Heading For Truchas Lakes
This article originally appeared in 2009
Heading For Truchas Lakes
This ledge was narrow, dark and steep....hhmmm wonder what poem that snippet comes from. It does seem to fit the situation. I'm standing on what I think is probably the northern edge of the Truchas Peaks ridge. I headed up a tiny saddle south of North Truchas Peak. Middle and North Truchas Peaks are starring right at me, I'll need to cross over and down to Truchas Lakes before I'll see the tallest of these peaks.
The ledge is broad enough for me and my dog, Luna, to stand on but I wouldn't attempt walking across it. The Pueblo people used to call Truchas peaks "stone man" and I can see why. It's all rock of various sizes and formations. There's a sense of barrenness to it as well as a hard formation that took centuries to shape. People think mountains don't shift or grow. To them mountains are just a presence. I can't stand here and think all this is just something that magically appeared. The crevices that are formed, the water that flows down the sides, the tiny pines trying to find dirt to send their roots into. The clouds dipping and swirling. The complexity of all this is what draws me to them.
I didn't get here by chance, it took years of trial and error to find this route.
Looking northwest from the ridge I could see Sheepshead mountain along with what I can only refer to as the Rio Quemado valley. There was no real trail to where I stood. The guidebooks give it half a sentence, just a hint to let you know that it was there. The forest service said there was no real trail but others had done it and ‘no they couldn't give me directions'.
Luna circled through the rocks and I was anxious to see what view there was on the other side of the ridge. I knew I was heading to Truchas Lakes, the weather was ideal, few clouds and a light breeze. The climb up to the ridge was difficult. I had reached the base of these peaks from this side before but never could find the best way to get to the ridge. I had tried a few other angles but they were too rocky and since I travel alone I'm more cautious. The rocks and talus are quite precarious. This slope is steep; it starts off at 11,000 feet and the ridge is 12,500, so it's 1500 feet of climbing in maybe a bit over a mile. I found a small goat trail that crisscrossed up to the top. The gravel and rock were loose but I managed to keep my balance and reach the top of the ridge.
If you read the guide books, the most common way to reach Rio Quemado Falls is from Borrego Mesa. You then pick up the trail that goes to the north fork of the Rio Quemado river and seems to end at the Rio Quemado falls. For me that is where the adventure started. Getting to the falls is a pleasant stroll, the trail well marked and well trod and the falls are quite beautiful.
I had intended to go from the falls to the ridge, then over the ridge to the lakes. I started my descent from the ridge to the lakes at about 330 pm. From the ridge I could see both lakes. One is small, maybe just under an acre. The other is quite large, maybe 2 acres, surrounded by pines with an interesting rock formation jutting out to the lake.
I climbed down the slope to the lakes which wasn't quite as steep as climbing up the other side, I was going from 12500 feet to about 11800 feet, it was still slippery with loose gravel with no real trail. I crisscrossed, walked sideways and made it down safely. I set up camp close to the smaller lake, it was flat, soft ground, close to water and had views of the peaks that were gorgeous.
Then the weather did what mountain weather does best, it shifted. Within an hour it began to snow. The weather forecast called for a 20% chance of rain. I had prepared for cold weather, had plenty of warm clothes, camp stove, food etc. I had no snow shoes or crampons. The snow was coming down lightly, small flakes, light winds. I wandered over to the larger lake and was met with some stunning views.
I was also met with the first heavy snowfall of the season.
I knew the snow was falling all night but was still a bit surprised when I woke in the morning and let Luna out.
I thought long and hard about what to do next. I could wait another day then hike back up the ridge. I figured there was about 6 -8 inches of snow. Getting up and over the ridge was going to be extremely difficult; I had a full pack and the risk of slipping was great.
In case of an emergency I had a device called The Spot for search and rescue. If more snow fell I would have to stay there. I decided the risk was too high for climbing up and over the ridge so I packed up and Luna and I left this very beautiful place.
At the top it started blowing hard and snowing. Luna was fine; she is an amazing hiker. I started down very slowly. At one point about a third of the way down I slipped and jammed my pole in to self arrest. My carbon fiber hiking pole cracked in half and I was on my stomach. I took one half and jammed it into the snow and rock, pulled out the other half and slid down slowly on my stomach using both halves as leverage until I could stand upright. I finally reached the bottom and used my GPS and map to find the trail I had forged. The snow was deep and wet. Truchas peak would have to wait for the spring thaw. I made it safely back to my car, just after taking one final shot of the falls.
Quite a difference one day in the wilderness can make.