Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Taos Ski Valley - Memorial Day Weekend 2012

N 36° 33.411 W 105° 25.017

Last Memorial Day weekend we headed to Taos Ski Valley to try and summit Wheeler Peak. While we had a great time at Williams Lake we weren't able to make the climb because we were wiped out from hiking through knee to waist deep snow the whole way. As I started to plan a trip this year I learned that the Forest Service had constructed a new trail from Williams Lake to Wheeler Peak last summer and although still a difficult hike, it cut out the need to scramble up 2,000 feet of avalanche chutes full of loose stone like the old trail. With this new information I planned a two day trip with one night of camping at the lake bookended by nights at a Bed and Breakfast in the Ski Valley. I chose a new path to get us there that took us through Roswell, NM where I got my geek on at the UFO Museum. I just wish I had more time!

I come in Peace... Mohawk Man!

One thing I thought of when we arrived in Taos was that my wife had only ever seen the Rio Grande Gorge from a distance and we had never been out to the bridge together. There is a lot of construction going on out there so parking can be a bit troublesome. We also ran into hitchhikers and panhandlers before we even got out on the sidewalk. Once we were there we took in the great views, my wife wouldn't let go of me the whole time though. Every vehicle that goes across the bridge creates a vibration that you can feel from head to toe. We didn't see any rafters pass below us but it is easy to see how big the river is even when you are 700 ft above it.

Steph: "My Insides Feel Funny"

Sun Symbols are the NEW Hidden Mickeys!

The food, the food, the food! One thing I love about Taos is that there is a wide and varied assortment of food choices. Friday night we ate at Hattori a la Sushi in the Overland Sheepskin Co. building. We had an assortment of sushi rolls and some of the best seaweed salad and sesame chicken I've had anywhere. Despite being in a land-locked state the seafood was fresh and tasty. After our camping trip we ate lunch at The Bavarian in the Taos Ski Valley. We knew from last year to get the grilled chicken sandwiches with goat cheese and roasted red bell peppers, but the BEST thing was Diet Coke. We had fasted from sodas for the week leading up to the trip to try and get hydrated, also Midland soda tastes terrible! Lastly, Sunday night we ate at The Gorge Grill in Taos Plaza. I had never eaten at this restaurant before but when I looked at the menu on my iPhone I saw that they had an eclectic menu of New Mexican inspired food. We had fried green beans to start and I had a burger with green chilies and homemade lemon aioli. Steph had a Ceaser Salad but they forgot to put dressing on it at first, oops!

I'm Licking My Screen Right Now

Now on to the hike! We left our warm room at the Alpine Village after a power breakfast Saturday morning. We drove to the hiker's parking lot behind the Bavarian and began our trek up the road to the Williams Lake trail. The trail begins as a pretty steep dirt road, but quickly levels out once you enter the spruce forest. This year there was MUCH less snow, there were only a few places we got ankle to knee deep and Pandora had no problem getting through those places. There were also a lot more people on the trail, we met other hikers of all ages and their four legged friends. The best part of the hike were the meadows created in past avalanches where spring was coming late and everything was green and blooming. The weather was calm with a temperature of about 75F so we made good time to the lake.

Late Spring in the Meadow

A Bouldering Corgi?

Which Way Do I Go?

The lake this year had no ice on it, last year it was almost completely covered. We set up camp where we thought we would have a good wind break. I bought a new three-season tent just for this trip because I was afraid it may be cold at night. Boy was I right... After setting up we went to the southern shore of the lake to see the waterfall that feeds the lake, then Pandora chased marmots and chipmunks while we made a dinner of backpackers lasagna. About sunset the nice warm breezes became cold winds and we ran to the shelter of our tent. All night the wind blew, sometimes at least 60 mph or more. For the most part the tent did fantastic, but our sleeping bags need to be upgraded post haste, I think it must have gotten into the 20's with wind chill. It was a very cold night!

Looks Beautiful, But at Night... BEWARE!
Williams Lake Waterfall
Sunday morning we got up and out into the sun to try and warm up but the wind was still blowing making it difficult. We melted some snow for water and made breakfast. I had planned to hit the trail to Wheeler early but with the cold night we were slow to get moving. Steph was having trouble catching her breath so she elected to stay in camp while I went solo to the summit. The trail starts off with a decent climb through the forest with frequent switch backs. There was more snow here than on the other trail of course it was higher in elevation as well. Williams Lake is just over 11,000 ft and Wheeler is 13,161. You gain 2,000 feet of elevation in about .7 of a mile. As you break treeline you have two choices of path. The switch backs add more length to the hike but are far more gentle than the avalanche chutes that the old trail takes. I chose the chute at this point because the new trail was still snowed in here, it seems most people are taking the path of least resistance. After you rejoin the path you have about 700 more feet of elevation to gain through two wide switch backs and a final loop to the southeast around the summit. On a clear day the views of Horseshoe Lake and Williams Lake are spectacular but unfortunately the fires in the area made the visibility lower than desired. coming back down I got jelly legs, but overall I am glad I made the hike again.

Roads? Where We're Going We Don't Need Roads!
From Here Everyone at Williams Lake Look Like ANTS!