Backpacking has been on my bucket list since moving to Santa Fe almost four years ago. I have the gear and the desire, but it has always been a challenge to find the time during busy summers of triathlons, vacations and summer parties. This past weekend we finally made our plans a reality and set out into the Santa Fe National Forest with a couple of friends and our dogs! I've been camping a handful of times since moving to New Mexico, but carrying everything on your back, forcing you to minimize and get by with less, and truly escaping from any semblance of civilization or cell phone service was a meaningful experience (even if it was only for one night).
After a good breakfast and a final glance through our packing list, we started out early on Saturday morning. Our hike began on the Winsor trail near the Santa Fe Ski basin, beginning at 10,250 feet elevation. It was a beautiful morning, and already warm. We were thankful to escape into the forest while there were record-high temperatures in Santa Fe that day. After 20 minutes of switchbacks uphill, we had a few miles of long, gradual downhill through my favorite stretch of Santa Fe hiking trails, surrounded by ponderosa pines and aspen trees. The forest is so green and lush right now, and almost every trace of snow from a few weeks ago has melted. We crossed a few streams, took a snack break, and passed through the Puerto Nambe clearing before turning onto the Skyline trail and heading upwards toward the saddle.
I had a potential camping spot in mind, but was disappointed to discover that it was more rocky and uneven than anticipated. Nonetheless we decided to stop for a break, during which we tested out our awesome portable burner for cooking some lunch. After eating, still unsure of where we would pitch our tents that day, we stowed our heavy packs and finished hiking toward Lake Katherine, a total of about 7 1/2 miles from where we started that morning. This is one of the only hikes in Santa Fe that I had never done, mainly because it involves hiking over a north-facing mountain, so it's only accessible for about three months of the year when the snow is almost completely melted. The trail has a steep drop-off over the saddle into the Pecos basin, followed by a few sections of up-hill switchbacks.
Before we knew it, the large, pristine lake was right in front of us! Lake Katherine, at 11,742 feet elevation, is the largest alpine lake in this area. It is nestled between tall mountain peaks, including the peak of Santa Fe Baldy, the highest point in Santa Fe. It was relaxing and rewarding to sit at the water's edge, dipping our toes in the frigid water and admiring the mountain reflections in the still water. When we'd had enough of admiring the views, we headed back to our packs and located a site to camp for the night.
The entire rest of the evening went perfectly! We were completely rain-free and didn't have any trouble finding dry firewood, a nearby source of water, and flat, soft spots to set up tents. There were many firsts for me this trip, including my first time pumping water for purification! Working that hard to fill a bottle of water really makes one appreciate a nice cold drink. Our camp site was fairly secluded and away from the trail, so the pups got to run around and explore. We cooked dinner over the portable burner, roasted some marshmallows, and shared a Nalgene of margarita before calling it a night!
It was a really wonderful weekend and a much-needed escape from civilization and reality. I appreciated the hard work that backpacking involves, and the views and experiences were well worth the effort. Now that I have one night under my belt I hope to plan some longer trips!