Monday, October 31, 2016

Backpacking New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness

New Mexico was never really on my radar as an outdoor destination until I moved to Colorado.  Now that I live just over two hours from the New Mexico border, I decided to look into the recreation opportunities in the state.  New Mexico's mountains seem to be overshadowed by the abundance of mountains to the north in Colorado because it's a lot harder to find details on hiking there.

One area that caught my attention was the Pecos Wilderness between Santa Fe and Taos.  The wilderness lies at the southern end of the Rockies in the southern most reaches of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  Those of you that read my blog regularly know that I frequently hike in the Sangres in Colorado and live at the base of the northern Sangres, 200 some miles north of the Pecos Wilderness.

In the spring, I found a book with a backpacking in route in the Pecos.  The route started near Santa Fe and covered about 45 miles.  The route featured travel through some of the highest mountains in the state with plenty of travel above treeline in alpine terrain.  I bought a map of the area and put the area on my short list of destinations.

I was planning another multiday backpacking trip in the fall before winter conditions hit the mountains.  It seemed like something always came up preventing my trip.  First, my pack needed a repair and I was without my pack of choice for several weeks.  I had a prolonged cold that kept me indoors for a week and a half.  Then I had an issue with my car that I didn't feel safe traveling with until I got it repaired among other little things.

By now it was late October, usually the end of the backpacking season in the higher elevations of the Rockies.  An extended dry and warm period kept most of the snow in the southern mountains to a minimum.  I had a window of decent weather and my car was repaired.  Puma was okay with me leaving for a few days on a moment's notice.

I came up with a 50 mile loop almost entirely within the Pecos Wilderness.  I started with some of the route in the book and added another portion further north.  Because of lack of information, I couldn't find much on the northern section of my hike, but it looked to include even more alpine terrain while taking in most of the highlights from the guidebook route.

On Monday, October 24th, I was up at 430AM and soon on the road to northern New Mexico.  My destination was the Santa Barbara Campground, just north of the Pecos Wilderness.  The trailhead at the campground has several routes that make a loop into the wilderness possible.

Just after 9AM Monday, I was on the trail.  Within a mile and a half I crossed over the wilderness boundary.  There are several routes along the various branches of the Rio Santa Barbara (New Mexico uses the Spanish Rio for many of its rivers) that will work for this loop.  The lower reaches of the trail follow along the Rio Santa Barbara as it enters a small canyon with rocky walls. 

Rio Santa Barbara
Entering the wilderness
The trail traveling on the banks of
the Rio Santa Barbara
Cliffs rising above the
Rio Santa Barbara
More cliffs higher up the valley
I chose the Middle Fork Trail.  The Middle Fork is slightly longer than the West Fork.  The Middle Fork Trail travels through an aspen forest before reaching pines.  It occasionally passed through a meadow with views to higher terrain.  Several of the creek crossing higher up had skims of ice on the rocks and branches in the water.

The view up the West Fork
The ridge along the West Fork
Looking back down a meadow on
the Middle Fork Trail
I'm guessing elk bones with my foot
for scale
Looking up the East Fork Trail
Creek crossing with ice on the opposite bank
After more than 11 miles on the Middle Fork Trail, I reached the Santa Barbara Divide.  Even though I climbed 3000 feet, the trail was gradual and never steep. I chose the Middle Fork because it reaches the Santa Barbara Divide further east and allows for more time on the divide without any overlap on my route. 

Leaving the trees on the Middle Fork Trail
Looking down a meadow near the end
of the Middle Fork Trail
The Santa Barbara Divide is a high alpine ridge that separates the Santa Barbara and  Pecos Basins.   My guidebook mentioned the great scenery from the divide and I wasn't disappointed.  On the divide, I was hiking on the Skyline Trail.  The trail remains above treeline or in sparse trees for nearly 3 miles following the divide.  The trail tops out at over 12,000' and the view takes in some of the highest peaks in New Mexico.
Looking west toward the Santa
Barbara Divide
View into the Pecos River drainage from the
Santa Barbara Divide
A cairn along the Santa Barbara Divide
marking a section with no trail
Looking back along the Santa Barbara Divide
Truchas Peak
Trailrider's Wall with East Pecos Baldy behind it
Cruising along a section of the Santa Barbara Divide
with no trail at 12,000'
Continuing west along the Santa Barbara Divide
A narrow section of the Divide
Traveling along the divide is fairly straightforward.  Numerous times the trail disappears.  Giant cairns are usually visible where the tread disappears but it's not always the case.  The tread would disappear altogether at times.  Generally following the crest of the ridge would lead you to a cairn of the tread would reappear.  Eventually the trail drops into the forest as it flanks 12,841' Chimayosos Peak (NM 7th highest)  By now I'm in easy sight of 8 or 9 of New Mexico's 21 highest summits.

