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North Truchas Peak Backpack, New Mexico

August 31 - September 2, 2007

Participants: Tianshu Li and Francesco Grilli

Photo Gallery: click here for more North Truchas Peak photos

Route Description and Map: click here.  This otherwise useful trail guide contains distance and elevation errors.

  • Length: 11 miles one-way (to lake)

  • Difficulty: Intermediate to Expert

  • Trailhead Elevation: 9,000 feet

  • Lake Elevation: 11,400 feet

  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet (to lake)

  • USGS QUADS: El Valle, Truchas Peak

We left Los Alamos at 7.30 am on Friday and arrived at the Santa Barbara Campground at 9, where we were welcomed by the campground host. He warned us about a big black bull wandering around (which in fact crossed our path soon thereafter) and asked us to spread the word that this year the campground will be open until September 15th.

Morning-light as seen from camp.

We followed the West Fork of the Rio Santa Barbara; the trail is very well marked and it has a gentle grade. Only the last part is a little steeper and has switchbacks. Due to the abundant water flow, a couple of crossing were quite tricky.

We set camp at No Fish Lake, situated just below the Santa Barbara Divide. Apparently the name of the lake is due to the absence of fish caused by complete freezing in winter. The lake is situated a bit off trail and there is no evident trail to get to it. In my opinion, the best way to find it is to hike on the trail almost until the end of the trees, spot it from above, and descend to the lake, rather than to try a traverse in a forest characterized by numerous logs on the ground.
The next morning we left camp at 6 am, reached the ridge of the Santa Barbara Divide, and climbed directly to the summit of North Truchas Peak. We reached the top in 1h40m. Even though the route to the top didn't present any technical difficulty, the steepness of the mountain and the high altitude required us to stop frequently.

Truchas Lake with South Truchas Peak in the background.

The peak offers amazing views of the surroundings, especially of the other Truchas Peaks.

We descended the SW ridge until we encountered a saddle (some scrambling was required) from which we reached the gorgeous Truchas Lakes. To my opinion, together with Lake Katherine and Horseshoe Lake, these lakes offer the best alpine lake landscape in the mountains of Northern New Mexico.

From the lakes, we went back to the saddle on the Santa Barbara Divide, and then back to camp, just in time to avoid the rain of the usual afternoon thunderstorm.

Lighting the campfire with completely wet wood was a fun challenge. At camp we were joined by a party of three.

Truchas Peak as viewed from the Santa Barbara Divide.

The next day we packed our stuff and hiked back along the West Fork to the car.

I really like the Pecos Wilderness, and especially the Truchas Peaks region for the sense of wilderness, solitude, and also because the rugged shape of the peaks reminds me of the Alps.

It was a wonderful backpacking trip to conclude my three year stay in New Mexico.

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Jan Studebaker

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