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The other day I hiked the San Leonardo Trail.

With a name like Leonardo how could I resist?

While the DaVinci was not a saint, he certainly is one of my all time heroes and a mountain climber centuries before there was adequate equipment to make it virtually bullet proof.

It is not a long trail. But getting to the trailhead is a bit of a challenge.

One option, and sanest, is to hike the extra mile to the trailhead from FS 207.  The other option is to drive the side road by truck or 4WD. Driving this track though, immediately means fording the Trampas River, which is a real challenge in deep spring waters.  Then it climbs up a gutted caliche-mud two-track that I’d hate to try if it is at all moist, for even 4WD can get stuck in this clinging mud.

Hence, the trail is not very popular.  Forest Service calls it “lightly used.”

I’m going to have to return to see if there is a shorter route up to the lakes from the actual campsite at the Trampas trailhead.  For the Forest Service says the hike is 5.6 miles round-trip, while the http://alltrail.com description says it’s 8.1 rt miles.  That’s a 50% larger distinction.  And I’ll tell you why I’d lay odds with the all trails number.

It is also a 2,000 feet ascent.  So, I calculated the amount of time it would take me. Counting on a weather report that it would be sunny all day. (No monsoon thunderstorm.) I nonchalantly chose to start my hike in the afternoon after I took care of a few chores in town.

Wrong calculation!

The route also has nine stream crossings.  I chose to wade the crossings rather than walk across logs and rocks.  Since I was hiking solo on a “lightly used” trail, a slip crossing the creek could mean injury.  There was no cell phone signal.  No hikers who could go out and get help. An injury could keep me stranded for who knows how long!

“Caution being the better part of valor,” I didn’t think wet feet would be that unpleasant.

All together I was on the trail five hours and should have been in and out in less than three at my usual hiking pace, if the Forest Service 5.6 mile, 2000-feet altitude numbers were accurate.

I did not want to be hiking out after dark so I decided to turn back at 4:00 so that I would be back out well before sunset.

Hence, I didn’t make it all the way in to the lake.

I believe for the http://alltrails.com distance of 8.1 miles is the more accurate. Not the USFS trail mileage calculation of 5.6 miles.

Also the  USFS description says the trail is within the Pecos Wilderness. But not so, according to the delineation on the National Geographic map, which shows it “near” but not “in” the Pecos.


It is still an amazingly beautiful trail.  Lots of places that one can lose the trail because of the overgrowth.

But since it follows a stream the whole way with the delightful singing of bubbling water as background music, it should be easy to find the trail if you do get off trail at any point.


The Trail Condition

I was surprised to see how much heavy-lifting had been accomplished recently on the trail.

Much of the dead-fall had been so recently sawed and removed that I could almost feel the heat in the sawdust.

There was only one tree that was laying across the trail.  And sure enough I had to catch my pack strap on it, and take a tumble.  But on such soft moss I almost wanted to take a nap.

I have to hand it to the USFS trail crews for how well they manage the trails.

They tell me that without the volunteers who put in thousands of hours doing the grunt work, the trails would be unhikeable.


Meeting With Remarkable People

At 10,600 feet elevation I bumped into two fascinating people, Susan Wehry and Jonas Leddington.

They were practicing for a pilgrimage in Nepal where they would be led by a Buddhist monk who has led this trek for the past thirty years.

We had a nice conversation about Buddhism, samsara and exchanged photo ops with each other.

One of the more interesting sides of this encounter was discovering that Susan is a physician and occasional professor at Harvard.  Her specialty is Geezers and how to Geezer enjoyably.

Her website is http://www.susanwehrymd.com

Dr Susan Wehry is a geriatric psychiatrist who has been passionate about helping others achieve their full potential.
She points out that she is “determined to turn the tables on stigma and ageism. I am convinced we can all age successfully. This is true for young and old, for people with and without disabilities and for people with and without dementia.”

Dr Wehry makes the case that healthy aging means neither defying nor denying aging, but rather engaging the process.

Geezers can discover how to choose getting old and remain vital.  And above all — being happy about it.

It’s worth taking a look at Susan’s website. http://www.susanwehrymd.com Also, don’t forget to take a hike!

Then Jonas had some nice things to say about me on his Instagram page:

Meet William "BackpackerBill" Kemsley Jr., founder in 1973 of Backpacker Magazine and co-founder of the American Hiking Society. Bill is 90 years old. We met several miles up the Rio San Leonardo in the Pecos Wilderness at ~10,600 feet. He was on his way up to the alpine lakes just below tree line, supported by a magnificent hiking stick adorned with emblems from parks and peaks around the world. He reads several passages from Eknath Easwaran's Bhagavad Gita each morning and is writing a book on 'geezering': the intentional acceptance of aging and dying that we may live with vigor and joy and fullness amid new days of love and activity. He's had open heart surgery. Our encounter left me joyous and light. What a man! Williamkemsley.com @backpackermag #backpackerbill #backpacker #backpacking #geezering

A post shared by Jonas Kristofer (@jledd) on


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