Archives for posts with tag: Las Cruces
View from the Cloven Shoulder: Florida Mountains, Cooke Peak and Black Range on horizon

Overview:

This scramble takes you to Sharkstooth Pass, immediately east of Sharkstooth Peak in the Organ Mountains, then down to the saddle separating North Canyon and Bar Canyon. The ascent involves “Organ-eering”, a blood-spill minimizing skillset for scrambling amidst mesquite, prickly pear, shin stabbers, chollo, banana yucca, columnar cacti and ocotillo. This, while bashing through gray oak, Gamble oak and mountain mahogany thickets. Footing will be uncertain, the terrain steep. Organeering is an acquired taste. The route crosses over the boundaries of the Fort Bliss Military Reservation. The authorities there have been quietly tolerant of hiker’s who shave the corners of the reserve. A day-long drumbeat of distant artillery confirmed, utterly, assertions of live ordinance use. Having gone, I’m left feeling that this route edges uncomfortably far into the base.

So why describe it? Two reasons. First, Baldy Peak climbers might need a plausible bug-out route. Second (in the unlikely event of artillery practice being discontinued) this route might one day form part of an official Baldy Peak Trail.

Driving Directions:

  • From Interstate-25 (I-25) in Las Cruces, NM, take Exit 1. 
  • At the end of the ramp turn east on University Drive
    • If driving south (e.g. from Albuquerque) turn left
    • If driving north (e.g. from El Paso, TX) turn right
  • After 4.9 miles on University Drive turn right onto Soledad Canyon Road (well signed)
    •  at some point University Drive is renamed to Dripping Springs Road, although the transition point is not clear. Ignore the rename and simply treat this as a single road.
  • After 5.2 miles on Soledad Canyon Road, at the road’s end, park in the trailhead parking lot.
    • At 0.6 miles on Soledad Canyon Road, just before a firehouse, the road makes a sharp left-hand turn. The turn is well signed.

Kudos to the Las Cruces taxpayers. Once an automotive hardship, Soledad Canyon Road is now an attractive sojourn. A terrific bike lane lies near to the road and climbs to the trailhead. Nice job LCDOT!

Trailhead:

RuTwo in an extraordinarily engineered trailhead

The short entrance road (formerly rife with gullies, edged rocks, lumpy boulders, potholes and other impending disasters) now glides to the trailhead on smooth pavement. A gate at the start of the entrance road signals that Soledad Canyon Road (a city street) has ended. There are no services here (water, toilet, or trash receptacles). No fees are required, but a trail register takes pride of place at the trail entrance. Please sign – the register helps keep Soledad Canyon Day Use Area open.

Google reports that the trailhead opens at 8:00 AM and closes at 5:00 PM, although the underlying BLM website does not show the hours. Arrive a little early! The new ease-of-access could make this a very popular weekend destination.

Data:

The yellow line in the above map depicts the route taken going into the pass. The blue line depicts the route coming back from the pass.

  • Starting Elevation: 5568 feet
  • Highest Elevation: 7639 feet
  • Net Elevation: 2070 feet
  • Distance: 3.0 miles (one way)

Hike Description

First trail junction

From the trailhead hike up-canyon past a registration box and an information kiosk. At 0.2 miles come to a fork. The left-hand branch goes north into Bar Canyon, stay right to hike into Soledad Canyon. The path generally stays on the bank of the main arroyo with occasional crossings. It used to be hard to distinguish the trail and the wash, but on this date every crossing was clearly signed.

A distant Chimney Rock

At 0.7 miles come to a second junction, unsigned. Take the fork heading southeast (go right on ascent). I walked past the branch (see the short yellow stub in the map) because there is a line of rocks across tread. These are meant to keep loop-hikers on the loop trail. Step over the rocks and continue up Soledad Canyon. This portion of the trail runs on an old two-track that occasionally churns straight up the canyon bed. Ahead of you towers Chimney Rock, the throat of an ancient volcano.

Fort Bliss Border signage

Soledad Canyon soon begins to close in. At 1.3 miles, with Chimney Rock directly opposite your left shoulder, come to a steel fence across the two-track. Stern and accurate signage asserts a base border and reminds you of the inadvisability of messing with unexploded ordinance. If you still want to organeer, turn northeast, towards Chimney Rock, and follow the fence line up hill. The steel posts of this fence soon give out and a bold climber’s tread heads uphill and to the east.

Chimney Rock Tank

At 1.5 miles the tread drops to the upper end of Chimney Rock Tank, one of the rare water-resources in the Organ Mountains. The water was algae-green on this date, although you could filter treat it. Wild life and cattle depend on this tank so try not to linger. Instead, look upstream and pick out the game trail that ascends along the tank’s easterly bank (the rib on your right as you look uphill). Follow this many-branched trail to gain top of the rib. It may feel as if you are climbing up to a local highpoint, but the rib surprises by simply spreading out into an Upper Sonoran meadowland. Sharkstooth Peak soars above you. It may be tempting to push east, getting positioned directly below the pass. Resist temptation! The open meadows above are a treat compared to the heavily vegetated arroyos to your right.

Open meadows beneath Sharkstooth Peak

As you ascend study the folds of land between you and the pass. One prominent rib makes a shallow saddle and looks relatively open. Aim for it. Climb in the meadows until you are at about the same elevation as the outer end of the saddle. A thickly vegetated arroyo skulks between you and those open slopes. It looks tough, but don’t simply bash through!

Juniper (top, right) in arroyo where game trails converge

Instead, scan that arroyo for a prominent juniper. Several game trails go past that tree and offer unscathed passage into the flanks of the saddle. Once you get onto the saddle, at about 2.1 miles from the trailhead, again look east and above you. The heavy vegetation on the flanks of the next rib thins, leaving the rib-top open. Immediately depart from the saddle, battle past a narrow band of thickets, then attain the open-topped rib. (On return I tried the higher terrain immediately above the saddle – not a happy experience).

Looking back, past ocotillo, to Soledad

The “open topped rib” gets its character because it has been scrubbed of soil. The angle of attack increases and shattered rock supports your boot soles. A forest of ocotillo plants thrives in this scant soil. Some ocotillo extend 8 feet into the air and enjoy wide spacing. “Easy!”, you think. Those big ocotillo, however, have numerous smaller cousins clinging close to the rock. These are vegetative hacksaws. Position your shins carefully. Look up to see that Sharkstooth’s summit now positioned slightly to your left. Sheer cliffs adorn the east face and wall-in the east side of the pass. Set your sights on the talus field below the pass and battle over as soon as you can.

Talus below Sharkstooth Pass

The moderate talus angle makes for quick climbing. If you slide back a little for each step forward, at least you’re not being thwarted by thickets. Game trails along the edge help the climber. A serious brush bash glowers down from the top of the talus field. Scout for the most obvious game trail you can find. On this date I frequently crawled under low juniper branches, but those branches keep the brush away!

Baldy Peak (center) and Organ Peak (right) from Sharkstooth Pass

Sharkstooth Pass, a narrow cleft, opens to a 2600-foot wall that tumbles from Organ Peak summit to the North Canyon bed. Want more? Vexatious vegetation guards the those northern slopes. Fortunately, a steep game trail will take you directly down from the pass to another talus field. This field is steep and loose. Scramblers must work their way down to a well-compacted animal trail contouring across the field. Follow this compacted trail west (to your left). The path soon enters brush that is so dense that even deer are unable to go off-trail. Eventually you poke through into a grass-covered gully coming off of Sharkstooth. Take note of where you exit the brush! The map shows that I tried to find an alternative, higher path on return to the pass. That route cannot be recommended.

Cloven Shoulder (left), Baldy Peak (mid-left) and Organ Peak (right of center)

The grassy gully offers a steep scramble that quickly brings you to a shoulder jutting boldly north. (This shoulder is part of the rib that connects Sharkstooth to Baldy Peak). Look east across the summit of Squaw Mountain, where the Florida Range, Cookes Range and the Black Range dominate the horizon. Look east where North Canyon gouges the crumpled earth. Hmm, is this a “new” way to get to the Sharkstooth summit? Nope, not from this shoulder! A yawning chasm invites paragliders and spurns scramblers. The shoulder is cleaved by a deep, vertical gash – I could find no way to get to the high point only 50 feet away. Soak in the views and depart “Cloven Shoulder” by dropping back down the gully.

View of saddle connecting Sharkstooth to Baldy Peak

At the gully base turn east (left, descending) and traverse a semi-open slope. In a few hundred yards gain the rib connecting to Baldy Peak. Bar Canyon opens to the west. North Canyon opens to the east. Have a seat. Enjoy the solitude. Lunch. When done, return the way you came.

Recommendations:

Author on Cloven Shoulder

Your best friends in the Organ Mountain are: thick soled boots, ballistic fiber gaiters and long pants. This terrain slices and dices; hiking shoes and shorts will sacrifice flesh. One hiking pole helps. The second pole impedes.

Carry water. I had two liters and wished for a third. Chimney Rock Tank is often dry

Deer and a rabbit come into view, but you would see more with a light pair of binoculars.

In warmer weather some lifeforms will rattle.

Links:

Couldn’t find any! Colorado has a Sharkstooth Pass that gets some attention, but the inter-web has nothing about this New Mexico pass.

Overview:

View into Horse Canyon and distant North Las Uvas Mountain (the slope on the right side of the photo) from US-26

North Las Uvas Mountain (the slope rising from the right side of the photo) as seen from NM-26. The southern draw is the shadowed bowl partially screened by a bush on the extreme right. Staircase Rib descends from the ridge line of North Las Uvas Mountain to the left of the draw.

This is an off-trail scramble that ascends to the second-highest point in the Sierra de Las Uvas. “Second highest” may sound like faint praise, but it is a terrific alternative to driving to the fenced and locked summit of Magdalena Peak (the highest point in the range). This is desert wilderness so be prepared for difficult road, waterless trekking and terrain that rattles. It is also, in the springtime, a colorful hike into rarely seen terrain with spectacular views. Find a clear-blue day and do this hike!

Driving Directions:

  • From US-70 in Las Cruces, enter Interstate-25 (I-25) going north.
  • After 35.3 miles take Exit 41 for NM-26/Hatch.
  • After 0.2 miles, at the end of the ramp, go left on NM-26.
  • After 1.4 miles, at a T-intersection with a stop sign, go right to continue on NM-26.
  • After 8.3 miles past the T-intersection, go left onto Las Uvas Spring Road. This road is paved. (Note, “Las Uvas Spring Road” is the name on a the street sign. It will be much easier to watch for a huge sign on the left side of the road that says Las Uvas Valley Dairy).
  • After 0.8 miles, where Las Uvas Spring Road bends sharply to the right, go left onto County Road E002 (gravel). There are some things to watch for while driving E002, notably:
    • After 300 feet E002, just past a cattle guard, come to an intersection. Straight ahead is a gravel road in rough shape. Don’t go there, instead take the sharp right to stay on E002.
    • After 1.7 miles on E002 come to a fork. E002 veers slightly to the right, while the left fork is County Road E003. Go right. About 30 feet past the fork you should pass a bent metal post signed “CR E002”.
    • After 4.7 miles on E002, at the mouth of Horse Canyon, come to the stone ranch building and tall windmill. This is Horse Canyon Ranch (private property). Continue on E002 as it enters the canyon.
  • After 5.0 miles come to small rise in the road with negligible berms on either side. Park beside the road.

The Mighty Camry, hard used, at the trailhead. South draw is immediately above the car. Staircase Rib  is about 45° above and left.

The Mighty Camry, hard used, at the trailhead. South draw is immediately above the car. Staircase Rib is about 45° above and left. (Double-click to enlarge)

Note: County Road E002 is rough. You may see pictures of the mighty Camry parked at the trailhead, but this road can not be recommended for family sedans. On this date the tracks of a road grader were visible in the roadbed – there must have been fairly recent maintenance efforts. Despite that, long stretches of the road was made up of loosely piled, fist-sized rocks. The road is sunken below the surrounding terrain for much of its length. You can go forward and you can back up, but turning around is often out of the question. Take a high-clearance vehicle. Those with high clearance vehicles could drive another 0.4 miles and save themselves a stretch of road hiking, but be warned that the road bed degrades significantly in that stretch.

Trailhead:

The trailhead is just a patch of dirt beside County Road E002. There are no amenities. There may be cattle. Don’t scare them.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 5020 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 6601
  • Net Elevation: 1581 feet
  • Distance: 4.2 miles one way
  • Maps: USGS Souse Springs, NM quadrangle

Hike Description:

As the two-track comes into the wash you will see these patches of scoured rock on the bed of the water-way.

As the two-track comes into the wash you will see these patches of whitish, scoured rock on the bed of the water-way.

From the car, head up Horse Canyon on County Road E002. Rocks the size of bowling balls litter the gullied road-bed, be glad that you left the vehicle behind. The road gets so little use that a scattering of wild flowers were growing in both tracks. In about 0.4 miles come to a fork where a faint two-track departs the main road on the right and descends into the wash coming out of the south draw. Follow the two-track for roughly 100 yards and come to the wash, then turn upstream (left). On ascent I departed from the wash in just a hundred yards, worried about going too far into the southern draw. That was a misplaced concern – it is fine to follow the wash 0.3 miles to where you arrive at the foot of Staircase Rib.

Fence posts on the flanks of Staircase Rib and a view up Horse Canyon towards Big White Pass.

Fence posts on the flanks of Staircase Rib and a view up Horse Canyon towards Big White Pass.

I’ve designated this rib “Staircase” because it is composed of harder and softer layers of rock; the hard rock forms the relatively flat shelves and the soft rock forms the steep risers. As you come to the first of the shelves, look up Horse Canyon and try to pick out an old barbed wire fence on the flanks of the rib. This fence begins in the bottom of Horse Canyon and rises part way up the rib. You should hit the fence about 0.8 miles from the trailhead. Ranchers worked hard on these structures and there is an old path along the uphill side of the fence. It is easier to follow the path than to “side-hill” along the rib. That said, you shouldn’t get too far from the rib top, so at about 1.1 miles from the car depart from the fence and ascend beside basaltic outcrops until hitting a grassy stretch that grants access to the rib top. From here it is only a short distance to where the rib joins the main ridge of North Las Cruces Mountain.

Near the point where Staircase Rib joins the main ridge on North Las Cruces Mountain. The view is across the upper end of the south draw and to the Cooke Range.

Near the point where Staircase Rib joins the main ridge on North Las Cruces Mountain. The view is across the upper end of the south draw to Cookes Peak.

Look around you as you reach the main ridge on North Las Cruces Mountain. You will want to make sure you depart the ridge for Staircase Rib on descent. Having memorized this departure point, turn up hill and begin a long and surprisingly gentle ascent of the upper tablelands. There is an abundance of creosote bush and mesquite, some mountain mahogany, numerous varieties of small cacti (surprisingly few prickly pear, a few cholla), the odd ocotillo and an occasional juniper. Grasses grow in dense patches – watch for our sinuous friends during warm weather. There are numerous raptors overhead and evidence of cattle under foot. Shade is practically non-existent.

View of another juniper-enhanced false summit and a fold in the tableland where a canyon reaches the ridgeline.

View of another juniper-enhanced false summit and a fold in the tableland where a canyon reaches to the ridgeline.

There are no further route finding problems. Just stay close to where the ridge falls into Horse Canyon and continue ascending. At 1.8 miles from the trailhead you will come to the upper end of a canyon that drains from the ridgeline to the southwest (that is, to your right). These may be the headwaters of Pine Canyon. Surprising displays of cap rock appear in what would otherwise be a broad table of high desert. Water has gnawed all the way to the ridge, leaving minor rises and infinitesimal falls as you ascend towards the summit. Although the terrain is nearly flat, footing is tricky as the surface is covered with volcanic scoria intermixed with rounded lumps of sandstone. (Tricky and geologically confusing).  At about 2.4 miles from the trailhead you pass what seems to be the last of the canyon’s branches and might imagine that the juniper decorating the ridge above you is the summit. Oh no! It turns out that juniper trees enhance each of the innumerable  pseudo-summits on this gentle climb. Plod onward.

Cactus growing on a

Lichen and cactus growing on a “ground” of solid rock.

You will encounter the headwaters of one last canyon at 3.0 miles from the trailhead. Cross a two-track (evidently in current use) and ascend up a moderate incline to reach the broad expanse of true tableland northwest of the summit. On this date there was a considerable flower show. The columnar cacti, in particular, were putting on a massive show of red and purple flowers. Despite drought conditions the grasses were dense on the ground (although very dry).

Sugarloaf in the Sierra de Las Uvas.

Sugarloaf in the Sierra de Las Uvas.

As you get higher the views to the surrounding ranges become a major distraction. The Florida Mountains are prominent in the southwest, the Cooke Range to the west, the Black Range and the Caballo Range dominate the near-ground to the north, although I think I saw the distant San Mateo Range poking up between them. The east is dominated by the San Andreas Range. As you reach the summit at 4.2 miles, some very prominent peaks of the Sierra de Las Uvas appear. These include the conical form of Sugarloaf and the radar-dome topped prominence of Magdelana. Below lies the crazed terrain where White Gap Draw, Kerr Canyon, Choases Canyon and Valles Canyon converge into Broad Canyon. A bit south of east are the Robledos and Dona Ana Mountains, and beyond them lie toothy spires of the Organ Mountains. Have a bite to eat, sign the register, and return the way you came.

Recommendations:

The author on North Las Uvas summit, with the radar dome of Magdelana Peak in the background.

The author on North Las Uvas summit, with the radar dome of Magdelana Peak in the background.

♦Both the distance hiked and the elevation gained look very modest. Don’t be fooled. This is a 100% off-trail outing and the demands on your attention and on your legs are emphatically real. It is at least a moderately strenuous hike – less physically demanding than the ascent up Three Rivers Canyon in the Sierra Blanca Range, but far greater than the 7-mile loop around Kilbourne Hole.

♦County Road E002 crosses at least two washes. A storm could make the road impassable in a very short period of time. Keep a close eye on the weather. It would be an excellent idea to have a pick and shovel with you. As usual with desert sojourns, make certain your spare tire is inflated and bring extra water.

♦There is no protection from the sun or from lightning on this hike. Pick a nice day, preferably in the winter or early spring months. Sun screen is essential for most folks, and a broad rimmed hat is incredibly useful.

Links:

Western Diamondback (I think, since the white bands on the tail are thinner than the black bands). Protecting its turf in the wash leading out of the south draw.

Western Diamondback (I think, since the white bands on the tail are thinner than the black bands). This rattler was protecting its turf in the wash leading out of the south draw.

♦There is a mention of this peak on SummitPost. That description suggests an approach from the south rather than the north, which may be advantageous in terms of avoiding County Road E002. That approach, however, would leave you approaching North Las Uvas Mountain on its steep south/eastern faces. I haven’t tried it, but from what I could see on the summit you would want advanced scrambling skills to make that approach. It might be best to try this route in the colder weather when New Mexico’s venomous denizens are not quite so abundant.

A map provided by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seems to suggest that most of Horse Canyon and the lower half of the ridge up to North Las Uvas Mountain is owned by the State of New Mexico. The upper part of the ridge, to the summit, is BLM land. There is a small in-holding, the Horse Canyon Ranch, that bridges the narrow mouth of the canyon. It appears to me that you should try and drive at least a quarter mile past the abandoned ranch house and windmill in order to park on public lands. Land owners in New Mexico are usually very generous towards hikers and hunters but, absent explicit parking permission, it’s best to stay off of the ranch land.

♦That’s about it. This lack of public awareness may be why the summit log had only two previous entries in it!

Overview:

Chimney Rock (left) and distant Shark's Tooth Peak

Chimney Rock (left) and distant Shark’s Tooth Peak (center)

This is a strenuous scramble. It averages just under 1000 feet of gain per mile, which some may see as a mild challenge. Attentive map readers will observe that very little of that gain comes at the beginning of the hike. Consequently, the end game is an exercise in geologic “shock and awe”. In close company with cacti, ocotillo and sotol, scramblers find themselves kicking steps into a scree surface over steep terrain. Falling is an option, but a tumble or two in such prickly quarters is not going to improve morale. The rewards come in the last quarter mile. Having gained good footing on the ridge top, you’ll find precipitous views north into the basaltic wonderland surrounding Baldy and Organ Peak and long views south across the Organ Mountains all the way to Bishops Cap.

This route is not for beginners. On USGS maps Shark’s Tooth is identified only with an altitude label, “point 7974”.

Driving Directions:

  • On East University Avenue, in Las Cruces, head east and reset your mileage meter at the traffic light for the on-ramp to I-25 South. Continue east on University Avenue. (Don’t get on I-25).
  • After 4.9 miles on East University Avenue turn right onto Soledad Canyon Road. (University Avenue is renamed to Dripping Springs Road after just 1.3 miles, but the transition is not well signed).
  • After 0.6 miles make a left turn. The new road is still known as Soledad Canyon Road.
  • After 4.2 more miles, at the end of the road, park in the Soledad Canyon parking area (gravel).