Approaching Chimayosos Peak
Truchas Peak
Chimayosos Peak
Chimayosos Peak
Looking northwest
Narrow ridge before flanking Chimayosos
Little Chimayosos Peak
Peaks of the Truchas Group
North Truchas Peak
Even as the trail drops into the forest, the views continue.  The forest is sparse and the trail traverses several meadows as it travels toward New Mexico's 2nd and 3rd highest peaks, 13,000' Truchas and North Truchas Peaks.  The jagged eastern flanks of these two peaks have a distinct Sangre de Cristo look to them.

Good views as the trail drops back in the trees
Rugged section on the east side of the Truchas Group
On the eastern side of the Truchas Peaks sits its namesake lake.  As scenic as the lake's basin is, camping is not permitted.  I stopped for a snack just before the lake to determine a spot to camp.  I already covered around 15 miles for the day.  After finding potential camping spots on my map, I continued to the lake.  The small lake is quite scenic as it sits tucked in against the jagged walls of the lower part of the mountain.  After enjoying the lake for a few minutes, I descended a 1/4 mile or so and found a nice spot to camp.  I hiked 16 miles my first day. 

Reflection in Truchas Lake
More lake reflection
North Truchas above the lake
I set up camp in a small clearing by a spring fed creek that emerged from the ground right by my campsite.  I had good views of the Truchas Peaks just a few feet from my tent.  My campsite was over 11,500' in elevation.  The forecast called for potential snow overnight at the higher elevations in the vicinity of Truchas Peak.  When I went to bed, it was still fairly clear.

My home on the first night
This view is a just above my campsite
My tent is just across the trail maybe 100 yards away
The view about 100 feet below my tent
About 1AM I was awaken to the sound of rain on my tent.  As it got later, it became louder and was a frozen precipitation.  By the time it became light, I was in no great hurry to leave my tent.  By then, the precipitation was a heavy snow, and it started to cover the ground.  I had another 16 mile day planned.  With the short days, I needed to get moving sooner than later to make next planned campsite. 

When I emerged from the tent, the visibility higher up was poor with clouds and snow.  While most of my day ahead was at lower elevations, I had to climb to nearly 12,000 feet to traverse a high alpine ridge called Trailrider's Wall.  I was a little concerned with the poor visibility.  Trailrider's Wall could prove extremely difficult with bad visibility, especially if the trail was as sparse as the Santa Barbara Divide. 

With the snow intensifying, I nearly ended my trip and headed back to the trailhead via the East Fork Trail.  I started hiking that direction and traveled the 1/4 mile back to Truchas Lake.  From the lake I could see the flank of Chimayosos was relatively clear of snow and had some hope for decent travel.  I turned around and began heading toward Trailrider's Wall.

Truchas Lake after the snow started
Another look at the lake with snow
The trail is barely visible in this picture
Obscured visibility in the snow
Before reaching the Wall, the trail traveled below Truchas Peak's rocky eastern flank over rock, through meadows, and occasionally in the trees.  The visibility was poor higher up.  It was also quite cold with blowing wet snow.  I managed to spook a trio of cow elk  in one of the meadows.

Traveling through the woods in the dusting of snow
Trail traversing talus
Small unnamed lake along the trail
Another stretch of snowy trail
Soon I began my climb toward Trailrider's Wall.  On a clear day, Trailrider's Wall has top of the world views similar to the Santa Barbara Divide as it travels above treeline on a flat ridge between the Truchas Peaks and the only slightly lower East Pecos Baldy.  When viewing the wall from the east, the ridge is flat with cliffs dropping to the east.  The entire route travels nearly 3 miles above the trees over grassy tundra. 

