Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Mex Numero Dos!

For many of you, the winter of 2011 has been brutal & frigid; the scene of record breaking snowfall.  However...there is a place where the sun shines yet!  In the Guadalupe Mountains NE of Carlsbad New Mexico we were lucky enough to find balmy temperatures, exquisite limestone, and better yet, no crowds.  In fact, during our two week stay we saw no more than four other climbers.  With over 120 fully bolted sport climbs, Last Chance Canyon ranks amongst my favorite venues from our trip.  The diversity of routes in Last Chance is amazing.  There are 15 different walls staggered throughout a winding canyon.  At all times of the day one can climb in sun or shade, on steeps, or techy faces littered with pockets, edges, and aesthetic water streaks.  Route quality spans the grade spectrum as well.  Five star 5.10's stand side by side with endurance based 12's and 13's equal in quality.   For those of you less internet savvy, one can enlarge these photos by simply 'clicking' on them.  

This area reminded me of a Desert version of Ten Sleep Canyon in Wyoming.  Only, there are far less routes to choose from.  From the canyon rim a fifteen minute jaunt takes you down a blunt ridge, where several trails branch out to the different crags.  We thought the descent wasn't more than 500 feet though the website describes it as 1000 ft.  Another distinguishing factor here is wind!  If you have a car/van to sleep in, we would highly recommend it.  One night our van was so wracked by ferocious gusts that we lost half a nights sleep.  That said, we were parked closer to the trailhead, which is probably the most exposed.  Several excellent camping sites are found closer to the pinyon pines and do provide some buffer.   Tent camping would be a most unpleasant adventure here.  The wind blows, and so does the dust.  Fortunately, the canyon provides significant relief from the wind.  With Carlsbad temp's in the mid 60's we were able to climb in the shade and sun.  

Carlsbad lies a little over an hour away, depending on if one has 4x4, runs into a stampede of cattle, or is around the ripe age of 20.  We found the cheapest showers available at Brantley Lake State Park.  Admission to Brantley was 5$ a vehicle.  They also have superb picnic areas and high dispersion water spigots.  One can fill water at the Guadalupe Ranger station just East of Queen, but, we found the water to have a little too much dirt in it.  Evidently, during a recent construction project the 'men' had accidentally broken the water main; which hadn't been sketched in the original schematic.  Queen is roughly an hour from Carlsbad, and from here, four miles of heinous forest roads take one out to the trailhead at the end of FR 525a.  Thankfully, we have quite a bit of clearance on the vansion.  Those four miles would normally take us 20-25 minutes once we became familiar with the more notorious sections.  Ultimately, it wasn't really that bad.  And, our decision to brave the road was well worth the adventure.  Drive slow and cautious, and you too will probably make it to Last Chance.

In the summertime, cattle wander all over the place, grazing, and otherwise loitering about the canyon.  Though we didn't run into any cattle, we saw many organic artifacts, reminding us to watch our footing.  Deer roam in abundance in the Guadalupe National Forest and so do their corresponding prey.  In fact, during our stay (and only a few miles away), a cougar had taken down a 1200 pound ranch horse.  The boys, having caught wind of this responded with obvious anxiety; looking often over their shoulders for the killer mountain lion.  Experts say that the taking of cattle and horses by cougars is a definite precursor to more open aggression towards humans.  Needless to say, none of us went to far by our lonesome during our stay after hearing the latest news.

Trail running around looked real nice...but, with mega cougars on the loose, none of us ventured out to lure the mountain kitties.  

Tiffany reaching for the sky.

Jeremy...almost always psyched.
The sunsets here in New Mexico were awe inspiring.  After a perfect day of climbing we would often get together with the boys for some Farkle.  One night we made them a mexican feast.  Since they both live in Jeremy's Subaru Outback, and have no campstove, it was a special gift to see these two enjoying a hot meal!  Sharing our travels with other road trippers from Washington was extra special.  Not that Tiff and I ever get bored of one another, but, it was great to have other people to socialize with.  Also, it provided some extra bodies for pictures.  And without them, we wouldn't have any of the climbing shots that adorn this blog.

Jeremy making short work of Black Plague 13b.  Mono's...

Lowering off of Santa Fe 12c.  This line rides an incredible wave of limestone on slightly suspect stone.  Jugs!

One afternoon while filling water at the local ranger office, a friendly ranger informed us that hundreds of wild caves graced the Guadalupe hills.  Only a handful were open to the public though.  And, if we were to explore any of them we would need permits, that were only attainable at the Carlsbad Forestry Office.  So, one rest day back in Carlsbad we stopped by the office.  The ancient forest clergy behind the desk told us all kinds of stories and Guadalupe lore.  And, before leaving were generous enough to grace us with a permit for Cottonwood Cave.  This permit allowed all four of us one day to explore this horizontal cave without tour guides.  And, moreover, we would be the only ones allowed there that day.  

Carlsbad Caverns was a marvelous experience, but, having to walk a concrete path with railings was limiting to my more adventurous inclinations.  Cottonwood cave was the perfect counterpart.  It enabled us to have a more intimate experience with those magical limestone formations.  Though left to our own more or less, we were still on a path made of ribbon set down by the forestry department.  Understandably, without some path sensitive formations would get trampled.

We spent a couple hours all told wandering around the cave, examining and exploring.  One crack down at the end led to a nice small room with wormhole type tunnel.  Mike and I had a fun time stuffing our bodies into this micro chasm.  It was no small feat to turn our selves around and return!

