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The Thumb
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Aviary Ort Overhangs T 
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Thundercracker S 
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Water Stains T 

Northwest Ridge 

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

Type:  Trad, Alpine, 6 pitches, 1000', Grade III
Original:  YDS: 5.6 French: 4c Ewbanks: 14 UIAA: V ZA: 12 British: S 4b [details]
FA: Unknown
Page Views: 13,083
Submitted By: Bill Lawry on May 25, 2007

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BETA PHOTO: I believe this markup very closely follows Mike Hi...

General Information 

Courtesy of George Perkins: "The long NW ridge of the Thumb is one of the two great ridge routes in the Sandias. Although the climbing itself is mediocre, the position the climber finds his or herself in is memorable, as one climbs up on an exposed ridge with great views of Upper La Cueva Canyon to the left and the Rio Grande valley to the right.

"Generally, multiple variations are possible on the 5th class pitches, with the easiest passage being marked by the lack of 'rock lettuce'.

"Although one guidebook warns to allow a full day for this climb, a competent party comfortable simulclimbing or soloing on easier terrain will be able to complete this route in a few hours. Retreat from this route would be time- and gear-consuming; in most instances, continuing over the top and down the standard descent Southeast Ridge (a.k.a., standard descent) would be recommended."


Courtesy of George Perkins: "The Thumb is the prominent twin summited rock south of the La Luz Trail; the NW ridge ascents the right skyline as viewed from the upper parts of the La Luz. Hike down the La Luz ~1hr to the last West facing switchback before the trail crosses from the S to the N side of La Cueva Canyon. Follow a small trail west (if you cross some rusty water pipes in the first 30', you're at the right place) and ascend to a large ledge and tree directly on the NW ridge, where the route begins. A direct start 150' lower is possible as well."

The described first pitch starts on a smaller ledge with a small tree after about a 15 foot scramble past the end of the wide ramp.


Revised this description June 2014 after climbing it a second time. It now matches well with that shown in the topo in Hill's guide (pg 163, 3rd ed). Also see marked Photo which has been updated.

Pitch 1: At the smaller ledge, head straight up cracks, on or just left of the ridge line. Some choss in the latter part of the pitch. At about 100 feet, look to the right side of the ridge for a south-facing slab. There’s a ~7 inch diameter tree on the far side of the slab top. Belay near here. 5.5, ~100 feet.

Pitch 2: Continue straight up the ridge, face climbing up the middle of the wall above or ascend it's left-most edge. Continue to a minor notch below a ring piton (hard to see if you are tucked into the notch/pod). 5.5, ~100 feet,

Pitch 3: Continue up the ridge, almost immediately ascending straight up past the ring piton (route's crux); piton can be backed up with a small nut - BD #4? After 20 feet or so, cross slightly right and then continue up cracks through relatively-lichen-free rock. The steepness levels off before steepening again up a 25 foot (?) hand / finger crack that leans slightly left. At the top of the crack, jog left to a large alcove and belay. 5.6, ~140 feet.

Pitch 4, squeeze pitch: Start up the dihedral in the back of the very wide alcove and then jog right a few feet past a bush and up through the squeeze or chimney (a "V" notch as viewed from the very wide alcove; the topo in Hill's guide calls it a "squeeze").

At the top of the squeeze, trend up and right and then up a chimney followed by ledge-y slots trending right. Eventually find a nice belay ledge to the right with a small dead tree above it (6/2014). If you belay above the ledge, the next bit can probably be scrambled. 5.4, ~170 feet.

Note: There was / is a variation to P4 to climber's left, which included a ring piton. The piton pulled during a lead fall and inquiries here about replacing it were not affirmed.

Pitch 5: Consider un-rope-ing for this one? In any case head directly up through blocky terrain to a minor summit and drop into a notch with a big tree. 4th class, ~100 feet.

Roughly 1000 feet to summit: There may be a bit of low 5th class immediately after the above minor peak. Start simul-climbing or free soloing as soon as reasonable. From George Perkins: There is "... 1000' of scrambling up mostly 3rd class, with occasional 4th class moves remains, with precipitous drops to enjoy on either side. When you reach the first false summit (the West summit), drop down into the notch beyond it, and a 30' section of 4th class gains the higher (East) summit.


Courtesy of George Perkins, and I agree: "Standard Sandia rack, most will be fine with a single rack up to 3". Long runners are recommended to minimize rope drag. An ancient ring-pin at one time 'protected' the crux move" of P4's ring-pin variation "(and could be backed up with gear)." However, the ring-pin of the P4 var is no longer there.

