There is just as much beauty visible to us in the landscape as we are prepared to appreciate—not a grain more.
Henry David Thoreau
Dear Sangha and Friends,
On Saturday, October 4, Bill Wadsworth and I, along with his corgi, Wish, set out from the Santa Fe Ski Basin to hike along Raven’s Ridge as far as we felt able, hoping that we might even climb all the way to the summit of Lake Peak, elevation 12,409’. I hadn’t climbed to within a thousand vertical feet of this elevation since my pacemaker operation in January, and Bill hadn’t climbed this high since a good deal longer than that. I’ve been having difficulty with getting enough oxygen to keep my body and mind functioning at altitudes above 10,000’.
The first leg of the journey is up through dark forests of spruce and fir. There are aspens here, but they tend to go unnoticed since they are old trees, with all their leaves at the top of tall, white trunks. The aspens nursed this conifer forest to life, probably after a long ago fire. Aspens sprout quickly after forest fires from undisturbed root systems. Conifers must germinate from seeds and depend on the shade from quick-growing aspens in order to thrive, then the conifers mature and crowd out the aspens. All part of the never-ending cycle of birth and death. On this day the tall aspens made their presence known by a carpet of yellow leaves that covered the forest floor and graced our upward path.
By mid-morning we reached a point on the ridge where we could see Santa Fe Baldy to the north, large swaths of its slopes covered in aspens turning to gold.
Farther along the trail we could look down on Nambe Lake, the destination of a hike I led last month.
Bill and I are slow hikers now at altitude and it was 1:00 pm before we reached Deception Peak. We sought protection from a chill wind on the lee side of the ridge, where we ate lunch in the shelter of one of these timberline trees. That’s Lake Peak on the horizon, over a half mile and several hundred vertical feet away. The most challenging part of our journey was still ahead of us
Lake Peak is the southernmost peak over 12,000’ in the Sangre de Cristo Range and the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, which stretch over 3,000 miles, down from the northernmost part of British Columbia. The high Peaks of the Santa Fe sub-range include, from north to south, Truchas Peaks, Pecos Baldy, Santa Fe Baldy, and Lake Peak, all very different mountains. The five Truchas Peaks are composed of extremely hard “basement rocks," resulting in jagged peaks and steep slopes. The summit of North Truchas, which is the one I know best, is resplendent with multi-colored crystals of quartzite. I’m not sure about the composition of Pecos Baldy and Santa Fe Baldy, but they have rounded tops and are essentially strenuous walk-ups. Lake Peak is made of granite, which, like the quartzite of Truchas Peaks, accounts for jagged ridges, steep slopes, and difficult trails.
We approached the peak up along this ridge...
…or just below it, along narrow trails with sharp drop-offs...
…and we made it to the top!
There were two men on the summit as we were arriving and one called out, “Syd!” My neighbor, Micah and his companion had climbed Lake Peak from Nambe Lake, a route which made our hike seem modest. Micah took this photo of these two very happy old men. Santa Fe Baldy is just behind my left shoulder, Pecos Baldy beyond that, and Truchas Peaks on the horizon.
On our way back we stopped for a last look at the peak we had climbed. Will I climb this mountain again? For many years I have observed a tradition of climbing Lake Peak on or near my birthday, June 19. This year it was October before I felt sufficiently recovered from surgery to make the ascent. I’ve learned that, at this age, a year can have profound consequences for my strength and stamina. I will turn eighty next summer.
In the meantime, I look forward to late fall and winter hikes, all below 7000’, through the extraordinary sandstone formations of the rugged canyons and eroded badlands of Northern New Mexico.
It was late afternoon when we headed down off Deception Peak, to make our way off-trail through the forests and across the ski runs of the Santa Fe Ski Basin. After some time we happened upon a rough service road which we knew had to lead down to where we had parked the truck. Exhausted now, we were glad to follow this road back to our vehicle.
As we drove down the Ski Basin Road, the aspens were especially lovely, lit by the soft light of the evening sun.
Entire hillsides are now covered with golden foliage, this one capped by a gibbous moon.