Jicarilla Peak to Truchas Peak - ridge traverse in the Pecos Wilderness.
May 26-29, 2006
This was my best backpacking trip ever!!
Click here for a PDF map.
Growing up in the Española Valley, this is the view that I saw nearly every day:
That range is a part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and all of it is within the Pecos Wilderness, in New Mexico. On the left is Jicarilla Peak, 12,494ft. and the farthest high point to the right (not the tiny lower peak) is Truchas peak (13,106). The grouping on the right is generally called Truchas Peaks. They are North and Middle Truchas Peaks, along withTruchas Peak proper, which is also known as South Truchas.
All my life, I have wanted to walk the ridge-line from Jicarilla to Truchas. It looks straight forward, doesn't it? From down in the valley it looks like just a straight walk over. Easy. But that is quite deceiving.
It turns out, that after 20 years of asking around and now searching the web rather exhaustively, I don't believe the full traverse has ever been done before. Even my older experienced climbing friends from Northern New Mexico haven't done it, nor do they know of anyone who has. About ten years ago I asked one accomplished friend (and one of my climbing mentors) if it could be done. He said, "Sure. But there's a knife edge," and expressed no interest in going with me.
I first did part of the traverse from North Truchas to South Truchas Peak in 1996 along with three friends and my dog, Abacus. There is a knife edge between North and Middle Truchas. But, hey, I did it with my dog!
I know that that part of the traverse had been done before, and is actually done fairly regularly, especially by those coming in from Santa Barbara campgound to the north.
But, last year some gumby published an article in Backpacker Magazine about some off-trail hike he did in the Pecos with some friends. He called it a Mini-Transept or some such nonsense. Their plan was to summit Truchas Peak along the same route I did ten years ago -- to go from North to Middle to South Truchas peaks. They didn't make it. The guy said, in that article, that the knife edge between North and Middle, "would take experienced climbers three days . . ." to accomplish.
Bunk! Again, I did it ten years ago in an afternoon WITH MY DOG!! : )
So how hard could the full traverse be??
Ten years ago, I remember looking north from the top of North Truchas and thinking it didn't look too bad, but I didn't take the time to really look from there north to Jicarilla. A few steps down the ridge would have told me why it may not have ever been done.
Finally, this year, with the company of my buddy Kevin and my girlfriend Ylva, I was able to do the traverse that I've dreamed about for so long. They both knew ahead of time that this trip would be semi-technical, meaning that at times we might want, but not really need a rope. But they are both climbers too, so they didn't hesitate. As promised, we encountered lots of 4th class scrambling and even a couple of 5.0 moves. The whole trip took 4 days, but could have been done in 3. The ridge traverse itself took a full day, about 11 hours of hiking in total.
Ylva, Sal & Kevin starting at the Trampas Trailhead. Thanks to my Pop for being my shuttle on countless Pecos adventures. : )
One thing that might be worth mentioning is that all three of us are now Ultralight hikers. Meaning, we each have base-weights of under 10lbs., and 20lbs total including food for 4 days, fuel and about 2 liters of water to start each day.
Click here to download my gearlist (.pdf - 62KB).
We use tarps, instead of tents (if we don't just sleep out), and we use down quilts (rated to 20˚) instead of heavy sleeping bags. We also hike in trail running shoes instead of heavy boots. You get the idea. One's balance and ability to gain elevation are greatly improved by lightening up. And compared to a more traditional weight of 40-50lbs, 20lbs feels like air. : )
We took no climbing gear. I knew we wouldn't need it. But. . .
Memorial Weekend. On Friday, we entered the wilderness at the Trampas trailhead, north-west of Jicarilla Peak. We hiked around to the back (east) side of Jicarilla to Trampas Lakes.
Click here for a PDF map (same as above).
Kevin crossing the Rio de las Trampas.
How are we going to get up there!?
The sign reads:
<--- Trampas Lakes
Hidden Lake -->
Upper Trampas Lake
Kevin and Ylva at upper Trampas Lake. We will be walking the ridge behind them.
Lower Trampas Lake.
We camped near (but not at) Hidden Lake. Camping in lake basins anywhere in the Pecos Wilderness is prohibited. The alpine lakes in the Pecos are really really fragile, so we don't do it. And I try to practice Leave-No-Trace principles whenever possible.
That's our tarp. We pitched it just as a wind block. We're in a drought and I considered us lucky that the forest was even open. 0% chance of rain.
The next morning, we started up the ridge. It was steep and loose, but not too bad. About 1,000ft. straight up a scree slope.
Topping out the ridge just south of Jicarlla Peak.We aquired the ridge just south of Jicarilla Peak, which meant a short walk north to the summit.
This is the view looking south from the summit of Jicarilla Peak. The prominent peak on the left is North Truchas. To the right is Middle Truchas. South Truchas Peak is hidden from view behind Middle.
Here, the ridge makes the shape of a backwards question mark. A"?" --but flip it left.
Basically, we walked down the ridge to that first peak (un-named) on the right side of the picture. Then we turned left and went east to North Truchas where we encountered the first major obstacle, a 5th class headwall. Once on North Truchas, we went south again, crossing a knife edge saddle between North and Middle Truchas.
It looks easy from here. : )
View looking south of Sal & Kevin on Jicarilla Peak. To the north we could see Taos, Wheeler Peak and even Latir farther north. The entire Española Valley, the Rio Grande, Black Mesa, Jemez Mountains and Pedernal are visible to the west. But it was hazy, so those pictures weren't very good.
Then, we started walking south. . .
