The Organ Mountains create the eastern backdrop to Las Cruces, NM. The range creates a natural buffer between the small city and open desert to the west and the restricted territory of White Sands Missle Range to the east. The mountains seem to have taken on this duality, with open adventure and restricted access due to their rugged nature. At times, these mountains were climbed by the likes of: Royal Robbins, the Southwest Mountaineers and several other hardened locals.
One such local is Marta Reece. She has been hiking in these mountains for a while and at the ripe, young age of 59 decided to begin rock climbing. Now, at 61, she has bagged all but one of the major peaks in the Organs, free soloed the Sugarloaf’s North Face and climbed many of the classic routes here numerous times. She knows the Organs well, along with their long and difficult approaches. I felt privileged to have such a seasoned Organ mountaineer for a partner and to show me how some approaches and peaks I had yet to visit. She and I both have pretty open schedules during the week, which lends to all day outings in the Organs. Also, we must have short-term memory as we keep bushwacking our way up these nasty peaks. The approaches alone usually keep climbers from returning, if they even make it once.
Our first day took us up to the saddle between CWM and Last Peak. The approach from Aquirre Springs and Baylor Canyon Trail on the east was much quicker than the 3 ½ hour approach time recorded by some coming up Rabbit Ears Canyon on the west. The goal was to explore the formations to the north and if we had time, climb a route. A steep hike up boulders and through grapevine, stinging nettle and scrub oaks brought us to the saddle in two hours.
From here one can see down into the Rabbit Ears Canyon, where I had hiked up a couple weeks earlier with Ben Nadler. This canyon is one of my favorites. From the west, the Rabbit Ears peaks appear to part of a single ridge with the rest of the Organ range. When one enters the canyon, the mountains become much more elaborate and a whole other world appears. The canyon climbs up and wraps around to the south,
dividing the Rabbit Ears formations from the lesser peaks to the west. Old Junipers, large boulders, watering holes and granite slabs takes one up to the Rabbit Ears saddle. This is also the approach to climbs on North Rabbit Ear, such as Boyer’s Chute, that I climbed last winter with my good friend from Tennessee, Andy Dodson.
For a while now, I had been eyeing a different way up the North Rabbit Ear, NRE. The route follows the proud and exposed northeast arête. After many days of eyeing this route through binoculars and a few internet posts, I found out from Karl Kiser that the existing route was Hand Jive. We were greeted with clouds and sprinkles at the saddle so Hand Jive wouldn’t happen today. Instead we cruised up the CWM. This is another peak I’ve been interested in and is a quick scramble and easy climb along the west ridge to the summit. From the west this peak, lying just to the north of NRE, looks like a peg that has been chamfered at the top. The chamfered, low angle slab is quite long and makes for a very unusually open and easy approach to the summit. From here one can get a good look at Hand Jive and several other possible routes on the north face of NRE. Hand Jive looks a lot more committing and I’ll have to come back prepared another day. We dialed in the approach route on the way down and came across three rock rattlers. Fortunately, they were kind enough to give us a buzz.
The next outing into the Organs with Marta was to the Wedge. This is one of the larger formations and has some of the best granite in the range. The approach took us up Wohlts Welt, into the canyon between the Wedge and Lost Peak and past several other canyons and formations. I moved slowly, stopping in amazement and curiosity at all the new landscape I had never seen and cannot see from the tame desert and city below. The West Ridge was our goal today. This is a route first ascended by Royal Robbins back in the 1950’s. We squeezed through the “birthing hole” and up to the normal beginning below two large, parallel weaknesses. The terrain varies from steep scrambling, exposed ridges to the clean, attentive, runout 5.8 slab finish. The summit register holds laminated newspaper articles about climbing the Wedge. Gazing around from the summit, I was again in awe of the elaborate, hidden beauty withheld in these mountains. All around were rock formations, canyons and even an Aspen grove that one cannot even imagine from the lowlands. ”This is a different world up a here,” Marta says. I agree, one with much more raw beauty than found in many places but not easily obtained.