The northwest ridge is the most straightforward way to climb the mountain. There is a trail and it is easy to follow for the most part. If at any time there is any confusion about the trail, one can just continue heading up the ridge and you will eventually find the trail again. This trail is class 2 and one can easily hike up and back in 2-3 hours. I estimate the distance at about 3-4 miles roundtrip, and an approximate 2000 foot elevation gain from the parking lot.
The Northwest Ridge
From I-40, head north on Tramway for 4.2 miles to Montgomery Blvd. Turn right (east) on Montgomery and drive for ½ mile to Glenwood Hills. Glenwood Hills will be the second stop sign. Turn left on Glenwood Hills and drive ½ mile to Trailhead Road. Trailhead Road is marked with a brown sign designating it as the access to the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. Turn right and drive .2 mile to the Embudito Canyon parking lot. The gate for the trailhead is on the north side of the lot.
Balancing Boulder Halfway
From the parking lot hike through the opening in the fence to the north. Foothills Trail 365 is the trail immediately in front of you, but don’t go that way. Instead take an immediate right onto a small ridgeline and follow the trail for about 1/8 mile to a gate near a large signboard. The signboard marks the boundary for the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. Head through the gate, immediately (before the signboard) turn right (south) and follow the vague trail that heads uphill to the lower ridge. The trail can be difficult to follow at times up this initial ascent, so if you need to bushwhack your way up the hill to the ridge, that is fine! Once on the ridge proper, head left (west) and follow the trail if you are still on it. If not still on the trail, don’t panic…just head west. At this point keep your eyes peeled for a large balancing boulder…you cannot miss it! Once spotted, head to the south (right) of the boulder to find the trail. At this point, the trail is extremely well traveled and easy to find, so there should be no problem following it to the summit.
Dead Pinyons Summit Ridge
Follow the trail as it stays to the left of several rocky sub-summits. The views from the top of the sub-summits and to the south are great, but the boulder-hopping and bushwhacking can be intense. As you get close to the summit, there will be more Pinyon Pine mixed with Junipers. At one point, the trail plateaus for a bit amidst a section of dead Pinyons. From here, the trail once again climbs steeply to gain the north ridge just below the summit. Travel a few hundred yards to the summit area. The trail continues east and starts heading downhill again. You will need to leave the trail to bushwhack to the summit areas. The true summit is a small outcropping due east of a larger, broad summit area. The broad area has great views into ‘Sunset Canyon’ to the south. The actual summit has great views to the east looking at South Sandia Peak.
Both summit areas have lots of ground cactus cover, so watch where you step! If you continue traveling on the trail, you will absolutely know you have gone too far and missed the summit if you come upon a huge boulder split in two that the trail passes in between. Go back 100 yards and bushwhack to either summit area.
Return the way you came.
During the summer bring plenty of water because Albuquerque temperatures can soar to near 100.
In the winter the trail can be icy and slick, so an ice axe is recommended.
Otherwise, just standard hiking gear, including sturdy, well-soled boots.