Warning, very long post, heavy on the pictures.
cheater link to just the pics (not exactly in order)
I started researching for this hike about 4 years ago. We were looking to take about 10 boy scouts from low land Texas on a high alpine backpacking trip. For several reasons it did not happen, so last year I cut a week out of my July for this year, so my son and I could do it. My oldest daughter was able to clear her schedule and come along, and I very much regret my middle daughter was not along as well. She has commitments to college and some theater productions that could not be moved. Next time!
I am not an expert in backpacking, not even a lightweight packer yet. I am not an expert in Pecos wilderness, and I made some choices that go against common sense and my background in exercise physiology. My daughter is a certified athletic trainer and in a grad program studying strength and conditioning. I have been camping and backpacking much of my life and understand the nutrition side of things. I am confident with a map and compass. So with all that preamble – This is just a trip report. Not a guide, not a how to, and definitely not a request to be educated on light weight packing, nutrition, parenting, etc. I welcome comments, common experiences, questions, etc. I would like to avoid tutorials, critiques, or criticism.
I sometimes like to read of other's trips to get ideas, or to live vicariously through them while stuck in an office, etc. Hopefully someone finds similar value here. It will ramble I am sure...
Friday June 30 -
I got off work sometime around 6, got home around 7. We finished packing out packs, loading the van, hitting walmart for road trip essentials, and headed out of Bastrop Texas around midnight. Destination Jacks Creek Trail-head in the Pecos Wilderness NM. Our trip out is important because it shows lack of judgment from the very outset. So no other lapse in good decision making should be a surprise from here on out. During the middle of the night, somewhere around I-20 and Sweetwater, we get a weather alert on the radio – constant cloud to ground lightning, and sustained 60 mph winds. It gives some counties and communities, but all it takes is a look out the window of the van to see we are pretty close. An hour later, we leave it behind us and have clear roads.
Saturday July 1
We arrive in the small town of Pecos at about 3pm after driving through the night. We grab a burger at a small stand (one of about 3 places to eat in town), and head up the hill to the trail head. When we arrive at about 4pm, there is a light rain.
All campsites are full because it is July 4 weekend. We have gone from 400' elevation to 8800' in under 18 hours. Our plan was to stay a day and get acclimated, but why let common sense rule?
We see a group of about 10 hikers from Texas getting their picture taken, ready to hit the trail. The young lady taking the pics is about to head up the trail with her husband? And dog. We figure we may as well get onto the trail a little ways and then rest so we can hike the next day. As we get ready a guy pulls up also getting ready to hike. He sees my daughter's college gear (she worked with several teams at BYU) and stops to say hi. He went to the same school, and is taking a similar hike to us, just shorter days, and a MUCH more reasonable pack weight.
We set off ahead of him since he was still getting ready. About an hour in he catches us, and we hike together for a while. We go from mixes pine/oak, up to a piney ridge, then through some aspen groves, along some meadows... We get rained on, have the most brilliant rainbow I have ever seen, then get separated.
He has a quicker pace, and we have to stop in a grove of trees for the night due to lack of sleep the night before. Unfortunately we did not get contact info, so a couple pictures he took of us on his camera are gone with him. We talk for the rest of the week about how we hope he puts his email address on our car, and when we got back at the end of our hike that is exactly what he did.
Our camp is set in a nice protected grove of pines next to a large meadow.
We heat some hot cider, cook some ramen, get camp set, and get some sleep.
My daugher and I share a Noah 12 tarp, my son has his own tarp.
Oh, we did hang a bear bag this night.
Sunday July 2
I get up with the sun, just before 6am. I walk the mile across the meadow, and to Jacks Creek to see if I can catch our friend from the night before. There are a few tents, but no one is about, so I spend a few minutes with a deer in the camp,
then head back to my camp to wake up the kids. As I cross the meadow I see a herd of about 10 elk a couple hundred yards away. They were much more skittish of me than the deer, so pictures are poor.
Kids wake up, we have some cider, eat some breakfast, and are on our way.
We easily cross the meadow, and stop to filter water at the creek. As we are there, a family with a horse comes by, then another family with no horse, but a couple of younger children come by.
We head up the trial towards Pecos Baldy Lake. Situated at about 11,400'. The trail is well maintained, but still steep. Half way up a strap on my sons backpack breaks the plastic buckle. I pull some gorilla tape off my hiking pole, tie the strap where it should be, tape it to hold in in place, and we are off again.
