BETA PHOTO: Sugarloaf Mountain. The Flea Tree Dihedral route ...
Sugarloaf is the largest formation in the Organs, and hosts some of the longest rock climbs for miles around. West of the Organ crest proper, it is impossible to miss as the pristine-looking granite dome so prominent when viewed from San Augustin Pass between Cruces and Alamogordo. The impressive length of the routes, difficult-to-reach summit (the easiest way up is 4th class), great views of the Sacramento Mountains and Tularosa Basin, and overall wilderness experience makes Sugarloaf a must-do.
Most routes on Sugarloaf are shady most of the day, and can be very windy at times. It's very secluded- be self-sufficient (although cell reception may be ok), and have enough gear to survive getting benighted, a story which a few climbers tell of their first experience on this formation. The rock quality is overall very good, although expect some loose blocks and test everything, as with any formation in the wilderness.
Approach for Sugarloaf (in large part from John Hymer)
The approach to the start of North Face route will be well under two hours if you know the way or are efficient at finding the way. Nearly three hours may be more reasonable the first time. Access to other routes will take longer.
To access Sugarloaf (and other east-side routes in the Organ Mountains), park at the Aguirre Spring Campground approximately 5 miles south of Highway 70 on Aguirre Spring Road. There is potable water near the campground gate which is located miles before the actual campground. The gate hours currently change seasonally (2012). See the BLM's Aguirre Springs Campground page for gate-hours and fee details.
Well along the one-way loop, a pay station is located near a group campsite. Each vehicle pays a fee whether camping or not with he camp-site fee a little more than the day-use fee.
After taking care of the fee and deciding where to park, proceed to the second “group area” approximately 0.4 miles beyond the pay station and then down a spur road to the right. The Sugarloaf trail starts to the south of this “group area.” There are basically trail-head like parking spots and of course camp-site parking spots, depending on whether you are there for the day or spending the night. Not sure if parking for the day in a group area is okay.
From the parking lot for the second "group area", Sugarloaf is obscured by a large hill. The trail traverses the hill to the left. But first, south of the rest rooms, follow a trail up hill that eventually parallels a fence, and pass through a gate in the fence. Follow the trail across the stream bed. It turns to the east after the stream bed (a common mistake is to walk up the stream bed). Traverse the large hill high along its base; crossings of slabs obscure the path here and there so checking this out in daylight may help the first time. Follow this trail for approximately one hour. If you encounter another fence, you are on the lower trail and should turn back to the correct trail.
After approximately one hour, the trail crosses a primitive campsite. It is common to leave water here for the walk out. After a short level walk, the grade becomes steep. Just after the grade change, take a left fork and follow an obscure trail to the base of SL. Watch for snakes!
Descents From Summit - significant revision as of 15 October 2012
The descent from the summit back to the BLM's Aguirre Springs Campground will take around three hours at a steady human pace with no route-finding issues. Can be longer or shorter.
There are at least three ways to descend from the summit of Sugarloaf. But, as George Perkins once cautioned, there is too much information below to remember if you find yourself on the summit, in the dark, and having dropped all your beta on the way up including the descent description! Consider committing to memory just your chosen descent (e.g., recommended descent 'A').
Before getting to the 'A' and 'B' descents, note that you will come across three sets of bolted anchors as you scramble down the south ridge line. (Descent 'C' does not involve going down the south ridge line.)
- The first set of bolted anchors one comes to are just skier's left of the ridge line (Photo). These are the anchors at the top of pitch 2 of Crescendo and offer an alternate starting point for descent 'A'. However, a single 60 meter rope will NOT reach the intermediate anchor of descent 'A'. The FA'ists of Crescendo placed these because this location afforded a more natural finish for that route plus avoided rope drag.
- The second set of bolted anchors one comes to are skier's right of the ridge line. This set is the start of descent 'B'.
- The third set of bolted anchors one comes to are skier's left. This set is the start of descent 'A'.