The visibility became worse as
I approached Trailrider's Wall
Just beyond the rock field, I spooked the elk
Unfortunately, I saw very little on my traverse of the Wall.  Luckily however, there is a very prominent tread the entire length of the Wall and very large cairns frequently line the route.  The tread was snow covered most of the route but easily distinguishable.  The visibility was maybe a couple hundred feet at best.  A stiff wind from the west blasted me as I traversed the Wall with occasional sleet and snow adding to the experience.  I moved as quickly as I could in the viewless landscape to stay warm. 

Good tread and large cairns marked my way on
the viewless Trailrider's Wall
Tiny, quarter sized tracks in the snow
Typical view along my traverse
of the Trailrider's Wall
Soon enough I dropped off of Trailrider's Wall and was below the worst weather.  I stopped at the high alpine Pecos Baldy Lake hoping for a view.  12,589' East Pecos Baldy rises from the lake.  Unfortunately I could only see the very lower reaches of the mountain.

Not much to see at Pecos Baldy Lake
The rest of my day took me to lower elevations as I headed toward the Pecos River.  From Pecos Baldy Lake, I descended Jack's Creek Trail for a few miles.  Jack's Creek Trail dropped through a section of an old burn but otherwise was uneventful. 

Traveling through an old burn
From Jack's Creek I traveled on the Dockweiler Trail for a few miles.  I traveled through more sections of a burn scar on this trail.  The Dockweiler Trail was mostly wooded but occasionally passed through meadows.  The tread through the meadows was quite faint at times and difficult to follow.  Eventually I came to a larger meadow.  The trail disappeared quickly after leaving the woods.  An occasional game trail was visible but no sign of the actual trail.  I eventually crossed the wide meadow and worked my way down the other side trying to find the continuation of the trail.  I found numerous game paths but no sign of the trail. 

A large meadow crossing along the Dockweiler Trail
Another section of the old burn
I finally gave up on the trail and checked out my map.  I could see the Pecos River Basin not much more than a mile below.  A trail traveled along the river that would eventually get me onto my route.  I decided to bushwhack to the river and meet that trail.  The bushwhack was somewhat thick with plenty of deadfall to navigate.  I don't think I was bushwhacking more than a half hour when I came to another meadow. 

I could see something standing in the meadow, possible a trail marker.  I made my way to the trail marker which turned out to be just the bottom of a dead tree.  Even though the dead tree had nothing to do with the trail, I saw a clear path through the grass below the tree.  It was clearly a trail.  I followed this trail as it dropped toward the river.  It turned out that I found the trail I lost in the higher meadow and I was back on track.

Another large meadow crossing with barely visible trail
I reached the Pecos River.  The area around the river in this stretch is an open meadow with numerous trail junctions called Beatty Flats.  In the distance down the trail I saw a pair on horse riders, the first people I saw since I started.

After crossing the river, I made my way up the Pecos Trail.  The trail climbed away from the river quickly.  Even though it paralleled the river, the river was far below out of sight.  The Pecos Trail traveled through a mix of forest and meadows.  Fortunately, the meadows on this trail had more visible tread.  Although I didn't see people, I passed a group of horses off of the trail.  I could see a tent and smell a campfire but never did see the people. 

Looking back toward Beatty Flats
Hiking along the Pecos Trail
Much of the Pecos Trail traversed large meadows
Horses near a campsite
By now the sun was out and the clouds were broken.  It was a little breezy however but comfortable.  I was above 10,000 feet and the air had a chill to it when the breeze picked up.

I made my was back to the Pecos River.  Just below my route was a short side trail leading to Pecos Falls.  The falls tumbles some 90' over its total length.  The longest drop is maybe 40'.  The falls is at its most impressive when the runoff is high in the late spring.  Even with its late October water flow, Pecos Falls is pretty and a nice spot for a break.

The main drop of Pecos Falls
Another look at Pecos Falls
I had less than two miles remaining until I reached my campsite for the night.  I headed north of the Pecos River Trail.  This trail traverses a meadow nearly its entire length while it travels just above its namesake river.  Generally the trail was easy to follow despite somewhat overgrown and faint tread.  At one point I came to a braiding of paths through the meadow that all seemed to end abruptly.  I attempted to follow the river but was met with extremely marshy ground.  I could see more solid ground maybe 100' away from the creek so I headed that direction.  I found the trail again on this more solid ground.

