Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Santa Fe Baldy Hike

Hike Difficulty: Difficult/Strenuous (mostly moderate, but steep when ascending Baldy and a long hike)
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 14 miles
Time (Round Trip): 8-10 hours (took us 8 1/2 with breaks)
Elevation: 10,250 feet to 12,622 feet (~3600 feet gain)

Baldy is the Mother of all hikes in Santa Fe. It's challenging and it's one of the highest peaks in the area. People train for this bad boy. I wouldn't recommend it for someone visiting Santa Fe for the weekend, because the elevation change is no joke. However, for anyone else looking for some incredible views and a good challenge, this hike is for you. AND fall is the perfect time for this hike! The aspen trees were in full color and monsoon season is over, so much less risk for afternoon thunderstorms (when you definitely should NOT be on top of Santa Fe Baldy). 

The trail starts on Winsor Trail (as much of the hikes in the Santa Fe Ski Basin do) and there is plenty of parking at the ski basin. Winsor Trail (Trail 254) is on the left when you pull into the Ski Basin area and parking is on your right. 

We started the hike pretty early, because it's getting darker earlier these days and we didn't want to get stuck hiking in the dark. We were on the trail by 7:45am. The sun was still behind the mountains and the moon was still up. 

Although the first 1/2 mile is a steep climb, the Winsor Trail then descends off into the Pecos Wilderness. We walked downhill until we crossed Rio Nambe and two other creek crossings (maybe 1 1/2 miles). Then it was basically a gradual uphill all the way to the saddle.

At 4 1/2 miles in, we reached Puerto Nambe, a great place to camp if you wanted to do some shorter hikes up to Baldy, Lake Katherine, or Spirit Lake. This would also be a great place for a snack or lunch break; however, we proceeded with hiking for another 45 minutes or so until we reached the saddle. We had lunch there.

Puerto Nambe

At Puerto Nambe, there is a trail sign for Skyline Trail 251. Winsor Trail continues on the right branch, but we took the left branch (Skyline Trail) to continue up to Santa Fe Baldy (we would go this way for Lake Katherine as well). Within 45 minutes of gradual uphill climbing, we had reached the saddle.

The saddle and Baldy in the distance

The trail we had just come up to reach the saddle

At the saddle, we took a few minutes to take in the views all around us. It was also extremely windy the moment we reached the saddle, so we layered on all the clothes we had for the final ascent to the summit. We also found a semi-sheltered area to eat some lunch, before embarking on what we knew would be the most challenging part of the hike.

I had read in our trusty hiking guide that the trail up to the summit was an unmarked trail. We had encountered something like this before in the Sierras, so I was expecting to feel lost or unable to find the summit. Wrong! This was super easy. There is a trail. It may not have an arrow pointing you in the right direction at every turn, but it's really easy to follow. You can see from the pictures below that there is a clear trail all the way up to the summit. 

To the South, we could see Lake and Deception Peaks, which a friend and I hiked back in August.

Almost there

It took us a little under an hour to reach the summit. It was challenging, especially after the several miles we had already hiked. I'm a runner, so I'm in pretty good shape, but I could definitely hear my heartbeat in my ears and needed to take several short "catch my breath" and water breaks on the way up. The picture below shows most of the ridge we climbed to get to the summit. 

When we got to the summit, we sat for a few minutes to rest and just soak in the 360 degree views. Thankfully, we thought to venture a little further from where we had decided to rest, because we came across this view of Lake Katherine. I hadn't realized it would be so close or so big! We'd seen some other smaller lakes in the distance, and I had thought one of those might be Lake Katherine. If you decide to hike Baldy, make you walk the extra 20 steps to the northeast part of the summit to glimpse this beautiful lake!

Lake Katherine

Heading back down the mountain

We encountered a little ice along the trail and saw a little snow in the cracks of these cliffs at the top. I can imagine it could get very dangerous up here, if it had recently rained or snowed. 

We went back the same way we came up. Most of the way back is down hill, but the footing on these trails is tricky. Lots of rocks and roots, so we had to keep our eyes down a lot not to trip. Once we got back to Rio Nambe, it was uphill again. By this point, I was getting pretty tired (I mean, at almost 12 miles and after having climbed to 12,622 feet, who wouldn't be!?), but the aspens seriously got me through it!

We finished the hike at 4:15pm, so 8 1/2 hours after we started. It's a long hike. And it's a hard one. But I'm so glad we did it and I highly recommend it!

If we had our backpacking gear with us in Santa Fe, I think I would prefer to camp at Puerto Nambe (or I've heard great things about La Vega, another meadow that could be a good starting point for some day hikes in the Pecos Wilderness), so we could see Lake Katherine up close too. There was no way we were doing that in the same day as Baldy as a day hike.

Quick Hiking Directions
1. Start at Winsor Trail Trailhead.
2. Continue past signs for Rio Nambe, Nambe Lake, and La Vega. Continue on Winsor Trail (Trail 254).
3. At Puerto Nambe, turn left on Skyline Trail (Trail 251).
4. At Saddle, turn left to Santa Fe Baldy Summit. Follow ridgeline to summit (12,622 ft).
5. Head back the same way (right on Skyline Trail, right on Winsor, and follow Winsor back to Ski Basin parking lot.

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