A) South Ridge Rap ~South (recommended): Traverse down the exposed 3rd class of the south ridge line. Some rope up for this traverse. Skip the first set of anchor bolts on skier's left and continue to the second set on skier's left. (And ignore the pair of bolts on skier's right.) Rap 150 feet (~46 meters) to the saddle south of Sugarloaf - normally a double rope rap. Alternately, there is now a new intermediate bolted anchor (Photo) that a single 60 meter rope might reach - would be great if someone can confirm this (please leave biners/rings until they can be upgraded).
Once on the saddle, scramble down west a short ways to another bolt anchor; rap the short slab of 80 feet (~25 meters). Any packs at the base of your climb can usually be retrieved by a scramble / hike / bush-whack affair down along the west side of Sugarloaf (avoidable**).
B) South Ridge Rap ~West (okay but 'A' is recommended): [Matt Twyman reported near the end of 2012 that the bolted rap anchors are missing their carabiners we saw back in March 2012.] This descent completely bypasses both the saddle and the last short rap of option 'a' above. Traverse down the exposed 3rd class of the south ridge line and find anchor bolts on skier's right (newer style as of 3/2012); some rope up for this traverse. (For this descent ignore the two sets of anchor bolts on skier's left.) Rap about 115 feet (35 meters) down to the next set of anchor bolts which are newer style (3/2012); there is no ledge to stand on. From here, double 230 feet (70 meter) ropes will reach to the ground - shorter ropes may work. Any packs at the base of your climb can usually be retrieved by a scramble / hike / bush-whack affair down along the west side of Sugarloaf (avoidable**).
C) East Side Rap ('A' is recommended except that this descent may help avoid prevailing winds): See R. L. Ingraham's 1972 guide for location. This descent route from the summit does not involve the south ridge line; rather, it drops off the ~east side of the summit. As of 10/2012, there was a cairn consisting of 3 large stones 30 feet above the first anchor which consists of a good 3/8 bolt with 1 pin still in and 1 pin hanging. One double rope rap on 70 meter ropes allows one to then scramble/hike skier's right for about 5 minutes around Sugarloaf to connect up with the 'A' and 'B' descents. If the Ingraham rap distances are precise enough, double 60's should work as well.
Additional Information About The Descents
Much thanks to the many folks who have contributed to various parts of the above and below information regarding Sugarloaf descents: Marta Reece, climber pat, Gary Parker, John Hymer, George Perkins, and Matt Twyman. Any errors in transcribing contributions are mine.
Don't assume all guides have been updated to account for the difference between the rap routes off the south ridge (e.g., 'A' and 'B' above), even some MP.com pages. Using old descriptions, it is easy - when tired at the end of the day and possibly in low light conditions - to go down a descent thinking it is Descent 'A' and be surprised to not have enough reach to continue down the rap route.
For South Ridge Rap ~South ('A'), a number of guides and sources report that the double-rop rap passes an intermediate fixed-gear anchor at 100 feet down. This fixed-gear anchor is no longer there (11/2012). Instead, see descent 'A' which describes a new intermediate bolted anchor.
Folks indicate that the last rap of South Ridge Rap ~West ('B') (i.e., double-rope rap) can be broken in two via an intermediate anchor consisting of fixed gear in a flake (check the integrity of fixed gear). Rap distances to/from that flake are unknown but the flake is a little to skiers left when rapping from the no-ledge bolted anchor. Unsure if this anchor of fixed gear is still there.
The double-rope rap of the East Side Rap ('C') passes an intermediate anchor consisting of three 1/4 inch leapers which are very badly rusted and one ancient micro nut - not usable by themselves as of 10/2012. A single 70 meter rope will reach this anchor, possibly a single 60 meter rope as well. Descending parties may or may not find this sketchy intermediate anchor supplemented with modern gear.
Also, after the double-rope rap of East Side Rap ('C') and instead of joining the 'A' and 'B' by scrambling to skier's right, it is possible to go skier's left / down to the ~north in a gully on the east side of Sugarloaf. If continuing to the base of Sugarloaf this way, one will likely find evidence of folks rapping here or there. At the same time, Ingraham mentions exiting early from the scramble down the gully and instead heading to a saddle ~NE of Sugarloaf (my words) - a different saddle than the one in 'A' above; I suspect Ingraham refers here to the saddle on the way from Aguirre Spring Campground to East Slabs. If so, one probably does not want to have left packs at the base of North Face or routes further around the west side of Sugarloaf such as Left Eyebrow.
** Scramble / hike / bush-whack affair down along the west side of Sugarloaf can be avoided by instead following a relatively nice slabby wash, in which case don't leave packs at the base of your climb. The wash starts shortly after the last rap of either descent 'A' or 'B'. Initially trend slightly skier's left on slabs away from Sugarloaf and then down a stony / slabby wash. After ~1000 feet of elevation loss (~40 minutes at a steady pace), leave the wash on a trail. There have in the past been cairns marking where this trail crosses the slabby wash. Take the trail to skier's right which takes one back to the lower primitive campsite described in the Approach for Sugarloaf.
The hardest part about descending the slabby wash is knowing when to leave it - helpful to have daylight to find the exit or to have previewed this spot in the daylight by coming up on the trail from below.
Browse More Classics in Sugarloaf
Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for Sugarloaf:
5.6 R Trad, 9 pitches, 1800 feet, Grade III
Featured Route For Sugarloaf
5.6 R NM
: Organ Mountains
The impressive and long North face of Sugarloaf attracts climbers like no other formation in the Organs. This route makes the most of the long continuous North face, climbing anywhere from 9-13 pitches to reach the summit (depending on how well you run-out your rope, and whether you know where the good belays are). Trying to describe each pitch in details not really in the spirit of the climb, as there are as many variations as pitches on this climb. Some key landmarks to keep you on route thoug...[more] Browse More Classics in NM
Tom Schuster (with Mike Edmonds on his heels) at t...
Sugarloaf from the approach trail.
View back towards the campground from near the bas...
Looking up Sugarloaf. The "Eye" is visible right ...
BETA PHOTO: Rough topo of some of Sugarloaf's routes.
Sugarloaf from the summit of Organ Needle
Sugar loaf from the West
Sugarloaf around backcounty campsite
BETA PHOTO: Another Old Topo of SugarLoaf.
BETA PHOTO: Sugarloaf as seen from the summit of Minerva's Tem...
view from adjacent hill top
BETA PHOTO: If you come across this sign early in the approach...
Ben enjoying the morning view of the Needles from ...
Last rays of the November sun illuminates Sugarloa...
A little friend we ran into on the approach!
View of a cloudy Sugarloaf on our approach hike Ju...
BETA PHOTO: Currently hosting Many Times (aka Crackle Top) & C...
BETA PHOTO: SE wall. History???
|By John Hymer|
Jul 29, 2007
Approach for Sugarloaf:
To access Sugarloaf, and other east side routes, park at the Aguirre Spring Campground approximately 5 miles south of Highway 70 on Aguirre Spring Road. The gate is often locked until 8:00am. A pay station is located near a group campsite on the one-way loop road. Proceed to the second “group area” approximately 0.4 miles beyond the pay station. The Sugarloaf trail-head is located to the south of this “group area.”
From the parking lot, Sugarloaf is obscured by a large hill. The trail traverses the hill to the left. Find a gate south of the restrooms and follow the trail across the stream bed. It turns to the east after the stream bed (a common mistake is to walk up the stream bed). Traverse the large hill high along its base. Follow this trail for approximately one hour. If you encounter a fence, you are on the lower trail and should turn back to the correct trail.
After approximately one hour, the trail crosses a campsite. It is common to leave water here for the walk out. After a short level walk, the grade becomes steep. Just after the grade change, take a left fork and follow an obscure trail to the base of SL. Watch for snakes! The entire approach usually takes approximately 1.5 hours.
|By George Perkins|
From: Los Alamos, NM
Oct 8, 2007
I'd recommend 2 ropes for the descent down the south ridge of the summit to the saddle, as described above.
Various other options exist too, none this simple or straightforward (I think). The first time, I got down the S-Ridge-to-Saddle descent with 1 rope and some low 5th class downclimbing, but it would have been more straightforward with two ropes. There's also an intermediate rat's nest that would let it work with 1 rope. Supposedly you can also go down the East side with 1 rope, but the hike back would be longer.
|By Aaron Hobson|
From: Las Cruces, NM
Feb 6, 2008
What other descent did you try? How bad was it?
