A BLOGPOST COMPANION TO “UP HERMIT’S PEAK, CHAPTER Xlll,” STRAWBERRY ROAN, GROWING UP IN THE SHADOW OF HERMIT’S PEAK
Hermit’s Peak is a landmark visible for miles to the east and southeast of its location 16 miles from Las Vegas, New Mexico. Hermit’s Peak Trail to the summit is #225 in the hikingproject.com database. The starting elevation at El Porvenir Campground is 7537 ft and the summit is 10,182 in elevation. The trail is intermediate/difficult and rated at 5 stars.
The peak is a batholith (core rock intrusion) of gneiss and eponymous Hermits Peak granite intruded 1.7 billion years ago, capped by younger sedimentary rocks (300 million years) and forested by bristlecone pine. The granite is rich in crystals which leave it prone to fractures from freezing in winter. Our experiences of the falling boulders and sandy soil are results of the natural exfoliation. (“Like a giant with dandruff.”)
The mountain is named after Italian-born Juan Maria D’Agostini who lived on the peak for 5 years in the 1860’s in the solitude and piety of a hermit. He was revered for being generally helpful to the Hispanic farmers in the area, healing the sick and helping children learn the catechism. He was not ordained.
Local people watched over him. Sam Watrous, a pioneer rancher and founder of Watrous N.M, monitored the fires the hermit built every few days that signaled he was o.k. Others took him food and improved his shelter including the Brotherhood of the Penitentes. The trail up the mountain became a pilgrimage route. A society was formed in his name and a Way of the Cross constructed of hand-hewn crosses. I noticed the crosses in my earlier ascents of the mountain and recognized they had religious significance.
The miracles attributed to D’Agostini were never running out of atole, his staple food, and the initiation of a spring near his cave where he struck the ground with a stick. In spite of his good works and miracles, I could find no evidence of his canonization to sainthood.
When I lived in the canyon he was still remembered my many: Maria Martinez, an older woman who did housework and catering for Mother, told her with reverence that her mother had met the hermit. I’m surprised he hasn’t been canonized. In the shadow of Hermit’s Peak, he definitely radiated sanctity to the local people.
Reference: Jennifer Lindline, “The Mountain and Legend of the Hermit,” in Geology of the Las Vegas Region, NM Geological Society, 2015