Near the start of the Pecos River Trail
Further along the Pecos River Trail
The Pecos River Trail followed this meadow the entire route
and the trail was very faint and disappeared at times
I soon reached my campsite right where the trail crossed the Pecos River.  There was a small grove of trees that showed signs of previous horse camps.  I spread out my tent and rainfly, still damp from the morning snow, to dry while I went on with the rest of my camp chores.

My home on the second night
While setting up my camp, I heard a bull elk bugling not too far above in the meadow.  I enjoyed listening to him for a few minutes before a group of horsemen passed near my camp.  Almost immediately, I saw one get out a rifle and look ahead through the scope.  It was after 5PM so I'm not sure where they came from, possibly the horses I saw a few miles back.  They moved further up the meadow and I heard a couple of shots.  I heard a total of six shots from a total of three people.  They passed by when I was in my tent so I don't know if they bagged their elk.  I'm not opposed to hunting, but under the circumstances I was a little disappointed having my evening elk bugling entertainment interrupted by gunshots.  Especially since I never really saw anyone too close up to that point.

Before eating, I set up my tent.  Soon after, a light drizzle began to fall.  The forecast called for clear skies, but the clouds were increasing.  The ridge of the Santa Barbara Divide that was visible near my camp became increasingly obscured.  I was a little concerned since my next day required extensive travel above treeline.  Not only did I not want to miss good scenery, but the guidebook mentioned the lack of visible trail.  I didn't really want to spend the day navigating in a shroud of clouds and no visibility.  I ate under increasingly heavy showers and thickening clouds.  I was laying down for the night by 7PM given the early nightfall.  Not much later the rain stopped and the wind picked up.  I didn't hear anymore rain through the night.

I woke up a few times during the night.  Around 11PM I heard another nearby elk making a grunting sound for a little bit before wandering off.  I noticed it became significantly colder toward morning, a good sign of clearing.  As it became light toward morning, I noticed the condensation in my tent was frozen.

Not long after light, I got moving and broke down my camp.  The rain drops from the night before were frozen on my tent fly.  The heavy condensation from the cold night created a heavy frost on the inside of the rainfly.  A couple segments of my tent poles were frozen and I had to warm them with my hand to break them down.  By the time I got moving my hands were getting quite cold.  My water bottle had a pretty heavy lining of ice on the inside.  My Camelbak bladder stayed unfrozen in my vestibule over night but the hose quickly froze before I was hiking.

Upon starting hiking for the day, I had to cross the Pecos River.  At this point the river is no more than a few stepping stones wide.  I was camped close to the source of the Pecos River as it travels more than 900 miles from here before joining the Rio Grande.  I only had to step on a few rocks and I managed to slip and submerge a foot.  Luckily I was wearing a Gore Tex shoe and my actual foot stayed dry in the freezing temperatures.

The view up the meadow near my camp as I began hiking
The uppermost reaches of the 900+ mile Pecos River just
before I slipped and sunk my foot in it
After crossing the river, I had a nearly 1000 foot climb to treeline.  That helped warm me up quickly and helped dry my shoe.  After nearly a mile traveling through the woods, I reached a meadow at treeline.  Again I lost the trail in the meadow.  I knew I had to gain the ridge ahead.  I continued uphill and spotted a cairn that marked the Skyline Trail.

Truchas Peak
Leaving the woods
A look back at the meadow I just traversed
Trailrider's Wall and East Pecos Baldy
Truchas Peak
Despite a couple cairns, there was no real sign of the Skyline Trail.  Luckily it was a cloudless day with endless visibility.  The route followed the crest of the ridge with an occasional small cairn to verify the way.  In fog and poor visibility, this route would have been treacherous to navigate with no landmarks or tread to follow.  I was on this portion of the Skyline Trail for nearly three miles.  Basically it followed the ridge crest well above treeline.  Only briefly did it travel in sparse trees  to avoid cliffs and steep terrain.

