Aatalya and Picachoo Peaks – Running Up Hill


Our first full day in Santa Fe – a city with a notable altitude, and I desperately wanted to hit the trail. How could I not? This place is described as a trail runner’s paradise with nearly invariable good weather and near endless trails at every variety of trail length and intensity.

Of course there’s plenty of decent running in town, but I after spending a couple weeks with stolen glances at trail maps provided by different blogs, this was the one I wanted. Atalaya and Picacho peaks. These peaks look over the eastern half of the city.
They aren’t above tree line – just a little over 9k feet for Atalaya and maybe 8.5 k feet for Picacho – which is not pronounced peek-a-choo like I was saying for a little while. Apparently it’s more like pee-ka-choe… It’s a 3.5 mile trail up to the peak which gives you almost 2 thousand feet of elevation climb.

I think it’s worthy of a sky run sort of thing.

Courtney and I hadn’t run for a while, so we were hitting the trail knowing we would need to take breaks and walk parts of it. Even if we were in shape, I’m not sure we could have made it up the steeper parts of the trail.

IMG_3793The trailhead is right in the parking lot of St. John’s College, which seems like a nice place. Full of college campus looking buildings, the setting for the school has to be a favorite of all the students. I really don’t know too much about it, but I hope it’s a school for artists and poets – and big fans of trail running.

The trail by the school felt arid surrounded by Rocky Mountain Juniper and dipping in and out of dried up creek beds until you start heading up. Of course the trails of perpetual sun promised on blogs and in magazines gave way on our trip. It was cold and overcast for us, with a touch of rain.

After crossing a little road, the trail begins to climb in earnest. It get’s steep and hard going, but the trail itself is smooth and easy terrain – nothing to get you in too much trouble except a little sand.

And in this case snow and ice. IMG_3747
We had to be careful of the snow and ice this early in the season with as much snow as Santa Fe and the region had this season. It really amazed me just how much snow there was around us as we went up the trail.

You could see plenty of it below the trees underneath the gray sky. It’s really hard to get over the epic scale of NM, to look out over hundreds of miles across plains that would take hours to cross in a car. Let alone on our little run.  IMG_3783

When we got to the summit, we took a few minutes to write down our thoughts and quotes from poems. I think I wrote a portion of St. Patrick’s lorica – it was really close to St. Patty’s when we were up there. Something along the lines of “I arise today through the mighty strength of the Lord of Creation, light of the sun, speed of lightning, splendor of fire.”


It goes on, but I couldn’t remember all of it. We sat on top of Atalaya peak,  we realized that the snow went down the back side, part of which formed the loop around to Picacho. We had also made a detour on the way up and had gone an extra half mile already and probably an extra mile if we counted our explorations of the snow and ice on the way to Picacho.

So what were we to do? We grabbed a few shots from the cairn on top of the mountain. Then decided to head down the way we had come.

And off we went back to our car. The entire trip with eating and picture breaks took us nearly three hours, the run down had only taken about 50 minutes. We hadn’t made it up both peaks, but Atalaya was more than enough for us hobby runners.

We had made it up and down with relative ease on our first day at altitude. It ended up being our only run this whole week. I had planned all sorts of distances all over Santa Fe, but when I got hit by the stomach bug or altitude sickness from over doing it, I had to give all of that up.

If I’m honest I’d say I was a little disappointed not to get to run the rest of the week. But only a little, this run was incredible – I would do it again in a heart beat, the trail quality, the views, the difficulty all add up to make it one of the best trails to run on. Here’s looking forward to doing it again!


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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