Kachina Peak Loop a.k.a. Wheeler Peak the Hard Way-Difficult

If you have ever been up Wheeler Peak via the Williams Lake route you probably stopped at the lake and admired the spectacular scenery of all the high peaks that surround you. The route we take from the ski valley summits all of those high peaks as we follow the high ridge that connects one side of the valley to the other as it curves along a headwall cirque. This is by far the most difficult approach to Wheeler Peak. However, I feel comfortable saying this is the most scenic alpine hike in New Mexico with high octane scenery for most of the day and challenge you to prove otherwise. Along the way we will summit at least 8 peaks, 5 of which are included in New Mexico’s 10 highest mountains: Lake Fork, Old Mike, Simpson, Wheeler, and Walter. The route is approximately 10 miles with close to 6 thousand feet of elevation gain, depending on which way we head back to the cars. There is also some exposed scrambling but the moves on solid rock are simple. If the fear of falling or heights makes you uneasy this would not be a good hike for you. The route is also exposed to the elements as we will be above tree line for most of this hike. Since there are a few places where getting off the ridge quickly would be difficult I will cancel this hike if there is a good chance of electrical storms on this day, as I don't like taking chances with lightning. Needless to say this is a hike that is best suited for fit and experienced hikers. If you overestimate your abilities and are unreasonably slow because the hike is out of your league, we probably will not complete the route or get back to the cars before nightfall. If you are having a hard time keeping a moderate pace at the beginning, you will be asked to hike alone.

The route goes up service roads near the Kachina chair-lift and backcountry ski routes to the top of Kachina Peak. The hiking gets more challenging from Kachina to Lake Fork Peak, where we will climb up a slab with good hand and foot holds. The real scrambling doesn’t begin till we head down Lake Fork and up and down two unnamed peaks before skirting around Simpson Peak. We’ll go a little out of the way to summit Old Mike’s Peak before bagging Simpson and Wheeler. After Wheeler, we will head down the Williams Lake route. 

I am driving up on Friday night and plan to camp along the Rio Hondo and am willing to share my site but it is rather small and would probably only be good for one other tent. However, there are two campgrounds along the Rio Hondo and plenty of disturbed at-large sites in the National Forest along the river, and another small campground at the Bull of the Woods Trailhead. Another option would be to rent a room at a local hotel or hostel in or near Taos. You could also organize amongst yourselves and carpool early Saturday morning (it is a 3 hour drive).

There is no water along this hike until we drop down to Williams Lake so make sure to bring plenty of H2O, food to fuel your body, and always be prepared for high winds, cold weather, and rain or snow as the weather can get kind of crazy at these altitudes and being unprepared could be life threatening. Bring a headlamp with you too, just in case. Questions? Call me at[masked] or leave a comment. I also plan to hike in the area on Sunday: you are welcome to join me.

P.S. If you sign up make sure to check the site on Friday afternoon for a possible weather cancellation.

P.S.S. If I have never hiked with you before, make sure to answer the question about including your phone number as I would like to talk to you ahead of time to ascertain whether you will enjoy this adventure.

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  • Eric B.

    I won't get bored with this hike anytime soon. Doug, keep posting it and I'll keep showing up for it if I can.

    September 24, 2013

  • Doug F.

    Thanks Aaron for the comment. I'm glad that the two of you made it up Lake Fork Peak, which in my opinion is a very worthy goal in and of itself.

    September 24, 2013

  • Aaron G.

    I'll be going back to Taos to do Kachina Peak Loop.

    My opinion, from my vantage point where we met you, is that after Kachina Peak the route can be classified as a true Alpine hike. I'd say your hike is within the realm of mountaineering. It is defiantly the most challenging of any the group has ever scheduled. The Scar or the Gate of Hell hikes by comparison are mere warmups. More power too you, Doug.

    September 24, 2013

  • Doug F.

    Great hike, scenery, weather, and company in spectacular northern New Mexico. Climbed on top of 8 peaks, ran into Aaron and Mikee, and hiked up Gold Hill on Sunday on a cool and windy day where it felt like fall. On the drive home, I saw some snow on the high peaks in the Pecos.

    September 22, 2013

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  • Doug F.
    Mountain Madman, Assistant Organizer
    Event Host
  • A former member

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