The Santa Fe Ultra: Lost, Climbs, Friends

The rocks are not so close akin to us as the soil; they are one more remove from us; but they lie back of all, and are the final source of all. … Time, geologic time, looks out at us from the rocks as from no other objects in the landscape, John Burroughs, early 20th century American naturalist.

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Sunset on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, as seen from near my house in Los Alamos, NM. The course of the Santa Fe Ultra went from near the top of the high peak in the right center (Lake Peak) to the valley floor.

Morning sunrise in Los Alamos is a special celebration.  No matter the season, the sun slowly ascends above the rugged horizon famed by the high country of the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  Santa Fe Baldy, composed of PreCambrian gneiss and criss crossed with the wide pegmatite veins and dikes, begins the morning as a dark shade of gray.  If clouds are present — and they often are — the skyline is crowned in an orange glow.  Slowly the carved landscape of the Pajarito Plateau becomes visible; steep canyon walls framing the flat tops of mesas. Finally, the entire Rio Grande Valley nestled between Los Alamos and Baldy appears in a pastel glow.  I never grow tired of the quotidian cycle, and feel blessed to live in such a wonderful place.

Early this year the inaugural Ultra Santa Fe race(s) was announced, and I signed up immediately.  The race promised a complete tour of that distant landscape I see so many mornings.  A trail circuit from the top of the ridge line at 12,000′ to the juniper covered arroyos at 7,200′ along the easter margin of the Rio Grande Valley. When I first signed up I was in the middle of training for the San Juan Solstice 50 miler, and was assuming the Santa Fe race would be the last long run of the 2016 season.  However, as Yogi Berra said “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”. The wheels fell off after the San Juan, and I was forced to scale way back on my running.  No matter, I was still excited about the Ultra Santa Fe, and treated it as a true training run.  50km has long ago faded as an intimidating distance for a run, especially if there is no expectation on how fast I would run.

Many runners from Los Alamos travel over to run in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – running from the Santa Fe Ski Valley to the top of Santa Fe Baldy is one of my very favorite training activities.  I was joined by several of my friends for the Ultra Santa Fe; we all shared the trait of being undertrained at the end of the summer, so we formed a team with the name “Team DFL”.  The moniker was at first whimsical, but it did prove prothetic! However, that did not diminish the adventure of traveling through a mountain wilderness, and the joy of friendship.

 

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Team DFL (Dave Zerkle, Terry Wallace and Dave Dogruel) at the beginning of the Ultra Santa Fe 50km (really it was 56 km).  Photo from Carl Gable.

The Race

It takes about 1hr 15 minutes to drive from Los Alamos to the Santa Fe Ski Valley, so we departed about 5 am from the hill.  This left way more time that was necessary, but it also allowed the copious consumption of coffee (not really a performance enhancing substance, but rather, the lack of coffee is a well known performance depressant).  The temperature at start time was in the mid-40s, perfect for running. The logistics of putting on any Ultra is challenging, and certainly the chance of a first-time event having a “hiccup” is high.  However, the crew that put on the Ultra Santa Fe were commendable.  A few hours earlier in the dark, 24 runners had started the 50 mile version of the race.  The 50 km and 50 mile courses shared much of the same trail, and Race Director gave detailed instructions to the runners on how “not to confuse” the courses.  A few hours after our 50 km start there would be a half marathon, which also shared some of the same trail….because it was later in the day, why listen to that instruction, eh?

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The course of the 50 km, complete with the lost spur.  The course descends from the Ski Valley down the drainage of the Rio en Medio, skirts the alluvial foothills above Tesuque, and then climbs back up to Tesuque Peak.  Mileage posting help to locate discussion in the text.

