Saturday, June 18, 2011

Last Peak, Nordspitz and Baylor Pass

The North rabbit Ear looms behind a yucca from the summit of Last Peak
I reached a special milestone today. Ever since we moved to Las Cruces, I have wanted to climb up all of those jagged peaks on our horizon. Today I reached the summit of the last two. Well, to clarify, the last two of the jagged "needles". I still haven't been on Baylor Peak, or even Organ Peak (restricted are). No matter, I am happy anyways. Reaching these last two peaks also gives me a little more confidence about the upcoming Organ peak Marathon. I have a basic familiarity with all the peaks on our route, ways to get up and down, information which is key to our attempt to link all of these peaks in a single day.

My hike today started before the sun came up. I bade my sleeping family a quiet "goodbye-morning" and jumped in the car around 5am. I parked at my usual spot a mile or so up the Topp Hut road, and started hiking up. I decided not to bring any climbing gear with me, but my pack was still heavy because I was carrying an extra 4 liters of water to cache. I was also solo today, Marta and Jon had decided to team up and hike up the Organ Needle and familiarize themselves with the northward route from their (they made it all the way to Lost Peak). Being solo is nice sometimes, and I took a several extra geocaching diversions on my way up.

The hike in was nice and cool, and stayed cool all the way through Rabbit Ears Canyon. There was an unfound geocache on top of the Citadel which I decided to go for. I dropped my heavy pack in the canyon and took a 30 minute detour to grab it; Normally, the Citadel can only be topped out by 5th class routes, but I was pretty sure I could find a scramble up it. I remembered a hidden gully to the west of the route Wish You were Here, which was an easy scramble. It topped out on a large shoulder a few pitches up on the West Ridge. This left me with a little bit of  exposed climbing, but after looking at it carefully, I was confident I could get up it. I did have a few second thoughts about coming back down. After all, I had no rope or gear to rappel with. Pushing those thoughts aside I summited anyways, thinking there was probably another descent/scramble on the south side. I did find nice rappel chains on the SE side side of the summit, but no easy scramble down. However, down-climbing wasn't as bad as I had feared and I was soon back down to my pack, and on my way up to Last Peak.

