This time of the year typically necessitates an excursion to the mountains for some camping and trail running. Due to the tight constraints of two busy schedules, my girlfriend and I had to compact this year’s road trip into a week.
As usual, I was inclined to set my sights on a run up a lofty peak in New Mexico. Having previously run up Wheeler Peak from the Taos Ski Valley, I opted to run in from the north this time, starting near Red River, at the Middle Fork Lake trailhead. The afternoon prior, we jogged on the East Fork trail for a bit. I felt great even on the steep sections, although I didn’t have any extra baggage. I should note that I took my girlfriends dogs, who are very accomplished runners and capable of this journey. However, we needed to bring extra water and snacks for them on the longer run. So after camping at a nice (but crowded) campsite right on the Red River, I made some double strength coffee and we headed out. My girlfriend and I both wore hydration packs and packed a few gels and some foods that are both human and dog friendly. (ed. next time I would consider bringing more calories in general and possibly something more savory like beef jerky or rice balls instead of mostly gels)
About 2 miles from the trailhead, we elected to take the split in the trail that heads to Middle Fork Lake for a touch over 2 miles round trip. The dogs got a quick dip at the lake and then Asher, our most accomplished running dog, headed with me as we returned to the split and then continued the switch backing ascent to higher ground. I periodically backtracked to not get too separated from my counterpart but it wasn’t until I arrived at Lost Lake, the final base before you ascend over treeline and a hangout for a large herd of mountain sheep, that we rejoined and I learned my girlfriend and other dog had run all the way back to the trailhead after not seeing the sign for our intended route and later had seen a bear.
At this point, you are aware that, while you can see the crest of the highest peak in New Mexico, it’s still going to be some work to get to the top — and the air is a little thin for the uninitiated. I intentionally pack minimal layers, intending to get up and down the mountain quickly and while working hard enough to sustain some warmth. Anybody who has hiked or run these trails knows that storms in the afternoon are the norm, and as you’re the highest thing around in an area devoid of trees, it’s more than just trying to run a respectable time, you need to respect how rapidly a storm can move in these areas. On this occasion, we had a bit of sleet to contend with on the sheer slope to the top, but when we actually reached the summit only a cold wind and fog.
On top, you can see 360 degrees and look further along the sheer 13,000 foot ridge. There are 3 different trails that reach the summit. Each snake below in different directions, and the Taos Ski Valley can be seen far below. We got a few photos, waved at the marmots and reversed course as lightning from an approaching storm sparked.
The return trip was pleasant for me. I felt good accelerating downhill and despite my girlfriend experiencing some altitude sickness, we all made the 8 mile return trek in good time, enjoying a couple dog mandated dips in the stream. Everybody was no doubt glad to have made the trek and the dogs proceeded to sleep for the next 12 hours straight while their human companions drove on to Flagstaff, AZ, and beyond — which I will try to allude to in a future post.
Share this post: