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The Thumb
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Northwest Ridge 

YDS: 5.5 French: 4b Ewbanks: 13 UIAA: IV+ British: MS 4a

Type: Trad, Alpine, 8 pitches, 1000', Grade III
Consensus:  YDS: 5.6 French: 4c Ewbanks: 14 UIAA: V British: S 4b [details]
FA: Unknown
Page Views: 7,820
Submitted By: Bill Lawry on May 25, 2007
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Courtesy of George Perkins: "The long NW ridge of the Thumb is one of the two great ridge routes in the Sandias. Although the climbing itself is mediocre, the position the climber finds his or herself in is memorable, as one climbs up on an exposed ridge with great views of Upper La Cueva Canyon to the left and the Rio Grande valley to the right.

"Generally, multiple variations are possible on the 5th class pitches, with the easiest passage being marked by the lack of 'rock lettuce'.

"Although one guidebook warns to allow a full day for this climb, a competent party comfortable simulclimbing or soloing on easier terrain will be able to complete this route in a few hours. Retreat from this route would be time- and gear-consuming; in most instances, continuing over the top and down the standard descent Southeast Ridge (a.k.a., standard descent) would be recommended."

The below route description - added 8/8/2011 a day after climbing it with Howard Snell. It matches well with that shown in the topo in Hill's guide (pg 163, 3rd ed). Also see marked Photo.

Pitch 1: Head straight up, on or just left of the ridge line. At about 100 feet, look to the right side of the ridge for a south-facing slab. Thereís a ~7 inch diameter tree on the far side of the slab top. Belay near here. 5.5, ~100 feet.

Pitch 2: Continue up the ridge and cross fully back to the left side after about 20 feet. Find the start of a nice ramp a handful of feet wide, that continues up on the left side of the ridge line. Follow this ramp up until it levels off some and heads more decidedly to the left away from the ridge line. Belay near a small roof about where the ramp levels off. 5.6, ~100 feet.

Pitch 3: Head straight up a weakness (blocky irregular crack) being careful to avoid knocking stuff on the belayer (hide under a small roof or set belay off to the side). When the climbing gets easy trend left, up, and then back right on relatively lichen-free terrain with no pro. This takes you within a few feet of but not onto the ridge line, at a nice belay ledge (~100 feet, top of Hillís P3).

If you used enough long runners to reduce rope drag, continue up the left-trending crack and when this fades (30 feet above ledge?) cut left and over into a very wide alcove with a ledge sporting some dirt, vegetation, and a straight-in dihedral at its back. Belay here. This extension of P3 is recommended if doing the ring-pin var of P4 (i.e., "Move Belay" per Hill's topo). Note: There is another ring piton a few feet left of the base of the this very wide alcove. 5.6, ~150 feet from the top of P2.

There are probably several good variations to the next pitch or so. Two of them start up the dihedral in the back of the very wide alcove . . .

Pitch 4, ring-pin variation; note - the ring piton came out in a leader fall; thanks for noting it, Alpinestephan!: Start up the dihedral in the back of the very wide alcove and then head left and down a bit traversing on an obvious ledge. At the end of this leftward traverse, you'll find a ring-pin (missing) and a fixed 1" BD4 cam (8/2011). Head up through the crux and trend slightly right to an ample belay ledge. Rope drag can be significant Ė use long slings going up the wide alcove (or donít place pro) until heading left a bit. 5.6, 100 feet.

(A variation on the above ring-pin var might be to continue left just below the base of the very wide alcove for about 20 feet to a tree - perhaps even moving the belay here - and then up, arriving at the ring-pin crux area from below instead of from the side; I suspect this would improve the rope drag issue we had.)

Pitch 4, squeeze variation (perhaps the original P4?): Start up the dihedral in the back of the very wide alcove and then jog right a few feet past a bush and up through the squeeze or chimney (a "V" notch as viewed from the very wide alcove; the topo in Hill's guide calls it a "squeeze"). At the top of the squeeze, trend left and up to the ridge line and belay just on the left side of the ridge at an ample belay ledge. WARNING: I / we didnít do the part after the squeeze but it looks do-able at the grade when viewed from near the above ample belay ledge.

Pitch 5: Continue up and left until can access a large ledge that heads horizontally rightward; at the ledge one is immediately right of a relatively flat wall with yellow lichen (the topo in Hill's guide labels this as "Blank Wall"). About 20 feet out that ledge to the right, head up at a large crack through blocky terrain. Belay when the terrain eases or continue up to a minor peak on the ridge at about 180 feet.

1000 feet to summit: There may be a bit of low 5th class immediately after the above minor peak. Start simul-climbing or free soloing as soon as reasonable to avoiding being benighted. From George Perkins: There is "... 1000' of scrambling up mostly 3rd class, with occasional 4th class moves remains, with precipitous drops to enjoy on either side. When you reach the first false summit (the West summit), drop down into the notch beyond it, and a 30' section of 4th class gains the higher (East) summit.


Courtesy of George Perkins: "The Thumb is the prominent twin summited rock south of the La Luz Trail; the NW ridge ascents the right skyline as viewed from the upper parts of the La Luz. Hike down the La Luz ~1hr to the last West facing switchback before the trail crosses from the S to the N side of La Cueva Canyon. Follow a small trail west (if you cross some rusty water pipes in the first 30', you're at the right place) and ascend to a large ledge and tree directly on the NW ridge, where the route begins. A direct start 150' lower is possible as well."

The described first pitch starts on a smaller ledge with a small tree after about a 15 foot scramble past the end of the wide ramp.


