The day I finally got to see the Trailrider’s Wall.
I woke up feeling about 200% better than I had felt waking up the day before. We ate our usual breakfast, treated all the water I could carry (the 100oz bladder plus the Nalgene, plus about a liter and a half I drank just before we left). Even that morning, I was worrying about battery power.
We made the top beginning of the Trailrider’s wall in good time. Plenty of time before noon and the risk of thunderstorms. I got enough reception to call Rob from the early part of the wall, but he was busy and couldn’t talk more than about 30 seconds (!). He tried to call me back, but the reception had been lost by then, and my phone’s battery power was failing fast.
My phone was also suffering from a horrible problem I never anticipated. It refused to take any more photos. Any time I took a photo, it came out just black. Apparently there’s some limit to how many photos you can take offline (!?!) that limits you to about 150 pix. So I was not able to take photos of the most beautiful part of the hike. This infuriates me and breaks my heart at the same time, but there was nothing to do. The best thing I could figure out was to actually take a screenshot of the camera view – so even if the phone wouldn’t take a photo, it would take a screenshot. That was how I got a few photos in.
The trail along the Trailrider’s Wall is marked, both by large, 4-5 foot high rock cairns, and by the path people (and maybe some animals) have cut through the grass. Stay on the Skyline Trail, keep an eye on your GPS, and you’ll be fine. If bad weather rolls in, there are several places where a path goes down to the right. You can pick up another trail once you’re down, head left/north, and you’ll get to Truchas just the same. No awesome views, but no lightning strikes, either.
Here’s one of the markers on the trail, and one of the trail signs.
This is what it looked like as we came up from the direction of East Pecos Baldy. From this view, you are just coming up onto the Trailrider’s Wall.
We heard coyotes going over the Trailrider’s Wall. Riley must have smelled them – he went berserk for about half an hour. We also saw a pheasant up on the wall, but no marmots. Those didn’t appear until we got closer to Truchas Lake.
We did meet – of all people – the bass cellist of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Seriously. He was in New Mexico visiting his mother, as he does every year, and he had decided to come up to the mountains. After he had made his way up to East Pecos Baldy, he decided to go a little ways further to see the Wall.
We talked for about 20 minutes, walking north along the wall. I asked him at one point if he had seen the Alps, and how these mountains compared. He said, “These are pretty good!” I have seen the Italian/Austrian Alps and I have seen the 14eers in Colorado, and the Presidentials in New Hampshire. These mountains are indeed pretty good.
Riley and I took a wrong turn, as you can see in the spur on the map. I actually didn’t care – despite the extra up (and it is really steep), it didn’t add all that much difference, and there’s an amazing view from the top there. The top of that ridge is another spot where – if you’ve got energy to spare – it’s worth the effort to climb up. You can see Jose Vigil Lake to the West from the end of that spur.
There’s also what looks like a goat path (technically, it’s probably a big horned sheep path or an elk path) that goes down from that ridge towards Truchas Lakes. I was really tempted to take the path down, despite it being extremely steep. It would have saved us almost an hour’s time. But my rule for this trip was to be safe.
Rob told me one thing/gave me one piece of advice before I left. “Be safe.” And so that was the rule: When in doubt, always do the safer thing. So that made it an easy decision – the safer way was undoubtedly to go back down the way we came and take the right turn.
This is also a smart move because in this area you are further away from trail access or road than at any other time during the thru hike. If I had, say, taken that goat path, and then twisted an ankle, I’d be at the furthest point from help of the entire half of the thru hike. It’s at least a day’s hike in to get to you on that ridge, and that’s for a super-fit hiker who can do 3,000-4,000 feet of elevation and 17-20 miles in one day.
After we came down from the ridge, we took the correct turn down off the ridge (would be a right coming off the Trailrider’s Wall, heading north-east).
The land changes fast. As you come down off the Wall, you are immediately surrounded by the high walls of the surrounding mountains. The snow and rain they capture makes the ground wetter than usual, though I don’t remember any good water sources until we got all the way to Truchas Lakes.
There are trees through here, and a very protected feel. It has a bit of the “magic canyon” feel to it.
After a bit the trees and the wet ground give way to wide-open spaces like this:
I did see a couple of marmots around here. They watched us from about forty feet away, ready to dive into their burrows if Riley tried anything.
As we came around another bend, the trees came up again. This is right about where I realized my phone was not just low, but that the battery was failing rapidly. I had set it to low power mode for the last few days, but even that wasn’t helping. It was dropping about a percentage point every 2-3 minutes.
For some reason, I thought at one point that I might be able to make the Santa Barbara campground by the end of the day. I thought it would be really late, but I could make it. Texted Rob (the Garmin still had a little juice) to see if he could pick me up, and he said he could.
Not sure why I *ever* thought that would work, but within about 20 minutes I realized it wasn’t going to be possible for me to get that far in one day. (Never underestimate how dumb you can get when you are totally and utterly exhausted.) So I cancelled with Rob, and Riley and I pressed on as my phone’s power dwindled rapidly.
That was smart. As we continued the climb up to Truchas Lakes, I was so tired I had to stop about every 30-50 steps. This happened a lot on the hike. I am not in the greatest shape, and if you add 12,000 feet of elevation, a 40-lb pack, and a 65-lb dog yanking on your hips every time he smells an elk, after four straight days you get tired. At least I got tired.
We hauled ourselves into the beautiful Truchas Lake (the big lower one – I never went up to see the smaller one). I did take a picture of the very amusing and large sign at the lake “entrance” that says “DO NOT FEED THE BIGHORN SHEEP”. We never saw any sheep – maybe next time.
We had enough time to wander around a bit to find a nice flat tent site, just far enough from one of the very large cooking areas (big enough for 20 people). We were within 12 feet of a marmot hole. I hoped for the best with that, and assumed the marmots could use another passageway for at least one night.
I treated some water and had set up the tent when the hail started. It hailed heavily for awhile – I was really grateful we were under four thick evergreens, otherwise the tent might have gotten some damage. Being able to lie down and rest in the tent was wonderful. Both Riley and I snoozed, very thankful to be warm and dry and under sturdy evergreens.
After about 90 minutes the hail stopped and the weather cleared again. I had enough time to make dinner for us, including doing yet more water treatment. We had a huge cooksite to ourselves, but I cooked dinner a little further away at a smaller site that had a nice tree to sit on. Riley ate a double dinner, and I ate whatever instant dinner seemed heaviest. That night is was the Three Sisters Mix. Zucchini, rice, beans, peppers and whatnot. Tasty, but it takes a long time to cook (like 20 minutes).
I did the bear hang routine as well. We went down to the lake for sunset, and I managed to get the beginning of a drawing done before the rain started again and the darkness fell. Was good to watch the sides of the mountains get darker and darker. I did this a lot at sunrise and sunset – watching the light shift over the land as the sun came up or went down. You see things as the light changes that you don’t notice at other times.
Riley and I slept fine. I had just barely enough power in my phone (like 2-3%) to look at the GPS maps, so I would know which way to go the next day. I knew the phone would be fully dead by then, but I wasn’t too worried. We only had two turns the next day, and I had looked at the map so many times I felt like I almost knew the way. But still – because the maps are sometimes wrong, there was some concern. I just prayed all the trails would be where the GPS said they would be. And of course, I had my two printed maps, though I’m terrible about taking them out.