About 40 runners toed the line for the 50 km race at 7 am.  I had run on all the trails that the course covered in the past, so I knew we were in for a long day.  However, despite the familiarity with the trail network, I quickly fell into the pack mentality once the exclaimation of “GO” was shouted by the Race Director. The course loops around the Ski Lodge, and after about 1/2 of mile joins the Rio en Medio trail. A short distance after joining the trail, the actual Rio en Medio is visible, and everyone at the back of the pack settles in at a 12 min/mile pace realizing it will be a long day. Only a few hundred feet into the trail run there is a trail split – on the right hand side is the Rio en Medio trail, and on the left is a branch of the Windsor trail.  Everyone in front of me turns left (it was marked with flags, but the flags for the half-marathon course).  I am oblivious to the wrong turn, but immediately begin to question whether I have early onset Alzheimers.  The trail is nothing like the Rio en Medio I thought I knew – instead of a steep descent along a very rocky trail (the rocks are from a glacial outflow), it is a sinuous up-and-down smooth single track.  After a mile many people begin to realize something is wrong, and a group of us stop and discuss the discrepancy in direction and trail markings.  I whip out my Gaia app on my iPhone, and sure enough we are already a mile off course! I can only explain this by hiding my geoscience background, and mumbling that I am a “manager”.  About a dozen runners cut back to the hiway and run back to the beginning of the Rio en Medio trail, and start the descent again.  It ends up that we did an extra two miles, but in the scheme of events, it is just a tiny diversion!

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Dave Zerkle along the Rio en Medio trail after dropping about 1,500′ in elevation from the start line.  The river flows a well defined canyon for about 6 miles.

Rio en Medio is one of three perennial streams that drain the high country around Lake Peak; Rio Nambe, Rio en Medio and Tesuque Creek (which has two branches). The Rio en Medio is quite modest by most standards, but in New Mexico any perennial stream is a major asset!  The mean annual runoff for the stream is 1,740 acre-feet (the discharge from the Colorado river is about 20 million acre-feet).  Northern New Mexico has experienced a wet monsoon in 2016 (started late, but July and August were robust!), and the stream crossing along the trail result in wet feet.

rioenmedio

The Rio en Medio drainage basin. The first 6 miles of the course follows the Rio from 10,200′ elevation to 7,600′ elevation.

Around mile 5 in the race the canyon narrows and there a a number of waterfalls.  This is a truly beautiful section of the race, and does not belie the long climbs to come.

waterfall

One of several waterfalls along the Rio en Medio.  The water has carved a smooth shoot in the Precambrian metamorphic gneiss.

We arrive at the first aid station after running for 1hr and 50 minutes; the mileage is 7.76 miles, and even though we have descended 2,500′, the trail is still cool and in the shade of forest growth. However, after only a few more miles, the trail begins to zig-zags through Pinon-Juniper forest with its sparse tree spacing and low growth. It is now mid-morning, and instead of the temperatures being in the mid-40s, they are in the high 70s.

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Dogruel and Zerkle running along a short section of road into Aid Station 2. No one can carry enough water for this kind of running – thank goodness for aid stations!

Aid station 2 is only 4 miles from where the course leaves the Rio en Medio, but I end up drinking both my bottle of water in that hour long ramble. Every aid station in the Ultra Santa Fe is incredibly well stocked (and each is different) and manned by helpful volunteers.  The trail now is on the alluvial apron derived from some 25 million years of the Rio Grand Rift slowly opening up, and filled by the erosion off the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  The rocks that are visible are round cobbles, no two looking alike.  It makes for sort of boring running – but I still manage to trip along the trail at mile 14, cutting my knee, right wrist, and my cheek just below my right eye.  It was one of those falls that looked worse than it felt, but a powerful reminder that running along a trail requires full attention.  I tend to have an active imagination, and get lost in thoughts.  When I tripped I was thinking about the North Korean nuclear test the day before. My slightly blackened eye was a gift from Kim Jong-un.

After my stumble my pace begins to falter.  The fall probably only has a little to do with this – my longest run since the San Juan Solstice in June has been 17 miles, and I have been on a restrict to keep my runs under 4 hours in duration (note – the limit on the time out on a run does not easily translate to a distance.  On steep terrain 4 hours might only be 10 miles!).  I urge my team mates to power ahead, and assure them that I will finish even if I am slow.  However, they will have nothing of this blatant attempt by me to truly secure the title of DFL.

home

The view towards the west at about mile 16.  The distant mountains, about 30 miles away, are the Jemez and the Valles Grande.  Home.  Los Alamos sits on the eastern flank of the giant volcanic complex.

We roll into Aid Station 3 at about 4hrs 30 minutes.  The aid station is the low point of the course (elevation wise — spirit wise the low point was still to come!), and is at the Lower Windsor trailhead, only a short distance from the paved road back up to the ski hill. The elevation is 7,200′, and for our day, this is the halfway point in the race (17.5 miles).  We have 15 miles of uphill ahead of us to climb a little over 5,000′.

