There is a place that continues to draw me. Full of alpine lakes and mountain wildflowers. Above tree line ridge walks where big horn sheep are more likely to be found than backpackers. This place is northern New Mexico. And I always look forward to returning.
Around Memorial Day Weekend has always been a traditional start of the backpacking season for me. The snow is melting off in parts of the high country. The lower foothills around Boulder are starting to become hot. And I am ready to be out overnight in the backcountry.
Backpacking is my first outdoor love. Why I backpack was written when I went to New Mexico last year and my sentiments have not changed:
The simple act of placing a pack with everything I need for the next few days on my back and then walking. Up the mountains, into the canyons, among the woods and along the creeks.
It is a pace suited for ambling, taking in the world around me and being immersed in it. Without a lot of equipment on me or needed to be brought, I can enjoy the wilderness. And by staying overnight, I'm immersed in a world that slowly reveals itself.
The sun rises and brings the world to life. The setting sun gently eases into the night as the first stars come out above.
Backpacking is not the most glamorous or adrenalin driven form of outdoor activity. But it is part of the reason why I love it so. It is simple and not flashy. No other goal than walking and seeing and seeing what I can see.
There was no question of going to the Pecos Wilderness again this year. I fell in love with the area and wanted to return.
Joining me again this year would be my buddy Mark. Mark is a good friend who I've spent many skis, climbs and backpacks together over the years. As with me, a chance to get away for three days in the mountains was something that can't be passed up.
After a rather late start from Boulder (and an even later start due at a FS road campsite due to a crazy woman.....well, that's another long story :D Sufficient to say, we did not get to sleep until 4:30 am! ) we were tired the following morning.
Some huevos rancheros and lots of coffee in Taos helped perk us up before we made the drive to the trailhead.
The start of the hike was accompanied by one of my favorite parts of the Pecos Wilderness: the wildflowers. In particular? Red columbine:
The bright red flower contrasts deeply with the lush green found in the lower elevations. It is a flower I also do not see in my usual Colorado backpacking.
After a steady but easy climb, we made it to one of the Trampas Lakes.
The placid waters and the views of the mountains with remnants of snow proved to be soothing. I slept for a good two hours.
After this quick nap, we hiked cross country to Hidden Lake and made camp for the night. My sleep deficit caught up with me and I slept soundly all night and into the morning.
After a steep hike off-trail, we reached the ridge above Hidden Lake. We were in alpine country!
Being on a high alpine ridge is my favorite type of hiking. And a trail-less ridge with no people? Even more so...
We hiked along the ridge heading towards N. Truchas Peak and saw where were the day before.
The terrain become more technical so we decided to head down a steep scree field into a valley below.
A site was found that bordered a high sub-alpine meadow. The view of the alpenglow on the mountains above were a suitable end to a rewarding day.
The fading light of the sun poked through the trees and the night began.
On our last day, we again did more steep climbing to reach a ridge.
As the day before, reaching the ridge and hiking in the alpine terrain would prove to be the highlight of the hiking day.
And along the ridge? Some four footed friends were spotted...
The alpine ridge walk came to an end. Some last views were savored on the wind free peak.
After the alpine ridge line, we continued back along the wooded ridge (with some creative navigating at times), down to the river and back to our car.
A cold beer by the creek, some comfy cotton clothing and a camp chair under the shade of an aspen proved to be the perfect way to end the trip. Casual, relaxing and satisying.
Three days in the Pecos was wonderful. I'll be back again.
All the photos
The Route: Due to our late night on Friday, we ended up modifying our route. The route we end up doing was just as satisfying. More than two-thirds of the hike was off trail, and above tree-line at that. We hardly saw any people.
We started at the Trampas trailhead, went to the Trampas Lakes and hiked cross country to Hidden Lake. The following day hiked on the ridge above. We skirted around Sheepshead Peak and made our way to ridge again and towards N. Truchas Peak. The terrain proved to be on the technical side near a headwall. Other accounts on the web rate this ascent to be 5.2. Easy climbing..but still technical and a bit different with the wind and my sneakers vs approach shoes, a known route and no backpacks. ;) From there, we scrambled down to a meadow near the Rio Quemado Falls. The following day saw another steep climb up to the ridge and to just before and on to Sheepshead. The ridge was followed and we dropped into the woods to hook back to Trampas.
All told, the route felt like approx. 22 miles and ~6000' gain. A short route but one with difficult, but very exquisite, miles.
Maps: The USFS puts out a large, water-resistant map of the Pecos Wilderness. At 1:54000, it is adequate for navigating. Has all the trails, shaded relief and 100' contour lines. Having 7.5' quads would have proven useful for the ridge walks. Photocopying the larger map into small sections worked out well for the windy and exposed ridge walking on Saturday.
Getting to the Trampas Trailhead: This page has directions from Taos.
Pre-hike Grub: Colorado Springs was about the time when hunger took over and it was time to stop for a quick bite. La Casita Mexican Grill was quick, inexpensive and delicious. The location off SH24 was very convenient. The carnitas burrito really hit the spot!
Post-hike Grub: Still in the mood for Mexican food, and wanting something on the outskirts/on the way out of town, we stopped at Orlando's New Mexican Cafe' . More nouveau' than traditional, it still hit the spot. Laid back and casual atmosphere to go with the fresh food. The place is known for their chile' relleno. Must say, they were tasty!