Courtesy of George Perkins, and I agree: "Standard Sandia rack, most will be fine with a single rack up to 3". Long runners are recommended to minimize rope drag. An ancient ring-pin protects the crux move" of P4's ring-pin variation "(and can be backed up with gear)."

Photos of Northwest Ridge Slideshow Add Photo
Here's another view of the last 3/5ths of the 5th class section.  Dotted lines indicate the actual route is hidden by features of the ridge.  Bill Lawry's photo and comments describe this route well.
BETA PHOTO: Here's another view of the last 3/5ths of the 5th ...
Wendy, just before starting to Simul the fourth class.
Wendy, just before starting to Simul the fourth cl...
One more view of the technical part of the ridge, taken from a pitch or so up <a href='/v/west-ridge/106544643'>West Ridge</a> of <a href='/v/frog/106544634'>Frog</a>
BETA PHOTO: One more view of the technical part of the ridge, ...
Comments on Northwest Ridge Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Jun 26, 2013
By LeeAB
From: ABQ, NM
Sep 19, 2008

A nice day when linked with the Knife Edge of the Shield and then a casual tram ride back down.

By Chris Wenker
From: Santa Fe
Jun 8, 2009
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V S 4b

Maybe it's just me, but Hill's route drawing in the 'Hikers and Climbers Guide' seems to be an impressionistic painting rather than a useable topo. We missed the pin on P3, but did find a fixed ring piton near the start of our P4 (maybe the same one mentioned by Schein?). Our P5 was really short though, so I'm not sure where Hill's P5 would go. Wherever you climb, though, it'll all go at <=5.5/5.6.

By Anthony Stout
From: Albuquerque, NM
Jun 10, 2009

I used that guide once to find a route on Muerella Grande. We ended up on the completely wrong route. I would think you did well in at least you found the route! I have not been super impressed with that guide. Sandia Rock is much better.

By Robin
From: Albuquerque, NM
Jun 21, 2009

This really is a cool ridge to climb up. It looks highly improbable at times but then you sneak on through. I found the rock on the 5th class sections to be ok. Protection was fine. I was very happy to find that the rock on the 4th class scrambling section was better than the belayed sections of the route. For a Sandias route it felt pretty mellow since you just cruise on down La Luz trail, make a quick scramble up to the belay ledge, and you don't have to rap at all.

By Reed Cundiff
Oct 25, 2009

This was pretty much the standard rock climb for the New Mexico Mountain Club in the 1950's. The route then avoided the first two or three pitches on the ridge by going to the left and then up a grubby/bushy chimney.I remember Charles "Bill" Williams leading a 8 or 9 man/woman rope up this climb around 1956. The club was hurting for leaders back then. It sure took all day.

By Bill Lawry
From: New Mexico
Aug 8, 2011

Thanks, George. I deleted my wandering comment and revised the description of the route, including some borrowing from your original words as they were very apt. Let me know if you would like me to change anything. Thanks again!

By Bezoar
From: Santa Fe, NM
Sep 19, 2011
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V S 4b

If you choose to stay on belay for the "1000' of scrambling up mostly 3rd class, with occasional 4th class moves" then be prepared for a very long afternoon.

By kboofis
Nov 16, 2012

Anyone know if there's snow in the area at this time of year?

By Bill Lawry
From: New Mexico
Nov 18, 2012

"Anyone know if there's snow in the area at this time of year?"

Don't know for sure. But a game plan might be to hike to it from below at the end of a good weather window. Look over the route on the hike up. If it doesn't look like a go, do SE Ridge of The Pulpit which generally gets more sun (just be prepared to deal with snow after the rap).

By docsavage
From: Albuquerque, NM
Feb 4, 2013

The Northwest Ridge goes so many different ways it seems a bit silly to try & tweak it. Nevertheless from having soloed it a half dozen times since 1976 here are a few tips to make it the most enjoyable experience:

1) When in doubt, go left. This holds for everything except P3.

2) On P3 where going left leads to the ring piton variation you can avoid this dirty, loose & exposed pitch by taking a more center line trending right toward the 'squeeze variation' (more of a wide dihedral actually & doubtless part of the original route) or V-notch which has maybe the cleanest cut rock of the route.

3) On the next pitch (or what the description calls P5) also avoid the ramp heading right toward the 'blocky terrain'. This goes all right but sticking to the ridge crest instead yields an excitingly exposed pitch that is deceptively easy.

There is no wrong way to do it of course but it seems a shame not to optimize the experience. Approach shoes are recommended as carrying a pack can be awkward in places - stash your pack near where the talus descent meets the La Luz - and because climbing shoes are generally such overkill for the climbing encountered.

By Kerr Adams
From: Albuquerque, NM
Apr 22, 2013

Does anyone know what the crack on the "blank wall" goes free at?

By PatrickV
From: Albuquerque, New Mexico
May 3, 2013
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V S 4b

This was a good adventure climb, kind of like Sharkstooth (RMNP) meets the Black Canyon. Not knowing any better, I started from the lower la cueva canyon parking lot which took about 1:45 to get to the base. From this approach it is hard to see how anyone would NOT call this the thumb! The climbing was mostly secure albeit loose, but the crux above the ring piton felt like 5.7 trying to avoid the obvious loose holds. Steep and airy, a good day out! Can't wait to explore more of this area.

By Mick S
From: Sandia Park, NM
Jun 26, 2013

What does the local climbing community think: replace with a pin or a bolt. The back up piece that I had placed came out! I believe and know all about the historical signifigance of the pin, but the climb should be made safe. Thank you and lets find a good solution.

Since there are other options that avoid that pitch, I do not think replacing the pin with a bolt is appropriate. Glad you were not hurt, that is a bad place to fall.