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Soaring on Raven’s Ridge

A Gray Jay enjoying the view from Raven's Ridge

The other weekend I just had to get out for some exercise, and since my thoughts lately have been occupied planning some hikes up in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado next summer, I decided to head up to Ski Santa Fe and get a good workout on Raven’s Ridge, the spur of the Santa Fe Range that divides the Tesuque watershed from the headwaters of Nambe Creek, and which makes up the northern boundary of the Aspen Basin, which we enjoy seeing from Santa Fe nearly every day.

The mountains have been getting light snows most weeks lately, but typically the high country trails are firmly packed this early in the season, and snow shoes aren’t necessary. So I put on my layers, made a thermos of my favorite tea – Formosa Oolong No. 8 from Adagio Teas,  grabbed a breakfast burrito from La Montanita Co-op, and headed up the mountain.

On a clear and sunny day the normally sombre spruce forests above 10,000 feet in elevation literally glow with an inner light, fragrant and invigorating, putting one in mind of Christmas and the holidays.

Looking up into towering Englemann Spruce on the Winsor Trail

There simply isn’t anything nicer than walking through these Snow Forests on a calm and sunny late morning, taking in the pure air and radiant light.

Packed snow on the Winsor Trail above Ski Santa Fe

The section of the Winsor Trail from the parking area of Ski Santa Fe up to the saddle on Raven’s Ridge is always a bit of a test – sort of the dues you have to pay to gain entrance to the Nambe Creek watershed and the peaks beyond. You gain over 800 feet in less than a mile, and since the trailhead is already at 10,200 feet elevation, you generally have to make some stops to catch your breath. I was huffing and puffing like a steam locomotive on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, myself.

Soon enough the trail levels out and you reach the saddle on the flank of Aspen Peak which marks the boundary of the vast and beautiful Pecos Wilderness.

The new sign at the entrance to the Pecos Wilderness along the Winsor Trail

It’s at this gateway that you leave the Winsor Trail and turn right to follow the fence line along an informal trail that follows Raven’s Ridge through the trees. The climb is a little gentler than the switchbacks of the Winsor Trail, but there are a few more places where you’ll have to pause for breath. And there are no views to speak of – until you reach 11,200 feet and the tie-off point of the fence:

The headwaters of Nambe Creek from Raven's Ridge

Perched on ancient gneiss above the glacial canyon that holds Nambe Lake, you’ll feeling like you’re soaring in a glorious Rocky Mountain High. To your right is Lake Peak, a mountain horn that carries Ski Santa Fe on its west flank, and the headwaters of the Santa Fe River on its south:

Lake Peak

By the way, if you are in the mood for some real adventure, my friend Mar’ Himmerich of Celestial Guides (celestialguides@yahoo.com) will be happy to take you skiing up there.

To your left is the bold massif of Santa Fe Baldy, the highest peak near Santa Fe:

Santa Fe Baldy 12,622 feet high

Below you is a vertiginous drop with more diagonals and verticals than a vintage Italian travel poster:

Winter light

It’s a perfect place to stop for a well deserved break. And as often happens up here in the alpine realm, with a soft fluttering, a flash of grey, and maybe a gentle whistle, you might have guests for tea:

Care to share that Clif Bar with me?

This is the Grey Jay, or Whiskey-Jack, the notorious camp robber who will eat out of your hand (or snatch food from it while you’re not looking). A pair of these birds kept an eye on me the entire time I had my snack.

After a blissful time of taking in the view and enjoying the sun on my face, I grabbed my daypack and headed back down the trail. As I approached the parking area, I could see the that the slopes of Ski Santa Fe are nearly ready for opening:

Ski Santa Fe, seen through spruce and aspen along the Winsor Trail

Soon enough I was back in my car and cruising down NM 475 back to Santa Fe for a rendezvous with Starbucks. It was a Good Day. Come out and see us this winter, and have a good day of your own!

Somebody loves you in Santa Fe!

fireplace

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