Friday, March 8, 2013

Mitchell Trail-Guaje Ridge Trail Quest

Hiking buddies and I keep scheduling this hike: go up the Mitchell Trail and down the Guaje Ridge Trail to Guaje Pines Cemetery.  So far,  we've not been able to do it because it snows (or threatens to) each time it's scheduled. (Daughter says keep scheduling it and we'll break the drought!!)  This past Monday, the weather seemed good enough that we actually attempted it. 

That morning, we optimistically left a car at Guaje Pines Cemetery and drove over to the Mitchell Trail trailhead and began hiking.  When we got to the top of the very steep Mitchell Trail, 1,500' up, and only encountered one slippery, snowy section, we were encouraged.  We were sure we'd finally succeed in completing the hike!

At the top, we intersected the Guaje Ridge Trail and began descending the north-facing trail.  The two other hikers forged bravely ahead, breaking trail through the snowy patches - some of which were 3' deep in spots. When we got to a dead end cliff, we reconnoitered and determined that the snowy trail continued downhill. Just to be sure, we took out our maps.  At some point, the weather had changed and the wind was blowing so hard, accompanied by light snow flurries, that reading the maps, let alone folding them back up, was frustrating.  Since none of us had been on the Guaje Ridge Trail in recent memory and we couldn't really see the trace of the trail as it continued in the distance, we turned around and retraced our steps back down the Mitchell Trail.    First, though, we had to go back uphill, plowing through the snow banks again, forging upward against the wind and tiny, swirling snow pellets. During this, we felt rather like we were in an epic battle against the weather that had once again foiled our plans!

Before the fires, I could see occasional, stunning glimpses of the mountains and canyons from the Guaje Ridge Trail. Now that most of the trees are sadly burnt, there is the compensation of being able to completely see the astoundingly beautiful and wild country all around!  I fell in love with the view of Caballo Mountain from the Guaje Ridge Trail!  We must go back!!

Bottom of Mitchell Trail in Rendija Canyon with view of Jemez Mountains to southwest
Along Mitchell Trail, dead standing trees - realm of the Harpies - shrieking wind and the trembling tree tops 
First false summit on Mitchell Trail, looking east 
Serpentine meanders of Mitchell Trail
Caballo Mountain above Guaje Canyon, looking northwest from Guaje Ridge Trail

A note:  The National Weather Service prediction was for winds of 15-20 mph. The day started out calm enough but the wind got really wild on the hike back. Since the Mitchell Trail goes through a burn area (courtesy of the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire), we were fortunate that no tree fell on our heads, leaving only our feet sticking out (like when Dorothy's house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz).

One hiker commented that the wind howling in the trees sounded like Harpies. I looked up Harpy on Wikipedia and generally speaking, they are despicable creatures and give women (and birds) a very bad name.  Hearing the screeching of the winds in the burn area Monday, I could appreciate this quote regarding Harpies:  "They were usually seen as the personifications of the destructive nature of wind."

The article has a quote from Dante's Inferno that talks of harpies as "...they caw their lamentations in the eerie trees."  One section of the Mitchell Trail goes perilously close to the dead, standing trees and it did sound like that and we were happy to pass by unharmed.