A Busy Weekend Part 1 With a weird schedule this weekend we actually managed to get in a couple of trips. As someone had to work on Saturday, I went for a solo hike to the peak of Santa Fe Baldy. Santa Fe Baldy is a 12,632’ peak in the Santa Fe National Forest. My planned route was to hike the Winsor Trail (254) to the Skyline Trail (251) then to the summit of Santa Fe Baldy. At a distance of 13.5 miles with 3,517’ of elevation gain it was going to be a long day. My planning was slightly complicated by unknown weather. Depending on which source I looked at I found everything from 28-38 degrees for the day to 38-58. Twenty degrees might not sound like a lot but it really can be in those ranges. Also, the area had received 4” of snow two weeks prior and with relatively cool temperatures I was unsure how much would be left or if it might have turned to ice.
The Trip I got up at 6am and made a quick trip to Starbucks for a little morning pick me up then made the hour and a half drive up to the Ski Santa Fe area inside the Santa Fe National Forest. The drive was pretty easy and I was able to start hiking right after 8am. My car said it was in the high 30’s when I started so I was pretty sure I had more stuff in my 7.6 kilo pack than I was going to need.
The first mile or so is uphill until you cross through a fence and start back downhill. The decline lasts about 2 miles then the route becomes a gentle uphill for a while. This section had a decent amount of snow but it was mostly packed down and a bit crunchy. Traction wasn’t really an issue. I did get out my gaiters to prevent any snow from getting down into my Salomon’s. I had really wanted to use my Saucony Peregrines for this hike but decided against it at the last moment because I thought they might soak through from the snow, it was probably a smart call. This section of the trail was solid but nothing super memorable. There were a couple of creek crossings-one was flowing but the other two were frozen. It was cool to hear the water flowing underneath the ice as you walked right across the stream. Water features are one thing I have definitely come to appreciate in New Mexico as they are few and far between.
From mile 3 to mile 6 the trail continued uphill at a solid incline but nothing that raised the heart rate too much. However, that all changed when I found the signpost and left the Skyline Trail to start the route up Santa Fe Baldy. From the transition from one trail to the top was right at a mile with almost exactly 1,000’ of elevation gain. So safe to say it was a steep mile. The highlight of the trip though was a wildlife spotting. I was just a couple hundred feet from the summit of Santa Fe Baldy when I came over a point and a huge big horn sheep was just standing in the middle of the trail. Then I realized he had a bunch of buddies. There were about 8 or so big horn sheep all over the trail and to the sides. I also realized I was rather close, probably no further than 50 feet or so but the sheep didn’t seem to mind me at all. I thought of the potential newspaper headline of man dies after being rammed off of cliff by sheep... My wife would not have been amused. After taking a bunch of pictures I slowly walked towards them and they just meandered off of the trail to let me pass. A short trek later the incline leveled off and I was at the summit of Santa Fe Baldy.
The views were impressive and I relaxed for 10 minutes or so to have a snack. Right as I was getting ready to leave the sheep got spooked by another hiker’s dog and took off running down what seemed like a sheer cliff. It was pretty amazing to watch and seemed right out of a National Geographic special. It had taken me 3 hours and 20 minutes to summit Santa Fe Baldy so I was hoping to go a little faster on the way out as I still had a 90 minute drive home to deal with. I did a bit of a trot/jog down the steepest sections and tried to stay around 3 mph down the decline. It worked for an hour or so but towards mile 11 or 12 I just lost all momentum and I was ready to be done. The uphill section back to the gate was just a slog. I ran into several rude hikers including one lady who was having a speaker phone conversation while hiking. That really seems to defeat the entire purpose of hiking to me. Safe to say I was worn out and happy to make it back to the car. My trip ended up being 15.1 miles with 3,522’ of elevation gain in a moving time of 5:45 according to Strava run on my Apple Watch.
Summary All in all I would say Santa Fe Baldy is a great climb. The final mile is steep but the views are constant and the summit is pretty satisfying. I will say my hike was helped by phenomenal weather. It probably warmed up to the high 50’s so I was doing sections of hiking through snow while wearing a t-shirt. At the summit there was almost no wind at all. The little wind speed meter I bought off of Amazon for $17, super reliable, was between 1-3.8 mph. I will say the approach miles are a bit rough. It isn’t a bad hike by any stretch but definitely not the most scenic and trudging back 7 miles with nothing to motivate you can be a bit rough mentally. The climb is great but the approach mileage not so great. I would definitely recommend the hike but just be aware of what you are biting off. I got back to my car around 3pm so it was pretty much an all day event. I ran into a lady right below the summit who said it took her 5 hours to reach the top and she was hoping to finish the return trip in 4.5 more.
It definitely felt like a solid achievement to summit one of New Mexico’s 12,000’ peaks. This hike actually ended up being my highest mountain summit to date and the longest hike by mileage and by time. Definitely a big step for me as a hiker. To be Continued...