Ute Mountain P2K
Kachina Peak
Lake Fork Peak P500

Sat, Aug 1, 2020

With: Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2
Kachina Peak later climbed Mon, Aug 3, 2020
Lake Fork Peak later climbed Mon, Aug 3, 2020


Ute Mountain

Eric had been trying to sell Tom and I on Ute Mtn for the last week. A P2K and Wilderness HP, it lies just south of the Colorado border in New Mexico. We never took it very seriously, but now that Tom had left us and we'd completed all our Colorado goals, I was happy to let Eric dictate the next few days as we headed into New Mexico. Ute Mtn stands alone in San Luis Valley, an old shield volcano rising to just over 10,000ft, the center of the newly created Wilderness. Unlike the higher elevation summits we'd been climbing in Colorado the last week, this one starts out in desert scrub, finishing with pines and junipers but still quite dry. The outing is less than six miles roundtrip with about 2,400ft of elevation gain. We grabbed a GPX track off PB and made our way to the TH following Google Maps (it gets the directions wrong towards the end, but it was easy enough to find the correct way), landing at the end of a dirt road on the north side of the mountain and Wilderness boundary. Our route started up an old road no longer open to vehicles, which lasted for about half a mile before petering out. Occasional ducks lead up towards the summit through forest, sometimes on decent use trail, but mostly just forest and occasional semi-open country. Following the ducks isn't really necessary, but they provide some gameplay on an otherwise less-than-exciting summit. We took almost 2hrs to reach the top, a pretty casual pace for the most part. The summit, covered in trees without any views, had a high stack of rocks and a summit register in the familiar red can one expects from Richard Carey - sure enough, he'd visited six years earlier. We signed the register ourselves and took a short break before descending. It was on the return that we found there was more than one set of ducks that can be followed. We were back by 10:45a, having spent almost 3hrs on the excursion.

Kachina Peak - Lake Fork Peak

Much driving followed. After returning to SR159 on the Colorado side of the border, we headed south into New Mexico for a second time. We drove the remaining length of the San Luis Valley, which collects itself and drains into the Rio Grande, continuing south to the Mexican border, effectively bisecting New Mexico. We turned east at Arroyo Hondo to drive into the heart of the Taos Mtns in the Carson National Forest. We ended up at the Taos Ski Area for lunch at The Bavarian, a restaurant on the upper half of the ski area. It was your typically overpriced ski area restaurant, but the food and beer were pretty good. We would find our way back here the next two afternoons as well. While sitting on the outside deck (all the inside seating was closed due to COVID restrictions, of course), we took in the beauty of the surrounding peaks, the highest in the state. Wheeler Peak, the state highpoint, rises high on the east side of the canyon, outside the ski area. Most of the west side of the canyon is within the ski area, save for the the southernmost extent. We could have climbed Wheeler in the afternoon, but decided to save it for Monday when it would be less crowded and we'd have a whole day to devote to a move involved outing. I was still itching to do something, and Kachina Peak caught my attention. Eric had already climbed it on a previous visit during ski season, but wasn't against redoing it again in the summer. He also liked when I suggested we could ride the chairlift up and save most of the elevation gain. The lift runs during the summer primarily to support the mountain bike park that has become common summer use for ski areas. The only downside was the hefty $20/person price, no discounts for single rides. I paid it without hesitation though - after Culebra, it was a bargain. The chairlift does not ride up to the crest, stopping at the 11,400-foot level, some 400ft short of the ridgeline. After exiting the lift, we followed a trail that we thought would lead us up to Kachina or at least to the ridgeline. It started off encouragingly, but ended at the start of what looked liked a pretty lame via ferrata with closed signs. This would not do. We did some very steep cross-country scrambling up one of the black diamond chutes to the left of the via ferrata and were soon atop the ridge where open, grassy slopes made for easier going. We were surprised to see no trail here, expecting Kachina Peak to be a popular summer destination, but it seems not so. By 3p we reached its summit with clouds gathering not far to the east over Wheeler Peak. Looking south, I noticed the higher Lake Fork Peak about a mile away and tried to get Eric interested in joining me for a longer outing. He was content to stop at Kachina, preferring to head back to the Bavarian for another beer before they closed at 4p, leaving me to continue to Lake Fork on my own. This was the most enjoyable part of the day with a fun, high ridgeline between the two, open views off both sides. Between the two was an unofficially named summit called Rich Peak, offering some short but fun class 3 scrambling along the crest, easier class 2 through talus rubble off the west side. Someone had spray-painted pink dots on the rock to mark a route through the talus, a completely unnecessary and unwelcome bit of work. It took about 50min to make my way to Lake Fork's summit where I found a register placed by Guy Dahms of Albuquerque in 2019. I've seen his name all over the Western US, but this was the first time in his home territory. With more time, I would have liked to continue south on the ridge to Peak 12,819ft, but the weather was threatening more and it was nearly 4p. I headed back the same way, finding the lift closed as expected when I reached it. I made a beeline down runs under the chairlift to get myself back to the parking area by 5:30p. I found Eric napping in his car, rested up now. We had some concerns on where to spend the night, noting that the high number of No Overnight Parking signs and similar deterrents. We eventually discovered that folks in RVs and cars were welcomed to park overnight in the lower Coyote Parking Lot near the start of the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail. This would be our campsite for the next two nights and worked great - very little nighttime traffic, away from lights, and a couple of flat spots, too.


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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Ute Mountain - Kachina Peak - Lake Fork Peak

This page last updated: Thu Sep 10 14:34:24 2020
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