Sam Upham wore a shark costume for the ‘M’ Mountain Run to add levity to the grueling hike.
Cathy Cook | El Defensor Chieftain photos

The ‘M’ Mountain climb continues to reach new heights, with a record number of participants this year. A total of 429 people signed up to climb up to the ‘M’ Friday as part of New Mexico Tech’s 49ers celebration.

“It’s a challenge and I like challenges. I figure if I can climb up this, I can get through the four years of bachelor’s degree,” said first-time climber Nathan Johnson.

The mechanical engineering student split a 50-pound bag of white marble dust with two friends. Sill, it was a difficult trek up the mountain.

The hike is much worse carrying a heavy bag of lime or marble dust, according to Tech student Bishop Cervantes, who stopped to catch his breath and wait for his team members before making the push to the top.

“I did it last year with lime, and it’s terrible. When you get to the top, you get washed with a big feeling of euphoria when you dump that lime all over the ‘M’. Every Techie needs to do it. Everybody in Socorro should do it honestly.”

Sam Upham made the hike adorned in a shark costume, to add some humor to the climb.

A hiker climbs “M” Mountain Saturday.

“This hike sucks, and if people see some idiot in a shark costume, it makes it a bit less painful.”

Unlike well-worn hikes, there’s less a trail to follow than a path of people pushing through the desert brush.

“I have done it every year the four years that I’ve been here so far, and it’s a really fun tradition,” said seismologist and student Jessica Aerts. “It’s the only time that we’re able to go up on the mountain and as a geologist, we’ll take any chance we can get to hike any mountains possible.”

Aerts made her trek with two other geology students: George Pharris, who was excited to be part of something as iconic as climbing up to the ‘M,’ and Jonathan Anaya, who just moved from Mexico City to begin his PhD at Tech and hoped the hike would help him get involved in Socorro.

There were plenty of people besides hikers on the mountain Friday too. Tech staff who cooked up hotdogs and green chile burgers near the top and who drove the vehicles ferrying people up and down the mountain. Not to mention search and rescue and volunteer timers.

“For search and rescue, I’ve been hiking for a while and so I figured I might as well use that to help other people out. For this event, it’s just a good way to help the school and a good way to get a bit of exercise,” said volunteer Eli Jackson.

Jackson led a team of volunteer timers from the flat landing spot where meals were served, vehicles were parked and hikers could take a breather before their final push, up the steep terrain to the ‘M’ itself.

For most people, that final steep stretch is a challenge. For Jackson, it’s a cakewalk. He climbed up the last stretch with a tray of burgers last year.

“It’s just fun to be on a mountain that’s usually restricted. You can’t get up here, so it’s a cool way to just do that,” he said.

The annual hike is a great day for everybody, said University President Stephen Wells, who handed out bottles of water to hikers as they approached the final climb.

“This year about 450 students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends climb up this mountain from the base all the way to the ‘M’ to paint the ‘M’ with crushed marble,” said Wells. “That’s sort of symbolic of your achievements here at Tech as a student. It’s not easy. You get to the top and you’ve made it.”