Trailhead:

The trailhead is a gravel parking area with a trash receptacle and a map board. There is no water (although there is a functioning windmill nearby). The trailhead is close to town and (unlike Dripping Springs) free of charge. It is popular with photographers, dog walkers, birders and mountain runners. The parking area was not packed on this date, but there may be days when an early arrival would be advisable.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 5600 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 7980
  • Elevation Gain: 2380
  • Distance: 2.5 miles one way
  • Maps: USGS Organ Peak, NM quadrangle

Hike Description:

01 Soledad Canyon Trail

Soledad Trail leading out of the parking area, Shark’s Tooth is the conical peak straight ahead.

From the trailhead ascend uphill into the canyon on the Soledad Trail. The trail is a well maintained and much-used, so navigation is generally obvious. There is a large side-canyon coming in from the northeast called Bar Canyon, which leads to a popular waterfall. You want to remain in Soledad Canyon. Arrive at a fork for Bar Canyon at 0.2 miles, at a junction where the Soledad Trail leaves the tread to the right. Go right onto the trail and continue ascending. The trail crosses a wash at several places and the wash is so open that it is tempting to ascend it.

The lower end of Shark Tooth's rocky ridgeline.

The lower end of Shark’s Tooth’s rocky ridgeline, Chimney Rock is on the photo’s right side.

If you do find yourself hiking in the wash, don’t worry. You are going in the right general direction. Just look for the next trail crossing to regain the Soledad Trail. If you find yourself in a short and rock-walled canyon that is blocked at the uphill end, then you have gone a little too far. Turn back to where the rock walls begin and leave the wash on the steep, gravelly north bank to regain the trail. You should be near a rocky ridge (shown above) with a volcanic throat called Chimney Rock. You will be ascending Shark’s Tooth along the far side of this ridge.

Chimney Rock (left) and distant Shark's Tooth Peak

Chimney Rock (left) and distant Shark’s Tooth Peak

The Soledad Trail terminates at a stout metal fence 1.2 miles from the trailhead. Turn left (north) and ascend a climbers tread that follows the fence line. At the top of the first knoll look north towards Shark’s Tooth. In the adjacent photo Chimney rock is on the left and the summit of Shark’s Tooth is in the middle. The peak’s shoulder runs down towards Chimney Rock. At the apparent intersection look for a whitish rock rock face on the shoulder (rather small in this photo). The route described here takes you across the intervening grassy valley to the flanks of the mountain. Then it ascends a steep sided bowl towards this whitish rock face. (Here referred to as “the target rock”). Also, look at the lower right corner of the photo. There you will see an area of bare rock where flowing water has scrubbed away soil and vegetion. The easiest way into the valley is to descend from the knoll to the top of this scrubbed rock (as opposed to staying along the ridge to get to Chimney rock). From the scrubbed area move out into the valley, crossing three small arroyos, and ascend toward the target rock on the mountain’s shoulder.

05 valley view

Wendy and Jerry (on descent) in the valley below Shark’s Tooth. The target rock is the whitish dot on the ridge top, directly below the cloud.

The valley floor rises towards Shark’s Tooth and offers several possibilities for ascent. Look for a bowl below the ridge line west of the summit. In the photo on the left, the west side of a bowl is defined by a large, blocky rock rib (coming in from the left edge of the photo). The east side of the bowl is defined by the pale cliff face that descends from the summit and arrows into the basin, forming an arête between the bowl on the left and the mountain’s front face on the right. But how do you enter this bowl? Study that blocky lefthand rib and you’ll see that its foot is shrouded in dense green vegetation. Presumably, that’s awkward terrain for travel. (It may help to double-click the photo to see it enlarged). But to the right of that green mass you will see a bit of pale rock that provides you an easy entrance. Ascend the valley and enter the bowl.

View to the target rock on the shoulder of Shark's Tooth.

View to the target rock atop the shoulder (center) and eastern arête (right edge). Photo taken from the entry to the western bowl.

