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Taking Chances in the Pecos Wilderness Area
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Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Taking Chances in the Pecos Wilderness Area on 10/13/2012 16:33:57 MDT Print View

I'm usually a cautious hiker but lately I've been pushing the envelope a bit more. It started on my longer hikes on the Colorado Trail, partly because the consequences of bailing out of a once in a lifetime hike encourage risk taking. This has spilled over to my weekend trips as well however.

The plan was to take a long weekend and go hiking in the Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico.


The fall colors were out at Jack's Creek Trailhead. I hit the trail with print out maps of questionable quality determined to enjoy the fall colors.


I was trying out my new Chris Zimmer pack on this trip.

Cattle Drive

In the meadows along the Betty Creek Trail I saw a peice of the old west. Four cowboys were driving a herd of cattle out of the high country.


The aspens were the best I'd ever seen out west. Normally I've been either too early or too late to really see them.

Pecos valley

After going up and along a ridge the trail dropped down to follow along the Pecos River.


Just before a "No camping" area near Pecos Falls I made camp next too a small creek. It was the perfect campsite. It was flat, relatively out of the wind and on a bit of a bench above the river where cool area would not pool. I camped next to a BLM worker on vacation with his high school son and a friend. We had a good time around the campfire before going to bed.


That night it snowed a bit. On a more unpleasant note I got up too use the bathroom and was suddenly nauseous. I was sick twice and took a Pepto pill before crawling back into bed. It was probably the altitude because I was camped at over 10,000 feet. On my finish of the Colorado Trail I'd planned my whole trip around camping at low elevation the first couple of nights.


The next morning I thought seriously about going back down with Adrian and the boys. I had two things to worry about.
1. I'd just been sick with what was probably altitude sickness and I was going to hike and possibly camp higher.
2. Most of my AquaMira had spilled out and I'd just been able to squeeze out enough to purify two liters of water. I was NOT going to drink the water from the Pecos with all the cow paddies around.

Trail in Meadows

In the end I decided to go on and make a circuit along the Skyline Trail and end up either at the trailhead or close too it by evening. I reasoned that I could find some relatively safe water to drink near tree line that I could use without purifying.


The trail got mixed up with some stock trails and I lost track of it. Rather then wast time backtracking I followed a very old trail that led along the side of a ridge above the upper Pecos. The trail wasn't on the map and it was very old but it had clearly been an established trail at one point.

Nearing Treeline

Eventually following the old trail was more trouble then it was worth so I took a compass bearing and went straight up the drainage.

Off Trail

Steep hiking

In some place thing going was very steep. I was glad for the excellent traction on my La Sportive X-Country trail runners. The big lugs dug into the loose gravel very well.

Un-named pass

Finally I reached the un-named saddle at the headwaters of the Pecos.


It was supposed to be a calm day but the wind was brutal up top. I took a quick look at my maps. I was way behind schedule but I kept on going.

Hiking above timberline

Hiking above treeline

The hiking along the ridge was amazing. Finally I was out of the trees and could fully enjoy the mountain vistas.

Chimayous Peak

My route basically made a big counter clockwise loop following the Skyline trail along the crest of the mountains. About this time the wind died down a bit so I could enjoy the scenery more.


I clearly was not going to do this hike on 2 liters of water and the ridge was pretty dry. I did find a trickle that was the best I'd seen so far but judging by the number of Elk tracks around I was still nervous. I put a liter in my pack to use after other options were exhausted.


At a snack stop I looked in my Aquamira bottle and realized I could get a bit more out by prying off the lid and dumping it straight into the mixing cup. I purified the questionable water I had and kept back roughly enough to purify a half liter later on.

Trunchas Lake

The trail dipped back into the tree and passed Trunchas Lake.


After the lake the trail began climbing back up to the ridge again. I was racing the clock hoping to get down to a lower elevation before I camped and hopefully back to my car so I wouldn't be drinking much (if any) questionable water.


The final hike along the ridge was scenic but not particularly fun because the winds had picked up again and if anything were worse then they'd been earlier.

My pack

At a trail fork I snapped a picture of my Chris Zimmer custom pack. At just under 2 pounds it had a U shaped frame and I was really liking it.


Partly because of my maps I turned off of the Skyline trail too soon and ended up taking a longer route back out.

As it got darker I realized that I was not making it out tonight. I had been a bit to optimistic in calculating how far I'd go that day.


I found one south of Betty's Flats in a legal camping area. Now I was down to one liter of water of questionable quality (it was at least from a stream higher up, I was not going to drink from the Pecos except in a true emergency). I'd used the last of my Aquamira in it and now I drank about half of it with a prayer that it wouldn't make me sick. The other half liter would get me back to the car in the morning.

Morning hiking

In the morning I was up hiking at first light.


I was pleasantly surprised to meet Adrian and the boys again. They had lost a trekking pole and were going back to their first night's campsite to find it. They took a picture for me and we said good bye.


Soon I was back in the parking lot ready to head home.


But first I had to make a quick stop on the way. I would argue with Benjamin Franklin's supposed statement that "Beer is proof that their is a God who loves us and wants us to be happy." For a hiker at least, I would argue that is a Buffalo Wing flavored Subway Sandwich is a much better example of divine favor.

All in all it was a good hike but I did push myself a bit. I'll be more careful too ensure a good system of purifying water in the feature. I also don't plan on taking such lousy maps out again.

Edit - Gear Notes

My baseweight was about 11.5 pounds. That is a bit heavier then normal but I wanted to be prepared for camping into the teens if necessary. That would ensure my safety in a worst case scenario and keep me from having to bail early for weather concerns.

