Tag Archives: backpacking

Truchas 24-Hour Challenge 2014: Trip Report

20 Aug
Looking back over Trailrider's Wall to Truchas, sunlit on the left.

Looking back over Trailrider’s Wall to Truchas Peak, sunlit on the left

I first set foot in the Pecos Wilderness, about 30 miles as the crow flies and 2 hours by road northeast of Santa Fe, in 1980 as a college freshman for 1 hour P.E. credit in a backpacking class.  I’d backpacked many times before but this trip was special.  Special because it was notable for some extreme duress: Several days into the route while some of us summitted Truchas Peak, five members of our group of 16 people drank unfiltered water from Truchas Lake and got very sick, dehydrated with ensuing altitude sickness and hypothermia.  The sick folks were s.i.c.k. and the decision was made to hike out the +/-20 miles (carrying 2 severely stricken gals, dividing the 8 “extra” packs between the remainder of us…double loads!) in one fast push to get the stricken to the hospital ASAP.  It was an Epic SufferFest, and I was hooked on the beauty and challenge of this Wilderness area.

Since then I’ve been back to the Pecos Eight more times and have been on top of Truchas four times.  So far.

Aaron Roberts and I successfully completed the Truchas 24-Hour Challenge 2014 in 16:54:23 starting at +/-2:14am Sunday, 8/3/2014 at the Jack’s Creek Trailhead then up across Jack’s Creek to Pecos Baldy Lake.  Then bushwacking up the ridge north of the lake onto Trailrider’s Wall and Boom! on to the summit of Truchas and back down to Pecos Baldy Lake via the Skyline Trail and down down into Panchuela campground via Jack’s Creek and Dockweiler Trails.  A total of +/-27 miles with ALOT of elevation gain/loss.


We stayed in Panchuela Campground in this cool shelter.  It was cold and raining when we arrived on July 31 around 7pm MST and this shelter was kickass.  We built a fire and had a warm dry place to sleep and keep our gear dry.

Panchuela Campsite #1

Panchuela Campsite #1

Home Sweet Home....cool fireplace and hooks to hang all our gear

Home Sweet Home….cool fireplace and hooks to hang all our gear


Here’s a quick video of our shelter


It’s drizzling as we crash but it’s clear and sunny early the next morning so after a quick breakfast we head out for an acclimatization hike up to Cave Creek.  Nice hike to a cool feature.  We hiked about 5.5 miles, Aaron dropped his iPhone in the creek, and then we went back to the camp to chill out.


Supper and then cold beers and Maker’s Mark around the fireplace, this was a fun night!

We were up Saturday early and spent several hours discussing logistics and checking out the map.  I drank alot of water and ate lots of fresh fruit/veggies and packed up my food and gear for tomorrow’s  2am CST (Sunday, August 3) start.  I was carrying some trail mix/chocolate-almonds/cookies, some cheese flavored ChexMix, an apple, two ProBars, gatorade powder, two Kind Bars, and 2.5L of water.  I was also carrying my MSR Sweetwater filter, my Marmot Pillar shell, my headlamp, trailmap, iPhone/case, lighter, and my glasses/case.   Our planned route was this:

Start at Jeck’s Creek Trailhead then up and across Jack’s Creek to Pecos Baldy Lake via Beatty’s Trail (#25) and Jack’s Creek Trail (#257).  Once at Pecos Baldy Lake we’d filter water and stash some munchies for our return trip…then semi-bushwacking up and over the ridge just north of the lake and onto Trailrider’s Wall where we’d find the Skyline Trail (#251) and follow it to the off-trail approach to Truchas Peak.  Our turnaround point is the summit Truchas Peak and then back down down (and lotsa up too) along Trailrider’s Wall via the Skyline Trail (#251) to Pecos Baldy Lake.  Then we’d retrace down Jack’s Creek Trail and then hit the Dockweiler’Trail (#259) down into Panchuela Campground.  A total of approximately 27 miles (subject to slight revision via peer-review) and a gross elevation gain/loss  in the 14,000′ range.

We hit the Jack’s Creek/Beaty’s Trail head at 2:14am and walked up the big swithbacks in the dark & cold, then further up up and down into Jack’s Creek and then past hundreds of trees that shined chrome-silver in our headlamps (we’ll see these trees in daylight about 10 hours later today) as we go up up and up to Pecos Baldy Lake.  It’s first light when we arrive at the lake and we circle around to the south shore…Aaron sets off to find a creek off of the lake for water while I opt to filter from the lake.  It’s cold and beautiful.  We’ve hiked +/-7.5 miles so far…a steady elevation gain.

Sunrise on Pecos Baldy

Sunrise on Pecos Baldy


Looking back down as we climb to the ridge north of Pecos Baldy Lake

Looking doan on Pecos Baldy Lake as we bushwack up the north ridge

Looking down on Pecos Baldy Lake as we bushwack up the north ridge

After some effort we finally top out the ridge and get our first glimpse of Truchas Peak.  It’s Beautiful!  And a long way away as my brain starts getting feedback from my 52 y.o. couch-body.


Up up around a big scree/talus slope…


Up and bushwacking onto Trailrider’s Wall to the Skyline Trail…our boots and legs are soaked up to our knees from the vegetation and it’s uphill uphill uphill..


Finally we hit the Skyline Trail and we’re northbound on Trailrider’s Wall toward the Truchas Peaks Group.

