Hiking, Snowshoeing, Back-Country Skiing, Mountain Biking
Length: 16 miles
Elevation: 11,745 feet
Degree of Difficulty: Challenging
Seasonal: 3 Season (Snow in winter)
Driving Distance from Plaza: 15 miles
Start this hike early in the morning.
Lake Katherine is found at the southern end of the Sangre de Christo Range. The watershed for Santa Fe Baldy, the highest point in the cluster of mountains above the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, it is situated within the Pecos Wilderness section of the Santa Fe National Forest, a vast, rugged wilderness with boundless opportunities for hiking and peakbagging. While not technically difficult, the mountain can be climbed year round and is an excellent training climb for more challenging mountains. The primary challenge lies in the 7 mile approach hike, a beautiful trail that winds through pine and aspen groves. Although the trail head is only thirty minutes from Santa Fe, the mountain is generally not too crowded. The total trip is about 16 miles roundtrip.
Santa Fe Baldy rises in the Pecos Wilderness within the Santa Fe National Forest, on the water divide between the Rio Grande and the Pecos River. The western slopes are drained by the Rio Capulin and the Rio Nambe, both flowing to the Rio Grande. The eastern side of the mountain consists of two small cirques, one containing Lake Katherine, one of the highest lakes in New Mexico at elevation 11,745 feet (3,580 m). Lake Katherine was given its name by theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.
From the summit, there are beautiful views for miles in all directions, including the Jemez Mountains to the West, the Sandia Mountains to the South, the Truchas Mountains to the North, the plains to the east, and the Rio Grande valley below. Baldy can be climbed in a long day, but there is plenty of good camping along the route and many interesting side trips. Lake Katherine and Baldy can also be linked up with nearby Lake Peak and Penitente Peak for an fun traverse of three 12,000+ foot peaks.
In winter and spring, the area around Lake Katherine and Baldy are popular with backcountry skiers looking to lay fresh tracks in the bountiful powder found in this area.
The trail head for Lake Katherine and Baldy is located at the parking lot of the Santa Fe Ski area, about 20 miles or so from the Santa Fe town square. To get here from Santa Fe, take HWY 285 N/St. Francis Dr. toward the center of town. As you near downtown, St. Francis intersects Paseo de Peralta. Don't turn here, but continue on a few blocks until St. Francis intersects Paseo de Peralta a second time (P. Peralta makes a loop). Turn right on Paseo de Peralta and follow it for a couple of blocks. Turn left on Bishop Lodge Road, which is immediately after the large, pink, moorish looking church. Turn right on to Artist Road/Hyde Park Road, which winds its way up the mountain and then takes you to the base of Santa Fe Ski Area. As you enter the parking area for the ski area, stay left where the road forks around a grove of trees. The trailhead is on your left about 100 yards past the fork in the road, near a small grey building housing the restrooms.
From the trail head, head north on well-used Windsor trail (Trail No. 254). Be sure to head north, and not south, as the trail heads both ways from this trailhead.
The trail is well marked and easy to follow, even when there is substantial snowpack. Except for a fairly long steep section within the first mile, the trail is relatively flat for about 5 or so miles. The trail steepens a bit as it enters Puerto Nambe - the basin that is surrounded on two sides by Santa Fe Baldy and Penitente Peak.
The trail continues until in intersects with trail 251, which leads up and over Baldy's SE ridge and eventually to Lake Katherine. Once you reach the saddle, Baldy Peak is on your left. If you choose to head to Baldy you can look down at Lake Katherine from the top. Otherwise, Lake Katherine is straight ahead. You follow the trail down switchbacks until the trail dead-ends at the pristine lake. A great place to break and enjoy nature.
When To Climb:
The summer months (June - September) are the best, but Baldy & Lake Katherine can be climbed year round. During the summer, the biggest danger is afternoon thunderstorms, which are very common in this area. Make certain that you are off exposed ridges and slopes well before 2 or 3 in the afternoon when lightning becomes a serious risk. During these summer months, you should generally not encounter much snow on the trail.
The higher elevations of the Pecos Wilderness receive a great deal of snowfall during the winter, so winter or spring ascents will often require skis or snowshoes for the approach, together with avalanche awareness after periods of heavy snowfall. Dress appropriately during winter ascents, as these mountains can experience very high winds and extremely cold temperatures.
For a special treat, do the climb when the Aspen leaves are turning in late fall.
Great thanks to summitpost.org for this information!
Darlene Streit 505.920.8001
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