The faint Skyline Trail before it disappeared
No trail to follow above treeline on the Skyline Trail
A close up of the Trailrider's Wall
The route followed the crest of the ridge much of the way
Enjoying the clear skies after a dreary day in the
high country the day before
Hermit Peak to the south
Looking toward the Santa Barbara Divide
Jicarita Peak miles away in the distance
 but my destination in several hours
Looking across the upper reaches of Rincon Bonito
A narrow section of the ridge
Looking across Rincon Bonito, the Divide Trail is the near ridge
and Jicarita Peak is in the distance
Despite the flat terrain, the Skyline Trail travels above 12,000'
Along the ridge, just before the trees, a group of elk came from the trees and crossed the grassy ridge.  There was one small bull and 7 or 8 cows spread out.  Just before my brief traverse through the trees, the trail briefly reemerged.  While traveling through the trees another large herd of elk passed through.  Because of the trees they couldn't see me clearly as they ran over the ridge.  I saw at least two dozen including a large bull.  When I moved into a clearing for a photo, I spooked them and they took off thundering through the trees.

Cow elk trying to figure out if I'm a threat
Elk on the run
The best shot I could get of the running elk
Last look at the fleeing elk
The Skyline Trail proper flanks the summit of 12,660' Santa Barbara Peak.  Since it was gradual and so close, I chose to climb over the summit proper.  Santa Barbara Peak offers 360 degree views.  From its high rounded summit I could see most of my entire route of this trip.  I could see north into the beginning of my hike into the Rio Santa Barbara drainage.  The Santa Barbara Divide is visible to the west where it reaches Chimayosos Peak with the Truchas Peaks beyond.  South of Truchas Peak, Trailrider's Wall is clearly visible all the way to East Pecos Baldy.  Below, the Pecos River Valley's path is clear.  The meadow where I left the forest above the river is visible as well as the last three miles of alpine ridge I had just traversed on the Skyline Trail.  I could also see the nearly 10 miles of open alpine tundra ridge that I still had to hike along the Divide Trail toward Jicarita Peak.

Looking west along the Santa Barbara Divide from the
shoulder of Santa Barbara Peak
Looking back my route from  Santa Barbara Peak
From Santa Barbara Peak, there is just over a half mile of the Santa Barbara Divide along the Skyline Trail to the southern junction of the Middle Fork Trail where I initially gained the Divide. This half mile was the only part of the Santa Barbara Divide I wouldn't traverse.  I was heading north along the Divide Trail.  I don't know if this is a continuation of the Santa Barbara Divide or the Jicarita Divide. I saw both names while researching.  Cairns and tread are visible just a few feet below Santa Barbara Peak's high point marking the Divide Trail.

A closeup of Trailrider's Wall with East Pecos
Baldy above it
The flat summit of Santa Barbara Peak
A look back along the Santa Barbara Divide
as I join the Divide Trail
Rincon Bonito (Rincon is a southwest term for meadow)
The Divide Trail descended to a saddle and junction with the East Fork Trail.  At this point, the trail disappeared.  Cairns marked the route with no tread.  Even without the cairns, the route was fairly obvious with endless visibility.  The route generally followed the ridge crest all the way to Jicarita Peak some 6-7 miles away.  I followed the cairns through the grassy tundra and occasionally rocky section staying above 12,000' much of the way.  From this lofty vantage the views were constant and endless in all directions.  Beyond the immediate mountains, I could see the high summits in the Taos area.  To the east and south I could see the desert like lowlands in the distance.  Much of the route followed a flat ridge with the occasional bump thrown in.

Looking down the Divide Trail from Santa
Barbara Peak
Looking into the East Fork Basin
Looking up the Divide Trail on a ridge separating
the East Fork Basin and Rincon Bonitio
The long ridge I was going to follow toward
Jicarita Peak
The Divide Trail shortly before it disappeared
for several miles
Despite an elevation consistently above 12,000', the
Divide Trail traveled a flat alpine plateau
Desert terrain east of the mountains
Despite no trail, travel was easy
on the grassy tundra
An occasional cairn marking the route
Santa Barbara Peak is the higher point on the left
with the Truchas group in the distance
A closeup of the Truchas Group
A different angle of the Truchas Group
Surprisingly flat tundra at 12,000'+
Continuing north on the Divide Trail
Truchas Group
The occasional rocky section
Traversing a talus field
At one point, several miles along the Divide Trail, something caught my eye around a bump on the ridge.  I didn't see movement so I discounted it as a lighter colored rock.  As I climbed over the bump, I spotted a herd of five bighorn sheep no more than 15 yards away.  The herd had what I'm guessing was a young ram and two small lambs.  They didn't seem to mind me much and continued eating the grass while I stopped to take pictures and watch them.  I didn't travel more than a few minutes when more movement caught my eye.  A herd of 11 sheep were running up and over a ridge in the distance.  I could hear the rocks move as they ran.  They crested the ridge and I didn't see them again.

