Mountain Project Logo
To save paper & ink, use the [Hide] controls next to photos and comments so you only print what you need.

Brazos Cliffs

New Mexico > New Mexico, oth… > Rio Arriba County (Br…
Access Issue: The Cliffs are on private property. Access is restricted. Details


Note from scotthsu: George Perkins re-assigned this page to me from MP user Sheets on 10/10/08. The text below was written by me, and I will slowly add to it. Thanks for your patience.

The Brazos Cliffs tower some 3000' above the surrounding lands to the northeast of Tierra Amarilla. The tallest parts of the Cliffs offer up to 2000' of technical climbing/scrambling. The rock is hard pre-Cambrian quartzite. The first technical climb was made on the Brazos Cliffs in 1952 by George Bell, Sr., Virginia Lotz, Don Monk, and K. Bruecknerand when they climbed Easy Ridge. Later that year, George Bell and Don Monk climbed the Great Couloir. Over the next 20-30 years, members of the Los Alamos Mountaineers (LAM) established some 45 routes and major route variations on these cliffs. The LAM website has an engaging write-up on the climbing history of the Brazos Cliffs. George Bell, Sr. wrote an article on the Brazos Cliffs, published in the March 1972 (#639) issue of Trail & Timberline, on which much of this description is based. In 1986 the Los Alamos Mountaineers voted against assembling a guidebook to help preserve the sense of wildness that is so unique to these cliffs and to give future generations of climbers a chance to re-discover the cliffs for themselves.

The Brazos Cliffs are on private property, and thus access is restricted (click on "more info" link above).

The cliffs have three main parts, from west to east: (1) the main Brazos Cliffs, (2) the Brazos Box Canyon, and (3) the Encinado Wedge. The main Cliffs are about 2000' tall, and the Cliffs get shorter and steeper as you move east, with the Wedge being about 1000' tall. A selection of the routes (from the T&T article) are listed below.

Main Brazos Cliffs routes listed from west to east (w/FA party and year):
  • White Gully (5.5), D. Liska, A. Liska, G. Bell, and M. Williams, 1967
  • Cat Burglar (5.7), D. Liska and L. Campbell, 1971
  • Great Couloir (5.6), G. Bell and D. Monk, 1952
  • Great Couloir Direct (5.6), G. Bell and D. Coward, 1956, with subsequent variations by D. Liska et al.
  • Easy Ridge (5.6), G. Bell, D. Monk, V. Lotz and K. Brueckner, 1952
  • East of Easy (5.6), G. Bell, W. Hendry, C. Keller, and R. Harder, 1970
  • Going to Jerusalem (5.6), F. de Saussure, 1958

Brazos Box Canyon:
  • Cleft (5.6), G. Bell and F. de Saussure, 1958
  • Box Tower (5.5), G. Bell and M. Hane, 1959
  • Gothic Arches Buttress (5.7), D. Liska, G. Bell, L. Dauelsberg, and M. Williams, 1969

  • West Ridge of the Wedge (5.8), W. Hendry and C. Keller, 1970
  • Wicked Ridge of the Wedge (5.6), W. Hendry and M. Hart, 1969 with east variation by D. Michael and L. Dauelsberg, 1971
  • Roofy Ridge of the Wedge (5.7), W. Hendry, L. Dauelsberg, M. Hart, C. Keller, and M. Williams , 1969
  • Rickety Ridge of the Wedge (5.4), LAM party, 1968

Routes are 10-17 pitches long, all with non-trivial approaches and descents, and thus are all Grade III & IV.

to be continued...

Getting There

Main Brazos Cliffs: From US84 just north of Tierra Amarilla and south of Chama, NM, take NM512 east and drive about 7 miles to pullout parking on N side of the road (near a row of condos), just before the the split to Corkins Lodge. Hike east along the road, bear left at Corkins Lodge sign, walk north a few hundred yards, then bear right near an A-frame house and continue hiking another mile or so to the turnaround at the end of the dirt road. The dirt road gets very rough and rutted toward the end (unpassable even with high clearance 4WD), and it is all private property so no public parking. Total walking time to the turnaround is about 1/2 to 3/4 hour. Hike east another 100 yards past the turnaround, then turn north uphill toward the base of the cliffs, lots of bushwhacking and talus/scree scrambling, fairly steep terrain near base of cliffs, which are ~500 feet above end of road (just a guess).