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The long climb means that we all take out our trekking poles.  Over the last couple of years I have learned that trekking poles dramatically improve my climbing.  There are many testimonials to the power of poles, but surprisingly little scientific research into how much poles help.  I have found three studies in the biomechanics of pole use; the best study was done in 2010 with a small control group (Trekking Poles Reduce Exercise Induced Muscle Injury during Mountain Running, by Howatson et al.). The control groups ascended and descended steep mountain grades with and without poles, and the researchers concluded that “When hiking uphill at significant grade, under significant load,  trekking poles increase efficiency by approximately 10% and decrease perceived effort by 20%.”  

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The effect of trekking poles.  Use of trekking poles increases heart rate (so can tire you out faster) but dramatically improve speed, and something called “relative perceived effort”.

Using trekking poles is an art – it allows you to transfer workload away from your legs to your arms and shoulders, which can decrease your overall level of fatigue.  However, using your arms tends to increase your heart rate, so you do use more calories/mile.  Further, unless you practice with poles a runner’s cadence tends to slow (and your arms get really tired over 10s of miles!).  Our pace with poles as we climb the Big Tesuque Creek is steady, but pretty slow.  This slow pace is actually great for observing rocks…within a mile I find a wonderful boudinage.

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Stretching of a quartz rich band within a gneissic boulder.  The stretching pattern breaks up the quartz band into sausage-shaped boudins.

Some 1.5 billion years ago this boulder – more correctly, the formation that this boulder would came from — was subjected to extension.  The extension broke apart the bands within the rock; think of pulling a thick roll of dough. This boulder is one of the reasons I like to run in the mountains!  Only a short distance later I discovered another treasure – glacial striations!

glacialstraiations

A medium sized boulder on the side of the Big Tesuque drainage that shows glacial striations. The groves, which run from the upper left of the photo to the center right, are scares from moving ice that was on the Sangre de Cristo mountains 12,000 years ago.

Glacial striations are scratches cut into bedrock by what is known as glacial abrasion. As the ice of a glacier moves down hill it carries debris – rocks of all sizes – and this debris is dragged across the bedrock leaving gouges.  I had heard about glacial striations near Lake Peak, but never have been able to find any.  I am not certain where grooves carved in the rock pictured above occurred; it is possible that it was far up the mountain, but the boulder had tumbled down to its present location.  No matter – the Ultra Santa Fe was getting really interesting!  Which was probably a really good thing.  By the time we pulled into the 4th Aid Station at Borrego, I was getting quite tired.  Mile 22.5, and only 1/3 the way up the hill.

Borrego is just off the paved road up to the ski hill, and thus was well stocked.  Better that “well stocked”.  There was a platter of bacon, a bowl of sliced avocado, ice cold coca cola, and for my running partners, an assortment of beers.  Dave Zerkle was particularly fond of the chocolate porter.  This aid station deserves to be in the Ultra Trail run hall of fame.  I could easily have stayed there for an hour.  Non-trail runners don’t understand the attraction of bacon after long hours on the trail, but the combination of salty crunch and nothing sweet is refreshing.  By 6 or 7 hours in a run I can’t really eat much because my stomach just does not want to be bothered.  However, bacon can go down…..

After we left the aid station we had a short climb and then a steep descent.  It was short, but it was enough to really aggravate my left knee.  This knee is about the last “natural” joint I have left in my legs.  My artificial joints always feel fine, but my left knee is long overdue for replacement.  My knee began to swell – I can control this with advil, but only so much.  I knew I could finish the run, but it was going to be slow and painful.  I urged the Daves to trek on without me.  However, they took turns rotating to pace me.  I was both a bit embarrassed and extremely grateful for the friendship.  They made the last 10 miles doable – actually more than “doable”, they were enjoyable.  I can’t thank them enough for what they did.

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Approaching tree line on the Aspen Vista trail.  Only a few miles to go from here.

Aid station 5 is at the Big Tesuque Camp ground.  Here we found out that dozens of people behind us had dropped out of the race (and others were dropping out at this aid station).  It seemed that we might be the last ones left!  Only 8 miles to go, I decided not to stop at the aid station and continued on ahead of my companions.  I knew they would catch me, but I did not want to “freeze” up.  I have done the climb up along the Aspen Vista trail to the top of Tesuque mountain many times.  The familiarity of the trail was reassuring – although it also meant I knew exactly how much longer I had to go before I finished.

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The last little climb until the top of the mountain.  It the background you can see the treeless peaks of Santa Fe Baldy (on the left) and Lake Peak (on the right).  The last aid station was at mile 33….still 2 miles to go, straight downhill.

