Just about to pack up and head back to Amarillo after a few days high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Taos Ski Valley, NM. ¬†After a few days of V-22 Osprey conferences and simulator flights in Albuquerque, I drove up for some training hikes on Wheeler Peak. ¬†There are some great hiking trails in the Ski Valley and in the winter the options for backcountry hiking and skiing are huge.
All the climbers have been working out in gyms for both cardio and strength training, but our plan is to integrate on-mountain training as the winter comes into full swing. ¬†We have a weekend at Ouray Ice Park coming up in January for some ice climbing and of course the climb of a Colorado 14′er or two as well. ¬†But for the most part, I’m planning on driving from Amarillo up to Taos since the altitude is good (sleeping at 10,200ft in a garage and then hiking up to >13,000ft each day) and the terrain is excellent.
For this weekend’s hikes, I brought along my 7mo old puppy. ¬†She had never seen snow and I was a bit worried she’d not like it, especially since she was born and raised in the heat of N. TX. ¬†However, the instant she saw snow she went nuts and before I knew it she was running through chest deep snow having a great time. ¬†It turns out this little dog is a true mountain dog- she absolutely loves the outdoors!
Friday we went for a hike about half way up Wheeler Peak. ¬†Snow conditions were pretty slim for Dec. ¬†There is about 8″ of snow in the shade and in sunny areas there is a coat of ice or just raw dirt. ¬†As I type this, the snow is falling, so hopefully the mountains will catch up on their snowpack! ¬†The hike on Friday went well- a good way to get back into the mountains after a few months away from them. ¬†Plus, I was fighting a cold all through Nov and it was nice to slowly ease the lungs into some action.
On Saturday, the sun was out and everything looked good for a hike up Wheeler Peak (NM’s highest peak). ¬†We struck out after a big breakfast via the William Lake trail. ¬†If you haven’t been here- it’s a great hike and a well maintained trail. ¬†After about a mile, we broke from the trail and headed up one of the many chutes coming from the side of Wheeler. ¬†This particular one has history- it is the same chute that took the life of the owner of Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina, an excellent watering hole and diner at the base of the ski mountain. ¬†Here’s a photo of the cross left in memory of Tim.
After paying my respects to the memorial, we took a straight line up the chute towards the Wheeler Peak ridgeline. ¬†We gained 2,000ft in about an hour and a half- it was great exercise and I was shocked at what a good climber the dog is. ¬†Lucky me. ¬†As we gained altitude, the sun and blue sky began to haze over. ¬†It turned out that a cold front was moving in.
Soon we were at the ridgeline and treated to beautiful views of the entire Ski Valley plus the surrounding peaks. ¬†The summit was another 45 minutes away via rocky terrain mixed with large snow fields. ¬†It would have been a fun extension to the hike, however shockingly strong winds had been whipped up and we were soon battered by >30MPH sustained winds. ¬†Brrrr…
The puppy was still wagging her tail, but pretty soon she was giving me the look that she’d had enough, as her ears blew back behind her head and the wind chilled her. ¬†I pushed her further up the mountain, but soon she was whimpering and making it clear she didn’t want to go on. ¬†I agreed- it was hard to maintain my balance in the strong, bitter winds.
We decided to head down and escape the wind as soon as possible- it was becoming really uncomfortable. ¬†Rather than try to get back down the very steep route we took up, I found a mountain goat trail heading further up the valley but that lead toward the tree line about 500ft below. ¬†It was a good workout for the knees, but the dog was mighty happy to be heading down and so was my face.
Soon we were nearly running down a great gully of soft snow- just deep enough to slow our footsteps, but not nearly deep enough to have any slide hazard. ¬†At one point the snow had a hard glaze of ice over it and was quite steep, so I grabbed the dog, put her on my lap and we glissaded down 150ft using a ski pole as a brake. ¬†Good times!
Once back inside, I cooked up some food and she conked out. ¬†As you can see from the photo- the dog isn’t afraid of rolling upside down and taking over the couch.
It was a good start to the several trips I have planned to Wheeler Peak. ¬†Some of the team members from CO plan on coming down to join me and we’re always looking for other folks to join in the fun. ¬†Just let us know!
Now it’s time to get out of NM and back to TX. ¬†The snow is dumping outside, about 3″ in the last four hours, so the sooner I’m on the road, the safer it will be. ¬†Taos needs the snow and I hope more follows this storm soon.
“Climb High, Fly Low”