Photos of Northwest Ridge Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Here's another view of the last 3/5ths of the 5th ...
BETA PHOTO: Here's another view of the last 3/5ths of the 5th ...
Rock Climbing Photo: One more view of the technical part of the ridge, ...
BETA PHOTO: One more view of the technical part of the ridge, ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Wendy, just before starting to Simul the fourth cl...
Wendy, just before starting to Simul the fourth cl...

Comments on Northwest Ridge Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Sep 14, 2016
By LeeAB
From: ABQ, NM
Sep 19, 2008

A nice day when linked with the Knife Edge of the Shield and then a casual tram ride back down.
By Chris Wenker
From: Santa Fe
Jun 8, 2009
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

Maybe it's just me, but Hill's route drawing in the 'Hikers and Climbers Guide' seems to be an impressionistic painting rather than a useable topo. We missed the pin on P3, but did find a fixed ring piton near the start of our P4 (maybe the same one mentioned by Schein?). Our P5 was really short though, so I'm not sure where Hill's P5 would go. Wherever you climb, though, it'll all go at <=5.5/5.6.
By Anthony Stout
From: Albuquerque, NM
Jun 10, 2009

I used that guide once to find a route on Muerella Grande. We ended up on the completely wrong route. I would think you did well in at least you found the route! I have not been super impressed with that guide. Sandia Rock is much better.
By Robin
From: Albuquerque, NM
Jun 21, 2009

This really is a cool ridge to climb up. It looks highly improbable at times but then you sneak on through. I found the rock on the 5th class sections to be ok. Protection was fine. I was very happy to find that the rock on the 4th class scrambling section was better than the belayed sections of the route. For a Sandias route it felt pretty mellow since you just cruise on down La Luz trail, make a quick scramble up to the belay ledge, and you don't have to rap at all.
By Reed Cundiff
Oct 25, 2009

This was pretty much the standard rock climb for the New Mexico Mountain Club in the 1950's. The route then avoided the first two or three pitches on the ridge by going to the left and then up a grubby/bushy chimney.I remember Charles "Bill" Williams leading a 8 or 9 man/woman rope up this climb around 1956. The club was hurting for leaders back then. It sure took all day.
By Bill Lawry
From: New Mexico
Aug 8, 2011

Thanks, George. I deleted my wandering comment and revised the description of the route, including some borrowing from your original words as they were very apt. Let me know if you would like me to change anything. Thanks again!
By Bezoar
From: Santa Fe, NM
Sep 19, 2011
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

If you choose to stay on belay for the "1000' of scrambling up mostly 3rd class, with occasional 4th class moves" then be prepared for a very long afternoon.
By kboofis
Nov 16, 2012

Anyone know if there's snow in the area at this time of year?
By Bill Lawry
From: New Mexico
Nov 18, 2012

"Anyone know if there's snow in the area at this time of year?"

Don't know for sure. But a game plan might be to hike to it from below at the end of a good weather window. Look over the route on the hike up. If it doesn't look like a go, do SE Ridge of The Pulpit which generally gets more sun (just be prepared to deal with snow after the rap).
By docsavage
From: Albuquerque, NM
Feb 4, 2013

The Northwest Ridge goes so many different ways it seems a bit silly to try & tweak it. Nevertheless from having soloed it a half dozen times since 1976 here are a few tips to make it the most enjoyable experience:

1) When in doubt, go left. This holds for everything except P3.

2) On P3 where going left leads to the ring piton variation you can avoid this dirty, loose & exposed pitch by taking a more center line trending right toward the 'squeeze variation' (more of a wide dihedral actually & doubtless part of the original route) or V-notch which has maybe the cleanest cut rock of the route.

3) On the next pitch (or what the description calls P5) also avoid the ramp heading right toward the 'blocky terrain'. This goes all right but sticking to the ridge crest instead yields an excitingly exposed pitch that is deceptively easy.

