“Organeering”: Adventure Climbing in the Organ Mountains

By Brendan Leonard

The first time I saw the Organ Mountains, I was on a cross-country bicycle trip, pedaling from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida. Las Cruces was just another dot on the map, as far as I was concerned, maybe a place to grab a hotel and a shower for the night after 60-some miles of riding.

As we rolled down Highway 185 toward town, a chain of ghost-white peaks sprung out of the desert in the evening light. I said out loud, “What are those?”

I figured I had heard of every noteworthy mountain range in the Lower 48, or at least seen photos of all of them in Internet searches from my Denver apartment. But somehow, the Organs hadn’t hit my radar. I snapped a photo, then another one, then another one. I made a mental note to research these granite peaks, climbing 5,000 feet above the city below them. The next day, we pedaled on to the east, 43 more days of riding to go to get to the Pacific Ocean.

Three years later, I came back to check out the Organs, for a story for Climbing Magazine. We didn’t have enough time, which I suppose is what always happens in those situations. I met up with local climbers Aaron Hobson and Marta Reece to try to understand the climbing. We climbed Sugarloaf, twice, and got a taste for the adventurous climbing. We bushwhacked up to ORP and climbed it, then bushwhacked down a rappel gully.

A lot of the climbing, or “Organeering,” wasn’t what magazines like to write about: long, tough approaches, uncertain routefinding, dusty, no water, old-school. At one point, I asked Marta, The West Face of Middle Rabbit Ear, that goes at 5.7, right? And she said she thought with impeccable routefinding, it might be 5.7, but it was really hard to keep it easier than 5.9 unless you knew exactly where you were going.

We had a blast, and I think of the Organ Mountains often, the sunsets from the top of Sugarloaf after 1500 feet of romping up granite, and the sunsets over the city of Las Cruces from the other side as we raced down to the car to drive into town to find Chile Rellenos before all the restaurants closed. I was happy to hear about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument designation in 2014, and to read about the Organ Saint Traverse in the American Alpine Journal in 2015. I hope to get back someday, and I hope the Organs stay as wild as I remember them.

The author, Brendan Leonard
The author, Brendan Leonard

Brendan Leonard is a writer, adventurer, and blogger. His website is semi-rad.com