Southern New Mexico May 2003 Trip Report


Still unemployed (thank goodness!), it was full-steam-ahead for a New Mexico state completion in calendar 2003. Two trips were planned to that end - a southern New Mexico trip in May and a northern trip in June.

The southern trip would secure for me the crux counties for New Mexico - Organ Needle of Doña Ana County, and Hidalgo County. Owing to its very sensitive nature, the Hidalgo County highpoint shall neither be mentioned by name nor discussed in this report. If you are a valid climber then please e-mail me with your queries regarding this summit.

Now then. I had one heck of a time trying to find folks willing to attempt these counties with me at the appointed time. One constraint was the desire to attend the "open date" for climbing Mount Livermore, the Jeff Davis County, Texas highpoint, on May 25. The trip would be scheduled around this one date - ironic since Mount Livermore is a trivial hike.

My two partners shall be called "R" and "G" in order to ensure their anonymity. Here is a trip itinerary as prepared for my parents prior to my departure. The itinerary contains material designed to allow my mother to have peace of mind as I travel. Note the substitution of a bogus highpoint for the true Hidalgo county highpoint.

Trip Details

The trip began on Tuesday May 20, 2003, at R's home by 7 a.m. I was his passenger for most of the trip. We drove some 500+ miles to a base camp under Dos Cabezas in or near Chiricahua National Monument in Cochise County, Arizona.

I had a poor night. A very poor night - sleeping on a tarp with ground pad while Richard slept inside his camper shell. The wind and fear of snakes kept me awake. By dawn I was too exhausted to climb - and Richard set out solo for Dos Cabezas. He returned unsuccessful around ten a.m. - there was a crux move that he was unhappy with attempting alone and without rope.

So we drove, on Wednesday the 21st, to our first planned objective - Organ Needle of Doña Ana County just east of Las Cruces. I made arrangements for Scotty, the caretaker of the La Cueva BLM Preserve and picnic area, to unlock a gate on the approach road at six the following morning for our climb. Then, after driving around the desert floor, R and I discovered a better option - camping as close to the entrance canyon and without having to wait for a gate opening. We could start as early as we pleased. I cell-phoned Scotty to cancel our morning appointment but still promised to call him from high on the mountain to inform him of our progress.

We awoke at five a.m. and were hiking towards Organ Needle at 5:30 - well before sunrise yet light enough to see our steps. We were to take the wrong gully system that morning - climbing to about 7,900 feet to no avail. Returning to the junction where we had erred, and deciding that it was getting too hot for a second attempt that day, we simply scouted out the approach to the correct gully. As consolation prize I trivially climbed a prominent hill with spot elevation 6,301 feet on the return to base camp.

The following day, Friday the 23rd, we succeeded in scaling Organ Needle. The experience is fully documented in this trip report on my county highpoints web site.

Evidently I had decided to re-attempt Organ Needle rather than scrub it in favor of an attempt on Emory Peak of Brewster County, Texas - also the Big Bend National Park highpoint. Yes, we were time-constrained by the Mount Livermore open date on Sunday the 25th, and so something had to be sacrificed in order to remain on schedule.

R and I drove south into Texas that morning - while I enjoyed my standard pint of ice cream for having succeeded on a difficult peak. We were fortunate to have entered Jeff Davis County so early - nobody from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) had told me exactly where to meet for the following day's hike! We needed the time to figure it all out. We camped at a picnic area one-half mile east of the gated entrance to TNC property.

That evening rain forced me to sleep, very uncomfortably, inside the cab of R's vehicle. It was almost painful seeing as his seats do NOT recline. I ended up sticking my feet out the right window while my torso lay flat on the passenger seat (the driver's seat was occupied by gear).

At seven a.m. the TNC gate unlocked and we were given access to Mount Livermore after signing a medical waiver. No fees. No guide to baby us up the trail. Quite fortunate, I do say. The experience is documented in this trip report on my county highpoints web site.

The afternoon was spent driving back northwest into New Mexico - eventually meeting "G" at the KOA Campground in Lordsburg. I slept well on her tarp.

The original plan had been for G and myself to visit the Hidalgo highpoint while R did a range highpoint. Then, R would have his turn while G and myself would climb Cookes Peak of Luna County. However R felt that, owing to the long round-trip drive between the Hidalgo and Luna highpoints, he would end up waiting for our return. Thereby it was decided that G and I would climb Cookes Peak while R did a nearby range highpoint - with no Hidalgo County entering yet into the picture.

G and I scaled Cookes Peak via a ridge route suggested by R - who had climbed it three years previously. It was my first hands-on experience in GPS for cross-country navigation - and I did well, thank-you-very-much. Unfortunately G was unwilling to arise before dawn. Consequently our climb did not begin until about 8:45 a.m. - too late, at least for my sake, given the lateness of the season. We suffered in more heat than necessary.

A geocache had been placed at the summit - and I wanted to exchange my head of garlic for a 1/4 pound of pepper jack cheese. I did not - sensing that my food habits might interfere with proper etiquette - whatever that means on a remote mountaintop!

By six p.m. G and I met R in Lordsburg. We caravaned to a good campsite on National Forest land, eleven miles line-of-sight distance from the Hidalgo highpoint, arriving by dark.

On what I shall refer to as "day 1", the following day R visited the Hidalgo highpoint, having been dropped off by G. Two-way ham radios on the 2 meter band were a big help for the afternoon pickup.

Then, on "day 2", G and I switched roles with R. R climbed a range highpoint while G and I ascended to the Hidalgo highpoint. There was much wine and merriment that evening in camp.... .

The details of reaching the Hidalgo highpoint are available on request to valid climbers only.

The following morning I got into G's truck and we caravaned to the Arizona - New Mexico border. Here the Geronimo benchmark was successfully located by G and R while I dozed in the auto.

We drove through Douglas. G and R had lunch while I bought an entire coconut cream pie - and ate it while G's passenger on the way to a campsight under Mount Wrightson, the Santa Cruz, Arizona county highpoint.

The following day I repeated Mount Wrightson while G and R got it for the first time. The four thousand foot elevation gain goes quickly owing to an excellent trail. The threat of thunder compelled us to leave the summit in favor of a lower lunchspot a few hundred feet lower.

We caravaned to Gila Bend - and took a pair of rooms at the Yucca Motel. G and R ate dinner at the Space Age Cafe while I ate leftovers in room 19.

On the final morning I treated G and R to breakfast at the aforementioned cafe. I enjoyed huevos rancheros. R drove home, and I was back in Del Mar by one p.m.

I had secured the required counties for a subsequent New Mexico state completion. The only hitch was that I had not attempted Emory Peak. Thereby my home glob radius increased only slightly, from 1,460 to 1,506 statute miles - the southeasternmost county being Jeff Davis rather than Brewster.