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Serpent Lake & Jicarita Peak Backpack and Climb

Pecos Wilderness, Northern New Mexico

August 17-19, 2007

Trip Leader: Bill Priedhorsky

Author: Jan Studebaker

Trip Participants: Rose O'Brien, Dennis Brandt, Karen Grace, Jan Studebaker, Bill Priedhorsky

Photo Gallery: (by Jan Studebaker and Rose O'Brien); click here

Trail Guide: "Hiking New Mexico" by Laurence Parent, 'Serpent Lake' - topo map

Finding the Trail Head: Serpent Lake can be accessed via NM Highway 518 between Tres Ritos, NM and Holman,NM. Take Forest Trail 161 to the Alamitos Trailhead from Highway 518. The turnoff for 161 is 7.9 miles from the Holman, NM post office, and 5.8 miles from the Tres Ritos Lodge and Cabins. This road is in very good condition, the ruts and washouts are usually plowed and it is maintained very nicely. Take this road until it dead-ends at a turn-around.  Park near this turn-around, but please park so that other users can still utilize the turn-around (during hunting season lots of horseback riders need to turn their trailers around here). The Alamitos Trailhead is just across the stream and about 1/4 mile down the gravel road; road map.

About 3.5 miles up the Alamitos Trailhead a spur trail to the right leads to Serpent Lake. After that, the trail climbs steeply up Jicarita Peak Ridge for another mile. The Jicarita Peak Ridge is barren and exposed and should be avoided during bad weather.

Trip Description: Serpent Lake is an 'off the beaten path' alpine lake located in the Pecos Wilderness of the Santa Fe National Forest of Northern New Mexico.  This small but gorgeous lake is located just below an unnamed peak that sores to almost 13,000 feet, and is in easy walking distance of Jicarita Peak which is slightly higher.  Our goal for the weekend was simple: climb both peaks, and have a great time around camp.....we definitely succeeded in both!

Karen, Jan, Bill, and Dennis pose for Rose near the top of "unnamed'' peak

The hike in was an easy three miles with about 1000' of elevation gain to the Serpent Lake spur trail junction, where we descended to an unusually lush valley and found two small lakes, and a group of a dozen or so Armand Hammer United World College students from nearby Las Vegas, NM, each with a different nationality.  After a brief but pleasant talk they suggested an area that they had spotted that sounded like it would make a nice camp spot for our five happy campers.  No other people were in the basin for the rest of the trip.

Our camp was in the trees across the lake from the kids, so we could barely hear their youthful exuberance that evening....they left the next morning, leaving us alone in this near pristine basin.  After we had set up camp we explored the area around the lakes, and viewed the mountain tops above us.  Dennis, Karen and Jan decided to cross a large bog near the lake and bushwhack to the top of "unnamed" peak, while Rose and Bill looked for fish and took a bath in the chilly but crystal clear Serpent Lake.

An apparent sky Serpent hovers over "unnamed" peak and Serpent Lake

The climbers realized that they might not make the top of "unnamed" that evening because of a light drizzle that brought along with it a bit of thunder and lightning; we managed to get very close to our goal before fear drove us down.  The views from near the top were spectacular in that a fog had encased all the mountains in a deep haze of moisture that is seldom seen in New Mexico.  We discovered a small stream near the top that looked like we could drink from it without purification....also a bit unusual in New Mexico mountains.

That evening we sat around a roaring fire, had a fine warm meal, and happily told lies about the days adventures and those of the past.  Both of our dinners were flavored by a large quantity of local mushrooms that Dennis had found on our hikes, and meticulously prepared for us.

Our next morning marked our first and only full hiking day, so we ate quickly and got out of camp in time to have a very full and rewarding day of hiking and climbing.  We decided to take the trails this time; our hike took us past an amazing display of alpine flowers that captured everyone's attention and lead to dozens of gorgeous photos.  On the way up we discovered another unusual feature of these mountains....a small pool near the top.  Later, on the way back from our days adventures, Bill tried to convince us to take a dip with him in the recently discovered pool, but the cold wind convinced us against this otherwise beautiful notion.

Dennis shows off on a crumbing outcrop with delightful exposure

We were constantly on the look out for the Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep who obviously lived here, but alas, we saw only scat and miles of their carefully formed trails.  We did manage to cross the very long and mostly flat top of unnamed mountain, with it's assume views, across the Santa Barbara Divide, of my favorite New Mexico mountains....the rugged Truchas Peaks, and also Trampas Peak.  This long traverse brought us to a view of our second goal for the day....Jicarita Peak.  We had to drop about 500' before we started up Jicarita, but it was well worth the slog, as Jicarita was a fine climb which had several rock shelters on top that shielded us from the cold wind, allowing us to have a very relaxing lunch together, with views of the valley below.

The down climb and hike back to camp was quick and relatively quiet, as we were feeling satisfied and ready to sit for a while around a warm fire, having a great mushroom enhanced meal, and thinking about our future adventures.

More photos from our Gallery are available here


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