Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Atalaya Mountain and Spring Snowstorms

sun mountain snow
St John's College and Sun Mountain and snow
Distance: 7mi roundtrip
Starting elev at St John's College TH: 7300ft
Atalaya Summit: 9121ft
Atalaya: (Sp) for 'Watchtower', which is badass in of itself

The three weeks of Spring weather that we had enjoyed of late was firmly pushed aside Monday by a terrific blast of winter. New Mexico is awesome. I might as well be living in Disneyland.

From the office desk I watched in wide-eyed silence as the gloom outside spread and grew dark and big gobs of snow finally began falling from the heavens. Given those circumstances there is really only one appropriate action to take  - and that's to race home, grab the running shoes (and hat and gloves), and dash off to the hills for an epic snow-trail run. And that's what I did.

Trees in bloom with spring snow

chamisa winter snow
Frosted chamisas along the arroyo
santa fe winter snow
Looking down valley from Wilderness Gate Rd

juniper winter snow
Snowy juniper

atalaya mountain winter snow
At the (national) forest gate - one mile in

My preference in running-trails when the weather socks-in is Atalaya. The gains in altitude amplify the snow and cloud for maximum effect. Not a lot of traffic out there Monday night unless you count the ponderosa and cedar. They looked as psyched as I was, pantomiming low sweeping tree-branch hi-fives to each other. 

atalaya mountain winter snow
The baby ponderosa grove at the third switchback

atalaya mountain winter snow
Spring running trail

ponderosa tree winter snow
Crazy hi-fiving ponderosa

santa fe foothills winter
The foothills in snow
santa fe foothills snow
Dry ledge with handy moss rocks

atalaya mountain winter snow
Atalaya finally comes into view

Near zero visibility at the top. I know there was a sunset out there somewhere, but the view of ridgelines receding into stormcloud was pretty impressive all the same. The weather picked up and I headed back. Descended in the dark. Didn't see a soul for 90min+, coming or going, on one of the best days on Atalaya we'll have all year.

atalaya mountain winter snow
Atalaya summit

atalaya mountain winter snow
South ridge of Atalaya in cloud (and sunset)

Somewhere Christmas-y and wonderful

national forest sign snow
Back at the trailhead

I've made the summit in 43min before. Add approximately 7min if your plans include hi-fiving trees, heckling the crows, and walking a few of the steeps.1hr+ for hikers (one-way)

A looped hike is possible off the north ridge down the saddle to Picacho Peak, then descending portions of the Dorothy Stewart Trail back to Camino Cruz Blanca or St. John's. Approximate mileage for this link-up is 8mi+.

Nearby Trails:


  1. Jealous! Atalaya is one of my favorite trails anywhere on this earth. And, yes I've done that same route a few times running myself.

  2. I don't know how you guys clean that trail on a bike. I'm a decent rider but this is more of a running trail for me. In the snow, it may be the best running trail in Santa Fe. Steep-as-hell but the rewards are proportional. Attempt this sucker in the summer heat and you're asking for a stroke.

  3. That is a nice post. The story, with the photo essay of the fading light demonstrated by pictures, both meeting back at the trail head. Nice.

    But this quote from it:

    "Given those circumstances there is really only one appropriate action to take.."

    Is what I'd like to have a multidisciplinary team of scholars look into.

    That precise sentiment has preceded the formation of vast empires, the beginnings of all great journeys of discovery, as well as many long prison terms.

  4. Thanks again for the nod to composition. Indeed, following any appropriate course of action is somewhat subjective and needs to be framed in context. As spring dawns, the next big snowfall may be in months rather than days. When surprised by April powder and frosty blankets of snow one must take advantage of the moment rather than spend the summer months wondering whatif. It certainly does proceed great journeys of discovery, and when sweeping along on mountain trails - especially those covered with snow - one can rest assured that Johnny Law has little intention to follow.



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