Friday, June 16, 2017

Given the elevation of Deception Peak (12,343 feet), we were a little concerned that, in mid-June, we would run into snow and ice as we approached the higher elevations. Just to be safe, we packed our micro-spikes.  We did encounter some remaining snow above 11,000 feet, but it was minimal. So we didn’t need our spikes, and the snow just added to the beauty of the area.

Marty and I drove up to the Aspen Basin ski area, which is in the Santa Fe National Forest, just outside, you guessed it… Santa Fe! Due to this being ski country, there is a huge parking area and parking is free.

During hiking season, this area gets heavy use when the weather is nice. In fact, the lone road leading up to Aspen Basin can get pretty congested because there are a number of trailheads and an overlook accessible from that road. If you want to see just how congested things can get up there, watch the beginning of my Aspen Vista hike video here on my blog. We arrived at the parking area a little after 8:30 AM and there were already a dozen or so cars in the parking lot and probably twice that number when we finished the hike. Wise hikers get an early start! 🙂

NOTE: On this hike, I had a weird glitch in my GPS. It showed two different elevations for the beginning and end of the hike, which was strange since we started and finished at the very same place. Based on the topo map, the GPS elevation given for the end of the hike appears to be correct, so I will use that elevation as the beginning elevation, as well. However, since the beginning elevation shown on my GPS was much less than the actual elevation, the climbing numbers I give in the video are overstated and should be ignored. I have corrected the elevation profile and will give corrected climbing numbers in this hike report.

Once you park, the trailhead for the Winsor Trail is just across the street, right next to the pit toilets. I hiked part of the Winsor Trail a few years ago when I hiked up to Nambe Lake with the seniors. The Nambe Lake hike is much less challenging than the Deception Peak hike, and there is no exposure. So, if you aren’t in reasonably good shape, you might want to do the Nambe Lake hike, instead (search this blog for that hike). You won’t get the panoramic views, but the area up to and around Nambe Lake is really nice.

You’ll start this hike going up the Winsor Trail (#254). Elevation at the trailhead is 10,347 feet. After crossing the footbridge, turn right and follow the trail for about 0.8 miles until you get to the gate that marks the Pecos Wilderness boundary line. The trail is packed dirt, well-traveled, and easy to follow. Elevation gain for this leg is about 500 feet, with an average grade of 12%.

The Winsor Trail continues on the other side of the Pecos Wilderness gate. For this hike, though, when you get to the gate, you will turn right and follow the trail that runs next to the fence line, which I will refer to as the Fence Line Trail. Follow the Fence Line Trail for another 0.8 miles, which is as far as it goes before reaching an overlook with an extreme drop-off. The Fence Line Trail starts out as packed dirt, but changes to mostly rock as you near the end. Elevation gain for this leg is about 450 feet, with an average grade of 10%.

Up to this point, climbing has only been  moderate. That is about to change! 🙂

Raven’s Ridge is somewhere between the end of the Fence Line Trail and Deception Peak. For all I know, Raven’s Ridge is the entire length of this section, or it could just be the final climb up to the peak. I couldn’t find anything online, so if you figure it out, please let me know. However, I will refer to this leg as the Raven’s Ridge Trail.

Once you reach the end of the Fence Line Trail, you will turn right and begin the 1.6 mile trek up to Deception Peak. This leg includes two climbs with grades of 20% plus, but there is a relatively flat section in between, so you will get a break between the two climbs. The first climb starts right at the end of the Fence Line Trail and is about 0.4 miles. Elevation gain is about 500 feet with an average grade of 24%. The second, and final, climb up to Deception Peak is also about 0.4 miles, with an average grade of 20%, and the steepest grade being 24%. The 0.8 miles in between the two climbs has an average grade of 4%, but there is short 0.3 mile climb in this section, with an average grade of 13%, thrown in for good measure! 🙂

When you start the first climb, things will get a bit confusing. There are numerous trails branching off in different directions and you won’t quite know which one to take. My feeling is, all those trails will take you to the same place, but I can’t say that with absolute certainty. We were following a GPS track which had us hugging the left side of the ridge all the way up to the beginning of the last climb, which is right above tree-line. I would suggest you do the same. Once you get beyond the first climb, the trail will become more apparent and much easier to follow. However, if you plan on doing this hike and you want my GPX file, let me know and I will put a copy up for you to download.

