Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, NM

March 28, 2009 | By | Comments (9)

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Kachina Peak as seen in the distance from the intersection of the Highline and West Basin trails

My head was in the clouds and my burning lungs felt like they were in my stomach…being digested. At an altitude of some 12,000 feet, I looked up at the final approach to Kachina Peak, breathless and more airheaded than usual. More than a little humbled, too, as the words of the ski shop clerk down in Taos Ski Valley (TSV) echoed in my head with a sort of taunting lilt. When I had asked him earlier in the week if the hike to the ski resort’s highest peak would take me the 45 minutes a local had estimated, he in turn asked me, “Where you from?” Upon hearing the place I call home is the relatively low altitude Birmingham, AL, he smiled and answered my original question with a confident, perhaps overly so, estimate of, “An hour and a half.”

Back on the mountain, I looked at my watch and reveled in the fact that he was wrong. By his reckoning, I should’ve reached the top five minutes ago, yet I still had another quarter mile to go – all of it up hill.

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Note the person carrying the red skis in the group of people in the lower right-hand corner of the photo. According to Ed (see below), she had started her first ascent of Kachina at about the same time we did. Here she’s just lapped us during her second ascent. Amazing.

All that gasping notwithstanding, the hike to one of New Mexico’s highest peaks was way more than worth the effort. The 12,481-foot Kachina Peak is the cherry on top of TSV, yet it and the other ski runs that slide off the Highline (aka East Basin) and West Basin ridges are not served by a lift – a wish of TSV founder Ernie Blake that’s still honored. Such lack of automated access keeps the traffic down, but there are still plenty of skiers willing to make the hike and enjoy some of the best panoramas and skiing in the Rockies.

On My Own
Having parted ways with my wife and son where TSV’s highest lift stops and the Kachina trail begins – the family prefers to let the chairs get them up the slopes – I started my approximately two-mile hike towards the peak with skis on my shoulder and provisions in a backpack. Having been advised by the ski patrol against going it alone, I tried to keep up with a group of men and women of various ages, who, I should note, quickly left me winded and in their wake. I was happy to rest up and worm my way in with the next group to come along.

Such was the luck of Cindy and Ed from The Woodlands, Texas, that we stumbled upon each other. I can’t remember if they caught up with me or me with them, but being the good reporter I asked the couple very short questions about their time in TSV that required lengthy answers from them. (In the video below, that’s me wheezing off camera.)

Up, Then Down
In March 2008, TSV allowed snowboarding on the mountain. Many of us old-line skiers had our reservations, but after a year, I for one feel comfortable about the decision. For starters, it increases business and helps ensure TSV will remain a family-owned resort – one of the few remaining in the U.S.

On the way to the peak, I saw as many boarders as skiers passing me on the trail. One such boarder was Vince from Albuquerque, who plans to graduate from the University of New Mexico this spring and get a post-graduate degree in physics from University of California, San Diego.

A photography buff himself, Vince helped me shoot some video on the peak, and afterwards tried to reassure me I could make it down a run designated as a double black diamond. (A much gentler slope than your typical double, sources tell me it was rated such because of the hike to get there.) Still, I suspect with his knowledge of such things as gravity, mass, and velocity, Vince was calculating if my skis would reach the bottom of the run first, especially if I went down face first.

For more information about hiking to Kachina Peak during the ski season, which in 2009 ends April 5, see skitaos.org.

For general information about the Wheeler Peak Wilderness and Carson National Forest, of which Kachina Peak is but one part, see the U.S. Forest Service site or SummitPost.org.

COMMENTS

  1. The wife

    Great story Richard, but I would like to add that no chair got your family to Hunziker Bowl–where we went after we got rid of you for a few hours. Can’t wait to go again!

    March 30, 2009 at 10:04 am
  2. Upsessipt

    Great site this talesfromtheroad.southernliving.com and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor :)

    April 4, 2009 at 4:54 am
  3. Edward Fenska

    Richard, this is Ed & Cindy from Kachina peak! Great story, really enjoyed seeing ourselves on your Blog. How was the ride down? A lot shorter than the hike up, eh? Did you put your rock on the pile at the top to mark your ascent? Hey, if you happen to have any still photos you snapped of us, please email them! We were so cold and exhausted by the time we got to the peak that we lost all interest in taking another photo!

    April 4, 2009 at 3:27 pm
  4. Richard

    Glad to have you reading and thanks for the compliment.

    April 5, 2009 at 9:24 pm
  5. video surveillance

    Such an impresive landscapes… all that trip and hard work to get a life changing experience..

    February 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm
  6. Miami web services

    Very nice pics… I really love the snow but I haven’t had the experince of get a trip in the snowing mountains yet..

    March 2, 2011 at 10:04 am
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    Nice story i really like that pictures and the emotion of this guys trying to get to the top is really excited to think you can do sucha great work well done for you guys that had the opportunitiei would like to do that aswell

    March 18, 2011 at 11:20 am
  8. 4rx

    IT should be really exciting practicing this sport, I’d like to go to that mountain and learn how to ride those skies I know I can be so good in that.

    October 18, 2011 at 9:18 am
  9. Juicy Couture

    I had this website saved a while in the past but my computer crashed.

    January 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm