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North Face 

YDS: 5.6 French: 4c Ewbanks: 14 UIAA: V ZA: 12 British: S 4b R

Type:  Trad, 9 pitches, 1800', Grade III
Original:  YDS: 5.6 French: 4c Ewbanks: 14 UIAA: V ZA: 12 British: S 4b R [details]
FA: summer 1960 (?) P. Wohlt, J. France.
Page Views: 14,450
Submitted By: Aaron Hobson on Jun 19, 2006

You & This Route  |  Other Opinions (42)
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1978 ascent by Stu Childre and David McDonald.


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 do 11 pitches to reach the summit. Trying to describe each pitch in details not really in the spirit of the climb, as there are as many variations as pitches. At the same time getting off-route on these hard-to-protect slabs can spell some bad situations. After much soul searching, I decided to include a detailed description, but if you are into adventure climbing, there is an ocean of granite for you to explore.

P1: Start from the base of the north slab apron, the base of the shallow sickle-shaped left-facing corner seen in one of the photos is my favorite spot. If you start lower, you may be forced to simul-climb since your rope won't reach. An really easy pitch takes you past one tree and up to the highest pine tree on this slab, a vigorous pine tree somewhat to the left of the other trees below.

P2: Follow the edge of a flake to the small, protectable roof and step over it on the right. Head up chicken heads. Slightly to the right you reach couple of cracks with some museum style fixed gear in one of them. Above you'll find a vegetated ramp leading left to a pair of bolts. Belay here if you have a 60m rope. With a 70m you can keep going up more chicken heads with some opportunity for pro to another pair of bolts just below a bulge.

P3: Follows a left trending seam with sporadic placements to a shallow bush-filled groove with another anchor above its top.

P4: Follows an obvious groove angling right. Walk along it as it turns into a ledge. Look for two solid pitons where it turns back up. You may place one more nut before the run-out. Past the sea of chicken heads, you will see a left-facing corner high on the right. Just past the top of that corner is your anchor. Locate the less steep traverse about half way up to it and plot your way through the field of chicken heads. Once in the corner, keep in mind that rock is slicker where water runs over it.

P5: Head directly toward the bottom of the left facing corner on the right over more run-out chicken heads. A solitary old spinner on top of the lip few feet up the corner is your only protection. Take to the featured terrain on the right for steep twenty feet before angling right to reach a crack. From here it's easy and protectable all the way to the small, left-leaning spruce tree.

P6: More run-out chicken heads straight up, but the going is super easy. (Alternatively you can go to the right and up a bottom of a right-facing corner making this into a protectable pitch with quite a bit of rope drag.) Clip the Bivy Ledge bolts and continue up a five-foot-wide dike (more like a band of different colored rock which runs up the slabs). Follow this rock band, or go up the broken terrain left of it. Above a small ledge angle build a gear anchor in a left facing corner. (The reason for not using the Bivy Ledge bolts is to reduce rope drag for Pitch 7.)

P7: Continue up along the dike. The holds will get smaller and the angle steeper. (It will stay this steep for the remaining pitches.) Fortunately there are at least some placements. The old piton with a ring on it (which should be replaced with a bolt) is best tied below the ring. The pitch is short and ends where the dike starts petering out. The bolts are easy to find.

P8: The blocky, protectable terrain soon gives way to a field of chicken heads, many of them on a scary-thin flake which covers all of the rock for a time. Keep aiming for a left-sloping break in the roof above. The bolts at the top of the pitch may be difficult to see as there is a bit of a bulge below them. The area immediately around the bolts is fairly smooth, so keep rope drag to a minimum.

P9: Take the right facing corner above the bolts, then climb over it to the left. Look for a head-size, mushroom-shaped chicken head, sling it and climb it. A featured but steep terrain will take you left to a large right-facing structure - a corner with a “nose” sticking out of it. Protect at the base of this and go up alongside. Follow cracks to the summit. A right-facing corner provides one belay option (no more bolts here).


The approach trail is in pretty good shape. The last 300m are hard to follow as the trail becomes a "climbers-trail," but when you get that close you can simply head to the lowest point on the north slabs of Sugarloaf.

The descent requires an exposed traverse down the south spur of the summit. It's 4th class but quite exposed and you won't see the 2-bolt anchor until you are almost at the end of the spur. (There is a pair of bolts early on, but those are top of a climbing route. There is also a pair off to the right later on, also to be avoided. Go for the pair at the end and to the left.)