A while later we see large black animals in the brush up the trail. Luckily they were a herd of cows, not a herd of bears.
By now the thin air, lack of adequate sleep before starting out, and the quick assent from sea level to the high mountains takes it toll. We slow our pace, and finally make it to the lake. As we get there, the best tree to rest on is right at the edge of the lake where the trail drops us off. Looking around we see a group of tents on one side of the lake, some people fishing on the other, and others just relaxing. Not long after we arrive the young couple and dog we saw in the parking lot walk by. We exchange greetings, she mentions that she is all up for day hikes, but isn't real excited to carry that pack any more. We are glad we are not the only ones dying. We decided we have walked long enough, drop our packs, and lay down in the shade of the tree. My son goes on in vain to catch dinner, and we rest and enjoy the afternoon.
About 3 he asks if we can go to the next lake today instead of tomorrow. A quick survey of my legs not jumping right up, and the gray clouds in the sky make it a definite no. We go up the hill out of the lake basin to set up camp.
There is a man and his wife up there. Seems he has been hiking Pecos for the better part of 30 years. He lets me know I don't really need a bear bag, (maybe a chipmunk bag), and gives me some lay of the land.
Dinner is simple. Stove top stuffing, and raman.
This camp had a buck and doe mule deer who really did not like us invading their space. For a few hours they wandered about, between campsites, like we were in their way. At one point I went up the hill to find the restroom (the brochure lied, there is none), and the buck comes about 30 feet away to investigate. I finally get them to go away, but not out of the area.
Monday July 3
We are up, packed, eaten, and on the trail by 8:30. Prior to that we enjoyed the alpine glow on East Pecos Baldy from our hammocks. By the time I got up and got the camera, the glow was gone, but still a nice picture.
Destination Truchas Lakes via Trail Riders Wall.
The trail started up gently, but we had to climb about 600 feet, and at the elevation we were hiking, we all felt it. In less than an hour we are on Trail Riders Wall, a long ridge line just shy of 12,000'.
Views in all 4 directions were great. And then it happened. My son heard a notification on his phone. We had service. Very spotty, but enough to send some texts back and forth to my wife that we made it that far and were still alive, though we may die of hypoxia at any moment.
We really enjoyed being up there. Slight gradual decline in the trail, awesome views, and you could see Truchas Peak (13,102') ahead. There was discussion about climbing it, but more on that later.
It is probably a good time to mention that as we hiked, Lord of the Rings references kept coming up. We were sure that Truchas had gold and dragons inside.
The wind was stong up here, until we got to a small grove a pines. As soon as we stepped in we had protection. At the end of the grove there was some snow, with a hole going under it. The pictures look like we had to crawl through, had that been the case I would still be there.
After the snow we had a little decline left, then we had to pop over a knoll on the center of the wall. It took us to 11,950'. As we started up it, we saw a couple coming along the wall behind us, clearly better at hiking than we were. We made more references to Lord of the Rings and being chased, and had to get to the top of the knoll before they caught up. We succeeded, but they quickly overtook us at the top. The mental games stopped when we realized we needed air and water if we were going to continue. We had a nice chat with them, they took a group pic of us, and they were on their way. We followed them down the side of the knoll. Very interesting that the left side of the trail the flowers were yellow, and on the right they were purple.
Everywhere along our hike there were wild flowers. Not quite the complete carpet of blue like we get with Texas bluebonnets, but large fields, sides of hills, everywhere there were flowers.
We caught the couple at the next trail intersection, decided we were going the right way (down, not up the peak) and kept going. We played leap frog as each group stopped for breaks, and once they passed us they were gone for good.
The trail went back up the 12,000 mark. Just before we topped out we stopped for a rest. Some of us rest better than others...
Over the crest, through the rocky pass of the Orcs,
and around the bend of the mountain. The down side was a great relief,
but since our lake was at 11,800, every bit lower we went than that meant we had to regain it on the other side. Finally we got to the lake, and once again took a break where the trail met the shore.
Finding a campsite was difficult. We had to find a triangle of trees for me and my daughter, and we would like to have no back breaking rocks below us in case we have a mishap with a hammock. We find an edge of the hill view, move most of the big rocks, and put our pack over the remaining rocks so we land on the pack if we fall.
