Rock climbing in New Mexico

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of November 5 — November 11, 1998
Rock climbing in New Mexico
No-frills Jamaica
Fattire holidays in San Miguel de Allende

Rock climbing in New Mexico

By Grant Brooks

Question: New Mexico is the destination for my first rock climbing trip. I would like to know how to get information about some interesting crags to check out. I regularly do sport climbing, the safe stuff with bolts...I don’t like long run outs. Am I choosing the correct place to discover more?

Marien Willow
Seattle, Washington

The north cliffs of Cochiti Mesa will satisfy your climbing urges
Adventure Adviser: New Mexico offers a vast selection for your rock climbing pleasure. If you want a statewide resource check out Rock Climbing New Mexico & Texas by Dennis R. Jackson (Falcon Press Publishing), which also provides some excellent maps. But for a few quick-and-easy sites about an hour’s drive from Santa Fe or Albuquerque, I asked the Santa Fe Climbing Gym to put together a list of favorite climbs that don’t necessarily involve Spiderman-like agility, and have bolted routes and top-rope accessibility. Northern New Mexico’s climbing season runs May through October and since some crags lie at over 8,000 feet, you’ll want to get here quick before it’s too cold to hold onto the rock. Here’s a sampler of what’s available: White Rock: “The Overlook” lies below a popular observation point over the Rio Grande River in White Rock Canyon. In the distance the Sangre de Cristo Range rises up from the desert floor. The basalt cliffs provide 40 different routes, varying in difficulty from 5.10 to 5.11+, with up to 60 vertical feet of climbing. From Los Alamos, take New Mexico highway 4 and turn left off of Rover Blvd. Follow to Overlook Park, proceed for one block then turn left off Meadow Lane and left again on Overlook Road. You’ll see plenty of climbers cars parked on top of the crags. Las Conchas: Located in an upper canyon along the east fork of the Jemez River, Las Conchas serves up 5.8 to 5.13 climbs ranging from 30 to 60 vertical feet. It’s a top rope area, and many of the popular routes—“Cattle Call Wall, Dream Tower, The Sponge, Botched Rock, and The Leaning Tower”—are all bolted. Located 15 miles west of Los Alamos off New Mexico highway 4. You’ll see the routes from the road. Cochiti Mesa Crags: Cochiti lies in the Santa Fe National Forest, which is within the boundaries of the Jemez Ranger District (505-829-3535). The north cliffs hold the most popular routes. Difficulty ranges from 5.8 to 5.13, and you can climb a dizzying 80 vertical feet if you’re up to it. Routes named “Eagle Canyon, Cochiti Mesa, Cacti Cligg and Disease Wall” will all give you a good workout. To get there, take New Mexico highway 22 to Santo Domingo Pueblo and then further on to Cochiti Lake. Pass the golf course and look for an easily missed sign for Forest Road 289 (FR289). It’s all off-road for 7.1 miles to the Cochiti Mesa parking area. Call the Ranger District ahead of time to confirm road conditions, as the roads are usually closed during and after rains, and even during dry periods a 4x4 is recommended.

For other recommendations, hook up with a local climber who’s familiar with each location and also knows how to get there. The Santa Fe Climbing Gym has a bulletin board of climbers looking for partners, as well as information on group expeditions into the hills. Give them a call at 505-986-8944. Another tip: Bring your own gear. There’s no place north of Albuquerque that rents everything you’ll need.

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