Elevation: 6,960 ft
GPS: 34.872, -107.887 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
Page Views: 10,760 total · 94/month
Shared By: David Baltz on Nov 9, 2009
Admins: Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Drew Chojnowski
Access Issue: Permit Required For Climbing in El Malpais National Monument Details


The El Malpais climbing area extends for twelve miles along Hwy 117 on the easern edge of the lower Grants lava flow from which the name was taken. The climbing is on soft sandstone and is comparable in quality to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The area was first explored, starting in the Fall of 1975, by David Dahrling and David Baltz who had established thirteen moderate trad routes by December of 1976. Further action in the late '70s by Paul Horak, Mark Dalen, Charlie Ware led to additional routes, as well as visits by such out-of-state luminaries as Andrew Embick, and Earl Wiggins. Because of the intimidating nature of many of the lines, the area has seen very limited development since, in spite of the enormous potential. The vast majority of the established routes are crack climbs, entirely unlike the uniform cracks of the Indian Creek variety, but of a more varied and technical nature. Due to the soft rock, bolts and other fixed protection are rarely encountered, but nuts and cams work well. There is also excellent bouldering, the approaches are short--at most fifteen minutes from the car--and the climbing season runs from February through November.

One note about local ethics:
The Malpais has traditionally been a 'ground up' area. What few bolts and fixed pins that exist were placed on the lead. Due to the soft nature of the rock, the wilderness area partially covering the major walls, and Acoma reservation, sport routes are strongly discouraged.

Getting There

Drive west on Interstate-40 from Albuquerque to the Hwy 117 exit four miles short of Grants. Drive south on Hwy 117 for 4 miles until past the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook turnoff. The first few miles are part of the Acoma Reservation and marked 'No Trespassing' even though much of the area is public land (National Monument and designated wilderness). As one approached the largest natural arch in the state, a sign will mark the beginning of unrestricted climbing.

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The New Mexico Climber, a newsletter produced by Mark Dalen between at least 1976-79, shows many routes in the Malpais (at least 20). The climbs are on the cliffs 12 miles south of I-40 for several miles.

Early FAs were by Dave Baltz, Dave Dahrling, Paul Horak, Mark Dalen, Charles Ware, Steven Cheney, Davey Hammack, Rick Maleski and Merle Wheeler. Apr 3, 2008
Will G
Branford, Ct
Will G   Branford, Ct
Is there any good info on bouldeing in the area? Thanks.

Will Mar 1, 2010
William Penner
The 505
William Penner   The 505
Lots of very soft sandstone all around, but the best stuff we ever found was at the picnic area on the south end of the Narrows and just opposite that on the other side of the highway. The Dakota caprock comes close to the ground here and provides some fairly enjoyable climbing. This would never be a destination area though, even for those who enjoy obscurity.

There are tons of canyons to the south and east that might be worth checking out for more Dakota.

Good luck,

W Mar 1, 2010
Charles Vernon
mind & body in Colorado, he…
Charles Vernon   mind & body in Colorado, he…
Hi, do any of you New Mexicans know anything about camping possibilities on the national forest land west of El Malpais N.M.? I.e., how's the accessibility (we'd be arriving pretty late), is it sketchy, etc? We're just looking for a place to crash quickly on the way to Albuquerque. Jul 1, 2010
La Jolla, CA
Roberto   La Jolla, CA
My wife and i found a few boulder problems that might have been FAs, but we are not sure. Can someone let us know if these have been climbed before of not. i will update the routes.

Thank you,



mountainproject.com/v/new_m… Aug 3, 2010
my sprinter
bruno-cx   my sprinter
Looks like climbing is not allowed in the national monument unless you have permit as of 2015. Not sure about the status of the conservation area. Please update the description accordingly.

Link to official order:
nps.gov/elma/learn/manageme… Nov 26, 2018