First, I want to thank the group here at BPL – especially Mina Loomis, Luke Schmidt, and others who gave trip recommendations and advice. I reached out through the forums earlier in the year looking for recommendations for advice on a trip “out west” with my 2 teens and got great advice. We only had the first week of June available, so possible locations were limited. I ended up planning routes through the Pecos Wilderness, Lost Creek CO, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Elk SD to have options based on weather. We booked flights to Denver with a plan to drive to whichever location had the most promising weather.
When we arrived on June 3rd, the Pecos looked to have the least bad weather of all of them. I had a 6-day, 55 mile CCW loop planned. We made the call to shorten it while out on the trail after being significantly slowed down by deadfall and deep snow on parts of the trail, but this was a great first “bigger” trip for us.
Our initial concerns of either deep snow or high wildfire risk were replaced by forecasts of severe thunderstorms the week before the trip started. We spent a fair amount of time watching the weather forecasts to stay in safer areas.
Day 1 – Cowles to Beatty’s Flats ~11 miles
Day 1 got us some clear skies in the morning and a great start to our trip. We live about 10,000 feet lower than most of the Pecos, so this first day got us at least a little acclimated. Beatty’s trail had a lot of horse tracks (and dung), but we only saw 2 people on horseback off in the distance. We had great views of the surrounding mountains and the wide grasslands. We camped just outside of Beatty’s Flats, as this area is currently restricted from camping.
Day 2 – Beatty’s Flats toward North Truchas Peak then towards the Chimayoso Trail ~ 10 miles
Our second day started slightly challenging with some creek crossings, but smoothed out near the east side of Cerrito Del Padre. As we headed north up Beatty’s Trail toward the Skyline trail, the route got brutal – I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand the meaning of “bad deadfall”. The trail for a few miles was largely invisible – completely choked off by downed trees, and as we got to higher elevations, snow. Once we hit the Skyline Trail we had a mile of a mostly clear rocky path and I had hopes of making it to Truchas Lake. Once we hit the intersection with Jack’s Creek Trail the snow got deep again and the weather forecast got worse, so we turned south on Jack’s Creek to make camp at a lower elevation. We got hammered by hail as we pitched camp and hastily made some dinner.
Day 3 – North Azul Trail ~6 miles
We were fairly wet Tuesday morning, so decided to make a shorter day. We found a small sunny spot and dried everything out for a couple hours while we relaxed. We hoped to continue across the Jack’s Creek Trail towards Pecos Baldy Lake, but the trail was choked by snow and deadfall. We made the wise decision to head to lower elevation again and made camp near the intersection of the North and South Azul trails. Dinner was made before the evening hailstorm and we got to bed before the evening hammering. The beauty of these storms though is they all ended after midnight and we got to see 4 nights of the bright moonshine.
Day 4 – South Azul Trail to Pecos Baldy Lake ~9 miles
Climbing back west along the South Azul Trail, we ran into a lot more deadfall, but after day 2 it felt light. We were able to go off trail at points and walk through some of the meadows to get some relief. We stopped by an unnamed lake and then continued to Pecos Baldy Lake along the Jack’s creek trail. The weather was improving, and we saw other backpackers for the first time in 3 days. Pecos Baldy was well worth the trip! We hoped to continue further SW on the Skyline Trail, but just past the lake the snow increased to 4-5 feet in areas, so we headed back down Jack’s Creek Trail to our final campsite.
Day 5 – back to Cowles ~ 8 miles
We had a smooth final day with temperatures warming into the 70’s and plenty of sunshine. It was a great final day of hiking before we headed to Santa Fe for some food. Plenty of deadfall on either side the trail, but this trail was well maintained and most of the trail had been cleared.
Backpacking with the Teens
Our boy scout troop originally planned to do a high-adventure this summer. Throughout the planning process boys kept pulling out, until I finally had to pull the plug because we didn’t have enough scouts to go. I asked my son what he really wanted to do this summer and he simply said “a much bigger backpacking trip than we usually do, and not in the east where we always hike”. He invited his teen sister and we got to planning. They were great to do this trip with – there was no complaining and they mostly enjoyed the type 2 fun. They made some fantastic food for the trip and hiked and camped like champs. I loved going with them and challenging ourselves with this trip.
Food and Cooking
My kids got a kick out of trying to make meals that hit 125 cal/oz. They invented an oatmeal bar where they crammed in every high-calorie ingredient they could find – chia seeds, coconut, honey, olive oil, ground flax seed, chocolate and who knows what. The other big winner for us was buying the full-size can of freeze-dried chicken from Mountain House. We repacked into daily portions in a vacuum sealed bag. This went great with the nightly dinners of mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, ramen pesto, and spicy rice.
We challenged ourselves to cook differently by using only the classic cat-can stove and an 1100 ml pot – a bit slow but great learning.
My Journey Towards Light(er)
I’ve backpacked off and on for the last 25 years or so, and have gotten out on more frequent shorter trips with our scout troop. My packing until last year was completely “trad” – old gear and encouragement from our previous scoutmaster to be overprepared and divide everything neatly into nice plastic containers for your pack! My son and I backpacked the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness 2 years ago and I estimate we each carried 55 lbs. I was shocked into trying to think differently when a leader at my scoutmaster training pulled out what was probably a 40-50 liter pack that likely weighed 15 lbs and explained that it was all he needed for a week. That sent me down the path to figuring out what I could do differently. In the last 9 months, I’ve listened to just about every BPL podcast, read plenty of articles on this sight, read lots of Skurka blogs, plus read plenty from Clelland and Ladigan.
Our setup was by no means “light”. I got my base weight down to about 17 lbs for this trip, which included all shared gear for the 3 of us. I’ve focused on my own gear to figure out what works (and b/c I don’t have the $ to re-outfit the rest of the family all at once). My kids split an old-school Eureka tent and carried their trad packs and sleep systems. My lighter system allowed me to take some of their gear plus more of the food. We managed to start the trip with base, food, and water with me and my son at about 30 lbs and my daughter below 25. My son and I were excited to get so far below the weights from our last big trip. My kids and I are excited to upgrade gear for the rest of the family now and get my wife and my other 2 kids out on the next big trip.