None of us were very hungry. All of us were getting dehydrated, burned/tanned, and had to force ourselves to eat. Fish sounded good. While my daughter and I went to set up camp, my son fished. He said he saw a huge fish while we were gone. After getting camp setup we went off to the rock outcropping to fish. Crystal clear water. As we sat there, looking down into about 8' of water, a monster swims by. It had a hook jaw, was over 24” long, and even at that depth you could see the teeth on the bottom jaw. We were excited. But after 2 long days of fishing, throwing everything we had in the way of spinners, spoons, power bait, tortillas, powerbars, gummy worms, etc. Nothing. Not a single bite. It was odd because there were no minnows, no 6” dinks, no small fish at all. At one point my son jumped in the lake when a 14” trout was close to shore. He had our big aluminum cook pot, and put it in the water to catch the fish. It got about 2 feet from the pot, slowly swam around it and him, and kept going. I bounced a spinner off the head of one, he didn't even move. Strangest lake I have ever fished. One of the true disappointments of the trip.
While fishing we heard the sheep. Big horn sheep. The were up on the hill behind the lake.
They used to come down from the slopes and invade camps, eating packs, shoe laces, etc, looking for salt. So the forest service put salt on the hills to keep them up there. And then we found this guy.
No clue what he is, but he was cute. He was at the smaller of the two lakes, one lake about 100 feet above the other hanging on the slope.
Tuesday July 4 Happy Independence Day!!!
Tuesday was our rest day. About half-way through the afternoon we got company. The first guy up the trail I recognize from the trail-head. He asks if we are hammock camping, what we are using, then lists his gear (it sounded a lot like two guys comparing cars – I have this engine, these tires, this interior..., kinda of funny to me)...He and his group of 10 or so hikers from Austin are much more ambitious than us in their trek, longer miles, and while we went clockwise, they went counter-clockwise, but had the same mid week base camp chosen. Turns out it was Frederick (sp) better know as Polkster13 on the hammockhanger.net forum. They will be our neighbors until Thursday when we all head out in opposite directions.
Not much exciting on Tuesday. Rest, not eating enough, not drinking enough, no one catching any fish, just relaxing.
Wednesday July 5
We decide that sitting at 12,000', not eating enough, not drinking enough, was not getting our energy up. It was a challenge to just walk down the hill to the latrine. So on Wednesday we were going go hike Truchas. Then we remembered the Orcs rocky valley, the trip around the finger of the mountain, then the rocky 200 foot bouldering hill in front of the peak, all before the actual 1100' assent, and we chose to go a different route. We went to the pass at the top of Beattys trail. I have not found a name for the pass, but it is at 12,000 and on the other side there is a small lake named No Fish Lake. We decided that maybe we can get some fish out of it. The trail to the pass is cool. Exposed, long side hill incline to the top (after some serious up and down through some forest to get there). Along the exposed trail I see what looks like bear scat, but it is very small. Our first sign of bear.
At the top of the pass the land and trail drop almost straight down 500 feet or so. We decide to not drop over the hill, instead we spend a half hour enjoying lunch and our easiest hike yet, then head back to camp.
deepest blue sky
It ended up that our tiredness may have saved us. Every day at about 4 pm we got a slight rain shower, hail, snow, thunder. It only lasted a half hour or so, and was gone. On this day it arrived at 1pm, just after we got back from our hike. If we had climbed Truchas, or even if we had dropped down to No Fish Lake, we would have been caught in an early lightning storm.
Nothing eventful in the afternoon on Thursday. Except my son was coming up with every way to get a fish out of the lake. Rocks, Spears, he even asked if he could use my bugnet to net them. Alas, no fish. We had brought butter and tortillas (see note at beginning of the post that we are NOT lightweight packers) to make fish tacos since we fully expected to catch fish. Instead, we broke out the foil pack tuna we had, the camp season kit, and fried up the tortillas in butter, and had tuna tacos. Really not bad.
Thursday July 6
By this point we had decided that since we were not catching fish, we were not going to summit Truchas, and we had two days hike out, we should start heading out. We also decided we did not want to go back up Trial Riders wall, instead we were going to follow the water drainage creeks down the middle of the valley. There were trails there, but lightly used ones.
I blame altitude, dehydration, and lack of nutrition for the next section of our journey. We consciously decided that even if the trail was lost from lack of use, we could follow the creeks to the next junction... There was not a lot of ways to get lost... cough, cough, cough....
We get to the top of Jacks Creek Trail. Find the marker, and head in. Just before this, we find a track that to our uneducated eye is a mamma and cub, but could be just a front foot?
In the same area we see what we think is a bear scratched tree?
We are on our toes...
