Hiking the Franklins

Friday woke up with charcoal gray clouds camped to the north. The polar vortex was coming, the weathermen said. Winds. Seventy mile gusts after noon.

That still left us with a narrow window of good weather.

We dropped Roscoe off at school and Claire and Floyd and I headed to the mountain.

“When was the last time you were up there?” Claire asked me.

“I’ve never been.”

I’ve been to the saddle, once. Mundy’s Gap, plenty of times. The saddle is maybe a half mile from the summit, maybe three quarters. It’s hard to judge distance when every step is uphill.

There was one other car in the parking lot when we got there. An old Toyota van that looked like it was designed by the same guys who make balloon animals.

We strapped Floyd into the kid carrier on Claire’s chest. I carried a day pack with diapers and wipes and lunch and my usual paraphernalia.

The first part of the trial to North Mount Franklin is all angular sharp-edged rocks the size of milk cartons. They crunch and grate when they’re walked on. The sky was gray and we were still in the shadow of the mountain, walking fast to summit before the winds hit.

We reached the crest, about two miles distance, in less than an hour. Even before we got there, though, we saw the trouble.

As we climbed the road up the west side, we were in the lee of the mountain, protected by its shoulders, sheltered in a valley. Before we reached the Gap, though, the wind began to buffet us.

I stuck the brim of my hat under my thigh as I sat on the bench. As Claire crested the gap, the wind snatched her ball cap and sent it skidding a few yards down the trail. She got it back before the wind took it again.

The east side of the mountain was exposed. We could see the trail scrawl up the open face.

“What do you think?” Claire asked me.

“It’s not going to get any better.”

We turned back.

On the way down we met three people coming up, and stopped to chat. Somehow it’s easier for me to chat on the downhill. I’m not worried about losing my momentum.

“Are you guys residents of El Paso?” Claire asked. Sometimes I wonder if English is her first language.

“No,” one said. “Fort Bliss.”

“What’s your MOS?” I asked. It was the first time in my life I’d ever said MOS.

“I’m a musician.”

“Claire’s a musician,” I said.

We killed the next ten minutes exhausting the details of the trained musician scene in El Paso. Then we left.

Claire and Floyd and I got to the turnoff to Cottonwood Springs.

“Do you want to go up there?” Claire asked. The gray naked branches of the old trees stuck out from a hump of boulders.

The trail is short, but it’s steep, and all scree.


Instead, we struck off from the main trail on what the park calls the Agave Loop. The trail is flat, mostly, and narrow, in places, and a half mile longer than the main trail, but not as rocky.

We got back to the car about two hours after we left it. At a picnic table we ate our lunch, bread and smoked salmon and Swiss cheese. An apple, and two cans of club soda.

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