Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Original Mitchell Trail Looking Good!

Following up on a report from a hiker, I checked on the status of the Mitchell Trail.

In the months after the Cerro Grande fire, volunteers worked to re-establish the trail segment that heads up the bottom of Rendija Canyon from the Mitchell Trailhead at the intersection of Arizona and 45th. Over the years, volunteers, Eagle Scout candidates, Youth Conservation Corps crews, and "freelance trail builders" have improved on that route all the way to Guaje Ridge. Quite a feat: I walked that entire route two weeks after the fire raced through and thought for sure there would never be another trail up to the Ridge.

Either in our haste or by following the most heavily traveled path, that first summer's track wasn't the original route. However, when we looked at the topo sheet printed in the 1980s, we noticed that the trail was not drawn along the drainage. In 1974, David Mitchell and his fellow scouts didn't wind up the canyon bottom but went up and over a low ridge just north of the large water tank near the Mitchell/Perimeter intersection.

I vaguely remember a half-hearted attempt to re-open David's route up the ridge. The effort was thwarted by thick stands of New Mexico locust, dozens of fallen trees, and plenty of massive dead pines ready to snap in the wind and clobber trail builders.

We must have done an okay job of trail making at the start of the climb up the ridge because when I walked it yesterday, each twist and turn was familiar. The corridor was easy to follow and remarkably clear of skin-tearing locusts. The tread definitely received regular use. Even so, halfway up the initial climb, I was surprised to encounter another hiker on his way down. He seemed surprised, too, as if he was used to finding solitude on the trail. In the course of a brief conversation, he let on that he "did a little work along the trail." I thanked him for cutting the pesky locusts and we went off in opposite directions.

The trail was in far better condition than when I last walked it at least five years ago. Sure there were about 20 logs to hop over, but otherwise the path was clear. Not only that, but the tread on the descent on the far side of the ridge was worked and stabilized with logs. There was a cleared corridor through what I remembered as an impenetrable locust patch. 

Hats off to the anonymous hiker and the others who have worked David's original trail.

Look for the unmarked trail just past the confluence of two branches of the canyon about 200 yards beyond the water. The trail reconnects with the canyon bottom route a little south of the start of the steep climb to the summit of the ridge.

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