As we made our way up the Raven’s Ridge Trail, we encountered some remaining snow drifts, but no ice. Nothing wrong with snow, but in hugging the left side of the ridge, there were a couple of places with some moderate-to-extreme exposure (watch the video) we had to confront because an alternate route wasn’t apparent. After assessing each situation, we deemed those exposures acceptable because the trail was flat and dry. Had there been more snow and possibly ice to contend with, or the trail was wet and muddy and/or on an incline, we would have had to find an alternate route which would probably have involved climbing up and over snow drifts. These are thing you should keep in mind if you do this hike before mid-July.

The Raven’s Ridge Trail is mostly under tree cover. There are some really beautiful forest areas, too, especially along the last half of the trail. If you hug the left side of the ridge, as we did, you will also experience some pretty incredible views, one of which is the Nambe Lake overlook. But those views are just a teaser for what awaits you at the top of Deception Peak! 🙂 Once we passed the Nambe Lake overlook, we began the second climb up to Deception Peak. The first part of this climb is under tree cover and has a grade of 15%. But as you hike out of the forest and get above tree line, the final push up to the peak will look pretty steep. And at a grade of 24%, it is pretty steep, especially with tired legs! 🙂

We persevered, tired legs and all, and made it to the peak. Well, to Deception Peak, anyway. As I understand it, Lake Peak is higher (but not my much) and is the “true” peak, where Deception is so named because it is considered a “false” peak. Elevation at Deception Peak is 12,343 feet. The elevation gain was right at 2,000 feet, and it took us a little less than three hours to get there, two hours of which was actual hiking time. Total climbing will be more than the elevation gain, but due to my GPS glitch, I am unable to give you those numbers with any degree of accuracy.

During our lunch break, we talked with a hiker who was familiar with the trail we had intended to take back down. She told us that trail was still pretty well snow packed and could be dangerous. She advised us to take a longer, alternate route back down to the parking lot, so that is what we did. That detour added another mile to our planned hike.

The panoramic views from Deception Peak are stunning, which include looking down on Nambe Lake, and are well worth hanging in there for that last push up to the peak. Apparently, this is a popular peak because there were quite a few hikers up there. Only four of us hiked up by way of the Raven’s Ridge Trail, the rest had come up the way we were about to go down. On that last push up to the peak, we had to deal with a lot of wind, but at the top, there was virtually no wind at all.

Since we took an alternate route back down to avoid snowpack, one we will not take again, and one you will probably not take, I won’t go into detail about that route, other than to say, the wind almost blew us off the mountain until we got back down below tree line! However, if anyone wants to take that alternate route back down, watch the video because you should be able to figure it out from that.

Total hiking distance was 6.8 miles. From trailhead to peak was 3.3 miles. It took us five hours to complete the round trip, with 3.33 hours of that being actual hiking time. Due to my GPS glitch, can’t give you total climbing, but I estimate it was around 2,300 feet. As previously noted, max grades for this hike were around 24%, but that last 0.2 mile climb up to the peak at 24% grade is the one that will get your attention!! 🙂 Keep in mind, coming back down this alternate route adds one mile to an otherwise 5.8 mile hike.

Next Hike Up: Canyon Estates Trailhead to the Embudito Trailhead (up South Crest Trail and down Oso Ridge Trail) in the Sandia Mountains

Click the map and elevation profile for a larger view. Then click the icons on the trail map for more information. If the icon notes come up empty, you will have to reload the map.

Trail Route and Topo Map

Trail Route and Terrain Map


Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile