Day 3 – The Near Side of East Pecos Baldy to East Pecos Baldy

SUMMARY: This was a really short day. We made it up the backside of East Pecos Baldy then down into the lake basin. I did actually try to keep going – that’s the little spur you see going off away from the lake, heading N/NE. But about half a mile along I realized I was just too tired. So we turned around and went back to the lake to rest.


I woke up on the third day (if you can say I ever really went to sleep) with a digging sound under my head.

Because we had pushed on until it was so late, and because of the rain and the dark coming on, I hadn’t been fussy about where I put the tent up the night before. I was just grateful to have found a spot with relatively flat ground. It was even somewhat soft thanks to the grasses and vegetation in the field. But the spot I picked for the tent happened to be right around several mole piles.

Mole piles are about 4-6 inches high and a foot wide. They don’t have holes – they’re piles of fairly fresh dirt the varmints have dug up doing whatever they were doing near the surface. Sometimes the dirt of the newer piles is so freshly moved that it is dark with moisture, as opposed to the paler gray of the older and less recently disturbed dirt piles.

These little dirt piles are everywhere in these mountains. Riley likes to put his nose in them and dig. Once he put his nose in and jumped and then dug furiously for a few minutes; he must have surprised one near the surface.

This particular mole – the one digging near my head – had not hit the surface yet. I never felt it, and it never dug up through the tent, but it made a fair amount of noise, at least enough to hear it. I pounded on the ground several times, and it would go quiet for a bit, and then it would start moving again. I think it dug around Riley’s part of the tent a couple of times, too. He would suddenly look with keen interest at the tent floor, sniff it, and then go back to sleep.

We got up somewhere around dawn. I fed Riley several treats for breakfast. We split about half of the water that was left – about a third of the Nalgene. I ate two trail bars (Clif Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip) and a handful of almonds. Packed the tent, and hauled us back on to the trail.

And up.

It was up for mostly the whole way. The trail was faint in spots, but not nearly as bad as the area we had just come through. There might have been a small pond about halfway through this area on the left; the land sloped away like a pond, but it was out of sight and I was desperate to get to East Pecos Baldy.

At one point there was a large bright field to the right of us. Riley got very excited around there – probably some deer. But tucked back in under the thicker forest were… two large swathes of snow. Old snow – crusty, icy lingering snow all the way from last winter.

It’s possible it had been from a month or so earlier. In our mountains it can snow at almost any time. Riley and I got caught in a crazy hail storm up near the Santa Fe Basin just after the park opened again earlier in the summer. The hail came down thick enough to cover the ground white. It looked like chunky snow. And another time that summer, about a week or so earlier, we had gone up the switchbacks from the Santa Fe Ski Basin and found enough hail for Riley to roll around in and get all excited about. He’s part husky, so snow just lights him up.

If I had been thinking more clearly, I could have gotten some water from that old snow. But we just kept pushing on. Ends up it didn’t matter much to miss it.

About twenty minutes later we finally found a lovely, lovely stream just before the steep part of the hike up the back way to East Pecos Baldy. We did stop here, and for a good while. I treated lots of water, which was a good call. This stream has the last water you’ll get until you reach East Pecos Baldy Lake itself, and it’s a long up, so you’d be smart to have *at least* a liter on you when you leave here.

According to the maps, there should be a small pond to the left of the trail before you begin the steep part of the climb towards East Pecos Baldy. Riley was *very* interested in something in that direction, too. I thought I heard cows a couple of times. That would make sense: The cows would be attracted to the water. Unfortunately, I did not expend the energy to go check out the pond. We just pushed on.

It is quite a long up climbing the back side of East Pecos Baldy. It’s steep. I was so tired I had to stop about every 30-40 steps along the way. The trail once again kind of disintegrates as you go further up, but if you’ve got a GPS, you’ll be fine. And if you don’t have a GPS – just keep going up. When you get to the top, you’ll probably be able to see the lake itself.

It is rather stunning. I was so sad to have not been able to take more photos:

The view as you finally come out of the trees and reach the ridge overlooking East Pecos Baldy lake. That hill to the left is the summit of East Pecos Baldy.


The view when you finally get the top of the East Pecos Baldy saddle, approaching it from the back side. If you had extra energy to burn, you could take a left here to go up to the summit. It’s a short way up – no more than half an hour. The view is great.


The view looking back from almost the same spot as the first picture. You’ll have come up through those trees if you’re doing the through hike from Santa Fe to Taos.


And at last – a view of the lake. The sharp grey mountains in the left of the photo are Truchas Peak/s. In the right of the photo, there’s a wide grassy top of the hill – that’s the beginning of the Trailrider’s Wall. From here, you’ll take a right and wind slowly down into the bowl of the land that holds East Pecos Baldy lake. Then you’ll continue on, to the right of the lake in this photo, and go up and over the Trailrider’s Wall. About two to three hours after you’ve reached the top part of the Trailrider’s Wall in this photo, you’ll be at Truchas lake/s – right under those grey peaks in the left of the photo.

