Lake Peak Loop Trail with a Bonus Side Trip to Spirit Lake
I was eager to return to Lake Peak and to especially complete the loop that I’d been prevented from finishing a few weeks earlier. The fact that the aspens were turning was definitely a factor in choosing this hike however; the route loops back via the Winsor Trail, along which we’d seen some incredible aspen groves a couple weeks prior when hiking up Santa Fe Baldy.
The loop up Raven’s Ridge to Lake Peak, around Pentitente Peak, and then back via the Winsor is only about 11 miles and so we decided to add a spur out to Spirit Lake, another 3+-ish miles roundtrip. With 3,000 feet or more in elevation gain ahead of us in addition to the over-14 miles we once again decided to start early and were on the trail before 7am. It was coooold. Luckily (?) the 2.5 mile ascent of Lake Peak warms you up a bit, ascending well over 2,000 feet on the continuous-uphill route. Despite the gradient we were making great time until we got within 500 feet of Deception Peak; here the steepness combined with the iced-over snow began to hinder our progress. Once we broke out of the treeline we were additionally assaulted by 40+ mph sustained winds. It was difficult, and windy, and slick enough that we conferenced and agreed that if the footing didn’t significantly improve it would be too unsafe to cross the narrow saddle and rocky western peak of Lake Peak. Happily, as we neared Deception Peak and watched the sun rise the snow pack thinned and we summitted with very little snow to speak of. Miraculously the frigid wind also all-but disappeared as well.
Our early ascent did mean our views north in Nambe Basin were deeply shaded and I was unable to see most of the detail I’d witness a few weeks before. But make no mistake: we were stoked that we’d be able to cross the alpine ridge at least as far as Lake Peak. It tuned out to be a fantastic traverse, made better by the views of blazing aspen stands on the hillsides to the north.
We had very little snow to contend with until we dropped off the north side of the ridge towards Penitente Peak but we knew it was a only a short segment of the trail since we could see that the route around Penitente had but a few patches of white. The best vistas of the hike were probably from the saddle just after we emerged from the snowy north side of the ridge though we had some pretty awesome views as we rounded Penitente itself; the bald peak afforded some incredible unobstructed sightlines to the norhtern high peaks of the Sangre de Christos as well as more of the colorful aspen stands below.
Once we dropped down from Penitente we descended a couple miles through some really lovely forest via gentle switchbacks until we reched the junction with the Winsor Trail. To complete the loop back to the ski basin we would have turned left, but our intent to hike the spur out to Spirit Lake had us turn right – and down – for a mile and a half or so. The lake was small, simple, and cute. We walked the shore around, watching the wind blow tiny white caps on it’s surface, then made our way back up to the trail junction and ultimately to the Winsor Trailhead.
We’d hiked a 5 mile this section of the Winsor a few weeks back when we ascended Santa Fe Baldy but the last 3 miles had been transofrmed in the intervening weeks into a exhibition of glowing yellow leaves. As someone who reads my blog you are probably well aware of my infatuation with aspen, so to put it mildly, I was ecstatic. Luckily Callahan shares my enthusiasm and so was not at all put off by my constant gasping, pointing, and picture-taking.