Routes from Left to Right

5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b
Roybal's Horrendous 5.10 Offwidth
Trad 3 pitches
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
Cat Burglar
Trad 14 pitches
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
Roybal's Horrendous 5.10 Of…
5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b Trad 3 pitches
Cat Burglar
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b Trad 14 pitches

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

"The Wedge", a smaller and lesser known Brazos Cliff on the southeast side of the Brazos River.  In the winter, you can ski out to the end of this thing from SH 64.
[Hide Photo] "The Wedge", a smaller and lesser known Brazos Cliff on the southeast side of the Brazos River. In the winter, you can ski out to the end of this thing from SH 64.
Soloing Easy Ridge 1977
[Hide Photo] Soloing Easy Ridge 1977
Rio Arriba County Assessor's Office parcel map of Brazos Cliffs.  Blue parcels are owned by either Corkins Lodge LLC or Corkins Conservation Company LLC.  All other parcels in this view are also privately owned.
[Hide Photo] Rio Arriba County Assessor's Office parcel map of Brazos Cliffs. Blue parcels are owned by either Corkins Lodge LLC or Corkins Conservation Company LLC. All other parcels in this view are also pr…
View of the Brazos from the highway
[Hide Photo] View of the Brazos from the highway
[Hide Photo]
Section of Brazos main wall from base
[Hide Photo] Section of Brazos main wall from base
Brazos Cliffs
[Hide Photo] Brazos Cliffs

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Steve C
Missoula, MT
[Hide Comment] I used to live in Pagosa Springs and we asked the folks at Corkin's (who own the property that you have to cross to access the base of the routes) personally if they allow access to climbers. They were adamant that the Brazos Cliffs were off limits to climbers and that anyone attempting to climb the cliffs would be prosecuted. They claimed it was a liability issue, since they are running a business on the property.

This was back in 2000. Have things changed with regard to access? Do you get a "free pass" if you have stayed at the lodge? Sep 26, 2007
Luke Hanley
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] As to my knowledge you don't receive a free pass if you stay at Corkins. The reason is as such:
If they grant you access to the cliffs and you get hurt climbing you can sue them. So, if they grant access, then they also have to carry an insurance policy which would cover all climbers...not just the ones they sanction to climb on their land. Unfortunately the litigious nature of our country puts them in a tight spot.
I'm not recommending, only informing here...but if you climb without permission then Corkins is not responsible if you bust your ass, or head. Again, I'm not recommending trespassing....especially in New Mexico...The locals can be severally more dangerous then the law in those parts. Anyone who has driven 64west from Tres Piedras to Chama has probably seen the dummy hanging with a noose around it's neck, from a sign which reads" We do things the old way!"
With all this being said...It can be a great adventure climbing in the Brazos! Nov 5, 2007
George Bell
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] My understanding is that only the Los Alamos Mountaineers have gained permission to climb on the Brazos cliffs. I would suggest contacting them if you are interested in getting permission.

My father wrote a guidebook to the Brazos which appeared in the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) publication "Trail & Timberline" in March issue, 1972, #639. Now available online here Apr 21, 2008
George Bell
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] The final paragraph from the 1972 guidebook:

"The lands near the Brazos Cliffs have a turbulent past, a confused present, and an uncertain future. In the past, disputes involving the grants of Spanish kings and conflicting water rights have often issued in violence. At present, many people are attracted to the area by the beauty of its streams and forests or the challenge of its noble cliffs. But they come with various uses in mind. Most conspicuous and friendly are the land developers, who dream of aerial tramways to revolving restaurants atop the cliffs. Others are hostile to their inroads, like Phil Corkin who has spent his lifetime building a resort with minimal impact on the wilderness and who now depends on it with calculated fierceness. Finally, there are we mountaineers who clearly perceive that the splendid area should be preserved for all posterity with what wilderness is left and who would like to see the land acquired for that purpose. The future is in doubt." Apr 23, 2008
George Bell
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] The Los Alamos Mountaineers link is

Brazos Cliffs access May 15, 2008
[Hide Comment] George, thanks for the info! I drive by from time to time but have always been leery of exploring due to the access issues as I understood them. It sounds like this would be a great tract of land for climbers to purchase- there sure aren't many places like it in these parts. Jun 7, 2008
Los Alamos, NM
[Hide Comment] I have a photocopy of the very nice March 1972 T & T article on the Brazos Cliffs by George Bell, Sr. It is a fantastic read. Please feel free to contact me if you're interested in reading the T&T article. Oct 10, 2008
[Hide Comment] Scott,

Scan 'em and post 'em up.

