Access Issue: Juan Tabo Canyon is subject to annual access closures from March 1 to August 15. Details
Access Issue: Seasonal raptor closure for some areas in the Sandias Details


Much of The Needle, including the classic Southwest Ridge route, has historically not been affected by the Juan Tabo Canyon annual raptor closure.  Please consult the current closure boundaries and date for clarification.

The Needle is a major feature on the west side of the Sandia Mountains near the north end. Aptly known in the past as The Pyramid, The Needle stands just south of The Shield. The Needle is known for some arduous approaches and long routes. Plan your climbs with care.

As noted above, a periodic avian closure affects some portions of The Needle and nearby areas. The Juan Tabo Canyon page may have a map showing the currently closed areas. Also, check with the Sandia District of Cibola National Forest for the latest details.

Getting There

Generally speaking, climbs on the south and east sides are initially approached starting from The Crest, hiking to the saddle at the east side of The Needle, and continuing on approach as needed from there; Mick Schein's guide "Sandia Rock" describes this approach for the case of the Southwest Ridge Route. Climbs on the west side may be approached by hiking up the Movie Trail passing to the south of The Prow and then scrambling to the base of the Needle.

Also, visible from Albuquerque is a partially tree-filled ramp that roughly divides the west face of The Needle into an upper and lower half. This ramp is known as Fifth Avenue and may serve as an exit from the lower routes, as an approach to the upper routes, or as an escape from planned outings spanning the west face.

One Way to Descend from the Summit

In a comment to the SW Ridge route, Daniel T. mentions a ramp from which there are a couple short raps into the ravine that runs along the south side of The Needle. Here's how to get to that ramp.

From the summit head east-ish and down hill through pine-needle duff amongst the trees. Work you way to the 'crown' in this direction by trending slightly north as you head further down and east. Eventually, you will need to drop to skier's left of the 'crown' which is now turning into a ridge that heads east. If you miss the drop to left then back track a little (i.e., no down climbing at this point).

Continue down and east-ish on very easy ledges staying within 20 feet or so of the now well-formed ridge. Within minutes you will reach a minor saddle between the main summit block and a small rock tower to the east (50 feet tall?). Locate a ramp down below on the south side of this saddle. Down climb ~20 feet to the ramp. From there, it's another 20 easy feet or so to a tree with rap slings/rings.

There are two relatively short raps, both from trees, with a short scramble between them. However, if you continue on rappel from the first rap tree to the second then you may want to knot the ends of a 60 meter rope.

2 Total Climbs

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Classic Climbing Routes at The Needle

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c PG13
Southwest Ridge
Trad, Alpine 10 pitches
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
Southwest Ridge
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c PG13 Trad, Alpine 10 pitches
More Classic Climbs in The Needle »

Sun & Shade

Routes Mostly Face: South
Sunny Roughly 10am to 5pm during high season
Details: The main Sandias massif does give this formation some shade until late morning.

Weather Averages

Days w Precip
Prime Climbing Season


For the descent, yesterday there was fairly new red webbing, with no rap ring, around a rock at the saddle above the upper rap tree; easy down climb to 1st rap tree from here. The 2nd rap station is easily reached with a 60 m rope. Jun 14, 2014
Bill Lawry
New Mexico
Bill Lawry   New Mexico

One of the seasonal-raptor-closure labels also appears in the Pinnacle Valley page and more widely elsewhere in the Sandias. So moving it to PV does not alleviate all of your concern.

Personally, I would not remove it for The Needle. And I also do not have complete control over that given the one that seems to splashed more broadly than Juan Tabo.

Maybe your making a direct request to the MP administrators is in order? Or I could just add to The Needle page description that, traditionally, most of the Needle is not affected and to check up on the latest closure boundaries and dates? May 29, 2018
Jason Halladay
Los Alamos, NM
Jason Halladay   Los Alamos, NM  
Thanks for the comments, George and Bill. We prefer to keep the Needle under Juan Tabo Canyon to stick with geographic organization. Bill, thanks for adding the clarification to the Description. I added a few edits to your clarification to include a hyperlink to the closure order (which contains a map.) Let me know if you have any other suggestions or feel free to edit what I edited. Jun 11, 2018
Bill Lawry
New Mexico
Bill Lawry   New Mexico
That's great, Jason. Jun 11, 2018
Has anyone climbed the south East ridge or the east caves? How are those?

I'd like to get my dad and my son on top for the 60th anniversary of dad's FA, but neither of them would be ready for a whole day on the SW ridge next year. Aug 30, 2018
Bill Lawry
New Mexico
Bill Lawry   New Mexico
Charles, for your dad going to the top the needle: I would not suggest South East Ridge. Getting up into the bowl on the west side of the ridge, if going that way, involves pretty rough bushwhacking and steep scrambling on scree; granted, I am making some assumptions about your dad here that could be wrong. And going directly up the ridge from the toe of it sounded a little nebulous and hills guide. I do know of someone who reported a third class way to the top of the needle by making use of fifth Avenue. Message me if that sounds like someone you would want to talk to. Aug 30, 2018
Chris Wenker
Santa Fe
Chris Wenker   Santa Fe
I once took a shot at the SE Ridge, head-on from the toe. We got up about 2 pitches, and I found a stellar 5.8 slickenside face up there, but then that dead-ended in an absolutely rotten bulge that was shedding gravel everywhere I touched. With no viable options immediately to either side, and seeing that it was late in the day, I downclimbed and we bailed. Just $0.02; YMMV. Sep 27, 2018