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A Summit With Friends

Our Goal from the Road into Red River
On Wednesday, July 17, three friends and I hiked out of the Middlefork trailhead parking lot to camp at Lost Lake and then summit Wheeler Peak the next day. This would be my fifth or sixth summit of Wheeler Peak and second year in a row to camp overnight at Lost Lake.

Jim and Sara Craig drove in from Santa Fe to join us. This would be Sara's first hike and overnight camp out. She is a marathoner and triathlete, so she was definitely strong enough to make the trip. Jim climbed this trail and summit with two other friends and me last year, and he made the summit of Mt. Rainier that same year. My son-in-law, Graham, rounded out the band of hikers. This was his first summit of Wheeler but hiking and camping is part of his premarital and child-filled days.

The weather was ideal and the trails were in good shape from the trailhead to the lake. The trail (#91) to Lost Lake is more scenic than either the East Fork or Middlefork trails, in my opinion. We made good time to the lake with two stops and no physical issues.

Along the Lost Lake Trail
Surprisingly, NO ONE was at Lost Lake when we arrived. (The same was true the next day at Middlefork Lake. And, those at the Peak were all but one group from Taos.) This is high season for hiking and camping in the region. Where was everyone? My hunch is that hiking and camping is too hard and troublesome for most folks. Goose Lake, which is open to four wheelers and jeeps was packed. That sort of trip fits our lazy, mechanized American lifestyle. I prefer the motor of our bodies and exhaust of our breathing to get us to where we are going in Creation.

We set up camp, recon'd the lake, chatted on the shore, gathered wood, cooked our freeze-dried dinner, built a fire, assembled s'mores, and crashed in our tents by 10 p.m. Mountain goats, squirrels, a rabbit, and chipmunks invaded our site looking for handouts, which we refused to give them. Their presence added to the wildness of the setting. The night was cold and as clear as the lake during the day.
Sunrise at Lost Lake

We rose at sunrise to a windy, crisp morning. We boiled water for coffee but did not eat freeze dried goodies that morning. We broke camp and headed to Wheeler Peak. 

Graham at Horseshoe Lake

I told Kyle Knighton (see my previous blog post) what we were doing and invited him to catch us on the trail to the peak. We left the lake at 7:20, and he left the trailhead at 6:45. He caught us just above Horseshoe Lake for a break and then trotted off to summit and wait until we got there. He's got the trail running bug, and I am pleased he will carry the mantle for that generation of the Red River Gang.

Jim, Sara, Graham, Kyle, me

We made the summit of Wheeler by 10:00, took pictures, ate some snacks, and headed back via the Wheeler Peak Trail #90. You are on the ridge that separates the Taos and Red River slopes on this trail, and it  added to the beauty and experience of the hike. 

Finding the trail to Middlefork when the clear way takes you to Bull-of-the-woods is hard to find. Ask Kyle. He missed it and added several miles to his return home. While we stopped for lunch we eventually found the trail and continued our descent through fallen trees and unmaintained trails. Blazers and strips tied to trees by Kyle's father was the only way we found our way down. Those conditions only added to the adventure of it all. 

This was a great hike, and I recommend the trails and loop we took for a day-and-half hike. Sara finished well as she does whatever she chooses to do. Hiking with Jim is always an adventure in thought and relationships. Hiking with Graham was an honor, and I can't wait to hike with his children some day. 

Mt. Rainier is my next climb (August 11, 12 with Jim), and this hike was the perfect prep for that.