Chris Zimmer Pack - It worked well although the hipbelt didn't fit around my particular hipbs perfectly. This might be an issue with heavier loads but it carried the 18-20 lbs. or so I carried relatively comfortably (I had some previous soreness but as far as I could tell the pack was not to blame). I was going to attach water bottles to the shoulder straps but I did not have time.

Shangri La -1 - This was most definately warmer then sleeping under a tarp. I liked that it kept the breazes off much better. It did have some condensation but nothing horrible.

Pepto - I feel like a full dose of this stuff makes me feel a tad dizzy. However since I took it at night it wasn't a problem. After I was sick once it seemed to help calm my stomach.

Extra Insulation - I carried a down vest and a Patagonia Nano Puff pulloever. This was because I'd estimated that tempts might dip into the teens. It probably never went below 25 if that but the extra insurance was reassuring.

Delorma Topo Maps - I printed these off before the trip because I didnt' have time to buy a map. One problem was I didn't make them detailed enough. If I'd zoomed in a bit I could have gotten a bit more detail and contour line intervals. However I still would not have had labels for most of the trails. I copied a few details onto these maps from the map at the trailhead but not enough.

Edited by Cameron on 10/13/2012 23:45:31 MDT.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Taking Chances in the Pecos Wilderness Area on 10/13/2012 18:51:51 MDT Print View

Lots of signage but plenty of secondary trails. All the times I've been up there, I've never seen the fall colors. Thanks for sharing.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Signage on 10/13/2012 19:27:29 MDT Print View

You're right, the trail intersections were all signed. Normally the trail was pretty well defined but a few sections got mixed up with secondary trails and obscured by grass. If I went back I'd know that really faint trails aren't the actual trail (unlike some areas I've hiked were trails are really faint).

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
re on 10/13/2012 23:10:18 MDT Print View

A few backup solid chlorine tabs in a FAK never hurt...

I like the edgyness of it, how windy was it? Like blowing you over I can't even stand straight?

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re re on 10/13/2012 23:26:56 MDT Print View

Michael I was actually thinking of that. My current idea is to put a couple liters worth of Iodine tablets in a small package in my first aid kit. They would always be there and only come out if my primary purification went down.

I don't know how hard the wind was, I'm guessing 50-60 mph at times. To begin with it was just very annoying. At the end is was hard enough I had to kinda lean into it. I remember Eugene Smith mentioned high winds being a problem on one of his Pecos trips. I don't know but I wonder if that ridge is prone to high winds?

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: re on 10/13/2012 23:32:32 MDT Print View

The winds blowing over Trailriders Wall across the Skyline Trail can be downright hurricane force at times due to the funneling of air. Definitely capable of blowing you over if you're stumbling along. Warm air from the desert valley below the Sangre De Cristos ascends and cools quickly, spreading out over the large exposed area between S. Truchas Peak and E. Pecos Baldy. When it's calm, Trailriders Wall is an area in the Pecos you happily stroll along patiently, enjoying the expansive view of the wilderness area in it's entirety.

Good seeing you get some time in NM, this trip looked fast and fun, sorry I couldn't join you.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Wind and Weather on 10/13/2012 23:50:24 MDT Print View

Hey Eugene wish you could have been there. Thanks for the explanation of the wind. We often hike an area called Grayson Highlands in VA and several times we've been hit with high winds and wild weather. I think it might be a similar effect because GH is a very high area of somewhat isolated mountains with a lot of lowlands around. I need to brush up on my weather.

Edit - Hey if there are any science oriented guys or gals out there I think an article on weather prediction for a hiker would be really cool.

Edited by Cameron on 10/13/2012 23:51:34 MDT.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
re: Taking chances on 10/14/2012 03:58:47 MDT Print View

They don't all go as planned, do they? Glad you were able to salvage something from the trip. You are a blasphemer though for proclaiming the merits of fast food from a chain restaurant after a trip like that. Isn't that area famous for green chili cheeseburgers or something?

Leigh Baker

Locale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
Pecos on 10/14/2012 06:50:20 MDT Print View

Thanks for sharing Luke,
The Pecos have become my favorite, relatively close trip in the early summer. Love the aspen shots, don't get that in summer :)

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Chili and a GGG on 10/14/2012 08:56:28 MDT Print View

Well Ike I actually thought about checking out a local place in Pecos but I was on a tight schedule to get home. Guess I'll have to go back sometime.

On that note I'd be all for trying to do an other group trip up there sometime, maybe next summer right after school is over.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
On Water Purification on 10/16/2012 13:08:56 MDT Print View

Great trip report.

When I was younger I never carried water purification. I always boiled my water.
I would gather a small amount of tinder and kindling while I hiked and kept it dry.
I'd just use rocks as my pot stand and never had an issue, even in rain and snow.

There was always enough wood for fuel where I hiked to make it a non-issue though. It didn't take much.

I always think about this as a backup should my treatment fail on the trail.

Edited by brooklynkayak on 10/16/2012 13:38:08 MDT.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: On Water Purification on 10/16/2012 13:36:17 MDT Print View

Group trip?

Let's do it Luke. I've done two group trips so far with BPL'ers in the Pecos, its become a bit of a tradition. Touch base with Landon this weekend, he's gone two years in a row. I want to explore Trampas Lakes a bit as well as do a full traverse of the Truchas Peaks. I've been on top of S. Truchas, but its hard not to want to link up the other two on a long/hard day. June is a perfect time, most of the snow will be gone and the afternoon thunder storms aren't as consistent yet.

It could make a great BPL GGG Southwest (CO, NM, AZ, TX) location for early summer.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Group Trip on 10/16/2012 17:50:52 MDT Print View

Love to do that Eugene. Hopefully this year I'll know my summer schedule a bit earlier then last year so I could actually make better plans.