Trail Update: Hiking Report from Taos Ski Valley 


January 2019

The mountains are beautiful with a blanket of pristine snow and provide awesome opportunities for recreation, fitness, and quiet solitude as well as amazing views to enjoy.  As you explore this area of the Carson National Forest, keep in mind Winter routes can vary from the established trails and change with every snowfall.  There may be different tracks branching off to the sides where backcountry skiers are touring - if you're not yet familiar with this area, a map and gps device can be helpful, and please feel welcome to stop by our visitor center for info and recommendations!


Williams Lake Trail

Discover Williams Lake in all its glory during Winter!  This popular intermediate-level, four-mile round trip hike from The Bavarian follows a valley forested with aspen, Engelmann and blue spruce, western white fir, and rarely seen red fir and bristlecone pines can be found in the higher elevations. A new route for the first half of the trail has been built and will be open when the snow melts during Spring.  For now the Winter route follows the old trail, many trees have been cleared so it may look a bit different as you approach the Wheeler Peak Wilderness boundary. So far it's been a great Winter, we've gotten up to 8 feet of snowfall since October which has built a good mid-season base.  Conditions are perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  If you're hiking, it's good to know that while the trail may be packed the snow becomes unconsolidated along the edges, it's best to stay close to the middle of the track.  Wear sturdy boots with good tread and dress with warm layers to accomodate cold temperatures, and make adjustments as it can warm up quickly when the sun's out.  We recommend using trekking poles and watch for areas where the snow is soft and where it may become icy.  Please be aware that the trail crosses several avalanche paths along the way to the lake, avalanches are not always likely but they can occur at any time.  Assess the current conditions as you hike, especially as more snow accumulates during a storm. 


Wheeler Peak

Conquer New Mexico's highest peak ~ this 13,161-foot summit can be accessed by either the Bull of the Woods or Williams Lake trails. Get an early start for this expert level hike. Backcountry camping is allowed without a permit, at least 300 feet away from streams and lakes.  Keep your eyes peeled for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer and elk.  From the Bull of the Woods trailhead by the Twining Campground it's an 8 mile hike through a steep canyon, across an old mining road on Bull of the Woods Mountain's north slopes, then the route climbs above treeline past the 12,163-foot Frazer Mountain summit.  Snowshoes or skis with climbing skins are recommended as deep drifts in the higher elevations may not be passable without them.  Follow the trail along the ridge before it dips down onto the east facing slopes across La Cal Basin, then up to and along the ridge towards the Mount Walter then Wheeler's summit. If the trail is covered with snow it is usually possible to stay on the ridge along the final section. This route is popular among Winter alpinists and peak-baggers, it's a challenge to take on with determination and experience.  It can get windy on the ridge especially the few days before a storm approaches, dress warm and bring your sense of adventure!

The Wheeler Peak Summit Trail #67 begins along the Williams Lake Trail at the saddle just above the lake.  Currently the trail is snowed-in and it's recommended to have alpine climbing skills including route-finding experience to attempt this one, as well as proper gear such as skis and skins. The route climbs through old growth conifer forests, across several steep avalanche chutes then ascends above treeline onto a wide open glacial moraine at 12,000'.  From here cross an open snowfield then head southeast towards Wheeler's towering northwest face, climbing the steep western slopes towards the ridge between Mount Walter and Wheeler.  Take some breaks to catch your breath as needed, once you're on the ridge the summit is just a short ways to the south.  On a clear day there's incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, Rio Grande Rift and distant ranges where the San Juan mountains begin.  The 14,345' Blanca massif above the Great Sand Dunes National Park can be seen to the north, and the Truchas Peaks above Santa Fe to the south.  We recommend an early start for this route, as well as knowledge of snowpack and avalanche hazard assessment.


Columbine-Hondo Wilderness

The trails within the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness offer excellent potential for backcountry skiing, day hikes, as well as overnight and multi-day backpacking adventures! Yerba, Manzanita, Italianos and Gavilan are all navigable with snow and become packed down quickly after a storm clears out, be cautious where the trails traverse steep banks above the streams. Get an early start if you plan to hike above treeline or summit any of the high alpine peaks, and be able to recognize avalanche terrain as you travel into the higher elevations.


Weather Coming In

Currently we are in the middle of a Winter storm cycle. significant snowfall is expected and conditions can change constantly.  High winds are possible especially along ridges and open slopes above treeline, and temperatures can rise and drop rapidly depending on storm dynamics.  Typically these storms can last from one to several days followed by periods of sunny days and cold nights, please check the National Weather Service forecast for Taos Ski Valley for an idea of what to expect. If you are venturing into the wilderness be prepared with layers, extra food and water, sunglasses or goggles, and it's always a good idea to pack a flashlight if you're hiking during the afternoon and evening and may be on the trail after sunset.

Precautions:

Waterproof boots and hiking poles are recommended for these high elevation hikes, with many trails still holding snow up at higher elevation into early summer. Temperatures can vary greatly, bring layers to accomodate changing temperatures and wind.  Be prepared for cool weather and rain, and always carry extra water. Beware of lightning and stay off the ridges if thunderclouds are overhead. Depart for hikes early in the morning to avoid afternoon lightning and showers.

Maps are available at the Information Booth in the main hiker parking lot of Taos Ski Valley Resort. Open 9-5pm each day.

Carson National Forest - Taos Ski Valley Hiking Trails

Name of Trail Print Map
Distance
one way
Hiking Trail Horse Trail Cross Country Ski Trail Snowshoeing
Wilderness Area
Degree of Difficulty
Gavilan Trail
Map
3.3miles X
X
 
X
X Intermediate/Expert
Italianos Canyon Trail 59
Map
3.6 miles  X X   X X Intermediate
Long Canyon/Bull-Of-The-Woods
Map
3.6 miles X X X X X Expert
Manzanita Canyon Trail 58
Map
4.2 miles X X   X x Expert
Wheeler Peak Summit 67
Map
2.2 miles X       X Expert
Wheeler Peak Trail 90
Map
8 miles X X X X X Expert
Williams Lake Trail 62
Map
2 miles X X X X X Novice/Intermediate
Yerba Canyon Trail
Map
4 miles X     x X Expert

Hiking

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