Our backpacking trip to Stewart Lake in the Pecos Wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico begins with carefully packing our backpacks, doing what we can to keep the weight down. We have been to Stewart Lake before and I remember it being a strenuous hike. We are older now, but hopefully wiser, with better gear and more experience under our belts.
There are at least three ways to get to Stewart Lake. On this trip we start at the trailhead at Holy Ghost Campground and hike the Holy Ghost Trail which will eventually leave the Holy Ghost drainage as it winds upward to the ridge-top where it meets the Winsor Trail before going on to the lake. The first part of the trail is fairly level with a variety of vegetation: aspen, pine, spruce, a variety of shrubs and grasses,
and an assortment of wild flowers provide much for the eye to behold as the trail follows the meandering creek.
About a mile in, after crossing Holy Ghost Creek, we find a level spot a little ways off the trail and here we spend the night. We sleep in, as steep mountain slopes on both sides of the Holy Ghost drainage block the sun; there is no direct sunlight to get us up and going. We have our breakfast, pack up, and then head out on the more challenging leg of our journey.
It is a beautiful hike, sometimes through aspen forests with fern undergrowth, ponderosa pine old spruce forests with little undergrowth, but with a wonderful spruce-forest smell. Generally, north slopes have a thick carpet-like undergrowth of small shrubs, grasses, and flowers, while south slopes are more barren except for the tall mature trees that grow there. We trek uphill a ways and then back down to cross the creek; then uphill and down with another creek crossing – several times, each time with some elevation gain. Then we leave the drainage and it is up and up and up.
It is with much relief that we reach the top of the ridge where we take off our packs to rest while we enjoy a lunch of sardines, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and dried fruit. Although the hardest section is now behind us, we still have a couple more miles to go.
About another mile in, we are pleased to see Winsor Creek. There is a trail that forks off to the west to even higher elevations where the real troopers hike or backpack up to Spirit Lake or Lake Katherine. We are quite happy to reach Stewart Lake and after hiking part way around the lake, we find a camping spot that is not in the lake basin, but is near an absolutely delightful little creek that tumbles over rocks, creating miniature waterfalls, until in runs into Stewart Lake.
Soon the sun will set, so we make our dinner, enjoy a cup of tea, delight in the cool mountain air, and soon head to bed for a good night’s sleep. Although we’d love to have a couple more days to hang out here in this wonderful wilderness, we have obligations that will take us back down the mountain tomorrow. Different muscles will be taxed and we will be sore for a few days, but we have the satisfaction of having accomplished what we set out to do – a back-packing journey to Stewart Lake.