Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Mountain Goat Gang

It feels like it has been quite a while since I did a long hike without the family, a few months at least. So when I finally had an opportunity for "daddy" hike on Saturday, I went BIG.  A colleague of mine wanted to hike Truchas peak. I had already hiked Trucahs last summer, but I hadn't hiked Pecos Baldy, so I talked him into coming with me to Pecos Baldy, with the possibility of an extension out to Truchas peak. My hiking companions were the same co-workers who did the crazy ridge-hike with me last October on Mt. Wheeler. This time, our route would be almost entirely on well maintained trails, so the going would be easier. But the overall distance would be large, well over 20 miles by my estimates. I wasn't worried about our ability to hike the miles, I was worried that we would be chased off by thunderstorms. The forecast was for afternoon storms to roll in.

We left Santa Fe at 6am and made the hour long drive up to Cowles and the Jack Creek campground trailhead. The trailhead was already pretty packed, but most of the vehicles were probably backpacker groups as there weren't that many folks actually starting their hike. At 7:20, we were on the trail, heading deep into the Pecos Wilderness. The morning was foggy. We got to our first "stop" a geocache titled sex-tillion dollar view, but all we could see was fog and mist. It did look like it was starting to clear though. We had a few more small geocaches that we stopped for as we made our way up to Pecos Baldy Lake which we reached at a little past 10am. Not bad time at all! And I'm happy to say, faster than my buddy Birddroppings, when he did this same hike a number of years ago. The fog had finally lifted and we had great views of the Pecos Baldys above us. There were several backpacking groups camped at the lake, and we met one group of three women who were just starting their hike back to Jack's Creek. When they found out we were heading to Truchas peak, and doing it as a day-hike, they exclaimed we must me ex-military. They had attempted Truchas peak just the day before, but as a day trip starting from Pecos Baldy Lake, a "mere" ten mile trip, and even then, they were shut down by fierce winds near the top of the mountain. Yes, we were doing a rather foolishly long hike. But so far the weather looked good and we felt strong. So off we went.
Ryan at our first Trail Junction

Ryan and Austin sign the log on Sex-tillion dollar view

The "sex tillion dollar view". Not much when the fog is in.

At Pecos Baldy Lake, reading maps
The next part of the hike was one I was particularly looking forward to, the Trail Rider's Wall. I had seen this from Truchas peak before, a long, treeless ridge connecting Pecos Baldy to Truchas peak. It is mostly flat and meadow like, but falls away fairly steeply on both sides giving it wonderful views for the full mile length. I also had plans to hide a geocache on this formation. Plus the name is cool! As we made our way across the wall, I found myself humming "rawhide" from the Blue's Brothers, and taking in the views in all directions. Big mountains all around, clear weather above, nothing better.
Looking north at the start of the Trail Rider's Wall

A brief patch of snow along the wall

Views along the Wall
The Trail Rider's Wall puts you directly at the footstep of South Truchas, the largest of the Truchas group. The trail continues a bit east, skirting around the mountain towards some lakes and other trails. We left the trail though and found a faint casual trail used by hikers climbing Truchas. It was actually pretty easy to follow, but it was also our steepest climb yet, and it slowed us down somewhat. We encountered our first Bighorn Sheep on the flanks of Truchas. First just a lone sheep, then a small herd. We also ran into a couple groups of hikers coming down off the summit. Luckily, we had the summit to ourselves when we finally reached the top. It was 12:30, and we had been hiking for over 5 hours without much of a break. Time for lunch!
Steep climbing up the slopes of Truchas

Summit views

Ryan builds a snow man

Our attempt at a summit "leap shot"
On the way back down from Truchas we encountered a couple more herds of sheep, and even found out where they liked to congregate, a patch of dug up earth on a ridge top. Perhaps there are some salt deposits in this patch that attracted the sheep here. The area was all torn up, and had several well worn trails leading to/from it. We found another such congregation/salt-lick at the saddle beneath East Pecos Baldy which we reached a few hours after being on top of Truchas. It was starting to get late in the day and we were definitely slowing down, but we wearily tackled the steep climb up East Pecos baldy. We climbed up right through a group of sheep, who posed magnificently on the rocks above us, their silhouettes blocking out the sun above us. It was at the summit of East Pecos Baldy that we finally had to confront our growing fatigue. I really wanted to tag Pecos Baldy, a mere half a mile away along a ridge line, but Austin was pretty beat and was ready to start heading down. We still had many miles to hike out and he raised some good points. After some discussion, he and Ryan did start down the trail that led down to Pecos Baldy Lake, but I scampered off to Pecos Baldy. Amazing that I still had some pep in my step! I tagged Pecos Baldy and hid another geocache their, then booked my way down to the lake, determined to catch up, or at least not have them wait too long for me. Ryan and Austin had taken my water filter and were going to pump water at the lake (a couple of us had run out, including yours truly). As I jogged up to the lake, they were still pumping away. Phew, timed my little jaunt perfectly.
On East Pecos Baldy

Solo on Pecos Baldy

View from Pecos Baldy

Pumping water at Pecos Baldy Lake

The hike out felt much longer than the hike in, event though we did it in about the same amount of time.  What a difference 10 hours of hiking and 7000 feet of elevation gain makes! I heard at least a phew grumblings from Ryan that maybe next time he would prefer a shorter hike, but still as steep and hard. Just not so loooong. I can see his point, it was a grueling day. My GPSr indicated over 27 miles on the odometer (although the track log shows it coming in at 25.5 miles). But for me, I wound't have done it any other way. A long hike like this is exactly what I needed to get that feeling of inner mountain goat. Roaming the wide and wild expanses of the Pecos wilderness!

Growing shadows as we leave the Pecos Wilderness

Hiking through a burn area

The real "sex tillion dollar view"