By: Bob Michael
A RAMBLE IN THE SANGRE DE CHISTOS THUCHAS PEAKS, NEW MEXICO
The southernmost thirteeners in the Rocky Mountain system and the whole United States (Hawaii doesn't count) are a tight end wildly glaciated knot of peaks in the Sanqre de Cristos of northern New Mexico between Taos and Santa Fe.. Sculpted from en upfaulted block of tough old Precambrian quartzite and mica schist that in places glitters like ice beneath your fast, the alpine Truchas ("Trout") Peaks really aren't desert peaks - but then neither is Humphreys or Ruby Dome. Since they're crown mountain jewels of what's generally considered a desert state, let's have a look.
Just east of the village of Truchas, N.M., we left my Mustang in a pine grove and hopped into a 4x4 for the ride up a beautiful but poor road up the Rio de Truchas. The road would be driveable with care in a standard car to about 4 miles west of the National Forest boundary; then it turns into a steep, washed-out jeep road for about three more miles, crossing a divide to the Rio Quemado ("Burnt River") and the end of the road at about 9500'. There is no sign of any kind to announce where you are; you just head up the North Fork of the Rio Quemedo about 1/4 mile until you cross an irrigation ditch and a fence which marks the Wilderness boundary, and soon stumble through the brush upon the well-maintained trail that climbs up into the Truchas Amphitheater four miles ahead.
This canyon must the wettest place in the Southwest; the trail leads through a primeval spruce/fir high altitude rain forest hung with wispy gray beards of lichen, with an occasional break into a greasy glade surrounded with huge aspen. Everywhere, congregations of mushrooms popped through the damp duff. Naturally, you pay a price for this green exuberance; the Truchas area seems to snag every stray thundercloud within 500 miles.
Just before the climb up a glacial step into the amphitheater, the prettiest waterfall I've seen in the Rockies - Quemado Fells drops a couple hundred feet across a fretwork of quartzite ledges. We camped at 11,300' next to a swampy meadow with a fine view of Middle Truchas.
Next day, the standard August weather went awry and the expected thunderstorm didn't materialize - giving us a perfect day for playing on the shining quartzite aretes. We found an actual constructed trail (not shown on the topo) which goes to the 12,400' col between Middle and North. Then, a scamper up a tilted quartzite slab takes you to the gentle summit ridge of North (13,024'). Here I hoped to place a register, only to find I had been aced, register-wise just a week before by a gang of four from LA operating under the strange name of "Desert Peak Section".
We then descended to the col, climbed a slow gendarme-y ridge to an unnamed point of 13,040+', and headed west to Middle Truchas (13,066'), with its colossal north wall. My two friends decided to mellow out and head for camp while I bagged on to (South) Truchas Peak, 13,102', along its easy north ridge.
I regret to have to conclude this story on a grim note, but the next day our backpack out of a spiritual wilderness experience was soured by what awaited at the end ... my friend's Trailduster had been broken in to through the vent wing, and they were looted of several hundred dollars worth of belongings - in the middle of beautiful nowhere, at the end of a long and very poor road, at midweek. Incredibly, my Mustang just outside town was untouched although tire tracks hinted that it had been "cased". The State Police in Espanola told us that the Truchas locals are a pretty nasty and crooked lot with no love lost for Gringos, and car breaking and vandalism are Standard Operating Procedure. Therefore, having written this account of a beautiful climbing trip, I cannot honestly recommend this route to anyone. I would suggest approaching these lovely and worthy peaks from the Pecos River headwaters to the east, where the natives do not seem to have a bad reputation.
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