lucas Canyon Trailhead sign and drove right past never seeing the Chippeway Trail sign directly across the road. In my defense, the Chippeway Trail sign faces across the road not at the driver. So I drove on , enjoying a little tour of Russia Canyon. In wetter times, it seems the many springs in this canyon give the tiny meadow stream enough water to flow in an actual stream bed. I turned around at the very top of the canyon where the road meets NM 6563. I got behind a logging truck for a dusty return to the trailhead which I had already figured out ( genius) must be at the Lucas Canyon sign I had seen earlier.
The beginning of the trail is a series of S curves with steep pitches connected by sections of relatively level walking. It's the only hard climbing we had to do, and had the advantage of being the shadiest part of the hike. We rested several times during this stretch, our late start meant it was already hot and had me doubting the whole enterprise. The forest here had been extensively cut,but many of the trees have been left lying. I'm not sure what the purpose was , and I saw many other trees marked with orange paint, an indicator they would be cut, but I don't believe this mountainside is open to logging anymore. Some trees had the appearance of being sawed almost all the way through, but were still standing (some were dead, some were still alive), which was a little disturbing.
Things were going well as we leveled off at the ridgeline and enjoyed views to the opposite mountains. Then, there were the elk. Then, there was my unleashed scottie taking off like a thoroughbred after them down a game trail on the other side of the hill. Then, there I was having no choice but to follow, calling desperately after my dog. I stopped where the slope leveled off and the trail was hard to see, and continued to call and within 30 seconds the elk-chaser was coming back to me: exhausted, hot and panting. I was happy for his quick return but now we had to trudge back the up hill, essentially about the half the climb we had just completed. From here on it was easy walking over and around the bumps on top of this ridge.At an open, grassy saddle we passed the Chippeway Spur Trail( FT 247E). At this same juncture there was another trail or road that went off to the north, it had the appearance of the many abandoned railroad grades prevalent in this area. We continued on with the trail now a road. We rested in the shade and drank often. I decided on a turnaround time of 3:15 and stuck to it. I don't how far we were from the upper trailhead at FR 623 but it probably wasn't much more.
One of the extra points of interest for this hike are the many invertebrate fossils that are visible in the limestone boulders on the mountaintop. I photographed several on our trip. Also on our return hike it occurred to me that perhaps this trail would be better if done from the upper trailhead, stopping before the steep drop to the lower trailhead. I might have done it that way if I had had the Tacoma instead of the Corrolla to negotiate the FR 623. Although, I don't really know the condition of that road, on the map it's broken parallel lines which means expect anything and bring the truck. This trail is not open to any motorized use,but it looks like a few ATVers come in anyway, but the use is definitely not heavy. At the bottom I looked out at some grazing cows along the wide meadow that Lucas Canyon Trail ascends, and thought perhaps it would have been a better choice, but who knows? I'll keep in mind for another day. This trail is maybe a mile or so up County Road C4( Russia Canyon Road) which is about 5 miles southeast of Cloudcroft on NM130( Cox Canyon Road). The elevation gain is about 600 feet.