Though my minute stature never helped with soccer, basketball and many other conventional sports, it certainly is beneficial to caving.  I'm sure had I been in Nam, I would have been one of those unlucky chaps sent down tunnels searching out the 'enemy'.  

Yep, I fit in some real tight spaces!

Before leaving New Mexico we paid 20 smackers for a ranger led tour of the "Hall of the White Giants".  This tour was described as strenuous with lots of tunneling, scrambling, and other types of spelunking activity.  

We enjoyed the tour, but, thought the price tag not quite worth the tour.  Our Ranger was in training and it was her first time leading the tour.  

Personally, I was expecting something far more rigorous and challenging.  There were several persons on the tour who had quite a time of the challenges, and so there was lots of standing around and waiting.  Though I'll not be swapping out my climbing shoes for caving slippers anytime soon; it was fun to try something new and to see such beautiful and hidden treasures!

Back to Last Chance: here are some more shots from our time there.

Ben onsighting It puts the Buff on (13a).  This cave had some great jug hauls.  

This picture (left) shows Mike on one of the steep Mad Cow Wall routes.  This is definitely best wall in terms of variety.  Climbs start steep and pumpy on the right end.  Further left their are some longer and more technical routes like Big Daddy, Mad Cow, and Ebola.  And, at the extreme left end the wall turns into the Hueco Cave.  The routes in this latter place were reported by Jeremy as a little sandy, so I didn't explore here; though, the cave is definitely impressive.  Fixed draws would be really nice here...

Finishing out Bubbles 13b.

Tiffany enjoying some warm rock at Breakfast Wall.

One morning we delivered a pancake feast for the boys.  They agreed that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!  Yummy.

This is Jeremy and Mike.  They live together in a Subaru.  

If you run into these two boys make sure to feed them something warm.

Otherwise, they will mostly be living off of Chef Boyardee, kipper snacks, and Subway.

The hike up from the Canyon was the perfect finish to every climbing day.  We love working in that cardio to our climbing.

By now most of you are probably not even reading anymore, and I don't blame you.  This layer to our blogosphere is snowballing out of control.  But, I just can't stop posting pictures.

Mike, Tiff, and Jeremy.  Note the far away look in Mike's eyes.  Right about now he was dreaming of some splitter crack far away.

Before closing out our New Mexico blog I've got to mention an excellent Last Chance Canyon diversion.  Down canyon from the LC climbing lies Sitting Bull Falls (SFB).  Here there are picnic facilities, bathrooms, and water.   The falls are fed by some springs that pour over a Travertine top.  In the warmer months people flock here from all over NM and TX.  

From the LC parking lot it is a 50 minute drive to the parking area at Sitting Bull Falls.  One must drive back to Queen along that heinous road, come down from the mountains, and back around....

However, from LC if one continues down 525 for 10 minutes, there is a trailhead.  The hike down to the Falls from here only takes 30 minutes.  So, one day we did just this.  Situated just above the parking lot in Sitting Bull is an amazing cave of steep, pocketed, bullet hard limestone.  In the far right cave there is a slew of excellent 5.12's and a couple 13's.  And, on the far left side is another good looking wall.  Unfortunately, this wall has a Bee nest.  Yes, these ones have been confirmed to be Killer Bees.  

Here are some examples of SBF.

Jeremy onsighting perhaps the best 12b in New Mex.  This place was awesome!

For those of you still with us, we have some exciting news!  One day while in Carlsbad Tiffany interviewed with Stanford University's Medical center...and received a Travel Nursing Job working on their Oncology floor.  It was originally our intent to spend part of our road trip working; and we couldn't be more excited about this recent development.  Palo Alto is home to Stanford.  And, that is currently where we are headed.  Tiff's position begins on February 21st and runs till the end of May.  

Upon receiving her job, we had to move along a tight schedule to California to begin the California Nursing Licensing process.  But, we did manage one day at the fabled bouldering area of Hueco Tanks, TX.  This day of bouldering was perhaps my 6th day ever of pebble wrestling in all my climbing years.  When I get time to climb I prefer to be on longer adventures.  That said, we had a nice time clawing our way up the boulders of Hueco.  It certainly was a change of pace after seven months of straight sport climbing.  This was Tiff's first time on the small rocks.  She enjoyed learning this new art: spotting, lacing up, cheering, and hanging out with the troops; and performing some of her most difficult climbing movement ever!

Here are some pics!

The following day my ankles were a little sore from all the ground falls.  Those pads are nice...but, this is definitely a young mans sport.  Personally, I prefer falling into the air and not hitting the ground. 

Lastly, thanks for catching up with our online travel journal.  Hopefully, it has been entertaining!  And, thanks again to all who left comments on New Mex Numero Uno blog.  It is fun to hear from all of you!  

I love this lady!


  1. WOW!
    Last Chance Canyon...I think I'm in love!
    Great post Ben! Congratulations Tiffany on the Job!!

  2. Spent a some time in last chance a few years ago. Incredible climbing and atmosphere. We tent-camped--and your right, it was stupid!
    Anyways, thanks for posting this. Brought back great memories.
    P.S. is there a guide or topo to Last chance now? We didn't know names or grades when we went, but sure would help on a future trip.

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. Routes and topos can be found at the Mountain Project website. Contributors have done an excellent job with photos and descriptions.


  4. this is really cool its nice seeing my brother (mike) since i haven't seen him in months awesome blog dude