photo - The northeast couloir on Lake Fork Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016
Members of Group: Sam Harmon, Matt Krajewski, and Zach Taylor
Ascent/Descent Route: Southeast Couloir
My first snowboarding experience in New Mexico was back in 2011 when my friend Pollo and I climbed and snowboarded/skied down Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in New Mexico. Ever since that day when I summited Wheeler and looked out at all the other great ski lines around me I had planned on returning.
Just the opportunity came up this spring when Sam invited me along to Red River, New Mexico for a biker rally with her family. I started doing research on ski/snowboard mountaineering in the range a little before the trip. There really is not a lot of information on the internet but I found decent info on summitpost.com and we settled on skiing one of the couloirs on Lake Fork Peak.
The mountains in the Red River/Taos area comprise the southernmost part of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range that extends to the north all the way into the center of Colorado where it terminates just south of Salida, Colorado. Lake Fork Peak is best accessed from the Williams Lake trailhead that begins at the base of Taos Ski Area. It is the same trailhead that is used to access Wheeler Peak.
Sam and I woke up in our hotel room in Red River at 0400 and stumbled out of our hotel room around 0430 to begin the hour long drive to the Taos ski area. We pulled into the parking lot of Taos just a little after sunrise. It was looking like a nice day with no clouds in the sky. We ended up talking to a guy named Matt in the parking lot. He was planning on heading up Wheeler and snowboarding down it. We talked briefly and I told him about snowboarding on Wheeler from my experience up there a few years ago.
A few minutes later Sam and I took off from the parking lot. It was about 6 miles round trip and 3000 feet of elevation gain to climb and ride Lake Fork Peak from the Williams Like trailhead. We hiked for a bit and then switched to skinning a little bit below Williams Lake. The snow was pretty firm. I was happy to see that we had gotten a good freeze overnight.
Once we got to the lake we started to get a good view of the upper basin and our line on Lake Fork Peak. We stopped for a few minutes to put on sunscreen and eat a snack. During that time Matt caught up to us and we talked a little bit more. He ended up deciding to blow off climbing Wheeler and join us on our climb of Lake Fork instead. Our group became three and we continued our skin past the lake and began to wind up into the head of the basin below Lake Fork Peak.
photo - Matt Kralejewski skinning above Williams Lake. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016
It was a beautiful, warm day and the snow began to soften as we skinned up to the base of the couloir. The climb itself was only about 1000 vertical feet though so we had time to make it up before things got dangerously slushy. We threw boards on our backs and transitioned to axe and crampons. I gave Sam a lesson on axe techniques and snow climbing as it was her first real snow climb and only second time using an axe and then we were off.
The snow conditions were pretty nice for climbing and we enjoyed the views as we kicked steps up the couloir.
photo - Zach Taylor and Sam Harmon climbing up the southeast couloir of Lake Fork Peak. photo by Matt Krajewski, 2016
photo - Sam Harmon topping out on the southeast couloir of Lake Fork Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016
The snow's pitch stayed pretty consistently in the low 40s for most of the climb until we reached a blunted cornice at the top that made for a final few moves of near vertical snow climbing to top out on the ridge. It was a nice finish. The actual summit was still half a mile north of us and a few hundred vertical feet above but we decided the false summit was good enough as the ridge to the main summit did not have any snow and the line we climbed looked funner than anything dropping off the main summit. We hung out on top of the couloir for a bit enjoying views of the southern Sangres.
photo - Sam Harmon hanging out on top of the southeast couloir on Lake Fork Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016.
After some snacks and pictures we decided it was time to ride some corn! I dropped in first taking a small toeside huck into the couloir. Then I demonstrated how to self arrest while snowboarding on both the heelside and toeside edge during my first two turns. Sam is a really strong rider so I was not too worried but she had never ridden with an axe before or on terrain where you need an axe. I also had never ridden with Matt before and knew he was fairly new to the sport too. I wanted to make sure everyone knew how to stop a tumble if it happened. After my demonstrations I opened up my turns a bit and enjoyed some nice corned up jump turns through the bottleneck at the top and pulled off on rider's right under a cliff to wait for Sam and Matt.
Sam dropped in next and Matt followed her. They road down to me one at a time and both ripped it up. Everyone was comfortable and competent and the snow conditions were great! We leap frogged each other down the couloir enjoying great snow and weather in a beautiful setting. Now this is livin'!
photo - Zach Taylor snowboarding down the southeast couloir of Lake Fork Peak. photo by Sam Harmon, 2016
photo - Sam Harmon snowboarding down the southeast couloir of Lake Fork peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016.
photo - Sam Harmon snowboarding down the southeast couloir on Lake Fork Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016.
photo - Matt Krajewski snowboarding down the southeast face of Lake Fork Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016.
photo - Matt Krajewski snowboarding down the southeast couloir on Lake Fork Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016.
photo - Sam Harmon eyeing her line in the southeast couloir of Lake Fork Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2016.
The corn was even better in the bowls below the couloir and we ripped great turns all the way down to William's Lake. It was a great descent! From the lake we shouldered our boards and walked out the last 1.9 miles of William's Lake trail to our car where we had a beer with Matt and then got lunch at the German restaurant at the base of the Kachina chair. They had great food and I would definitely recommend the restaurant. I had a Spaetzle with three different kinds of pork and a great German doble bock to drink.
This was just a really nice day in the mountains. We had a short approach with a pretty classic snowboard descent, great snow conditions, great weather, and great company. It was just enough distance to feel like a nice workout without feeling completely beat up at the end of the day. Just a really nice spring day in the mountains! You cannot ask for much better than that. Happy turns and thanks for reading!
photo - Zach Taylor and Sam Harmon hiking out the William's Lake trail after snowboarding Lake Fork Peak. photo by random tourist, 2016.