|Santa Fe Baldy|
Before I tell you about my rambles in God's Country, I wanted to share some trail news with you. If you haven't heard already, a trail runner was recently attacked and injured by a bear during the Valles Caldera Marathon in the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos, NM. The runner, Karen Williams, startled a female bear with a cub and was bitten, scratched and bruised, so played dead which may have saved her life. Unfortunately, wildlife officials were required to euthanized the bear and later caught the cubs and transported them for care and rehabilitation. Ms. Williams is recovering from her attack and currently seeking a change in the wildlife law that states bears must be put down when they attack humans.
|These are the types of critters I like to encounter.|
Well, this really hit home for me, because a month earlier I ran a race (Jemez 50mi) that took me near the area where the attack occurred. Could the same thing happen to me? I had been thinking of purchasing a bear spray deterrent ever since a man was killed by a bear in Yellowstone NP last year, the same park I visited earlier in the season with my family.
So, before my trip into bear country, I purchased a canister of bear spray with a hip holster, not really knowing if I would be able to run with it. Before you say, "Well, all that's going to do is piss off the bear more," One study in Alaska showed that 98% of individuals who used bear spray during close encounters with bears were uninjured and the others only suffered minor injuries. The consensus is that spray is more effective in deterring an attack than even shooting the bear. Bear attacks are rare, but having the spray was reassuring especially since I was going to be traveling alone in the backcountry.
|Aspen grove selfie|
|Descending Winsor Trail in the Pecos Wilderness|
I took off on the Winsor Trail as soon as it was light enough to see, trudged up some switchbacks and shortly entered the Pecos Wilderness. I descended on a very rocky trail that passed through a ponderosa pine and douglas fir forest. Occasionally I would run through stands of quaking aspen. A hewn log footbridge took me across one of the many stream crossings, some with beautiful cascades flowing over moss covered boulders.
|This fall is actually on a side trail to Aspen Ranch|
Eventually I reached a lush grassy meadow filled with yellow wildflowers and then turned onto the Skyline Trail which switchbacked up the mountain. Having just arrived the night before, I really felt the altitude as I climbed and my legs felt like lead. I got my first glimpse of my destination, Santa Fe Baldy, a treeless peak flecked with large boulders and a few patches of snow. I reached a saddle with great views of Mt Baldy, Penitente and Lake Peaks.
|Penitente and Lake Peaks|
|The meditation garden|
|The ridge I climbed to reach Mt Baldy|
Anyway, I was relieved that I was going down and wouldn't have to come back up this brutal hill since my route was mostly a loop. At the bottom I traversed a huge boulder field surrounded by sheer granite walls and then reached Lake Katherine. The picturesque lake is nestled amongst talus slopes below high cliffs. The trail then took me past a shallow pool with crystal clear water, a pyramid shaped rock reflecting off the glasslike surface.
I continued on, finally reaching a much smaller Stewart Lake surrounded by pine trees with a few peaks in the backdrop. Shortly after, I passed a marshy area and an unnamed lake surrounded by tall grass. By this time It was late morning and I was beginning to get weary. I needed to decide if I was going to continue on to another lake or turn back to pick up the Winsor trail home. I hadn't seen another person all day and worried about getting too far into the backcountry alone. However, I needed to get in as many miles as possible and that lake was calling my name so I went for it.
I continued on the skyline trail and reached the Lake Johnson junction beside a fast flowing stream. I stopped for a little food break and then took off running as much as the terrain would allow. I came up on a few cowboys on horseback so gave a little shout so I didn't spook their mounts. They stopped to let me go around and chatted for a moment. The path leading to the lake had quite a few trees down that I had to climb over or skirt around. Just before arriving at Lake Johnson I crossed a makeshift "bridge" of logs thrown into the lake outlet.
I ate some food and candied ginger to help my waning energy and upset stomach. I climbed up for a while reaching the Winsor trail, passed by Spirit Lake and eventually made it to the Skyline Trail that leads to Lake Peak. I was so beat by the time I got there that I decided to skip the climb because going over 12,000' didn't seem safe this late in the day in my weary condition. I continued on the Winsor trail and made it out of the wilderness after 11 hours having covered about 27 miles.
The next morning, feeling somewhat recovered, I headed back out on the Winsor Trail to pick up the Skyline Trail towards Penitente and Lake Peaks. The trail leading up didn't seem too steep, but before long I was freezing cold and was wondering what was happening. I then realized that I was almost at 12,000' so put on an extra layer. I crossed a small snow field and reached a grassy slope where the wind was blowing chilling me even more.
I could see Penitente and an unfriendly steep and rocky mountain in the distance that was higher. My recollection was that Penitente was the highest of the two peaks I was going to climb and so I was relieved that I wouldn't have to go over that difficult looking one. I made my way up the slope and came to a three sided windbreak made of rocks so I sat out of the wind and had a snack. I could see Mt Baldy, the peak I climbed the day before, and breathtaking views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. Whenever I find myself surrounded by such beauty, I reflect on the fact that I have my health and am so blessed to be able to reach such remote places never taking that for granted.
|The unfriendly looking beast, Lake Peak|
|Sangre de Cristo Mountains|
At times I wasn't sure if I was on the right track so kept checking my map program to make sure I was going the right way. Several times the trail disappeared altogether where the mountain side had crumbled away and I found myself dangling dangerously close to the abyss. In other places spruce boughs were blocking the trail and I had to find an alternate route by scrambling over rocks. I made it to the ridge where I could see a hiker in the distance, but I couldn't figure out how to get over to him. Was I supposed to scramble over the ridge or take the technical trail along the side of the slope?
|Lake Peak Ridge|
Having the difficult part behind me, I continued my loop by running down the Ravens Ridge Trail. This trail isn't shown on the Nat Geo map, but seems to be popular because I saw many hikers coming up this one that follows the Pecos Wilderness boundary. I came to a cliff with a gorgeous view of Nambe Lake from above. At one point the trail disappeared and I had to pick my way through a boulder field. I reached a barbed wire fence that I ran along to get back to Winsor Trail and then down to my campsite for a total of about 10 bear free miles.
Until we meet again, ponder this quote from a dispatch from Paul Salopek's Out of Eden Walk: "We three humans tottered, hot and dusty, to the end of Kazakhstan, to the beginning of Uzbekistan, to the border. The Eurasion Plate slid beneath us all. It pulled us north at the rate of three-quarters of an inch a year"
See you on the trail.