There is no wrong way to do it of course but it seems a shame not to optimize the experience. Approach shoes are recommended as carrying a pack can be awkward in places - stash your pack near where the talus descent meets the La Luz - and because climbing shoes are generally such overkill for the climbing encountered.
By Kerr Adams
From: Albuquerque, NM
Apr 22, 2013

Does anyone know what the crack on the "blank wall" goes free at?
By Patrick Vernon
From: Estes Park, CO
May 3, 2013
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

This was a good adventure climb, kind of like Sharkstooth (RMNP) meets the Black Canyon. Not knowing any better, I started from the lower la cueva canyon parking lot which took about 1:45 to get to the base. From this approach it is hard to see how anyone would NOT call this the thumb! The climbing was mostly secure albeit loose, but the crux above the ring piton felt like 5.7 trying to avoid the obvious loose holds. Steep and airy, a good day out! Can't wait to explore more of this area.
By Mick S
From: Colorado
Jun 26, 2013

What does the local climbing community think: replace with a pin or a bolt. The back up piece that I had placed came out! I believe and know all about the historical signifigance of the pin, but the climb should be made safe. Thank you and lets find a good solution.

Since there are other options that avoid that pitch, I do not think replacing the pin with a bolt is appropriate. Glad you were not hurt, that is a bad place to fall.
By RW1
From: Fairbanks, AK
Jun 15, 2016
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

Great route, great exposure from the start. Above the 'technical' pitches, I trended right for a few hundred feet and ended up in very chossy, but exposed, 5.easy climbing. Not hard, but a fall would be catastrophic if not roped. Due to all the loose rock, we decided to pitch it out and not simul until higher on the ridge where the exposure and terrain ease to class III and IV.

If I do it again, I won't go right after pitch 5 due to the loose rock and choss, even though it appeared to be the right way at the time. Staying center-ridge is probably the better choice.

We didn't attempt a walk-off, instead we did a 40' rappel to the talus field and had a short scramble back to La Luz trail.

Relatively easy climbing, but great adventure and super exposure the entire way.
By James K Haugen
From: Hong Kong
Sep 14, 2016
rating: 5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a

Great day out, with beautiful weather. First time climbing the route, so it took a bit longer than the "guidebook time." Started from the car at 7:00am, arrived back at the car at 8:00pm.

Hiked to the climb, hiked back to the start of La Luz. In spite of the tram looking a long way off when on the summit of the Thumb, hiking back down is significantly longer than hiking to the tram -- about 5.5 miles down vs. 2-3 miles up.

The climbing is mostly straightforward, with several variations on most pitches. This can make route-finding seem more complex than it is. This added to our time. The route has significant rope drag, so we ended up doing variations of the pitches when drag became too much.

Found several pitons on the route. With a tap, most seemed surprisingly solid, with a good ringing sound. The ring piton -- a bit sketchy. While the pin is solidly placed, the ring itself cannot hang vertically. The piton was driven all the way to the ring and the rock prevents it from hanging freely. So, if someone fell on it, it would be subject to a severe leveraging load. There are some decent cracks nearby you can place pro in, and the crux moves really aren't that bad. I moved to the left of the pin, and would suggest it was about 5.5. On P4, we avoided the chimney pitch by climbing left around the rock feature above "the squeeze." Found another knifeblade to clip on that side, so obviously a common variation to the route.

Once at the top of P4, if you used climbing shoes, you can change to approach shoes, and use them for the rest of the climb/descent. We put on coils (kiwi coil), and transitioned to short-rope technique, mostly simu-climbing using running belays over rock horn and the rare gear placement. Also had a few short-pitch sections. Short roping provides another option to unroping on 4th class terrain, where a fall OFF the mountain is still a possibility. Sharpen up on your alpine skills for this, and you'll be both safer and quicker -- Alpine Climbing by Cathy Cosley and Mark Houston provides some good info on short rope technique. (It was the first time climbing outdoors for my partner, and he felt much more secure being tied in.) Just make sure to practice a bit before getting on the mountain -- practice using rock horn belays, simu-climbing, and catching a stumble/fall with these techniques before using it on steep, exposed terrain.

The standard descent, as described on the Thumb Overview is generally straightforward, just make sure to take the right by the tree once off the summit. There was a rock cairn at that location at the time of our descent. There's a bit of hiking through the woods after the traverse above the boulder field, but just generally go straight down the slope, and you'll eventually intersect the La Luz trail. Time to get off the ridge was roughly 15-30 mins, with another 15-30mins traversing above the boulder field and descending to the main trail. We hiked down the La Luz, instead of up, and probably added 1-1.5 hours by doing so. Bring a headlamp. It was twilight by the time we arrived at the car. Not super time efficient, but that's often the case with doing a route for the first time.

Have FUN!!!

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