From: Albuqurque ,NM
Mar 15, 2010
I put manky rap route on west side two nice raps to base I thin two ropes are needs X wife stated they are still there , if I make it next weel I put rap bolts in and solve the shitty bolt shitty rap dilemma. I rapped off west side of top remember nice rap just diddnt have much gear to leave . Put me in west drainage and hiked down around to my stuff. There is great potential for a route in middle of upper n face are there any anti bolting guardians opposed prob goes old school three bolts per pitch two pitches . This would avoid going left at upper face. Plan to try to get my 6 yr old up it next week if its dry. Ill scope it out and wait for comment. Though if I make it to my rap anchors Im boltn then they are way easier descent in my opinion..
|By Dan Carter|
From: 1986 Spacecruiser in Space
Oct 18, 2010
I was just up at the sugarloaf over the weekend. The approach as described by John Hymer worked out really well. There were cairns most of the way. After hiking for about an hour, the trail kind of cuts left (to the east of a ridge) with a big log blocking the way so it's not obvious at first. This is a fairly good trail and stops very close to the base of the north route. One then just scrambles over a little to start the route.
For the descent, we rapped down the west side. There were shiny new anchors at the top and right at 35m down. A 70m rope bairly hit these anchors. The next anchor was a sketchy nest of fixed nuts and webbing on a detached flake. It was off to the south a little bit. This didn't feel to secure but all we had. From here one can rap to the ground. There was another anchor with webbing in the gully on the south side. We didn't see this until we hit the ground.
|By Robert Cort|
Sep 4, 2011
Just to clarify a point about the descent...once you walk down the ridge to the south from the summit, there are two rap anchors, on the right (easier to see), and one on the left. The one described in the sugarloaf overview is the one on the left, and it works very well (I suggest using this option). I have not tried the intermediate rap station, but as I was going by it the other day, I noticed that someone has cleaned up the webbing rats nest.
|By Craig Childre|
From: Lubbock, Texas
Oct 16, 2011
Can anyone confirm if the left/souther rap off the top is still doable with a single 70M? Via the ex-rat-nest-hanging belay? Laying up plans for a go at the Left Eyebrow, last trip we used the western side/new rap anchors where 2 70M got us down, but high potential for a stuck rope, and I would have hated to have tried it with a single rope.
|By Robert Cort|
Oct 16, 2011
Re Craig Childre's question: Yes, using the intermediate rap anchor, you can do the south/left (as descending) rap route with a single 60m (or 70m) rope. Although, full disclosure...I've only done it with two ropes.
Mar 19, 2012
Approach: find the well traveled Indian Hollow trail at the opening of the fence behind group camp 2. When you get to the sign that says sugarloaf, go left. If you can't yet see the slabs at the base you might try using the cairns.
|By Chris Miller|
May 2, 2012
We did the 5.6 North Face route a few days ago. We used Bill Lawry's beta for the "Southerly" descent and found it to be accurate and straight forward. With the following addition, there is a crack and ledge directly below the rap anchor. This crack eats ropes. We were able to get ours free but it was a pain the ass. It might be better to carry the ropes during the rap rather then trying to throw them. Bill Lawry's descent beta is noted above to be on another page, follow his link.
Also, stay on the approach trail. Wandering off of it can result in a lengthy and brutal bush wack;)
|By Robert Cort|
Aug 18, 2012
Here's a link to the approach hike (my phone logged it at 2.75 miles with 1500ft of elevation gain):
www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/125747397 (I don't know if you need an account or not)
Took us (3 50ish and 1 60ish) just under 1:30 carrying enough gear and water for two rope teams in August.
Sadly we bailed from Big Bivy ledge (again) because of impending thunderstorms... which never really materialized :-(
|By Craig Childre|
From: Lubbock, Texas
Oct 17, 2012
Excellent new descent write up. For my next tour, want to do the "ii" descent using a single 70m to confirm that the procedure and rope lengths required. The double 70's make for a good rap, but pulling the rope is heinously difficult. All day long, it was the hardest work I'd done all day. Thanks again for typing this up.