Progress on the climb was slow, but very steady.  However, when we got to the top, and I realized we were more than 10 hours into the race and I was stunned.  I expected to finish in about 9 hours, and here we were at the top of the mountain, with two difficult miles ahead of us.  Those two miles meant a 2,000′ drop.  Sounds like it should be fast – and would be if it was the beginning of the race.  However, feet are tender, legs are shot, and it is just tough to run.  We began the descent knowing that we had locked up the DFL title, so all the pressure was off.  We did find some interesting rocks along the way down.

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Dave Dogruel touching what has become the Team DFL totem.  This is a spectacular migmatic boulder could last 1.7 billion years, so we could last another mile.

We come across an absolute textbook example of a migmatite –  a mixture of metamorphic and granitic intrusions.  This became our totem – a good luck charm.  The Precambrian gneiss, black and sparkly with biotite, had been partially melted and recrystallized after the quartz had fractionated out.  Then the rock was stretched, making for a wild pattern.

About 300 yards from the finish line the sleepy volunteers that had been waiting for the last runners were awoken, and began to cheer us on.  Really.  When we crossed the line we had been on the course for over 11 hours.  It was a long day – but I was thankful for a great adventure, and even more joyful for the friendship I have with my fellow runners.

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A Nice Way to End

I have run 25 different trail ultra races. I have run them in deserts and mountains; in snow and heat. But, I have never had a race like the Ultra Santa Fe.  It was hard and beautiful.  But it was also my last before I get my left knee replaced.  I am hoping to have surgery complete in the first week of January, and it will take me a year before I am running long distances again.  Who knows what 2018 will bring?  I am thankful that I got one last wonderful race in – even if others will scoff at the time, it was one of my favorites. Looking forward to recovery and continuing the journey!

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The Riff of the Rio Grande Rift: Running in the Pecos Wilderness and up Santa Fe Baldy

Both the man of science and the man of action live always at the edge of mystery, surrounded by it – J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was appointed the Director of Los Alamos Laboratory in November 1942.

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View of a late spring storm over the Sangre de Cristo mountains viewed from Los Alamos (photo by Jim Stein, Los Alamos photographer extraordinaire, May 26, 2015). The peak in the center-left is Santa Fe Baldy (elevation 12,632 feet).

The town of Los Alamos sits high above the Rio Grande River on the Pajarito Plateau.  The location of the town will always be associated with the Jemez Mountains and the spectacular Valles Caldera; however, the view from the town is always to the east, across the Rio Grande Rift, and towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  The Sangre are the southern most range of mountains that are part of the Rockies, and the view from Los Alamos is dominated by a series of rugged high peaks – Truchas, Jicarita, Sante Fe Baldy Peaks all top 12,500′ – these rocky spires guard the Pecos Wilderness, one of the Jewels of unspoiled New Mexico.

The creation myth of the Los Alamos often casts J. Robert Oppenheimer as selecting the isolated and rugged Pajarito Plateau for the project Y laboratory because of a connection with the Los Alamos Ranch School, a boy’s college prep school. However, that is incorrect – indeed, Oppenheimer recommended and lobbied for a laboratory in New Mexico because of his affection for the area.  But that attachment was with the area that would become the Pecos Wilderness Area.  In 1922 Oppenheimer and his brother Frank visited the Pecos Valley and loved it – so much so, that the brothers first rented, and eventually bought, a ranch along the Pecos River which they named “Perro Caliente” (the legend is that when Oppenheimer found the land for sale he shouted “hot dog”, and the name seemed logical for the new ranch).  When General Groves and Oppenheimer visited New Mexico to locate project Y the preferred site was near Jemez Springs.  However, Oppenheimer convinced Groves that the high cliffs would make the scientists claustrophobic, and thus, unproductive.  The next site visited was the Los Alamos Ranch School, and Oppenheimer beamed with joy at the view towards the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and exclaimed that the scientists would be inspired by the vast vista.  Of course, to the is day, the scientists — at least this one — remain inspired by the magnificent mountains.

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J. Robert Oppenheimer and E.O. Lawrence at the Oppenheimer Ranch along the Pecos River in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Oppenheimer often rode a horse from his ranch up to Lake Katherine just below Santa Fe Baldy.

