Elevation: 7,683 ft
GPS: 32.347, -106.544 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
Page Views: 43,041 total · 246/month
Shared By: Bill Lawry on Mar 24, 2006
Admins: Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Drew Chojnowski
Access Issue: Power drilling is prohibited in the Organ Mountains Wilderness. Details
Access Issue: COVID-19 New Mexico State Requirements Details


Sugarloaf is the largest formation in the Organs, and hosts some of the longest rock climbs for miles around. West of the Organ crest proper, it is impossible to miss as the pristine-looking granite dome so prominent when viewed from San Augustin Pass between Cruces and Alamogordo. The impressive length of the routes, difficult-to-reach summit (the easiest way up is 4th class), great views of the Sacramento Mountains and Tularosa Basin, and overall wilderness experience makes Sugarloaf a must-do.

Most routes on Sugarloaf are shady most of the day, and can be very windy at times. It's very secluded- be self-sufficient (although cell reception may be ok), and have enough gear to survive getting benighted, a story which a few climbers tell of their first experience on this formation. The rock quality is overall very good, although expect some loose blocks and test everything, as with any formation in the wilderness.

Approach for Sugarloaf (in large part from John Hymer)

The approach to the start of North Face route will be well under two hours if you know the way or are efficient at finding the way. Nearly three hours may be more reasonable the first time. Access to other routes will take longer.

To access Sugarloaf (and other east-side routes in the Organ Mountains), park at the Aguirre Spring Campground approximately 5 miles south of Highway 70 on Aguirre Spring Road. There is potable water near the campground gate which is located miles before the actual campground. The gate hours currently change seasonally (2012). Inquire about gate hours and fees: BLM's Aguirre Springs Campground page

Well along the one-way loop, a pay station is located near a group campsite. Each vehicle pays a fee whether camping or not with he camp-site fee a little more than the day-use fee.

After taking care of the fee and deciding where to park, proceed to the second “group area” approximately 0.4 miles beyond the pay station and then down a spur road to the right. The Sugarloaf trail starts to the south of this “group area.” There are basically trail-head like parking spots and of course camp-site parking spots, depending on whether you are there for the day or spending the night. Not sure if parking for the day in a group area is okay.

From the parking lot for the second "group area", Sugarloaf is obscured by a large hill. The trail traverses the hill to the left. But first, south of the rest rooms, follow a trail up hill that eventually parallels a fence, and pass through a gate in the fence. Follow the trail across the stream bed. It turns to the east after the stream bed (a common mistake is to walk up the stream bed). Traverse the large hill high along its base; crossings of slabs obscure the path here and there so checking this out in daylight may help the first time. Follow this trail for approximately one hour. If you encounter another fence, you are on the lower trail and should turn back to the correct trail.

During years of high precipitation - in addition to the slabs adding challenges to following the approach trail - the trail can be obscured by high grasses making it difficult to follow in the dark on the way up and on the way down.

After approximately one hour, the trail crosses a primitive campsite. It is common to leave water here for the walk out. After a short level walk, the grade becomes steep. Just after the grade change, take a left fork and follow an obscure trail to the base of SL. Watch for snakes!

Descents From Summit - significant revision as of 15 October 2012

The descent from the summit back to the BLM's Aguirre Springs Campground will take around three hours at a steady human pace with no route-finding issues. Can be longer or shorter.

There are at least three ways to descend from the summit of Sugarloaf. But, as George Perkins once cautioned, there is too much information below to remember if you find yourself on the summit, in the dark, and having dropped all your beta on the way up including the descent description! Consider committing to memory just your chosen descent (e.g., recommended descent 'A').

Before getting to the 'A' and 'B' descents, note that you will come across three sets of bolted anchors as you scramble down the south ridge line. (Descent 'C' does not involve going down the south ridge line.)

  • The first set of bolted anchors one comes to are just skier's left of the ridge line (see below photo). These are the anchors at the top of pitch 2 of Crescendo and offer an alternate starting point for descent 'A'. However, a single 60 meter rope will NOT reach the intermediate anchor of descent 'A'. The FA'ists of Crescendo placed these because this location afforded a more natural finish for that route plus avoided rope drag.
SS rap ring anchors ~ 1/2 way down summit south ramp. 33m rap to next anchors. Could use some sealant to prevent water entry / freeze.
  • The second set of bolted anchors one comes to are skier's right of the ridge line. This set is the start of descent 'B'.
  • The third set of bolted anchors one comes to are skier's left. This set is the start of descent 'A'.

A) South Ridge Raps ~South (recommended): Traverse down the exposed 3rd class of the south ridge line. Some rope up for this traverse. Skip the first set of anchor bolts on skier's left and continue to the second set on skier's left. (And ignore the pair of bolts on skier's right.) Rap 150 feet (~46 meters) to the saddle south of Sugarloaf - a double rope rap. The below photo with with comments indicates the left bolt of the summit anchor has been loose in the past, and the pair could be upgraded. Anyway, thanks to whoever replaced all the tat with hardware.
Anyone planning to use the normal rappel-from-summit bolts should either bring a crescent wrench or a bolting kit (latter solution would be best). The nut on the righthand/newer bolt was very loose, so we screwed it back on as best we could by hand. Not exactly confidence inspiring. The shiny, modern bolted anchor on the way to the normal anchor looks great but probably isn't useful for normal descent from the long routes... this original anchor should be upgraded.

