Since I first gazed up at its simple, graceful sweep above the meadow just south of where the Manzano Crest trail meets the Albuquerque trail, I have wanted to make my way to that summit. Unlike most Manzano summits, it appears so open and free of forest. After a lifetime of climbing, one comes to sense the requirements for an exceptional summit before it’s attained. Yet, regardless of how long one contemplates the simple, three sided pyramid of this summit called Mosca, not a single line of weakness to the top reveals itself.
Keep in mind, I’m not describing a summit adorned with technical rock or ice to limit—or entice—the number of human visitors who visit its regal glory. This prominent shape on the horizon is, after all, a minor, albeit sweaty bump at the northern reaches of a relatively unknown range in a world graced elsewhere with legendary ones—the Alps, Karakoram, Andes, Patagonia—sporting stunning spires of dazzling, seemingly unattainable heights. I mean, really. A mountain named Fly? As in the annoying and ubiquitous insect associated with the grossest levels of filth humanity knows? Or at least that seems to be the level of inspiration experienced by early European-descended visitors to this elevation, significant only locally above the wasteland of a state distinguished by its poverty.
Nonetheless, it has subtly tugged at my sleeve for quite a few years.
Mosca’s summit pyramid, seen from this meadow, seems so close. Maybe five hundred feet above the trail junction, visually uncluttered by forest and tastefully embellished by intermittent bands of humble limestone separated by slopes rarely exceeding 35˚. It’s just right up there—a few hundred measly feet. Yet between the rock bands the terrain is still densely green. What is this green?
Years of alpinism are not required to know by looking that the green is what keeps this ridge and its dominate summit so reclusive and untraveled. It is a relentless, unbroken tangle of Gambel oak and New Mexico locust covered with vicious and maddeningly tenacious thorns—just high enough to prevent any view or visual orientation, and dense enough to limit movement to inches at a time. Only fools would entertain an inclination to willingly enter such a formidable and unpleasant environment. Some of us have inadvertently stumbled into such places on our way up or down (usually in the dark) far more worthy trail-less summits in our youth—and vowed never to do so again.
Travelers familiar, too, with the inner worlds of human consciousness recognize the ironic similarity of foolishly entering the impenetrable complexity and resistance of sub-conscious and unconscious levels of mind—without the escort of a Living Master. No, the wise go around these obstacles.
Still, a couple of weeks ago, the moment had finally arrived for me to try for that summit. As usual, I would enjoy this adventure alone. But it couldn’t be that bad. Could it? Only a year ago, Sue and I had encountered a solitary traveler emerging from what little trail remains northward to the fenced, yet imaginary border between land belonging to the Manzano Wilderness and that of Isleta Pueblo. Sue, wearing a sarong, waited in the shade, while I, in shorts, contemplated the summit from the open, sunlit meadow. In the heat of this day, the man was fully clad, head to toe in protective clothing, with no body parts exposed and carrying an impressive looking machete.
He didn’t seem exhausted, but he clearly enjoyed an encounter with fellow travelers who appreciated that he had just descended from the summit I was admiring. Having gone to the fenceline and ascended the peak along that arbitrary trajectory, roughly along its northeast ridge, he said it was doable. The hook was set.
From the perspective of decades of climbing—from the Nose of El Cap in 1970 to the southeast ridge of Baboquivari in my ‘70s; from starry-eyed naïveté on the north face of the Grand Teton to a sublime east face solo of Whitney—Mosca’s summit pyramid offers the most hard-won five hundred feet this soul has endured in this sojourn of the physical world.
Only by willingly subjecting my aging composite being to such absurdity would I confirm why I did so: in a range which prefers to keep its views rare and well hidden, Mosca Peak is hands down the best summit. Clear, unobstructed views in all directions. To the north, the length of the Watermelon, with the Blood of Christ beyond. The entire forty mile length of the Manzanos to the south where, beyond the inconspicuous high point of this range, scores of Chihuahuan desert ranges line up to barely visible infinity. To the east, far out beyond the obvious scar of Dog Head’s inception, dry lakes and windfarms dot the first of many horizons dropping to the Great Plains, as subtly mysterious as the ocean. And, to the West, the rest of the sacred peaks and secrets of its original inhabitants—Taylor, Redondo, Plains of San Augustin, on and on—inviting the eye of imagination into the Great Basin, the Grand Canyon, Colorado Plateau, the Sea of Cortez, and beyond.
For much of this lifetime, all these treasures held deep meaning and immense value for this young fella. Now, it’s ‘beyond’ that draws my attention, guided now, perfectly and precisely, to unseen summits of fulfillment previously unknown and unimaginable. That pale reflection of the inner journey is the only reason I still ‘climb’. I’m now simple enough to be satisfied with the view, and where it takes my awareness.
Reaching the car at 7pm, the usual time for my evening exercise, I plugged in to yet another ineffable seminar. By the time I was pulling into Tajique, the view in my rearview mirror was stunning enough to pause for a photograph. And by the time the road opened out of the drainage enclosing that sleepy village, the sky was suddenly filled with drama that left Slices of Sky in the dust. It was so intense, even I wasn’t foolish enough to stop for one more unobtainable photograph. I simply stayed glued to the Master’s words and drove my wide eyed slack jaw home, reveling in the perfectly choreographed outer reflection of inner events.
When I turned in at the Ponderosa, the drama had preceded me all the way home. Suddenly, entering the tiny microclimate of our unnoticed little neighborhood, tucked away in the grotesquely overgrown, scrubby forest of central New Mexico highlands, the air was filled with a mesmerizing ground fog that reminded me of Kurosawa, and the ground itself, completely white. What?! This is August. I pulled in the drive only moments after a prolonged hailstorm had just finished annihilating Sue’s fabulous vegetable garden and part of the house—which took the totality of these past two weeks to reconstruct. So dazzling and dreamlike, one could only be… dazzled.
We do eventually come to perceive and appreciate the beauty of inner purification, but seldom is it so precisely reflected on the lower, outer world. Or is it?
For the Indigenous Communities
To Whom These Mountains
& Places Are Sacred
Although I am relatively ignorant of your lore, beliefs, and names for such places, I do have respect and enough understanding to know with certainty that the names you give to these mountains and their summits are unquestionably more meaningful and respectful of their spirit.
Had I known them, I would have included them.
Most Recent Contemplation: Initiation
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