I ended up in New Mexico because of an off-hand comment by kleinbl00 about New Mexico mountains. I was looking for a spring mountain hiking trip that wouldn't be mud and/or snow, thus ruling out anything further north.
I found a number of good trip reports for East Pecos Baldy and Truchas peaks. Hiking here gave me a lot of options.
All of my mountain hiking up until this point was in the Adirondacks. These peaks are in the 4-5000' range, starting from trailheads of 900-1800'.
In the Pecos Wilderness, I started at over 8800' at the Jacks Creek trailhead north of Cowles, NM and about an hour's drive from Santa Fe. I had three days of hiking blocked off with an intent of going to Truchas Peak. Day one was a hike out to Pecos Baldy Lake, a common camping site. I saw two horse riders that afternoon, and they were the last people I saw for about 42 hours.
The hike to Pecos Baldy lake was 7.25 miles and took me up to 11,500'. My GPS tells me I had a total ascent of 2940'. I felt pretty good up to about 10,500' when I just started to feel worn out. With less than a half mile to go to the lake, I had to stop and take my backpack off and just sit for a bit. The hike up took me about 4.5 hours.
That night after laying in my tent for a bit, I checked my pulse. Normally my resting heart rate is under 60 beats per minute. Laying there more than 10,000' above my home, I measured 88 bpm (44 beats over 30 seconds). I decided then that Truchas (about 10 miles round trip) was off the agenda. I'd instead go for East Pecos Baldy, a mere 1.2 mile trip and 1000' elevation gain.
It was cold and windy that night. My sleeping bag is rated to 40 degrees, and I woke up cold. I checked the time: 10:30 PM. If it was almost morning I'd have just lived with the cold, but this was going to be all night. I packed a sleeping bag liner I'd never used before, and I pulled that into my bag. It did the trick, and I'm glad I had it.
The next morning I knew the hike was shorter, and it was cold. I ate breakfast with a wool hat, gloves, and down coat. I was still cold and decided I just needed to get moving to warm up.
There's an official trail all the way to the summit. It's 0.6 miles down one trail and then a 0.6 mile spur to the summit. I saw a lot of snow as this was on the north side of a spur off the mountain. About halfway down the trail I got to an eroded bit of trail I couldn't figure out how to get around. Going under it meant dropping down twenty feet with no obvious way to get back up. Going over it meant trying to get up twenty feet. And going across it meant a steep slope with loose dirt where slipping meant a twenty foot slide into trees and rocks. I pride myself on being safe. I turned around.
Back at my camp, I considered my options. I knew the route to Truchas crossed the Trailriders Wall, a flat open ridge with a lot of views, so I took the trail up there. Along here I topped out at 11,953', my new record for highest hike. At this point I had no specific goal as no summit was within reach, so I just hiked down the trail until I felt like turning around.
That's the Truchas group of peaks in the center.
Along here I saw a sign for another trail that headed back to the lake. My National Geographic map showed the trail leaving the lake but stopping at the saddle between East Pecos Baldy and the Trailriders Wall. But the sign was there and I could see a few cairns marking the trail. On the way back, I followed that as best I could, but it wasn't nearly as worn as the other trails were. It was here that I saw a herd of bighorn sheep.
Continuing on, now on the side slope of the Trailriders Wall, I encountered a talus field. It was like walking on the rocks under railroad tracks. Everything was loose. From my vantage I couldn't see any trail, but I knew I had to get to the saddle. The Wall is mostly treeless, so it was easy to see where I needed to go. Once there, I could see multiple paths through the talus.
Coming down off the saddle I scared up a couple... I don't know, beavers maybe? I'd say groundhogs, but they apparently aren't in New Mexico. Otherwise it was a straightforward hike back down. After about four hours on the move, I was pretty tired again, much like the first day. While the day was early and I could have started hiking out, I stayed put for the rest of the day.
The third day was a simple hike out, almost entirely downhill. To my surprise, I still was worn out by the end. Much like day one, I had to drop my pack and rest even close to the end.
I enjoyed the Pecos Wilderness and would gladly go back. However, I wasn't terribly impressed with the bits of Santa Fe and Albuquerque I saw. Endless beige dirt is depressing.
I also concluded elevation does have an effect on me, and it won't be immediately obvious. Instead it's sort of a cumulative impact that creeps up. I think my next trip, if not to the Northeast, will be to split the difference between Mount Marcy at 5300' and the Trailriders Wall at 12,000'.
Every trail of my childhood. We didn't turn around.
In the Jemez there were several "trails" that were effectively "follow the river until you see the funny-shaped rock on the horizon and then scrabble to it as best you can." Speaking of...
Story checks out. In summer you need to watch out for rattlesnakes. The little ones like to live in there. Lots of these to eat:
In Silverton once we heard a couple Texans asking their waitress about all the "pygmy bears" they saw everywhere. "Seen any pygmy bears?" in an excessive drawl became our touchstone for Texan off-roaders.
The Pecos Wilderness loses a lot of its charm when there's no escape.
You get used to the elevation. The brown will drive you slowly mad.