Guide extraordinaire Dave Hahn may be a global mountaineering nomad, but it’s New Mexico that he calls home.
A Guide To Six NM Peak Experiences
The marquee peaks and climbs in the state vary in difficulty, but all demand cautious preparation. At the very least, every individual should pack plenty of water and a few layers of clothing, as the weather up high changes quickly. It’s always prudent to check conditions on the roads and trails before your hike, and to check with rangers before your adventure. Many of the trails require usage fees. In the summer, fast-moving thunderstorms should be on your radar. After celebrating your accomplishment, minimize time on the summit to avoid exposure.
1. Capulín Volcano
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Easy/Moderate
DISTANCE: One mile round-trip
BEST HIKING SEASON: Year-round
SUMMIT: 8,182 feet
INFO: National Park Service, Capulín Volcano National Monument; (575) 278-2201
A rewarding hike despite the short distance, the trail to the top of Capulín affords significant vistas of northeast New Mexico. The trail starts just 2 mi . from the Capulín Volcano National Monument visitor center on the park access road located off N.M. 325, 3 m. N. of the town of Capulín, 35 mi. E. of Ratón. The hike is a simple loop from the trailhead.
2. Wheeler Peak Trail
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Difficult, but does not require technical climbing equipment
DISTANCE: 14.6 miles round-trip
BEST HIKING SEASON: Summer
SUMMIT: 13,165 feet
INFO: USDA Forest Service, Carson National Forest; (575) 758-6200
Not far from Taos Ski Valley (TSV), New Mexico’s tallest mountain is a very doable day hike. Park just past the TSV main parking lot near the Twining campground. Head NE toward the Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture boundary, and continue until you hit the Gold Hill Trail. Continue SE on the trail toward Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain. Don’t be fooled by Mount Walter, which gives you the impression you’ve already reached the summit of Wheeler Peak. The peak is a little bit farther.
3. La Luz Trail
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Very difficult
DISTANCE: 15 miles round-trip
BEST HIKING SEASON: Year-round, winter months require technical gear and expertise
SUMMIT: 10,678 feet
INFO: USDA Forest Service, Sandia Ranger District;
Not exactly a secret, this approach up the Sandías makes for a crowded but convenient training trip. The trail has a wide cut, so the steep climb up to the top of the Sandía Crest feels a little easier. Take Tramway Rd. off I-25 to Forest Rd. 333. The trailhead is past the Juan Tabo picnic grounds. Follow the markers for Trail 137. The La Luz Trail finishes at the Sandia Peak Tramway, providing a scenic way down if you parked at the base of the tram.
4. Manzano Peak
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Moderate
DISTANCE: 7.25 miles round-trip
BEST HIKING SEASON: Early summer through fall
SUMMIT: 10,098 feet
INFO: USDA Forest Service, Mountainair Ranger District; (505) 847-2990
Manzano Peak is the wild crown of the Manzano Range. Here hikers may encounter cougars, bears, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. From N.M. 55 running north of Mountainair, take N.M. 131 to Forest Road 253, and then take Forest Road 422. Park at the junction of Forest Road 422 and Forest Road 275. Take Trail 80 to its junction with Trail 170, which climbs to the summit.
5. Mount Taylor
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Moderate/Difficult
DISTANCE: Six miles round-trip
BEST HIKING SEASON: Late spring through fall
SUMMIT: 11,301 feet
INFO: USDA Forest Service, Mount Taylor Ranger District; (505) 287-8833
A solitary peak along central New Mexico’s I-40 corridor, Mount Taylor commands impressive views of the region. The ascent, however, is relatively short and readily accessible from Grants. N.M. 547 leads to the mountain from the center of town, and Forest Road 193 picks up at the end of the pavement. 193 bears right on a dirt road for five miles before the trailhead. Follow the signs for Trail 77, and take it to the summit. The final stretch of the climb is steep and challenging. Alternatively, adventure athletes can wait until winter for the Mount Taylor Quadrathlon and run, bike, ski, or snowshoe to the top. In October, a 50K run to the top shows off the fall colors.
6. Santa Fe Baldy
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Difficult, but does not require technical climbing equipment
DISTANCE: 14 miles round-trip
BEST HIKING SEASON: Summer SUMMIT: 12,622 feet
INFO: USDA Forest Service, Española Ranger District; (505) 753-7331
The Santa Fe Baldy approach begins on the famed Winsor Trail near the bottom of the Santa Fe Ski Basin. The first half-mile climbs sharply to the fenced border of the Pecos Wilderness, and then the trail levels out for the next several miles. The Winsor Trail eventually meets Trail 251 heading N., and leads to the top of Santa Fe Baldy. Toward the summit, hikers should be very aware of conditions. Baldy is named so for a good reason—the last section of the hike offers little protection from the elements.
