The origins of the New Mexico Mountain Club can be traced all the way back to Jan. 23, 1952, and a small newspaper clipping announcing a “get-together for hiking enthusiasts” at the Hilton Hotel.
Fast forward 70 years to the present and the group is still going strong. Exact details about the club’s original members remain vague, however.
“From what I’ve heard, a lot of the original founders were engineers at Sandia (National Laboratories),” said Anne Michels, one of the hike leaders with the club. “We still have a number of members who are from Sandia … People who were interested in hiking decided to start a club and hike together. It’s been going ever since.”
That core principle – love of hiking – holds true for people like Michels, who joined the group approximately five years ago.
“I’ve been a lifelong hiker,” she said. “Basically, I divorced my hiking partner and was looking for other people to hike with.”
The club will celebrate its 70th anniversary on May 15 at Downshift Brewery in Old Town – that event is for existing members only – but the weekly offerings of hikes and climbs is where the New Mexico Mountain Club truly shines.
For a small annual fee, members have access to a plethora of hikes ranging from easy to advanced. They’re rated on a scale of 1 to 4 in levels of increasing difficulty. Class 1, for example, is described as “slow pace, usually on trail, 1-1.5 miles/hour moving pace; less than 1,000 feet elevation gain,” while a Class 3+ involves “arduous day hikes and backpacks, requiring excellent physical condition, i.e. a 12-hour day climbing peaks over 14,000 feet above sea level.”
Prospective hikers can read the blog posts on nmmountainclub.org to get a recap of some of the some of the club’s previous hikes; a detailed “need to know” list for participants is available on the site, as well. Outings generally take place on weekends, but some are midweek – all weather permitting.
“Really, the hike leader just decides what they want to do and hosts it,” Michels said. “Anybody can sign up. You do have to be a member, or a guest of a member to come on any of our outings, although membership is only $10 a year and, once you’re a member, everything else is free.”
Everyone has their favorite treks, including Michels, who favors the North Crest Trail at the top of the Sandias.
“It’s good almost year-round. It’s got beautiful aspens in fall,” she says. “I’ll go on another hike and be like, ‘This is OK, but it’s not as pretty as the Crest Trail.’ I just keep going back to that one. It’s also really nice because, even when it’s 100 degrees in Albuquerque, it’s about 20 degrees cooler up there. You can kind of get to the weather you want.”
There are also monthly meetings that are open to the public, which are both informative and can also serve as ice-breakers for new members.
“I liked that when I joined because it allowed you to get to know the other members before you went on a hike with them. Just so you weren’t meeting total strangers and going hiking with them,” Michels said. “There’s meetings pretty much every month and usually there’s a presentation. A recent one, we had a guy who made it his mission to visit all of the highest peaks in New Mexico. There are presentations on hiking, climbing … outdoor stuff generally.”
While the New Mexico Mountain Club once boasted everything from car camping to skiing to snowshoeing to cycling, Michels says most everything outside of hiking and climbing has branched out to other specialized groups. For climbing enthusiasts, it’s an extra $20 per year to join to cover an equipment fee. As with the hikes, all levels are welcome to attend.
“You don’t have to be an expert climber to start,” Michels said. “But, if you contact the head of the climb section and let them know what you’re interested in, they can get you up to speed.”