My first view of the sheep
Not too concerned with my presence
Continuing to graze
A younger ram
A herd of 11 distant bighorns
I continued along the Divide Trail enjoying the endless views.  It was a fairly calm day with plenty of sunshine, warm for late October, with only traces of snow in the shadows.  The occasional breeze was slightly chilly.

A look back along the Divide Trail
I traveled miles above treeline at this point
I have several miles above treeline to go
A good look at the huge area of flat tundra at 12,000'+
The views were continuous
As I neared Jicarita Peak, another sight caught my eye.  At a distance it appeared to be another sheep but I saw no movement and it seemed too big.  As I got closer, a pair of huge rams stood up.  They were laying down side by side.  I live in Bighorn Sheep Canyon and have seen my fair share of bighorn sheep and I can say these two rams were massive. They both had massive curving horns you would see on a nature show. They slowly ambled off, occasionally stopping to graze and look back at me.  As I continued toward Jicarita Peak, I occasionally looked back and saw them making their way up the ridge.  From Jicarita's summit I could see their silhouettes making their way across the high ridge crest.

The rams after they got up
They slowly walked away
They didn't give me a good photo shot unfortunately
A good look at their horn size
Stopping to graze
I passed a junction before Jicarita Peak and the trail would become more consistently visible.  The Divide Trail skirts the actual summit of Jicarita Peak.  Jicarita's ridge looked fairly straightforward so I climbed to the summit.  Jicarita is a large rounded summit standing at 12,835' and is the 8th highest peak in New Mexico.  It's summit offered great views in all directions.

Eventually the rams went up this ridge near Jicarita Peak
Looking south from Jicarita Peak
A close up of Santa Barbara Peak from Jicarita
Truchas closeup from Jicarita
I descended  Jicarita directly down its north side.  Not too far ahead I could see another hiker with a dog.  I found the trail below and soon caught the other hiker, a local from Taos named Louis and his Labradoodle.  I asked him about the trail ahead and had him take a picture.  I ended up hiking with him the last 5-6 miles.

Looking down the north side of Jicarita
Looking back at Jicarita
The line of mountains above the East Fork Rio Santa Barbara
Another look back at Jicarita
Tomcat, hiking the Divide Trail with Jicarita behind me
After nearly 12 miles above treeline, I descended into the woods.  The trail wasn't always clear and there were sections of braiding into several paths.  As we descended 11,799' Ripley Point, the last bump of the trip, we reached some ATV trails.  The first junction was signed and confirmed we were on route.  We reached several junctions along the way, none of which were marked.  With the map though, we seemed to be on the proper course.  We were expecting to find a junction for the Indian Creek Trail that would bring us back to the trailhead.

The ridge above the East Fork
As we continued, we never did find our trail.  We assumed we were following the Bear Mountain Trail.  This would dump us about a mile up the road from the trailhead.  We were generally headed in the right direction.  The trail began veering to the north, away from our desired direction.  We confirmed with a map and compass that we weren't headed in the right direction any longer.  We could see that we were turning from our intended drainage of the Rio Santa Barbara and the trailhead.

After contemplating and agreeing we were off course, we decided to bushwhack directly toward the proper drainage.  100 yards or so further back I noticed a cairn marking the entrance of a fairly worn path in the right direction.  Rather than bushwhack we took our the path since it was headed in the right direction.  The path was clear all the way to the road along the Rio Santa Barbara.  A sign at the end of the path indicated we were on the Bear Mountain Trail and had mile or so walk back to the trailhead.  Neither of us could figure out how or where we ended up on the wrong path.  We are both experienced hikers and thought we were on track and confirmed our route with the map frequently.  Either way it all worked in the end.  I probably added and extra mile or two to my day wrapping it up close to 20 miles by the time I was back at my car.   My hike was finished somewhere around 51-53 miles depending on how much the little detour in the end added.