The entrance to the bowl, about 1.9 miles from the trailhead, is a great place to stop for a drink and take on some nourishment. The route is about to get a wee bit steep. In the doubtful shade of a huge, all-but-dead aligator juniper, crane your neck and study the terrain above you. The low point is a col just uphill of the blocky western rib. It is tempting to go that way, since it looks as if the remaining ascent along the ridge would be easy. Previous experience, however, indicates that you also want to study the intervening vegetation. It can be ugly. Here, turn your attention to the arête on the east side (right, looking up hill). Its edge also has heavy vegetation, but a short distance away from the arête is open, grassy and steep terrain.

Wendy and Jerry (on descent) in steep and thorny terrain

Wendy and Jerry (on descent) in steep and thorny bowl-side terrain

From the bowl’s entrance, battle uphill on a rising traverse towards the grassy area. The first hundred yards are especially plagued with dense growth. The rubbly nature of this slope becomes very apparent. Rivlets of scree erupt from the soil. Ascending this rubble is a thigh burning matter of pushing upwards and sliding backwards. Side-hilling (that is, making your own small switchbacks) can reduce the slippage. As you near the shoulder the slope eases slightly and a number of juniper trees help to stabilize the terrain. Here and there you may also find animal trails. The stabilized soil on these trails is a real asset. As you approach the shoulder pull east (to the right) of the target rock.

Basaltic wonderland north of Shark's Tooth.

Basaltic wonderland north of Shark’s Tooth.

On descent it can be difficult to know where to leave the shoulder. So, when you arrive, commit that ridge site to memory. But do not wait long to look over the ridge to the phantasmagoria that is the southern Organ Mountains. Rock walls soar and canyons plunge in ways that would give fighter pilots reason to pause. A prominence to the north has some similarity to Baldy Peak, but most likely it is the huge buttress that descends towards the west from Baldy’s true summit.

View to North Organ Mountains from Shark's Tooth summit.

View to northern Organ Mountains from Shark’s Tooth summit.

Having hiked about 2.2 miles from the trailhead, turn east and ascend the firm terrain on the ridge top. In places the ridge broadens out and is forested – make note of your path for the sake of an untroubled return. Arrive at the summit having hiked a mere 2.5 miles. Look south to Bishops Cap, west into the Tularosa Basin and north over the dark rock of the southern Organs to Organ Needle and the pale granite mass of the northern Organ Spires. In the west find Las Cruces, Picacho Peak, the distant horn of Cooke’s Peak and (on the faintest horizon) the bumps that are South and North Florida Peaks. Return the way you came.

Recommendations:

Author on the rocky entrance to the bowl below Shark's Tooth.

Author on the rocky entrance to the bowl below Shark’s Tooth.

As mentioned at the start, this is a strenuous scramble. It’s only five miles round trip, but the stress of ascending steep, wild and prickly terrain on mushy footing is very real. A beginner who is about college-age, adventurous and very fit could do this hike and enjoy it. Most beginners will be a thousand-fold happier on the trail up to Baylor Pass or hiking the Pine Tree Trail at Aguirre Springs.

There is little to no shade on this south-facing trail. Place this on your “cold season only” list of hikes.

Do put this on your list of hikes. The Organ Mountains have few places with as much reward per mile.

There currently is no protection for the summit register – we found it lying on the grass. Rain has already washed the old names out of the register. If you’re doing this scramble, consider bringing something waterproof to hold this notebook. The register is about 10-inches long and 7-inches wide, but it could curl. Please leave a comment here so other’s know.

On a windy and sometimes chilly November day I barely touched my water – drinking about a liter. Bring more, of course. There are going to be warm days when 5 liters isn’t enough.

The basis for this report was a hike organized by the Jornada Hiking Club. Many thanks to Steven K. for leading this scramble and getting us out into the mountains.

Links:

Ryan Conklin has video posts from ascents in 2014 and 2013. Both videos show summit views from Shark’s Tooth (which he also names as Butler Peak). He identifies several mountains in the interior of the Organ Mountains that look very challenging. In addition, his “Appalachian Ink Trail” website has an entry describing his 2014 ascent. (That website also has a number of great posts regarding his experiences on the AT). It appears that Ryan chose to stay on the ridge above Chimney rock to get to the summit. That would be a significantly different route than the bowl-ascent described here.

Samat has a full GPS track posted for another trip to Shark’s Tooth. Samat’s track looks very similar to the one described here. Apparently Samat did the hike in 2012 with the Jornada Hiking Club, which also has it’s own trip report. That report emphasizes the route’s steepness and loose scree. Count on it!