Aaron on the Skyline Trail on Trailrider's Wall headed north

Aaron on the Skyline Trail on Trailrider’s Wall headed north



Steadily uphill and along the Skyine Trail (#251) until we hit the proverbial end of the trail.

The end of the trail.  Now we travel cairn-to-cairn

The end of the trail. Now we travel cairn-to-cairn


Then up and up and UP on steep steep short rocky switchbacks toward the relative easy ridge at the base of Truchas Peak…..note the looming false peak in the foreground.  Yep.

Our journey is about to take a steep & rocky UpHill turn!

Our journey is about to take a steep & rocky UpHill turn!


Mountain Goat



The air is thin (remember I live at 600′ above seal level and Aaron lives at 20′ above sea level)…we’re breathing hard as the trail disappears and and the slope dramatically steepens we go up up and up onto the false summit…..dramatic scenery and hard work for couch-fit 52 y.o. Scott.


After some muchies, rest,  and route discussiom we set off down and then UP UP the steep South Face of Truchas Peak!




Aaron climbing

Aaron climbing


Aaron on summit climb, trending to the left as we climb

Aaron on summit climb, trending to the left as we climb



Moderate exposure level….we’re way up high!


The summit, and our Halfway Point is a very very cool place and with clear weather (remember we started at 2am so we’d hit the summit early…about 10:15am) so we chill for an hour or so and soak up the view/vibe!!



Me, summit selfie

Me, summit selfie

Me on the summit of Truchas Peak

Me on the summit of Truchas Peak


Too soon we head down.  After all, we’re only at the halfway mark of our trek….it’s a long long way back down!!  First is a steep backtrack down Truchas..


Headed down

Headed down

Downward with occasional moderate exposure...it's a looooong way down to Truchas Lake!

Downward with occasional moderate exposure…it’s a looooong way down to Truchas Lake!



My legs are trashed.  Trashed, Crashed, and Burned.  My hips are jello and my core is almost as spent as my thighs and calf mucles.  The constant uphill since 2am coupled with the steep summit climb and following downclimb is akin to doing 1,500 squat-lunges….at 12,000’+!!  AND, now we have to walk downhill for about 7 hours.  Boom…OUCH!!  We traversed around the false summit and then picked our way down through the trees via steep rocky switchbacks and soon enough were down onto Trailriders’s Wall.

Several pics of looking back toward Truchas Peak as head back down(uh, up) to Pecos Baldy Lake.


Long way back up down Trailrider's Wall.....

Long way back up down Trailrider’s Wall…..

Large cairn marking the Skyline Trail atop Trailrider's Wall

Large cairn marking the Skyline Trail atop Trailrider’s Wall




It’s a long way back down to Pecos Baldy Lake with a staggering amount of uphill!

One last breathtaking view of The Truchas Group and Trailrider's Wall as we descend over the ridge down to Pecos Baldy Lake

One last breathtaking view of The Truchas Group and Trailrider’s Wall as we descend over the ridge down to Pecos Baldy Lake

We finally reached Pecos Baldy Lake and spent a few minutes looking for the water and filter we’d stashed earlier.  Once we found them we sat down and ate, took off our boots for a few lovely minutes, I filtered some water to fill all our bottles, and then we headed down Jack’s Creek Trail.  After we left the lake basin we soon enter a portion of the trail where a large fire had burned several years ago.  The scene is surreal (even moreso at night under headlamp) and a little disturbing; after having hiked through this beautiful heavily timbered forest many times it was quite shocking to see so much fire damage.  I’m guessing we walked for 30+ minutes through this burned area…

Fire damage between Pecos Baldy Lake and Jack's Creek

Fire damage between Pecos Baldy Lake and Jack’s Creek

More fire damage

More fire damage

Once we got to the creek crossing we turned right onto The Dockweiler Trail (#259) instead of the normal route down to the Jack’s Creek Trailhead….our final destination is Panchuela Campground this time.  The map shows that the Dockweiler Trail is +/- 1 mile further with an additional elevation loss of +/-600’….Big Fun.  This will make for a long long afternoon of downhill on tired sore and spent legs.   The Dockweiler Trail was beautiful and rarely traveled.  We hiked through dozens of small meadows, dozens of giant groves of aspen trees and in many places the trail was almost completely grown-over…rain forest style.

Beautiful remote and rarely-traveled Dockweiler Trail (#259)

Beautiful remote and rarely-traveled Dockweiler Trail (#259)

Overgrown Dockweiler Trail

Overgrown Dockweiler Trail


The trip down was a long slog on tired legs and feet through beautiful wilderness on a very rarely-traveled trail…painful, but a great way to end this adventure.

We arrived at Panchuela Campground at 7:08pm MST exactly 16 hours, 54 minutes, and 23 seconds after we started at Jack’s Creek Trailhead!!



Aaron hit some Gatorade and crashed out pretty quickly and I cooked some grub (veggie chili over baked potato) and drank several liters of water.  I was crashed before 9pm and slept very deeply.  The next morning we were up early, packed up completely, and on the road home by around 8:30am MST.  Aaron had a flight out of Lubbock at 4pm and so we had to deliver him.

The Truchas 24-Hour Challenge is #2 in a series of future 24-Hour Challenges I have in mind.  Next up is probably the Four Pass Loop 24-Hour Challenge in the Maroon Bells, CO.  Either that or something in the Sierra del Carmens in Northern Mexico……..hmmm.


Stay tuned!