A double-rope rappel reaches the ground, but an intermediate 2-bolt rap station will allow you to use a single rope. From the saddle, scramble down to the west where another short rappel from a 2-bolt anchor gets you to the ground. Follow the base of the cliff all the way back to start of the climb and regain the climber's trail for the return.

Alternatively you can leave your packs just after the sign where the Sugarloaf Trail splits from the main Indian Hollow Trail. When coming down, stay on the large slab below the last rappel and continue into the gully this slab drains into. This is Sugarloaf Falls, a nice canyon with mostly bulging slabs and some boulders for a bottom that intersects Indian Hollow Trail just after the rocks end. Take the trail down to the packs. You will want your hiking shoes for this alternative, but the friendlier terrain makes it worth it.


A small alpine rack consisting of wires and a few cams (.5-2") is all that is really needed. A few more pieces won't hurt, but on many of the pitches you won't be placing much pro anyway. Expect 40 to 60-foot run-outs, or more if you get off-route. Long runners and smart rope management are a must.

Photos of North Face Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: North Face route. Photo litld01.
BETA PHOTO: North Face route. Photo litld01.
Rock Climbing Photo: Last 2013 summit, called it a great day :) (Dec 14...
Last 2013 summit, called it a great day :) (Dec 14...
Rock Climbing Photo: North face
North face
Rock Climbing Photo: first pitch
first pitch
Rock Climbing Photo: Marta at the top of pitch 6
Marta at the top of pitch 6
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking up at our 5th pitch.  We went right, prote...
Looking up at our 5th pitch. We went right, prote...
Rock Climbing Photo: Somewhere high on the North Face route (around pit...
Somewhere high on the North Face route (around pit...
Rock Climbing Photo: Bob A. as the sun rises near the end of our full m...
Bob A. as the sun rises near the end of our full m...
Rock Climbing Photo: Your only pro for about 20m of runout on slab clim...
Your only pro for about 20m of runout on slab clim...
Rock Climbing Photo: Sunrise behind me during our full moon climb of Su...
Sunrise behind me during our full moon climb of Su...
Rock Climbing Photo: Sergio at the crux of the route on Pitch 7. Photo ...
BETA PHOTO: Sergio at the crux of the route on Pitch 7. Photo ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Chickenheads are fun!
Chickenheads are fun!
Rock Climbing Photo: Summit shot after our full moon climb, Sept. 5-6, ...
Summit shot after our full moon climb, Sept. 5-6, ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Sugarloaf as seen during our approach for our full...
Sugarloaf as seen during our approach for our full...
Rock Climbing Photo: Sergio at the hard-to-find bolts on top of Pitch 8...
BETA PHOTO: Sergio at the hard-to-find bolts on top of Pitch 8...

Comments on North Face Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Apr 14, 2016
By ben bryan
From: Wichita Falls, TX
Jan 4, 2007

Awesome route... the hike in took several hours.
By Steven Traylor
May 22, 2007

Did this route with a guy from VA Tech named Chris who I had never climbed with before or since we did this route we had a major epic getting up and down this rte on a spring break.

I remember hearing stuff exploding over at White Sands and looking at the beautiful sands off to the east.

Cool climb...
By James Stockton
From: Las Cruces, NM
Dec 6, 2007

Starting from the large parking lot at Aguirre Springs Rec. area the hike in is ~2 miles with general uphill grade. I did it as a trail run a couple of months ago in ~45min out and ~25 min back (with breaks), but lugging gear in puts a reasonable time at about an hour and a half (going in) assuming you know the way.

I don't really know this for certain, but I assume the longer approach times come from cutting off the trail too low. You have to eventually turn left off the trail and cut up/over to the base of the climb, but the closer you are to the same level the easier and faster it is. There's a big cairn at a good turn off point. The last time I saw it there was a large yucca stalk sticking out of the center as well.

For the decent you can follow the rock back around to the base of climb if you left anything there (don't) or just stay in the drainage until you hit a trail (you will). It's the same trail you came in on, just further along from the cut off you should have taken.

Four hours is probably a decent estimate for total time spent going in and out.

