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Hiking the high country with Daisy

FOR THE RECORD: This story gave an incorrect name of the school where hiker Phil Robinson teaches science. He teaches at Jackson Middle School.

TIJERAS – Daisy, a little wire fox terrier, was bounding up a trail in the Sandias the other morning and Phil Robinson was right behind her.

Daisy, with her little red pack and little silver bell, jingled along as she hopped over rocks. And when the slope became too steep for her 10-year-old legs, Robinson scooped her up and gave her a ride.

These two partners have repeated this routine over many a mountain mile.

“I get out the pack, she hears that bell and she just really gets excited,” Robinson told me. “She loves it.”

A man hiking with his dog isn’t exactly big news.

But Robinson is a hiker like few others. He just completed his quest to attain the summits of all New Mexico’s 13,000- and 12,000-foot peaks – more than 60.

And Daisy has been Robinson’s intrepid four-legged companion on many of the hikes in the Sangre de Cristo high country.

The first summit she conquered was Latir Peak; at 12,708 feet, it is the 20th-tallest mountain in New Mexico. She did that in 2005 and her summit list since then has grown to 36 peaks, which is pretty impressive for an animal that looks like a toy you might win on the midway at the state fair.

Robinson is a science teacher at  Jackson Middle School in Albuquerque, which allows him summers off to concentrate on mountain climbing and contributes to his tendency to document his trips with extensive amounts of data.

I knew about Robinson long before I met him. On hiking websites like peakery.com and peakbagger.com, he posts photos, and shares his routes and entertaining descriptions of his adventures that sometimes include his adult son, Garret, and big steaks grilling on the campfire.

Anyone who has climbed a tall mountain knows that it takes some effort. Why, you might ask from your Sunday morning easy chair, would someone set out to climb more than a hundred of them?

“I started in Boy Scouts, Troop 166,” says Robinson, an Albuquerque native who grew up in the Hoffmantown neighborhood. “And I just really got it in my blood.”

His first high peak was Truchas (13,102) when he was 15. Then came school and life. Robinson didn’t hike all that much for decades. When he turned 50, he had a stable career, a home in the foothills in Tijeras and six children. He decided to start hiking again.

Robinson bagged Wheeler Peak (13,161) in 2006, and Old Mike (13,133) and Simpson (12,976) the next summer, and a goal started to form of bagging all 60-some tall peaks.

“I’m pretty goal-oriented,” Robinson told me in an understatement of titanic proportion. “I thought, man, I can do this.”

In 2012, Robinson climbed 32 New Mexico mountains from June to September. He hiked 116 miles and climbed 29,652 feet in elevation that summer. The next year, he hiked 25 peaks and climbed more than 30,000 feet in elevation.

By this summer, he had only four mountains left of the 63 that are open to climbing (three of the 12,000-footers sit on Taos Pueblo land and are off-limits to non-tribal members.)

On a weekend in June, he and his son Garret headed up to Jicarita Peak (12,835) and South Jicarita Peak (12,828) in the Pecos Wilderness, then hiked up and over Trouble Benchmark (12,622). Finally, on June 29, they topped out on Little Jicarita (12,328) and Robinson had reached his goal.

Like most high-mountain hikers, Robinson gets a dose of Rocky Mountain high when he reaches a summit.

“Little Jicarita – I was extra psyched on that one,” he told me. “Mission accomplished.”

Or not.

Robinson, 59, has more goals. He wants to climb the highest 100 peaks. And he’s whittling away the list of the 11,000-footers; he’s already bagged 46 of the 69.

His wife, Linda, a nursing student, told me she’s not interested in climbing mountains but she likes the woods and she’s fine with her husband’s hobby. And Daisy is game for more peaks, especially the lower ones, which are a little easier on a pup who’s going to have 11 candles on her next birthday cake.

Robinson isn’t slowing down.

“It’s allowed me to see so much of New Mexico. The woods, the animals. You’re treated to just these spectacular views,” he said. “It just invigorates my soul and spirit. I just love it.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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