Capulin Canyon Rock Climbing
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|Shared By:||Josh Smith on Oct 26, 2013|
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The good rock climbing in Capulin canyon begins approximately three quarters of a mile above the Bandelier boundary and extends up canyon on a single section of cliff band. See area marked in yellow on the map below. The first published reference of rock climbing in Capulin canyon is from the 1995 rock climbing atlas Rock-N-Road, by Chockstone press, which includes a single paragraph on the area. However oral history puts climbing activity in Capulin back to at least the early 1980s. Climbers who visited prior to the 2000s are encouraged to correct or add names/grades or other information.
The total number of climbers has been very low partly because of the impact the 1996 and 2011 fires, and partly because of a lack of information on climbing in the area.
History and character of climbing in the Dome Wilderness:
The 1996 Dome Wilderness fire greatly affected this area of the canyon, increasing the difficulty of access and changing its pleasant forested nature. However some level of use continued after the area re-opened following that fire. This pattern repeated with the 2011 Las Conchas fire.
Climbing in the Dome Wilderness presents many challenges. Getting to the cliffs requires hiking 700 feet to the bottom of Capulin canyon, then hiking back up to the base of the cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon. The descents/ascents are steep and rugged. This section of Capulin tends to be extremely hot in the summer, and the complete lack of trees means no shade after noon on the south facing cliffs that have good climbing. Access to the canyon is blocked for a portion of the winter due to the FR289 seasonal closure, and trailhead access requires a high clearance vehicle. The rock itself is relatively soft when compared to granite or basalt and thus requires that the climber have a fairly high level of experience.
Because the cliffs are in the Dome Wilderness, power drills are prohibited and the cliffs are not conducive to bolt protected face climbing as one finds at other climbing areas in the Jemez anyway. Again, that means that a fairly high level of experience is required to climb in the area.
The quality of the cracks themselves is what makes the climbing extraordinary. The climbing is on par in quality to what one finds in Indian Creek or around Moab. However, the Dome Wilderness cliffs will never achieve anything like the popularity of some of the Moab climbing areas because of the limited size of the cliff band, remoteness, and difficulty of approach, but at this time they offer a unique crack climbing experience in New Mexico.
Climbing in Capulin Canyon can be very rewarding but should not be taken lightly. The rock varies in softness from the bottom to the top of the cliff. Climbers should expect to encounter and be prepared to deal with loose rock on any crack in the canyon. Helmets should be worn at all times. The standard warnings about climbing being a dangerous activity apply doubly here: climb cautiously, tap anything that looks loose, and be very careful.
All anchors in this canyon were placed without the use of power drills, and the climbing in this area has been approached with the wilderness guidelines in mind. Climbers should work together to continue to ensure that everyone who visits is aware of the rules for climbing in wilderness and abides by them. About three quarters of a mile below the main Capulin cliff is the Bandelier boundary. Climbing is explicitly forbidden in Bandelier.
Those wishing to establish new climbing routes should talk to the current active climbers for lessons learned concerning hand drilling in soft rock. The vast majority of the established lines in Capulin were climbed ground up, onsite. There are no sport climbs in the canyon.
There's a nice write-up in the 2014 American Alpine Journal that's worth reading.
Capulin Canyon is in the Dome Wilderness in the Jemez Mountains. Approach from Los Alamos or Albuquerque via State Highway 4. Turn onto FS Road 289 (a.ka. Dome Road.) Take this to the Saint Peter's Dome road (signed). Drive until you can see the canyon on your left. Park at the very last tree on the road at the top of a small rise. The fire lookout should be easily visible to the south east.
NOTE: FS Road 289 is typically closed in winter, gated at its intersection with State Highway 4. The closure period fluctuates but is typically closed from January 1 to around April 15 (depending on snowpack.) Call the Jemez District ranger station (575)-829-3535 and ask them if the road, FR 289 (a.k.a. St. Peters' Dome Road) is open and when it will re-open.
Updated Sept. 2014. See the updated beta map. The marked Capulin Trail has not existed in the Wilderness since the Dome Fire in 1995. Therefore, the only access into the climbing areas is via a climber's trail.
From the parking area, head straight out the flat ridge towards the canyon. Parallel logs have been used to indicate where the trail goes on the rather trackless mesa. Look for cairns and clipped bushes that mark the start of the climber's trail into the canyon. A fairly easy descent takes you down into the canyon from the rim.
Classic Climbing Routes at Capulin Canyon
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