Looking north. Ylva, south of Jicarilla Peak along the ridge. Jicarilla is the farthest point behind her.
Looking south again. Big Horn Sheep in the lower left.
Not afraid at all, are ya? Sorry to bother you. : )
Okay, now it starts getting interesting. We passed around the un-named peak and turned east. We are not yet at North Truchas, but the terrain is getting technical. Lots of scrambling on the east-west section.
There is a second un-named tooth that is rugged along both east and west sides. Once we'd scrambled down that, we got to. . .
That's North Truchas, looking east. That headwall is more difficult than it looks. It's probably 150ft high and mostly vertical. Although there is probably a 5.2 line up (very easy climbing), we have packs on and no rope. At this point I thought we would scramble up to the right. No luck. We had to go left around a blind corner.
After some sketchy traversing, I found this narrow gully. It was loose, scary, and about 1,000ft down to the bottom of the cirque. Kevin and Ylva didn't even blink! They really impressed me with their composure and skill. That gully is filled with loose dirt at about a 65 degree incline. It would have been easier if it was full of snow.
More. You can tell how steep it is here from my shadow. It's about 2:00pm. This is the north face of North Truchas Peak. Kevin is finishing off a 30ft. section of 5.0 moves in a glassy dihedral with a lot of exposure below him. It's also windy as hell. But, neither Kevin nor Ylva complained or hesitated all day long. I'm going climbing with them again!! : )
Looking south from the summit of North Truchas. Middle is the broad Peak closest and behind it is our first look at Truchas Peak (South Truchas). Do you see the tiny line of snow in the saddle between Middle and South? That's where we're going to camp. But first, we have to cross the long knife-edge between North and Middle. You can't see it from here, but I've been on this part of the ridge before. I know what's coming and it's exciting stuff. : )
Looking north toward North Truchas (on the right). You can see Jicarilla if you follow the "S" of the ridge to the end.
Now, on to the knife edge. . .
Kevin crossing the knife edge. Ylva has already crossed. She is barely visible in front of Kevin.
Is this gorgeous or what!? : )
Those are Truchas Lakes to the left (east) and the Rio Quemado (north fork) drainage to the right. Kevin is on the narrow part. Below him on the left is a slick slab that goes 300ft down. He was a real trooper, stopping for a picture on the most exposed part.
My dog did this??! : )
Eventually, that part of the knife edge comes to a stop (out of view left) and you have to scramble down the east face.
And then you go back up again.
Or around, when the knife edge gets too sharp. More of Truchas Lakes below.
Kevin and Ylva top out Middle Trucahs Peak. Whew! : )
At this point, we had acomplished our goal --to get all the way across the ridge in a day. From Middle Truchas Peak, South Truchas is just a 15 minute walk across a broad shoulder.
Our next goal was to camp on top of the ridge. I wanted to sleep at 13,000ft, just to have done it once. But the wind was blowing so hard (from the west at about 30mph) that it would have been really unpleasant on top without a tent.
So, to get some shelter from the wind, we dropped about 50ft below the ridge on the saddle between Middle and South Truchas. We'd have to settle for a bivy at 12,800. We found a fairly level spot and slept out, without bothering to pitch the tarps.
Sunset. Looking south from our camp site, that's Trucahs Peak on the left.
Kevin snapped this picture about 6:00am and quickly stuck his head back in his bag. His thermometer/compass/altimeter/gps/can-opener/belly-scratcher watch said it was 30 degrees. It was also quite breezy, with the wind coming from the other direction this morning.
I hike with these two a lot. We don't usually get up too early (because I LOVE to sleep), but when it is cold and windy, all you want to do is get the hell out of there. So, we jumped up, inhaled the world's fatest breakfast and headed for the final summit.
We were camped just left and down about 50ft below the low point there. Ylva and Kevin were headed for the summit! There is a game trail that traverses across for a ways. But the sheep don't bother going to the summit. : )
This is the second time on the summit of Truchas Peak for both Ylva & Kevin. Two years ago we hiked the entire Skyline Trail and summited via the less technical Southeast ridge.
Sal & Ylva on Truchas Peak. It's only 8:00am!!!
Kevin on the summit.
Looking north now, that's Middle Truchas left and North Truchas right. The peak in the center rear is the rugged un-named tooth.
I have lots of pictures of the descent and the hike out, but it was pretty uneventful. We hiked down the broad South-west ridge of Truchas Peak (the easiest approach, if you go to José Vigil Lake via the Rio del Medio), and then we went down a grassy gully to the South Fork of the Rio Quemado. I'd never been in this drainage before. There isn't really a trail. No official one on the map anyway. Apparently there was, years ago, but it has long since been abandoned by the Forest Service. So we bushwhacked where we coldn't stay on what is left of the trail. It's not even a game trail any more, and there is at least 20 years of deadfall. But, it was easier going than I expected it to be, for being mostly off trail.
The exit from the South Fork crosses through the Truchas Land Grant --private land. There is some unsettled business about public access. I know some of the Land Grant trustees. Due to liability issues, it is likely to be revoked soon, but that's another story.
We got to the trail head in the Land Grant, and then walked out on a fire road back to Forest Service land where I had arranged to meet my father for a ride out the following day (Monday). We got all the way out in perfect weather, and camped one more night under the tarps, along-side a forest road, in a grassy canyon, near the Rio la Cebolla.
I simply couldn't have had a better time. Great company, spectacular scenery and an exciting route on top of all that. Plus, I fulfilled a life-long dream, and explored a route that I don't believe has ever been done before. Perfect. : )
Now, for my next adventure. . .