Dave Hahn does not stop moving. On the trail, his penchant for perpetual motion makes him an inspiration to his mountaineering teammates and the clients he guides on the world’s toughest terrain. But getting him to sit down for an interview—that’s tough. I caught him on the road as he drove from his home in Taos to Washington State, where he was scheduled to catch a flight to Alaska to make his 21st ascent of Denali/Mt. McKinley, at 20,000 feet, the highest peak in North America.
Hahn spends much of his time on Mount Rainier, a technical but approachable 14,000-foot peak in Washington that he’s topped more than 270 times. He can also be found on mountains in Antarctica, Argentina, and the Alps. It’s Hahn’s record-breaking assault on Mount Everest that commands the most attention, though. He’s reached the top of the world’s tallest mountain more times than any non-Sherpa—15 successful summits.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story. In an expedition documented by PBS, Hahn helped find the body of English mountaineer George Mallory, who’d gone missing on Everest in 1924. In 2004, he retraced Shackleton’s legendary traverse of South Georgia Island in Antarctica. “I’ve actually attempted the Shackleton Traverse seven times and succeeded five times,” Hahn says. (Nobody’s perfect.) He guides an exclusive clientele for Rainier Mountaineering and climbs with elite colleagues on Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent Team. In 2009, Men’s Journal magazine named Hahn the guide of the year.
Spend a little time with him, and it’s easy to tell why. Hahn, 52, has a gentle, easygoing nature that makes him seem as much camp counselor as world-class athlete. He has a dark tan, naturally, and a youthful mien; there’s little gray in the beard he often sports. His experience is most obvious on a trail. Despite a more than six-foot frame, Hahn moves nimbly and confidently. He rarely takes time off, and maintains his conditioning throughout the year.
Hahn moved to New Mexico 27 years ago from upstate New York, where he attended the State University of New York at Buffalo. “When I got out of school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew where I wanted to go. Without much more of a plan than that, I moved to New Mexico,” says Hahn. His family had roots in the region. “When I was 14, I spent the summer in Albuquerque with my grandmother. I still have vivid memories of hiking La Luz trail that year with my uncle, who lives near Jémez Springs,” says Hahn. “Sandía always fascinated me. I still can’t drive down I-25 without staring up at the crest and looking for the tram.”
Post-grad, Hahn first found work at Angel Fire as a ski instructor, quickly moved on to Taos, and switched to patrolling in 1991.
“I started guiding in 1986,” says Hahn. “I’d always been hiking in the mountains when I was young. My dad had been a Yosemite rock climber in the 1940s and ’50s.” Hahn Sr. also climbed around Shiprock, in the Organ Mountains, and the Gila. “But I didn’t do it till I was getting out of college. And it was actually because I wanted to go to Mount McKinley with my father. My task for that was to go to Mount Rainier and learn everything I needed to learn. When I saw the guiding trip up there, I knew right away that’s what I wanted to do.”
Hahn devotes the summer to Washington and Alaska. Everest takes up most of the spring. He also makes time to work in Antarctica during the North American winter on Mount Vinson, a 16,000-footer. He spends his short “off-season” as a ski patroller in Taos, to stay fit. Patrolling keeps him at altitude, exposed to the cold and conditions. “My house is at 7,500 feet, our ski patrol headquarters are at 11,819 feet, and it’s pretty typical on a normal day to hike up to Kachina Peak, at 12,481 feet. I just generally try to stay outside and do my job,” says Hahn.
The skiing and mountaineering community in New Mexico makes Hahn feel at home, but it wasn’t always so. “I can remember when I probably had some of the only mountaineering or touring skis in New Mexico back in the 1980s. Or it seemed like that when I’d bring ’em into a shop to get worked on. Nobody knew what the hell I was talking about.”
The state’s mountaineering scene has expanded since, but not too much. “I like that climbing and mountaineering are not so foreign to New Mexico anymore, but it’s not as mainstream as in Colorado or Utah. There’s not that feeling that you have to fight the crowds,” he says.
Like Hahn, you can get your training started in New Mexico on one of the state’s featured peaks. (See “A Guide to 6 NM Peak Experiences,” at right.) The first key to training, says Hahn, is getting out on the trail. “I often meet people and they’re asking, ‘How do I get to Everest?’ It’s like, well, ‘Do you like to hike?’ Because it’s like aiming for the World Series when you don’t like to play catch in the backyard. If you want to go mountain climbing you should get into mountain hiking. You can do that totally easily in New Mexico. We’ve got the perfect combination of great weather and nice mountains and high altitude.” ✜