The high mountain peaks of the Sangre are accessible by a number of trails that are only 35 miles from Los Alamos.  These trails allow great entry into the high country for trail running (and hiking!); several of the trailheads are located at the Santa Fe Ski Basin, and are gateways to runs of 20, 30, and even 50+ miles at elevations that never drop below 10,000′. This is a perfect training ground for the ultras like the San Juan Solstice 50 Miler (June 27, only 2 weeks away) — so off went about 10 runners from Los Alamos and Santa Fe on June 13 to get some quality high altitude climbing and descending, and tasting the ever changing alpine weather.

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Dave Zerkle, at the Sante Fe Ski Basin after a wet run up Santa Fe Baldy.

The geologic story of Santa Fe Baldy

New Mexico is an arid state. In fact, it has the lowest water-to-land ratio of any of the 50 states in the US, and more than three quarters of the few lakes that exist are actually man made reservoirs. Despite this lack of water, or perhaps because it is so scarce, the human history of the state is dominated by a narrow ribbon of water that bisects New Mexico, the Rio Grande River.  The Rio Grande is long, but not wide, and only in New Mexico would the name “Grande” be applied to this river.  The stream gauge at Otowi Bridge — on the hiway route from Los Alamos to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – read 2500 cubic ft per second the morning of June 13, 2015 (the Mississippi River flow was 220 times larger at St Louis this morning).  However, this modest flow supports the state, and 75 percent of the state’s population lives within 50 miles of the Rio Grande.

The Rio Grande River is also a remarkable geologic marker. The headwaters are in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and entire course of the river through New Mexico follows a topographic depression that traces the Rio Grande Rift (RGR).  The RGR is relatively uncommon geologic phenomena, a continental rift (there are only three others in world), and it represents a stable continental plate slowly being torn apart; or more correctly, stretched apart.  The RGR stated about 25-30 million year before the present, and represents the end stages of extensive crustal extension throughout the southwest. The crust between the California-Nevada border and the Tucson, Arizona extended by as much as 50% during this time. The RGR is presently opening at less than 2 mm per year, but integrated over millions of years this has created a “hole” where the crust has been stretched apart. This hole is instantiated by a series of basins that have been filled with the sediments transported down the Rio Grande River.

Basins

The trace of the Rio Grande Rift is marked by a deep graben, which is mostly filled with sediments that have washed down the Rio Grande River over the last 25 million years. Los Alamos sits on the western margin of the Rift, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are along the eastern margin. Between Los Alamos and Sante Fe Baldy is the Espanola Basin.

The figure above shows the largest of these basins, including the location of the Espanola Basin which sits between Los Alamos and Santa Fe, and is more than 10,000 ft deep and filled with ancient river sediments.  The flanks of rifts are almost always elevated relative to pre-opening of the rift.  This may seem counter intuitive given that the opening of the rift creates a “hole”.  However, the opening of the rift is usually associated with ascending hot mantle material, which “lifts” the region overall.

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Conceptional cartoon for continental rift dynamics. Ascending hot mantle materials raise the elevation, and as the crust is extended a rift valley forms. The flanks of the rift are often uplifted high mountains with steep faces sloping into the rift valley.

This is the case for the entire eastern flank of the Rio Grande Rift in northern New Mexico.  The present topography of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains owes its existence to the opening of the RGR.  The Sangres are an ancient mountain range and certainly were part of a proto-Rocky Mountains.  However, studies of erosional surfaces indicate that 35 million years ago the prominence of the Sangres was only a thousand feet.  Opening of the rift allowed the rocks of the range to rise to their present elevation and develop and prominence of over 7,500′.

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Geologic map of the Pecos Wilderness Area. The western margin is a block of plutonic granitic rocks that have been uplifted during the opening of the Rio Grande Rift. This block contains all the high peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range (from Robertson and Moench, 1979).

The core of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the Pecos Wilderness area are Precambrian plutonic granites (and granitic gneiss).  In the figure shown above, the large elongate block on the western side of the map shows the extent of this plutonic rocks which are approximately 1.6 billion years old.  They are fragments of the original North American crust that were probably formed 5 to 10 km beneath the surface of the Earth.

The topography from the Jemez Mountains to the Sangre de Cristo Range are due to the dynamics of the Rio Grande Rift.  In fact, the entire landscape of the New Mexico has been influenced and shaped by the RGR.  As a geologic architect, the rift is Frank Lloyd Wright.

