Gold Hill is a great place to enjoy spectacular views without the crowd generally found on neighboring Wheeler Peak. For those seeking to bag a peak in relative solitude while enjoying awesome views of the mountains in northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, Gold Hill is the ideal place.
I found this out in mid-October, which is a great time for peak bagging in northern New Mexico. The afternoon thunderstorms of the monsoon season have all but vanished, and while you may encounter some snow, it shouldn't be so abundant as to require any additional gear.
Two miles into the hike, you will arrive at the Bull of the Woods Meadow. Take a break, and feed the gray jays here. I know from experience that they will eat from your hand, with just a touch of persuasion. Most of the folks here will be heading to Wheeler Peak, but not to worry, Gold Hill is well worth the effort, as I recently discovered.
Before heading south (and up) take note of the Long Canyon trail, which branches off to the south at about the same place as Gold Hill. This is an excellent return route.
From the meadow, I climbed through a pine forest for approximately a mile and a half. The plentiful shade on the trail made multiple layers of clothing necessary in mid-October, so be prepared for this, to say nothing of the winds on the summit. Though some gaps will appear in the tree cover, offering teasing views to the south of Wheeler and other peaks, I recommend saving your film until such time as you break out above treeline.
About two miles into the hike, you will reach your third meadow of the hike (counting Bull of the Woods). Take a break just inside the trees and prepare for the unhindered wind, especially if hiking late in the year, when its bound to be cold besides. Then, once well and truly above the trees, take a look back, to the south. This a great place for an unincumbered view of Wheeler and surrounding peaks.
Also just above the treeline is a ruinded cabin. Take a compass bearing here. Almost directly to the west is the sign marking the Long Canyon trail, which you can use as an alternate route down from the peak.
From the cabin, you are almost there. Or so the mountain would like you to think. I made the mistake of pushing myself very hard at this point, as it was cold and windy, and I believed myself nearly arrived at the summit. This was not so.
Once more I found myself on a steady uphill course, moving nearly due north, for all practical purposes having reached the summit. However, I topped the rise, and noticed a pinnacle which I likened in appearance to a giant thumb (it was cold, i was somewhat tired, and I was just searching for a point of reference here) before me now. Behold, the peak at last.
Summoning a last reserve, I made haste for the summit of Gold Hill. And quickly discovered that this, too, was a false summit, though the cutoff for Goose Lake is in this general vicinity, to your right as you approach the "Thumb."
Finally, passing just left of and below the thumb, I saw before me the summit. (I promise, this one is really it, because if it hadn't been, I wouldn't be writing this).
A final push on a gentle climb now finds you arrived at last. Here you will find a wind break of sorts constructed of rock by some very generous climber(s), so take shelter and enjoy the view from the top.
To the south, Wheeler Peak and its neighbors soaring above Taos and the ski valley. The north faces of these mountains tend to be covered in snow more often than not, as they do not suffer much exposure to direct sunlight. Just west of these peaks, somewhat in the distance, are the Truchas (Trout)Peaks, less than one hundred feet below the height of Wheeler Peak. To the west, fairly close, Lobo Peak, and Lobo trail, which can be accessed from the ridge west of Gold Hill (please note that this trail does not return to the ski basin). And of course, to your north, some massive Fourteeners in Colorado, including the notorious Little Bear, which you will know by its somewhat squarish top, dropping on either side to a near-vertical wall. Other nameless peaks abound here as well, making for an incredible view.
To reach the ski basin once more, reverse your route, or look for the Long Canyon sign. If you lose the trail coming down, which is pretty hard to do as it is well worn, look for the large pile of rock and dirt in the meadow, marking the ruins of the cabin, southeast of the first "false summit."
More likely you will come to the sign marked Long Canyon. From here, go nearly due east to reach the ruined cabin. Or just follow the Long Canyon trail down. This is a beautiful descent, marked for much of the way by the soft babbling of the stream crossed early on the hike by the Bull of the Woods trail. If you're short on water and have the proper purification tools, plenty of opportunities for a refill present themselves along this trail. Also along the Long Canyon trail, take note of the great opportunities for camping, and plan for a longer, more leisurely return visit to this incredible neighbor of Wheeler Peak.
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