We stopped briefly when we got to the top here. You kind of have to. The view is amazing. But after a break, you’ll want to get down to that lake. It’s still a good walk, and steepish in places. But about 30-40 minutes from here you can make the lake.

When you’re down next to it, it looks like this. That’s Rufus in this photo, not Riley.

Rufus and I spent quite a few nights up at this lake. We were up here one night in the first week of November, when it all but went from late summer to winter in one night. It had been really warm the day we came up – oddly warm for so late in the year. But the cold came in that night. The wind was so strong overnight that the tent bent down low enough to touch my shoulder several times. There wasn’t much to do about it – I wrapped myself up in every piece of clothing I had, and gave Rufus my down jacket to stay warm with. He didn’t push it away, and between that and him sleeping on the backpack, I figured he’d be fairly warm. The wind was worse than the cold, but we were under a small cluster of really tough, wind-sturdy trees. That morning at sunset the mountain turned an incredible supernatural pink at dawn. Then the snow started while I was making breakfast.

Riley and I didn’t have any weather like that. When we got down to the lake, I stopped to fill up all my water again. I gave him some treats and me some more trail food. Then, because it was only 10:30 or so in the morning, we headed out toward the Trailrider’s wall.

I had left so early in the morning because I wanted to make the Trailrider’s wall before noon, or at least before one. It is completely open up there – or I thought it was completely open up there. Ends up there are a couple of clusters of trees. Not many trees, but if you were up on the Wall and saw a storm rolling in, you’d probably have enough time to shelter among the trees, though it might not be much shelter. Those high mountain storms get wild. (More on that later.)

We left East Pecos Baldy, but Riley smelled something and was bouncing and lunging and yanking me around like crazy. I already had open sores around my hips and waist from all his pulling and yanking. And I was so tired, and my legs were so tired, and every yank just made everything harder.

I hate being mean to him, too, but when I’m trashed, it gets harder to be kind. So finally at some moment when I couldn’t bear to yell at him any longer, and couldn’t bear to keep going, to keep bracing myself against him yanking on the leash and scrubbing the rough leash against the sore skin all around my hips, and couldn’t deal with the idea and four or five (or who knows) how many more hours until we could rest, I just turned around.

We went back to the lake. I wasn’t going to be able to cut the trip short by a day. Rob would have to miss his golf outing.

This is the trail intersection of Trails 251 and 257. You’re basically at lake level from here – the lake is just down a little if you follow the path shown here. I’ve camped on all four sides of the lake over the years. On the through hike, Riley and I camped about ten miles to the left from the view in this photo.

We found a nice flat established camp site (but away from a fire pit and away from any signs that people had been cooking or eating nearby… away from messy people’s campsites). I got the tent set up, laid out all the damp clothes and gear to dry in the sunlight, laid out my little solar  battery pack so it could charge, and then made up a proper breakfast for Riley and lunch for me. Texted Rob that we were not going to push through – that I was not going to get out a day early.

After lunch, I cleaned myself up a bit, which was needed. Even a washcloth bath with a liter of water and a little bit of wilderness wash (multipurpose soap) makes an amazing difference. Then I snoozed in the tent for much of the afternoon, listening to the audio book version of The Artist’s Journey by Stephen Pressfield.

It was an exceptionally nice experience, being clean and able to rest and even have entertainment. I put my legs out into the sun to tan and rested my back and my head inside the tent, in the shade. I folded the air mattress and put the backpack under it, so I had a nice wilderness version of a lawn chair. Riley snoozed in the back of the tent. I had opened up the tent vents and pulled the rainfly back just so, so we had a nice breeze (but not too much of a breeze) in the tent, and nice half-shade from the sun.

We had a whole afternoon and evening to rest, which was just about the sweetest thing in the world right then. All I had to do for the rest of the day was to treat more water and make dinner.

Looking back, I kinda wish I hadn’t used up the battery to listen to the audiobook, as I ran out of power a day later. But at the time I thought the little solar panel I brought would do its job. Wrong.

We ate dinner early and went to bed early. It seemed a bit like the universe was forcing me to wait one more day to see the Trailrider’s Wall. I had waited so long, and wanted to see it so badly. But we couldn’t have gone further. I might have collapsed before we got to Truchas – it’s a long way.

A view of East Pecos Baldy Lake from the north side, taken during a different overnight. See the right side of where the trees end on the saddle? That flattish area, just before the land slopes up toward the summit is where you’ll come out when you come up from the backside of the ridge. That’s where Riley and I came up from on our way through during this thru hike.


A closer view of that saddle. This was taken in late May of an earlier year when I came up here with Rufus. Note the patches of lingering snow, even in late May. That’s how much snow we’re supposed to get, and how much the mountains and the trees expect.


One last photo. This was also taken on a different trip. It’s the view of the lake facing north. Rob was with me for this trip (so was Rufus). The sky that particular night was clearer than I have ever seen a sky be before. It  looked like the sea almost, like floating dust motes and little creatures (airplanes, satellites?) swimming through. On another night here, I stayed outside with Rufus counting the stars as they appeared after sunset, one by one. I counted up to 80 before I lost track.

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