Bull of the Woods Mountain, NM

Location: northeast of Taos, New Mexico
Summit elevation:  ~11,620 ft (3,542 m)
Distance: ~3 miles (4.8 km) one way
Elevation gain: ~2,300 ft (701 m)
Class: 1
Date: October 10, 2011

Bull of the Woods Mountain is an inconspicuous peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Carson National Forest northeast of Taos, New Mexico.  The peak itself is rarely a destination, but is simply a point that most people pass by on their way to higher peaks.

Looking northwest from below Bull of the Woods Mountain

I planned on hiking to Wheeler Peak, which at 13,161 feet is the highest point in New Mexico, but an early season snowstorm during the first week of October put a damper on those plans.  The easiest way to reach Wheeler peak is about a three mile hike from the Williams Lake trailhead above the Taos Valley Ski Area, but due to the snowstorm this road was impassible.  So I had a decision to make: hike along the road for about three+ miles to reach the trailhead or take the Bull of the Woods/Wheeler Peak combo trails for a seven mile one way hike to the summit.

Bull of the Woods Trail during the second mile
Snowy stream along the trail
I chose the Bull of the Woods trail because I would be able to reach a ridge with great views with less hiking in the event that I decided to abandon Wheeler Peak, which I eventually did.  I reached the trailhead around 8:30 am with the temperature just above freezing and the snow about six inches deep.  The Bull of the Woods trail departed the ski area parking lot and headed east and uphill for about two miles until it reached Bull of the Woods pasture.  This section of the trail had seen some use the day before so the snow was compacted and easy to walk on with YakTrax while it was still solid during the ascent.

Looking east from the first good viewpoint
Looking south towards Wheeler Peak (not visible) from Bull of the Woods Mountain

From the pasture, a single set of tracks continued on for about quarter mile where the trail reached the notch between the mountains and provided a great view of the valley to the east. For the next mile the trail circled Bull of the Woods Mountain and was not steep, but the snow was regularly 1-2 feet deep with drifts 3-4 feet deep, which made for very slow travel at 11,000 feet.  There were two clearings in the trees that provided great views of the valley to the west, which I driven and hiked up.

Looking west down the valley that the road and trail ascended through

I then reached the ridge between Bull of the Woods Mountain and the peaks above.  At this point the wind suddenly picked up somewhat, but there remained enough trees to keep it down.  From here it was a quick 500 yard walk up to the exposed summit, where the wind was very strong and relentless.  Still nearly five miles from the summit of Wheeler Peak, the deep snow made for slow and difficult travel while the wind made it unpleasant, I decided to turn around and return to the trailhead, hopefully to return to Wheeler Peak another summer.

Panorama at the summit of Bull of the Woods Mountain (center of photo is east)

In the very last section of my hike at and just below the summit of Bull of the Woods Mountains there were many fresh tracks from bighorn sheep, but I was unable to find any of the animals.  The majority of this hike there was not much wind, during which time the forest around me silent.  By the time I returned to the trailhead, the temperature was in the low 50s and some of the snow had begun to melt.

Wheeler Peak near center from the trailhead

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