My approach was up the main gully on coming down from the north end of North Rabbit Ear. About half way up a rocky ridge divides the gully. I had been up the right-hand side before, on a previous trip up to the CWM, so I decided to try the left-hand side this time. It had a few sections of tough bushwhacking, but was pretty easy and direct. I was soon up to the saddle between the CWM and Last Peak. I stashed 2 liters of water and scoped out the potential routes up Last Peak. There was a promising route right up the south face that I was interested in. I could see a way to scramble up some ramp systems to a shoulder mid-way up the face. from here I could only see a 5th class corner to the top, but the rock around the corner was hidden from view and I was thinking that it might have a scrambleable gully. I decided to have a look. The initial "scramble" section involved a 5th class move, and once again I worried about reversing it. Still, I went up hopeful for the nice gully around the corner. I got up to the shoulder and looked around the corner, and was dismayed. Not only was there not an easy corner, but it was actually steeper over there. right above me though, was a very attractive route up a narrow rib. It looked in the 5.6-5.8 range, but there was no way I was going to solo it. Lucky for me, I did not have to reverse the hard move I had done to get up here, instead finding a secure (but 5th class) down climb in a crack system with good holds. Safely back at the saddle I made my way west around the base of the wall to look for the regular route up.
South Face of Last Peak, and my aborted route attempt
Only a few hundred feet away was the 4th class (3rd class Ingraham) route, up a nice weakness to the top. I quickly ascended and was on the lovely summit ramp in no time.
4th class route up Last Peak
I found a small summit register left by a recent Geocacher, and added my name to it. The log was only a single sheet of paper, so I think I'll bring up a proper notebook when we come here next. It was still early in the morning, so I found a nice spot to sit and eat breakfast. I had birds-eye view of the summit of The Citadel where I just was an hour ago. I took my boots off and let my feet air out, munching on trail mix and gulping water.
Dry feet are happy feet
Agave blossom/fruit on summit of Last Peak
After a suitable rest, I peered over the north side of the peak to scope out the descent down to Nordspitz. A jagged ridge led directly towards the saddle. There were a few spots that looked like they might be difficult to negotiate, but overall it looked doable and direct. I started down the exposed ridge-line, carefully climbing over blocks and down boulders. About half-way down I was stopped by a steep section. It would be a short and easy rappel (although I saw no rappel gear from previous parties), but I had no rope. However, there was a weakness on the east side which i thought I could down climb and I decided to go for it. I had to be extremely careful here, using the crack for solid jams and carefully placing my feet and testing the rock as I lowered myself down. It was indeed down-climbable but when Jon and I come back this way on our big traverse, I think we'd be better off rappelling.
Looking down the North Ridge of Last Peak
Getting up Norspitz was a cinch, a simple 3rd class scramble up the south side. There was another new register placed by the same Geocacher. I looked around for signs of an older one, but didn't find anything. It's pretty unlikely that this peak sees many ascents anyways.
Summit shot on Nordspitz
I didn't stay on the summit long, and started scrambling down the North side of the peak. The scramble off was nice, over some beautiful slabs and past some nice old trees. I had to zig zag a bit to avoid a large steep wall, but it was all very straightforward and actually quite pleasant. Minimal brush-beating, not too much slippery gravel, and slightly shady from the North-facing aspect. When i finally got to the bottom and looked back up, Nordspitz actually looked like quite a nice peak, with gently slabs growing up into a nice little summit. It would probably be a nice hike to come up this way from Baylor pass, but my goal today was to do the opposite.
North Side of Nordspitz
The first 1/4mile along the ridge towards Baylor was the worst of the bushwhacking. I delicately threaded myself through mahogany, cholla and yucca, eventually reaching a small summit. From there it was a bit easier although still brushy. There were occasional faint traces of "trail" and I was before I knew it I was down at Baylor pass. I cached another 2 liters of water under a shrub, and pondered my next move. Getting back to my car on the Topp Hut road would take some doing, I could go back the way I came but what fun would that be? Another route I considered is a sort of ridge-line which goes from the top of the Lambda to somewhere near the pass. Ultimately though, I opted for a lower elevation route, skirting around the base of the some unnamed cliffs. Partially this was motivated by a few more geocaches, which I picked off lower down, but I also was interested in checking out the impressive cliffs on the North side of the Lambda Wall massif. I've often stared at these cliffs while driving along Baylor road. There are some obvious corner systems which beg to be climbed, and I was interested in some reconnaissance.
All smiles before I left Baylor Pass trail
I left the Baylor Pass trail a little bit below the camping spot, and aimed for a small pass to the south.from there I was able to scramble over maintaining my elevation to another little pass, overlooking the canyon beneath the unnamed wall. So far the brush hadn't been very bad, but I could see that traversing around the base of this wall was going to be tough. The steep slope beneath the wall was boulder-strewn and choked with vegetation. I didn't see any possible easy route, so just forged ahead trying to maintain some elevation. I got a good look at the corner systems, they look like they could be really awesome routes. The approach from Baylor Pass would be reasonable, although it would be better in the cooler months.
Unnamed Cliffs North of Lambda Wall
My water was running low, it was the hottest part of the day and I was in the worst terrain the Organs can throw at you. It seemed like forever, but I finally rounded the corner underneath the Lambda Wall, and made my way back into Rabbit Ears Canyon. To my surprise there were hikers there, two guys coming down from Rabbit Ear Massif. they had just passed by the campground and lost the trail. I helped them get back on track, and then hiked out with them. One of the guys, Andre, actually grew up near the Gunks, and went to school at Plymouth State, right near where my Dad lives in NH. Small world. I enjoyed the company for the last hike out, we commiserated about our lack of water, and the hostile Organ mountain plants, and cruised back down the Topp Hut road. Overall route stats: Hike came in around 10.8 miles with a total elevation gain of about 2500 ft. Car-to-car in about 9 hours.
Hot and hazy looking South-East from the Nordspitz


Pat said...

Could the unnamed cliff north of Lambda wall be the card deck. I have a topo for that from the 80s.

So fabulous to see someone enjoying the Organ Mountains so much. I miss them.

Bobo said...

Hey Pat, any chance you could send a copy of the "Card Deck" topo (and any other old Organ topos you'd be willing to share)?

If so send to