July 1, 1999
Highlights: High country at its best: views, wildflowers, and challenges not beyond reach. For backpackers, this trail continues 10 miles farther through El Porvenir Canyon. Location: Exit Interstate 25 to Las Vegas and drive N.M. 65 northwest about 17 miles (road splits at about 14 miles; head to the right) to El Porvenir Campground. Free parking lot before trailhead. Round-trip distance: About 9 miles Difficulty: Strenuous Elevation: 7,500-10,200 feet Cautions: Honor the rules of the wilderness: no groups over 15 and no wheeled vehicles except for handicapped assistance. Stay on the trail at all times. Maps: USDA Santa Fe National Forest; USGS quad map El Povenir Printable map
Hermit Peak Trail 223
For a holy man who hiked the Santa Fe Trail from Kansas to Las Vegas in 1863 and chose to live alone in a cave at 10,000 feet, Juan Maria de Agostini, a well-educated Italian nobleman, had numerous visitors.
Upholding a Good Friday tradition, pentitente pilgrims carried lighted torches up the steep trail for penance. Other people came up throughout the year to seek blessings and healing from this unusual holy man who carved crosses and religious artifacts to exchange for food. Hand-hewn crosses still stand near the overlook, but Hermit Spring is now enclosed within steel casing. An ancient limber pine with three symmetrical trunks growing from one root system stands sentinel to the sacredness of this mountain top.
Hermit Peak Trail never wavers in its upward climb to the destination: incredible vistas of the eastern plains from the craggy overlook at 10,200 feet. The trail, with its 2,700-foot gain in altitude, uses 41/2 miles to get there, so be thankful for the numerous switchbacks -- some with hand rails -- which make it a strenuous but not excessively difficult climb.
The ponderosa pine gives way to Englemann Spruce, Douglas Fir, and aspen at higher elevations. Numerous wildflowers -- from the mountain iris and wild roses at the trail's beginning to the blue and white columbine, clematis, and golden pea near the summit -- decorate the trail.
Sue B. Mann