Compared to Colorado, there is not much information on this area.  What little I could find sounded quite promising. The trip exceeded my expectations.  The scenery was wonderful throughout the route.  I would have liked to have clear views on Trailrider's Wall, but the weather isn't always going to perfect in the mountains.  Usually the weather isn't this nice at high elevations this late in the season.  The views on this route were nearly endless.  I never expected to find so much extended terrain above treeline in New Mexico.  Even where the route dipped below treeline, the route was punctuated with numerous meadows.  Even with late season water levels and a dry period, their was no shortage of water along the route with the exception of the Divide Trail.  I saw plenty of large wildlife which is a plus.  Given the lack of tread through the meadows and above treeline, I'm guessing this area sees quite a bit less traffic than most sections of the Colorado Rockies.

The Pecos Wilderness travels in both the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests.  More than 400 miles of trails traverse this more than 220,000 acre wilderness. The terrain in the Pecos features the densest concentration of 12,000' peaks in New Mexico. My hike covered just over 50 miles and featured a nice diversity of terrain.  Unlike the steep and narrow nature of the Sangre de Cristos Range in Colorado, the southern portion of the range in New Mexico is a backpacker's dream with nearly endless possibilities for backpacking loops. Northern New Mexico and the Pecos Wilderness are not on everyone's radar but the area is a great destination for those seeking time in the mountains

Luckily this trip went well.  While my four hour drive home was uneventful, my first few minutes home took and unexpected bad turn.  About ten minutes after reaching my house, I was ready for a shower.  Puma made it clear that I wasn't smelling too fresh.  I had three full days and 50 miles of trail funk on my body.  Only moments after rinsing in the shower, the shower became slick and greasy.  I slipped, twisted, and made a 180 degree turn on my feet before falling hard on my side onto the top of the tub.  All signs indicate bruised or cracked ribs.  It's not debilitating, but most torso movement is uncomfortable.  Coughing and sneezing is painful.  I'm guessing it will be several weeks before I'm able to think about serious mountain travel.  I made it through 50 miles of travel over trailless and alpine terrain, experienced fresh snow, below freezing, temperatures, icy rock, lost trails, and bushwhacking with no problems; then a shower injures me.

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  1. Nice report!! Seems like beautiful country there.

  2. Great narrative and wonderful photography! That's an area I've always wanted to experience in person. The vicarious version will have to suffice for now. While you are recuperating, you might want to check out the writings of Elliot S. Barker, particularly "Beatty's Cabin" and "Western Life and Adventures in the Great Southwest." Both deal extensively with the Pecos Wilderness and the Sangre de Cristo mountains immediately south of the Colorado border.

  3. The unnamed peak to the southeast is Hermit Peak just outside of Las Vegas, NM. Another access trail enters just to the south of that mountain.

  4. What an amazing experience. The images of the scenery and wildlife are priceless. And to be out there with that snow is definitely the sign of an outdoor enthusiast.

  5. Many years ago I was there, I always wanted to go back :(

  6. Very cool. Thanks for the report, I just moved to NM from FL this year and looking for places to explore.

  7. Great story! We have a common character. For me, the life is the trips

  8. With summer upon us the camping supplies come out! With the camping supplies come the adventures the warm sun and summer breeze brings out. His explanation

  9. Thanks for this great description. I've made a half dozen trips in this area over the years, always in July or early August, when the days are longer but thunderstorms often limit hiking hours. I have to say, though, that we take it in smaller bites, usually no more than ten miles a day. Your photos are wonderful, and brought back great memories. Glad you saw the sheep. If you can go back in the summer, Rincon Bonito holds several hundred elk at that time. It's an amazing thing to see.

    1. Thanks for reading Dave. This was my first time in the Pecos Wilderness and the area far exceeded my expectations.

  10. Hi, you wouldn't happen to have a gpx (gps) file of your route that your could post?

    1. Sorry, I'm not much for technology in the backcountry. I don't use a GPS or have a smart phone.

  11. Thanks for all the photos and details about your experience hiking these beautiful Pecos Wilderness Trails! I'm a horseback rider who has ridden a few of the more southern trails in the Pecos, and it was enjoyable following along picturing in my mind and on a map where you were. Thanks again!