Peak(s):  Lake Fork Peak - 12881
Date Posted:  04/21/2008
Date Climbed:   04/20/2008
Author:  scotthsu
 Backcountry skiing in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, NM   

Itinerary: hike/skin/snowclimb from Williams Lake TH (~10160') to Lake Fork Peak (12881'), ski descent of NE face to Williams Lake (~11040'), skin up to ~12100' on NW flanks of Wheeler Peak, ski descent back to TH.
Vertical climbed/skied: ~3780'
Roundtrip mileage: ~6.5 miles (estimate)
Roundtrip time: 5 hours 50 minutes
Who: saddlebagger (PJ), Nice Axe! (Amy), scotthsu (Scott)


There's occasional interest on 14ers.com in the Wheeler Peak, NM area (in the Sangre de Cristo Range), so I thought I'd post this TR here. Lake Fork Peak (12881') is a beautiful peak to the SW across the Williams Lake basin from Wheeler Peak (13161', highest point in NM). Being PJ's last full day in NM before moving to Montana (send good Montana hiking/climbing/skiing beta his way!), we decided to backcountry ski here, one of our favorite places.

Williams Lake TH location: From the NE corner of the Taos Ski Valley parking lot, take Twining Road (dirt road, 4WD typically not required except after recent snow) for ~2 miles south to a hiker parking area at ~10160'. Here is a topo of the area. The blue lines mark our ascent routes, and the red lines our ski descents:
Image


We arrived at the parking area (surrounded by ~3' of snow) around 7:25am and were skinning by 7:40am. It was around 40 F, sunny, and breezy. Blowing snow could already be seen high above on all the ridgelines. From the parking area, we walked a few hundreds yards south on snow to the bottom of a chairlift (Taos lift 4) and started skinning up a ski run just to the right of a small shack (Black Diamond Espresso; too bad it was closed). Shortly, the trail splits off to the left with a sign for "Williams Lake." It's about 2 miles to Williams Lake. It is well traveled by snowshoers/skiers in the winter/spring, so it is very easy to follow all the way to the lake.

Amy skinning toward Williams Lake, with the NW-facing flank of Wheeler Peak (13161', highest peak in NM) visible in the background:
Image


There is a rise just before Williams Lake, and from here we headed SW into the trees. Shortly, we popped out of the trees onto wide open slopes. PJ having some problems, while Amy making it look easy:
Image


Amy and PJ skinning wide open slopes toward the SE slopes of Lake Fork Peak (not visible in picture):
Image


The prominent couloir in the background of the above photo is a fun ski descent, which we did 2 years ago. Amy and PJ fighting their way up a slick slope into a strong headwind (Wheeler Peak in the background):
Image


The snow was still fairly frozen (about 10am at this point) and soon it got steep enough that our skins wouldn't grab, so we started bootpacking:
Image


After about 400 vertical ft. of bootpacking, here's Amy and PJ reaching the summit ridge of Lake Fork Peak, with Wheeler Peak behind. It was real windy.
Image


PJ and Amy just steps from the summit of Lake Fork Peak around 10:30am:
Image


A look down the NE face of Lake Fork, which we would ski shortly (blue/red lines are our ascent/descent for our 2nd line later that day):
Image


It was so windy that we didn't spend much time on the summit. We quickly dropped down onto the NE face and got ready to ski. The steepest sustained part of this slope is around 40 degrees, and with all the wind, we were clearly concerned about avalanches. Here's me preparing to do a quick stability test:
Image


We saw about 3' of fairly uniform wintry hardpack with sugary hoar below. A ~1' layer on top broke easily and cleanly with a shovel-shear test (clearly some slab avalanche potential here). There were no indications of overall brittleness or cracking, but we still decided to ski the top pitch conservatively, staying skier's right where there were some rocks poking out to anchor the snowpack. Lower down, we were able to open it up a bit and get some GS turns, but the snow was slabby and variable. Amy:
Image


Scott sneaking into some of the freshies:
Image


Looking back up the NE face, from about 700' below the summit:
Image


More turns by Amy:
Image


We skied down further, had a snack break, then skied all the way down to Williams Lake (~11040'). Corn was in lower down! Amy headed for the car, while PJ and I decided to go for another line. We decided to skin up the western slopes of Wheeler Peak, along what is the usual summer climber's trail heading up and west from Williams Lake. Here is PJ skinning up around treeline (Lake Fork Peak is in the background, with our prior ascent/descent in blue/red):
Image


PJ skinning around 12000' with UN 12819' (Sin Nombre as it's called by some local skiers) in the background:
Image


We got to around 12100' and took off the skins. We contoured north toward several avalanche chutes which provide great ski lines. Here's PJ rippin' down our chosen avy path, with ski runs of Taos in the background:
Image


It was neat to see the run-out zone from the next avalanche path far below (above picture). The snow was finally softening up now on this west-facing chute (it was about 1:10pm)! PJ eating it up:
Image


Scott skiing the avy path:
Image


From the bottom of the avy chute, it was a quick ski out along the Williams Lake trail; we were back at the car by 1:30pm to enjoy cold beer!
Image


Thanks for the company PJ. We will miss having you here in NM.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20


Comments or Questions
lordhelmut
User
cool
04/23/2008 17:45
backcountry skiing, sun and beer, can‘t beat that trio. That looks like a pretty cool area. I never got around to skiing Taos this year, too bad, always next year.


scotthsu
User
taos
04/24/2008 15:15
usually i tell people that Taos sucks to help keep the slopes empty )
but for you, i say come check it out next season and give me a shout when you do!


lordhelmut
User
Taos
04/25/2008 00:32
I‘ll take you up on that and will spread the word that Taos sucks.

See you on the trail.



   Not registered?


Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: 14ers.com supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.




© 2022 14ers.com®, 14ers Inc.