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Looking up at Santa Fe Baldy from the Winsor Trail just beyond the Rio Nambe crossing. 2000 feet to climb in about 2.5 miles. Steep and sweet.

Sky running in the Sangre 

The Mountain Trail Series group (meaning Dave Coblentz from Los Alamos) organized a trail run for the high country of Pecos Wilderness.  The run (route shown below) climbed several of the peaks, and included some cross-country (no trails).  Several of the less ambitious (I am actually always ambitious, but my athletic ambitions do not match my actual skill) chose to run a section of the course.  The IDEA was to run up Santa Fe Baldy and then loop back over Lake Peak.

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Map of the “course” for Beyond Baldy, a Mountain Trail Series Event. A group of us chose a slightly less ambitious versions that topped Santa Fe Baldy and Lake Peak without venturing cross country to Redondo Peak.

The forecast called for rain, but gave a glimmer of hope that the precipitation would hold off until noon.  However, at the start of the run at 7 am it was clear that a storm was brewing.  The Winsor Trailhead has an elevation of about 10,200′, and that is the low point of the run. The trail starts with a steep, switchback climb – about 500 feet in the first half mile – and by the top of first segment the fast runners have baked me off the end of the group.  This is good because it gives me time to look at the rocks and not feel pressure.  The trail is soft and not particularly rocky, but there are ample outcrops to see large blocks of granitic gneiss/schist glistening in the morning light.  The schist is rich in mica – and it is a marvel to imagine that this delicate mineral could last for over a billion years!

Once the trail enters the Pecos Wilderness boundary it is fairly flat for about 4 miles.  Easy running, along with a couple nice stream crossings.  When you arrive at the Winsor-Nambe trail fork the serious business of climbing begins.  However, today is a training run, so the pace is steady and easy. About 1/2 hour from the summit of Baldy we can see the fast runners along the ridge nearly to the top.

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Standing on the summit of Santa Fe Baldy. Behind me is the silhouette of Truchas Peak and ridge, about 30 miles north. There is no sunshine this June morning.

The views from the summit of Santa Fe Baldy are usually breathtaking.  However, today, hanging clouds at the front edge of a storm surround the ridges and obscures any distant vistas.  There is a fine view down to Katherine Lake, which still has some ice!  Lake Katherine is within a cirque on the northeast side of Baldy.  This cirque was formed by alpine glaciers that were extensive about 11,000 years ago.  Based on the number and character of the cirques on Baldy and Lake Peak the annual average temperature of the region must have been about 10 degrees F less than today. Katherine Lake is the largest alpine lake in the New Mexico (although small), and has an unbelievable connection to J. Robert Oppenheimer – he named it.  The lake is on maps that were produced before 1930 with no name, but in 1933 a map was produced that included the name “Katherine Lake”, and a reference to Oppenheimer as the namer.  It turns out that on J. Robert’s first visits to Pecos he became infatuated with a young woman of an old New Mexico family, Katherine Chaves.  His affections were apparently unreturned (it would appear that Oppenheimer was a nerd as far as the opposite sex was concerned, and he may have never even approach Chaves), but on his many trips riding horses in the Pecos came to love the small lake beneath Baldy, and wistfully named it Katherine Lake.

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a view from Santa Fe Baldy down to Katherine Lake. There was still a thin covering of ice on most of the lake, extremely unusual for June!

After a short break at the summit it was clear that it would soon start storming, and we began the descent down Baldy back towards Lake Peak.

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Dave Zerkle on the flank of Santa Fe Baldy. Over his right shoulder is Lake Peak and the cirque that contains Nambe Lake.

Soon there was grapple falling – then hail – then rain – then hard hail.  All those things are just an enjoyable part of trail running.  However, they were accompanied by thunder and lightning, and it was prudent to get off the exposed ridge lines as fast as possible. At this point I am reminded that being an old, slow runner has advantages – feet close together makes for less potential drop during a close-by lightning strike!

lightning

Most lightning fatalities are NOT from direct strikes. Rather, they are from close by strikes and the fact that humans make a grounding loop. Strangely, if your feet are together the potential drop from one foot to the other is much lower than if you have a wide stance….So, run with a shuffle.

The down pour dictated a change of plans, and we had to delay the run up to Lake Peak for another day.  Nevertheless, the run up Baldy is a great adventure!

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Moonrise over Santa Fe Baldy seen from Los Alamos. Another outstanding photo from Jim Stein. Full moon, mid-April, 2015.