Thanks, Mike Oct 10, 2008
Santa Fe, NM
[Hide Comment] Anyone know how to get to The Wedge? Sep 27, 2009
[Hide Comment] Was tempted to just say, yes.
Since both approaches to the Wedge involve crossing private land and both have sets of watchful land owners, and since it's fairly wild country in here, publishing specific directions is problematic

Both approaches are pretty obvious.
We didn't have any trick beta. Nor do I think you could even come up with any. You hump in there, you climb, the descent is via the East side of the Wedge, it's a total walk down.
I have no idea of how to describe the approaches.
If in doubt, look at a topo and sketch out something.

From the east it will depend on if you bushwack or find old roads.
We bushwacked and it was one long walk out in the dark.
Thick aspen groves of downed beaver trees. Very tiring climbing over all that stuff. I have heard there are some old logging roads...

This pic looks like it might be a nice way to try.

From the west you come to the top of the wall and then down along the east edge. Again, time with a topo would be your best bet.

There are a couple of stellar routes here that I have done and from an old topo I once saw, a bunch of other climbs that look good.
5.7 to 5.11R (X if you blow the gear or miss it)

Unique place, great climbing if you like adventerous stuff. Quartzite is often void of cracks however so a lot of times you have to run between placements. Oct 1, 2009
David Baltz
Albuquerque, New Mexico
[Hide Comment] I climbed in the Brazos quite a bit during the early '80s and never had any access issues. We always approached by parking at the Brazos Lodge (not Corkins) and walking up the road past condos till you could see the rock slides--staying high up on the slides to avoid Corkin's property. My understanding was that they were much more concerned with climbers bothering the fishermen who were their main clientel. Mark Leonard (another '80s) climbers) owned property on a road above the Brazos Lodge restaurant and we would sometimes camp there. One other way to get into the inner box is to 3rd-class Easy Ridge, walk across the top, then descend a 1500ft gulley that goes all the way down to the river (above the falls).

I haven't been back in over ten years. Has Corkins bought more of the land up to the base of the cliffs? They used to own only a few hundred yards to the east of the river.

I'll agree with Paul, the rock is stellar, the holds incut, and the routes *long*! Dec 1, 2009
greg stirling steele
santa fe -taos
[Hide Comment] I grew up n taos and have relatives n what we call carnal/ brazos. have been going to brazos since my dad would take us fishing and elk hunting n a cabin we owned out side corkins property and started climbing/ solo there n the 90,s mostly just camping and exploring the walls i would find old routes the seem like drunk people put them up because like old routes are they wonder around for easy climbing.if your not a local better not to be seen! I have moved to santa fe and was surprised that people from here climbed n brazos, but they are new mexicans who grew up here and know the parodical and have the common sense w dealing with other new mexicans that people from other states say new mexicans lack! If your not invited stay off. Jan 18, 2010
Levi Wilner
Alamosa, CO
[Hide Comment] Man those cliffs look awesome...
Grrrrrr Apr 17, 2011
[Hide Comment] Original American Alpine Journal 1968 submission
New Mexico
Brazos Cliffs, White Couloir Route. This spectacular quartzite face rises some 2000 feet above the Brazos River in northern New Mexico. Several routes have been pioneered by George Bell and others, but large sections of the five-mile-long cliffs remain untouched. A new route, climbed on October 8 by George Bell, my wife Alice, Mike Williams and me, begins in the white-faced gully just west of the Great Couloir. Two routes were followed up the lower 400 feet, The White Couloir proper begins with two moderate pitches up the left side, then crosses the gully into a series of steep, tree-covered ledges. Three pitches follow, terminating in a jam-crack between a large flake and the wall. From here a scramble leads into the first bowl. The variation starts just left of the gully and follows easy cracks for two pitches after which it moves onto the gully’s western rim. Face climbing follows to an awkward and poorly protected traverse, after which easier pitches above finally rejoin the first route at the bowl. Above this, the route works toward the east ridge crest on moderate rock followed by mixed fourth and fifth class climbing up a steep ramp which terminates just below the head of the Great Couloir. Easy scrambling follows to the top of the normal finish of the Great Couloir route. 13 pitches; Grade II, 5.4 to 5.5.
DONALD S. LISKA Jun 12, 2011
Mark Dalen
Albuquerque, NM
[Hide Comment] An early attempt at a winter ascent of the Brazos Cliffs. Why do a winter ascent of the Brazos Cliffs? That is a very good question! Enjoy ...… Jul 28, 2012
[Hide Comment] Docsavage - That 1979 video is great! Many thanks.

