As a final adieu to New Mexico we decided to celebrate 4th of July weekend by backpacking to one of the elusive lakes in the Sangre de Cristo mountains just outside Santa Fe. We’ve been to Nambe Lake many times and nearly every time we ran into fellow hikers raving about the natural beauty of Lake Katherine nestled in the shadow of Santa Fe Baldy. So with that in mind we set out on a holiday weekend to find that elusive alpine lake.
Like most hikes we’ve done in the Sangre de Cristo the trailhead is at Ski Santa Fe and shares a parking lot with the ski resort. The trail guides were not all in agreement on the distance of the hike but with good spirits and an early afternoon start we headed out heavily loaded with dog in tow. The Winsor trail quickly climbs via switchbacks for just under a mile before leveling off and crossing into the Pecos Wilderness. We took a few photos but quickly pressed on as we knew we might lose light later in the day. From the Pecos boundary the Winsor trail meanders up and down through groves of aspens crossing the cutoff trail for Nambe Lake. From there its a steady climb through mixed forests before reaching a beautiful meadow.
We took an extended break in the meadow where we had camped just under a year ago (La Vega). We soaked in the views of the mountains and especially Santa Fe Baldy. Thankfully from our trip last summer we knew where there was a stream on the NW end of the meadow just a 100 or so feet from the trail. Water is hard to come by in New Mexico so we filled our Camelbaks to the brim before continuing. From La Vega meadow its a steady climb of switchbacks to reach the ridgeline. By the time we reached the ridgeline the wind was picking up and temperature was dropping. Although the saddle is quite beautiful we didn’t have time to waste so we hurriedly snapped a couple of pictures before pressing on.
On the other side of the saddle the trail descends swiftly and steeply via a series of switchbacks. It offers a commanding view of the Pecos Wilderness with several impressive peaks (Pecos Baldy) out in the distance. Since it was late in the afternoon we were in the shadow of Santa Fe Baldy. The trail meanders along the backside of Baldy steadily gaining elevation. At this point we were feeling the weight of our packs and the rapidly descending sun reminded us to pick up the pace. After what seemed like an eternity we finally reached camp (with just a flicker of light left in the sky). We picked a campsite overlooking the lake and quickly setup the tent. Dinner took forever to boil water but we had 2 delicious servings of ramen before beating a hasty retreat to bed.
Note to campers, secure your tent at Lake Katherine as the wind blows gustily down from Baldy right through the campsites. I was glad I spent the time to properly stake the tent. I was also thankful we had just upgraded our sleeping mats to a much thicker air mattress which provided a more comfortable and warmer nights sleep. Max (our mini-aussie) was also a blessed little heater for our cold feet throughout the night.
The next morning after a delicious oatmeal breakfast we finally got to see Lake Katherine in all her glory. Lake Katherine is a pain to reach but your efforts are worth it as it’s a pristine alpine lake sitting in the shadow of Santa Fe Baldy. We took a boatload of pictures and played with Max. Lake Katherine is probably one of the prettier alpine lakes we’ve had the pleasure of hiking to. After an hour or so of pictures we packed up camp and headed back towards the car.
Without much backpacking preparation the hike back was hard as we stiffened under our loads and our hips we’re a bit tender. Max even curled up and took a nap on the way back. To make matters worse the sky became dark and rain was threatening so we didn’t take many pictures on the way back. Thankfully the weather held up and we were spared a rainstorm until we were driving back into Santa Fe. We were sore, tired, and hungry but very happy that we got to experience Lake Katherine in all her glory before we packed up for Sunny SoCal.
Distance: 16 miles (roundtrip)