Alternately, mid-way through the 'A' rap descent, there is now a new intermediate bolted anchor (see below photo) for which Steven Reneau indicates: "Confirmed that one 60 m rope should work for the recommended rap ‘A’, using the new intermediate anchors. I used a 70 m rope, and had ~20’ to spare on the 2nd rap (~95’ to ground, minus rope stretch; 1st rap was shorter)."
1st pitch SS anchors. ~25m rap to ground. Could use some sealant to prevent water entry / freeze. Also, if anyone's so kind, please upgrade to rap ring hangers if I don't get to it soon enough. Please don't nab biners/rap rings. Keep it nice and easy for all to use.

Once on the saddle, scramble down west a short ways to another bolt anchor; rap the short slab of 80 feet (~25 meters). Any packs at the base of your climb can usually be retrieved by a scramble / hike / bush-whack affair down along the west side of Sugarloaf (avoidable**).

B) South Ridge Rap ~West (okay but 'A' is recommended): [106815978 reported near the end of 2012 that the bolted rap anchors are missing their carabiners we saw back in March 2012.] This descent completely bypasses both the saddle and the last short rap of option 'a' above. Traverse down the exposed 3rd class of the south ridge line and find anchor bolts on skier's right (newer style as of 3/2012); some rope up for this traverse. (For this descent ignore the two sets of anchor bolts on skier's left.) Jason Carlson reports: "With 2 70m ropes, we were easily able to reach the 2 bolt anchor below the first set of anchors, 10ft above the small ledge. On the way down from that anchor we saw the 3 nut placement in the crack system to the right, but we didn't use it, as 2 70m ropes will reach the bottom (with about 3 feet to spare), by a big pine tree in the gully."

I'll add that one time we stopped at a set of bolts about 115 feet (35 meters) down from the start of the rap; there is no ledge to stand on. But I wonder if these are the ones Jason Carlson reports as 10 feet above a ledge; when we went that way, it was dark and I might not have noticed that ledge.

Anyway, any packs at the base of your climb can usually be retrieved by a scramble / hike / bush-whack affair down along the west side of Sugarloaf (avoidable**).

C) East Side Rap ('A' is recommended except that this descent may help avoid prevailing winds): See R. L. Ingraham's 1972 guide for location. This descent route from the summit does not involve the south ridge line; rather, it drops off the ~east side of the summit. As of 10/2012, there was a cairn consisting of 3 large stones 30 feet above the first anchor which consists of a good 3/8 bolt with 1 pin still in and 1 pin hanging. One double rope rap on 70 meter ropes allows one to then scramble/hike skier's right for about 5 minutes around Sugarloaf to connect up with the 'A' and 'B' descents. If the Ingraham rap distances are precise enough, double 60's should work as well.

Additional Information About The Descents

Much thanks to the many folks who have contributed to various parts of the above and below information regarding Sugarloaf descents: Marta Reece, climber pat, Gary Parker, John Hymer, George Perkins, and Matt Twyman. Any errors in transcribing contributions are mine.

Don't assume all guides have been updated to account for the difference between the rap routes off the south ridge (e.g., 'A' and 'B' above), even some MP.com pages. Using old descriptions, it is easy - when tired at the end of the day and possibly in low light conditions - to go down a descent thinking it is Descent 'A' and be surprised to not have enough reach to continue down the rap route.

For South Ridge Rap ~South ('A'), a number of guides and sources report that the double-rop rap passes an intermediate fixed-gear anchor at 100 feet down. This fixed-gear anchor is no longer there (11/2012). Instead, see descent 'A' which describes a new intermediate bolted anchor.

Folks indicate that the last rap of South Ridge Rap ~West ('B') (i.e., double-rope rap) can be broken in two via an intermediate anchor consisting of fixed gear in a flake (check the integrity of fixed gear). Rap distances to/from that flake are unknown but the flake is a little to skiers left when rapping from the no-ledge bolted anchor. Unsure if this anchor of fixed gear is still there.

The double-rope rap of the East Side Rap ('C') passes an intermediate anchor consisting of three 1/4 inch leapers which are very badly rusted and one ancient micro nut - not usable by themselves as of 10/2012. A single 70 meter rope will reach this anchor, possibly a single 60 meter rope as well. Descending parties may or may not find this sketchy intermediate anchor supplemented with modern gear.

Also, after the double-rope rap of East Side Rap ('C') and instead of joining the 'A' and 'B' by scrambling to skier's right, it is possible to go skier's left / down to the ~north in a gully on the east side of Sugarloaf. If continuing to the base of Sugarloaf this way, one will likely find evidence of folks rapping here or there. At the same time, Ingraham mentions exiting early from the scramble down the gully and instead heading to a saddle ~NE of Sugarloaf (my words) - a different saddle than the one in 'A' above; I suspect Ingraham refers here to the saddle on the way from Aguirre Spring Campground to East Slabs. If so, one probably does not want to have left packs at the base of North Face or routes further around the west side of Sugarloaf such as Left Eyebrow.

** Scramble / hike / bush-whack affair down along the west side of Sugarloaf can be avoided by instead following Sugarloaf Falls (i.e., a "technical" slabby wash), in which case don't leave packs at the base of your climb. The wash starts shortly after the last rap of either descent 'A' or 'B'. Initially trend slightly skier's left on slabs away from Sugarloaf and then down a stony / slabby wash. After ~1000 feet of elevation loss (~40 minutes at a steady pace; 1+ hours is more likely), leave the wash on a trail. There have in the past been cairns marking where this trail crosses the slabby wash. Take the trail to skier's right which takes one back to the lower primitive campsite described in the Approach for Sugarloaf.

The hardest part about descending the slabby wash is knowing when to leave it - helpful to have daylight to find the exit or to have previewed this spot in the daylight by coming up on the trail from below.

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