By Carol Chamberland
Chicago native Tom Petencin already loved the desert when he moved to Albuquerque circa 1992.
He joined the New Mexico Mountain Club, hoping to meet fellow hikers and learn about places to explore. Eventually Tom realized there were a set number of locations this group visited, and he’d seen them all. If he wanted more variety, he’d have to take the lead.
Tom scoured topological maps for wilderness areas within two hours of Albuquerque. When the Internet came along, he scoured that, too. He listed his hikes with the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and a local organization, Outdoor Adventures for Singles. He soon acquired a following of dedicated hikers who would go wherever he would lead.
Tom was a quiet man who showed many a hiker the joys of rambling off trail. He favored canyons and mesas where unusual geology was in full display, but during the heat of summer, he’d brave monsoon storms and head for the mountains and forests.
Year-round, he was leading a group somewhere or other — he became known for his Desert Exploratory outings.
His early hikes were lengthy and often finished after sunset, so the regulars knew to bring a flashlight. A dinner stop on the way home was an added treat, full of noisy camaraderie.
Many of Tom’s friends were aware of his heart troubles. He’d need a rest break when his arrhythmia kicked in, but then he’d motor on as if nothing was wrong. As his condition worsened over the years, his hikes became shorter and less frequent. He led his last hike for the Sierra Club in 2013.
Earlier this year Tom suffered a fatal heart attack at his home. He was 63 years old. The Albuquerque hiking community will never be quite the same.