The trail heads down,down, down. If we had been hiking up, I would have found a different trail. We follow a 2' wide drain creek. The trail splits, then we lose the trail. More Lord of the Rings references to spider forest... The slope we are walking on has eased, but the sloped up each side is steep. The floor is covered in short ferns and ivy, and such. There are a LOT of dead-fall trees. Feels VERY 'beary'. We begin to pick out way forward, it is an adventure. More Lord of the Rings references... We find a trail!!! We lose a trail.... We find a game trail!!! We lose the trail. We climb over dead trees, up hills... Probably 3 hours of this. We find bear prints.
We find bear scat. A lot of scat (no pics of that though) One so fresh on a rock in a small stream crossing that I swear it was still steaming, and we scared the bear away no more than 5 minutes before...We do a LOT of talking to the bears. “Hey bear, go away bear, we are just passing through bear, go play bear...” We sing several renditions of I've been working on the rail road, she'll be coming round the mountain, etc. banging the pot hanging on the outside of the pack, clicking hiking sticks together. Everything we can to keep from surprising a bear. I even unzip my ribz-pack and pull the grip of my 9mm so it is exposed for easy access.(yes, I have a kydex pocket holster covering the trigger) I considered walking with it in hand, but I needed my hands for my hiking poles and the trip hazard was too great. Thankfully we had no bear encounters.
By now the side hill is steep, the bushes thicker, the dead-fall almost impervious. We START to think we made a mistake (we are slow to catch on to that kind of stuff)...Water is running low. Patience thin. I almost have my son drop his pack and shimmy down the side of the canyon to the stream to bring fresh water up. Then we find a game trail, then we find a meadow, so we all head downhill since we know the creek goes where we need to. As we reach the creek, there is a trail intersection where two trails and two streams merge!!!!!! We are back on track. Soaked feet, fresh filtered water, 'see, told you we would be OK', and off we go.
We have wasted time & energy, but are ready to go.
As we finish the second half of our day, we hike along the Pecos for a bit. There is a tree fallen across it making a small pool, maybe 40' long. It is FULL of active 6” trout. We would have loved to fish, but it is a Wild and Scenic river, so I did not know the regs. Also, we were more tired than we thought, and the camera did not make it out of the pocket.
Next stop are historic cabins in a no camp area.
We are almost done for the day. Just at the far edge of the no camp area we filter water, and expect to camp. Millions of trees on a very steep slope, fire dead fall, tall underbrush, all make it un-usable for hammocks or tents. We trudge on. Grouse? (full sized chicken like birds) fly from trees distracting us from their chicks in the underbrush. Thought about taking of of the adults for dinner.... Finally we take a break, and my son finds this energy. He RUNS up the trail without his pack to see what we have to go. My daughter and I are sitting on the ground trying to breath. I swear he snuck some drugs in. He sees the trail flatten out, so we have some hope. A mile-up the trail we find an open meadow and perfect trees. Elk dropping and Bear scat are kicked from under our hammocks, we forgo dinner, put our packs in the meadow away from us, and go to sleep before sunset. We are hanging close enough to just use my 12' noah tarp for 3 hammocks. Lord of the Rings again...One tarp to rule them all...
Friday July 7
During the night we hear elk, coyote, bear. One final bear track this morning
I am sure something has gotten our packs. Nope, all in good shape. We pack up, and head out. More open meadows, and great views. We make sure to take the time to enjoy them.
Then a herd of steer at the bottom of the hill. We are at the top, so it is OK. We go over a rise, and there are probably 10 mamma cows (with cool horns) and their small calves.
They watch us. But don't move off the trail. We take a wide, slow route off trail around them, then move on. FINALLY we hit the last trail intersection. Mostly downhill now. We are on the home stretch. Another couple miles and we are at the car!!
We had brought the bathroom scale to weigh packs before and after, and ourselves. The packs were heavy all week, but we did such a poor job of managing our food and drink intake, we all lost weight. Between 6.6 and 7.0% of our weight. Not the healthy way to do it.
We ran into two of the guys from Austin coming off trail as we did. They would have to wait until the following morning for the rest of their group, but the fresh water, bathrooms, and not carrying the packs any longer seemed to be worth it to them.
Out of the canyon, grab some shampoo and gatorade in Santa Fe,
hotel in Albuquerque, too much food for dinner, a swim in the pool, sit in the hot tub, and start talking about “next time”....
All in all a very fun and successful trip. I chose a route and location that would tax us to our limits, and we made it! Next time lower elevation and better fishing.