Just One More: Lobo Peak via the Italianos Canyon Trail
As the fourth weekend in October rolled around and there still wasn’t any snow, we had the opportunity to hike another peak. With our amazing excursion to Wheeler Peak from the previous week fresh in our minds we decided to head back up to the Taos Ski Valley and hike Lobo Peak. There are at least 3 routes to the peak via the canyon and I looked into all of them, even considering a loop though it would have included walking back along the road, but ultimately I suggested we go (out, and back) via Italianos Canyon because it sounded like the prettiest approach and would include a stretch of ridge walking that promised views into the valley to the north.
The trail up Italianos Canyon starts at 8,700 feet and follows the Italianos Creek up to the Hondo Ridge. The climb starts off on the moderate side as you walk through the fir-dense narrow canyon but the trail soon gets steep as it continues weaving back and forth across the water. A mile before you reach the ridge the canyon opens as a series of switchbacks begin; pockets of small meadows begin appearing as well. Aspens become more prevalent here too and the space afforded by the meadows allowed us to catch tantalizing glimpses of the surrounding peaks as we climbed.
After more ascending we finally reached the ridge and the intersection with the Lobo Peak Trail at approximately 11,300 feet. As pretty as the canyon was, the next 2 miles along the ridge to the peak were arguably the most beautiful stretch of the hike. Walking up the last 800 feet – which was actually over a 1,000 with gains and losses – we alternated crossing through forest and on exposed ridge, almost always with spectacular views of the high peaks to the south and east. The vegetation was noticeably thinner here without the advantages of the drainage in the canyon allowing more of the bright autumn sunlight to stream through the trees. We took our time, enjoying the vistas and the openness of the high-elevation forest, resting and relaxing rather than pushing whenever we began to feel the effects of the elevation.
Finally we reached the bald Lobo Peak and the 360 degree views it offered. We could easily see where we’d been last week but now we had unobstructed views to the Red River Valley as well. It made us greedy to do more. But as it turned out this would be our last hike at altitude and in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. At 12,115 feet Lobo wasn’t the highest peak we’d climbed but it was a truly beautiful hike – and a perfect end to our mountain-climbing season.
Our return to the trailhead was as equally lovely as the ascent, particularly now that the sun had moved and the full splendor of the aspen in the upper and middle sections of the canyon were revealed. In addition, the day had warmed considerably, making a leisurely descent all the more enjoyable.