Just did Cat Burglar. My first line in the brazos. Rock was high quality, nice exposure and the climbing was almost always good, even memorable for the grade.

We parked as the new access description says. Got there early and everyone was asleep (recommended). Kept all gear in packs including helmets. And covered anything climbing in the car. Met one guy on the trail who has one of the last cabins before you get to the end of the road. Super friendly.

On route we kept our voices down, no trundling, etc. And exited with the same ease. Undoubtfully, some of the people in the cabins like to go fishing up the river and hiking, so it is in everyone's best interest to be friendly, and unobtrusive until some day in the future this place can get some official access agreement worked out! May 27, 2013
[Hide Comment] Recently made our first try at the Brazos Cliffs. Beautiful day. A party of three of us, set out early morning. We tried to keep a low profile but we did not realize that the Corkins Lodge property was patrolled. Although everyone remained courteous we were effectively escorted back to our car where a local police officer was waiting for us. All around a hassle. Maybe there is a better route than what we took. We walked a rough jeep trail past a couple cabins. Perhaps those people alerted the folks at Corkins. Jul 3, 2015
George Bell
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] Corkins Lodge is worried about trout fisherman poaching their "gold medal waters", that is likely why they have a patrol. Of course, any patrollers have also been told to watch for climbers. Unfortunately, the new owners do not want people climbing the cliffs, even if you stay at the Lodge. Oct 13, 2015
Bill Lawry
New Mexico
[Hide Comment] Some history:

For many years the landowners' agents, Bob and Irene Hobson, asked all climbers to register in a logbook at their cabin before starting up the cliffs. This was a way of formally requesting permission to climb, which in some years was granted only to members of the Mountaineers. It also helped the Hobsons handle phone calls from anxious relatives if the climbers did not return by dark (which happened fairly often). This era has now come to an end: Bob Hobson passed away in 1988, and Irene Hobson in 2005. At their requests, made before their deaths, Don Liska, Len Margolin, and Norbert Ensslin took their ashes to the top of the cliffs and distributed them just above the prominent white spot that is visible near what appears to be the top of the cliffs, as seen from the Hobson's former cabin in the valley below. The Hobson's registration system is no longer in use, and there are now only a few climbers per year that come to the Brazos ... (2006).

... and ...

In 1986 the club voted against assembling these [route information] into a guidebook ....

Source: Los Alamos Mountaineers: Adventure and Exploration at the Brazos Cliffs May 30, 2016
Mark Dalen
Albuquerque, NM
[Hide Comment] The Tierra Amarilla Grant (on which the Brazos cliffs lie) may be THE most contested land grant in NM history ... this little fact may go far to explain the fierce attitudes toward access still taken by many locals (Anglo AND Hispanic) ... I can't say we were much aware of this history at the time my partners & I climbed there regularly in the 70s & early 80s - & this was a scant decade after the infamous TA courthouse raid ... among those to profit indecently from the TA grant were Thomas Catron (of the county of the same name) & Thomas Burns, who scammed Hispano sheepherders out of their land claims which he then sold & took north to start Burns Bank (now Bank of Colorado) ... History never really goes away.... Sep 6, 2018
[Hide Comment] Some more history. The death of Bob and Irene Hobson really did mark the end of an era. My first climb in the Brazos was Easy Ridge (1970). When I got down to the Brazos Lodge, I sat on the front porch, still winding down, when this old fellow in scuffed cowboy boots and a bad limp wandered over. "Have you been climbing?" he asked. I said "yes, let me buy you a beer and I'll tell you all about it." That was how I met Bob Hobson; it was the last beer I had to buy at the Lodge. I think Bob did more than allow the LA mountaineers to climb, I believe he vicariously came with us. He was especially interested whenever we put up a new route, checked it out with his binoculars from his porch. When Irene died, Don and Norbert and I agreed to carry her ashes up the descent gully rather than climb. In more than 35 years at the Brazos, it was the first time I walked up that miserable gully. Oct 25, 2018