The Sandia Mountains have more than just the nation’s longest aerial tramway. They also draw rock climbers to their steep, granite cliffs.
Marc Beverly, owner of Beverly Mountain Guides and a UNM Ph.D. student in exercise science, said climbing is unlike any other sport he has tried.
“Rock climbing is hard to explain if you don’t experience it,” said Beverly, who has been climbing since he was 13. “It’s like, ‘why be a race car driver?’ but when you’re in the driver’s seat it’s like there’s nothing else, so it’s kind of the same feeling — you get the feeling of freedom, being outside. It’s beautiful.”
The beauty and rush of climbing the Sandia Mountains is what made Beverly decide to make Albuquerque his home for his international guide company, he said.
“I like climbing in the Sandias because you just never see anybody … it feels remote,” Beverly said. “It can be remote, but it’s so close, whether you live Santa Fe or in Albuquerque.”
The proximity of the Sandias grants Albuquerque residents easy access to the activity, unlike other locales. Colorado has some of the largest cliffs to climb, Beverly said, but it can take days to hike in and get out.
“A ‘first ascent’ is a climb on a rock face that nobody has ever done before; some are hard and some are easy,” Beverly said.
Publishing the developed routes in an effort to promote guided climbing and minimization of traffic was what Beverly used to do, he said.
Jimmy Buchannan, who took the climb up the Sandias on Sunday with Beverly as his guide, said he is trying to reconnect with an old hobby.
“Climbing freaks me out a little — the whole process of it,” Buchannan said.
Rock climbing is a captivating sport, he said. The odds of surviving a fall are horrible, but that’s what keeps him moving, he said.
Climbing is a different way to explore the mountains, Buchannan said. There was no defining moment in his life when he fell in love with climbing, just a series of events leading up to it.
He hasn’t done much climbing in the Albuquerque area, and last Sunday he was given his first guide in the Sandias, he said.
Karl Karlstrom, a professor of geology at UNM, said he and a group of colleagues worked on a map that shows the Sandias’ cliffs to be billions of years old.
“This is the most important concept when talking about geological dating: the mountains are young, the rocks exposed in the mountains are very old,” Karlstrom said.
Karlstrom offers a New Mexico geology class every fall semester, he said. The class often visits the Sandias because they are close and easy to study.
“The thing about teaching in New Mexico is there’s rocks everywhere,” Karlstrom said. “It’s great, you can go out and touch them, understand them, study them.”
Karlstrom’s graduate students experience the Sandias to gain a better understanding of the Earth’s natural processes, he said.
“This idea of ‘old rocks exposed by a young mountain’ means that you can study different parts of Earth’s history all in the same mountain range,” Karlstrom said.
Tom Reikene, the trails foreman with the Sandia Ranger District, said the mountain has at least one million people visit annually.
“The one thing people tend to forget is the temperatures and the weather on the crest up high is generally much different than down below,” Reikene said. “People get up there thinking it’s going to be warm and sunny, and it’s cold, maybe a little cloudy.”
There is, on average, a 20- to 30-degree difference in temperature between the crest and Albuquerque, he said.
“Generally the rescues involve people not quite being prepared,” Reikene said. “Sometimes it’s climbing related; someone will get themselves in to a bad spot.”
Not being prepared usually entails not having enough water, he said. People come from all over and aren’t used to having to carry water with them.
Moriah Carty is a staff reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MoriahCarty.