It's definitely an awesome climb and well worth the full day it takes. Also, Lowell, great route photo. It's a good addition.
By Josh Hamling
Mar 1, 2009
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b R

I climbed it yesterday and stayed right and out of the gully all the way up. My version of pitch three was tricky and harder than 5.6 with a couple of manky old 1/4" bolts and some serious runout but the rock was great. This was the 4th time I've been up the route and staying right made it the best yet.
By Dan Carter
From: Las Cruces, NM
Oct 18, 2010
rating: 5.7+ 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b R

I did the sugarloaf for the first time over the weekend. Great, exciting route. I definitely hit some spots that were harder than 5.6. I think a leader who was at their limit at 5.6 would be quite shocked while on this route. The way we did pitch 5 presented 5.9 esque slab moves. We followed aaron hobsons beta more or less. We went just to the right of the overhang, into a thin crack for a tcu and on into the dihedral crack. A few other spots felt a little dicey too. However, we managed to keep our runouts to only 30-40 feet and finished up in 9 pitches. It is quite a committing route.

There were new anchors at picth 9 (big bivi) and pitch 10. Most of the other anchors had atleast one retro bolt. We stayed straight, instead of vearing to the left, at the top and climbed through good chickenheads, lichen and a dirty crack to the small boulder field at the top. This worked out really well but didn't appear to be a popular way hence the dirtiness.

Some bigger cams, up to BD#3, were nice to set up anchors and place along the way. TCUs and micro nuts were very useful.
By Craig Childre
From: Lubbock, Texas
Nov 11, 2010
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b R

What a great route. I recommend scouting the approach and stashing gear the day before. I swapped leads with my partner Toph all the way up this fantastic line, dragging Josh as our 3rd. I was even, and somehow got all the head-game pitches. The run out on the 2nd was cool. We stretched the ropes so I was handed the lead of the 5th (our 4th), where I dropped the topo booklet. We made it to the big bivy spot and then worked right seeking the steeper line. Our 10th pitch, I viewed as the crux, steepest line with decent gear, felt like a solid 5.7. I am pretty sure we got off line past the bivy. The descent, the new double rope rap route seems great so long as you do it right. Single rope rap down the front to a descent stance above big split ledge. (Don't rap past it, no anchor below) Then a double rope rap will land you at the bottom of the slab rap. We were on 70's, but I think 60's should work..50's???? I don't think so.

We also had a pretty heavy rack. Next time we will take the set of small aliens, the C-3's, C4's: .5 .75 , yellow and red link cams.
By Benjamin Smith
Jan 21, 2011

I was going to post a pitch by pitch description of how we climbed this route, but now I understand why doing so wouldn't be in the "spirit" of the climb. The real adventure comes from it being such a long route, and often times haven't little confidence that you are on route. It really forces you to be at the top of your route-finding game.

I will say this though. It seems like there were rappable anchors every 200-300 feet for almost the entire route. Most of the time they were even big, shiny, new rap bolts. Finding these every pitch or every other pitch is the best indicator that you're on route.

The pitons/fixed-pins on the route were interesting. I found one on our second pitch, two on our fourth pitch, and one on our 7th pitch. The first three looked "new"... they still had paint on them and no rust whatsoever. The last one (hammered into the 5ft wide band of different colored rock) looked as rusty, old, and barely able to hold a fall (like I'm used to). What's the story on these newer pins?
By Reed Cundiff
Nov 28, 2011

I know that iron is now considered passe; however, there are knife-blade placements that are excellent. They sure worked great 46 years ago.
By Jeff Laina
From: Southern, New Mexico
Jul 17, 2012

John Hymer from Alamogordo Soloed this Route in 2 hours and 45 minutes, car to car.
By Superclimber
Aug 8, 2012

For reals??? If so, that's impressive!
By Jeff Laina
From: Southern, New Mexico
Aug 9, 2012

I read this in "Rock Climbing New Mexico" Guidebook Author Dennis R. Jackson published 2006.
By Kirk Hutchinson
Sep 24, 2012

Did this route over the weekend. Ended up simul climbing all but 2 pitches in 2h20m. Great route and super fun. The runouts weren't very scary although there were some 50' sections. The approach in wasn't too bad, but on the decent we followed the wash and had a hard time picking the trail back up.
By chris_vultaggio
Feb 4, 2014

By John Hymer
Dec 12, 2015

Stefan Griebel, from Boulder, soloed the N Face in 1 hr-45 min car to car on Tuesday, October 27 on his way to the airport. I believe it was his 3rd ascent of the route having soloed it the previous Friday evening and again on Sunday while doing about 2/3 of the Organ Traverse. He also worked in an impressive day of sport climbing that Saturday.
By Stefan Griebel
From: Boulder, Colorado
Apr 14, 2016
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

Here's a GPX of the approach, climb and descent. No more mystery on when to leave the descent gully down low!

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