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Routes in The Needle

East Saddle T Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c
Southwest Ridge T 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c PG13
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Type: Trad, Alpine, 1300 ft, 10 pitches, Grade IV
FA: Reed Cundiff and David Hammack, 6/27/1959
Page Views: 13,009 total · 89/month
Shared By: Christopher Marks on Nov 17, 2006
Admins: Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Drew Chojnowski

You & This Route

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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


Longest route in the Sandias. Around 1300 vertical feet of climbing after a brutal 2+ hour approach. Plan for 10-15 hours car to car depending on your speed. Take a machete for your approach.

[Pitch-by-pitch descriptions below by G.Perkins; numbers coincide with Sandia Rock but I'd recommend linking or shortening pitches as I suggest below]

P1: Beginning at the very bottom of the ridge, climb easy cracks to reach a good ledge where the arete steepens. You can also get here by climbing cracks to the right of the arete (5.6 or 5.7). It's a long pitch (150').

P2: Climb up the arete for 20' or so, step left (airy), and continue up to a large cave/alcove. Belay at the left side of this cave alcove below a finger crack. 5.7, PG13.

P3: Up finger crack escaping the left side of the alcove passing ancient ring piton on the way (5.8 PG13); then difficulty eases. With a 50m rope you'll need to stop at a ledge and set belay; with a 60m rope- you can reach all the way to a tree, and 3rd class ledges- if you link these pitches (recommended), then just move the belay to the start of the 5.7 crack on p4.

P4: (If you didn't extend P3, continue up to the tree, 5.6?). Scramble over 3rd class ledges to a notch below another steep section. Reportedly, a double rope rappel to the west lets you escape from these ledges. Sandia Rock says to continue up a short 5.7 finger crack to another tree in this pitch, but I'd recommend you stop at the notch; then combine the finger crack portion of P4 with P5. If you start at the notch at the base of the steep finger crack- you can link the upper part of P4 and most/all of P5 in a 60m pitch.

P5: Follow a bushy gully, climbing finger cracks, passing a single well-protected 5.8 move over a bulge (which I think is the hardest move on the climb). Belay on a small ledge below a low-angle right facing corner. You might find a hard-to-see piton to your right, at this belay, but don't count on finding it.

Bill Isenhower on SW Ridge shows Bill Isenhower at the desperate sandbag move previously mentioned. It can be avoided on not bad 5.7 climbing up finger cracks that pass about 8 feet to the right.

(2nd half of P4 + P5: Starting from the notch, these can be combined with a 70 meter rope with a couple meters to spare. – See notes from Bill Lawry below).

P6: Low-angle right-facing corner and continue to another tree. Short pitch, 5.5. Move belay to the notch at the base of the next steep section.

P7: A 50' steep step has two options. You can make slab moves while you hand traverse past 2 ancient ring-pitons- starting out of the notch at the left-most end; alternatively, climb an obvious arching crack in a left-facing corner with a crack for pro to the right of the piton face. 5.8 either way. I've done both. I suppose I'd recommend the left option, but both are reasonable. Belay at the end of difficult climbing.

P8: Scramble 3rd class to the start of the next steep section. Unroping is recommended. From the end of this scrambling section, you can escape on the 5th Avenue ledges to the North- no rappels required- if weather or time recommend you bail.

P9: A short 5.8 crack to a large ledge. Sandia Rock suggests you continue to the next tree, but I found belaying at the big ledge to be a good idea, since it'd create bad rope drag if you kept going. You can still reach the P10 belay from this ledge.

P10: Climb to the tree (if you haven't already done so). From this tree on the small ledge, go right following a line of large blocks. When those run out wander up roughly 25 additional meters to the large ledge with another tree on the left side. Long pitch. (5.7)

Bill Lawry notes: An obvious weakness trends up and left from the tree on the small ledge. Stay away. Near the end of the weakness waits some unprotectable loose-grained face climbing (5.9R?) - not recommended.

P11: From the right half of the large ledge, a long 5.7 pitch follows a weakness upwards, first passing a pin, then a tree, leading to an obvious stance on the arete, about 30' below the crux moves of the next pitch.

P12: Cruise up to the roof, clip fixed pins or place your own gear, traverse right out the roof. This is the crux of the route, and is really exposed, and tougher than it should be because of the 1000' you already climbed (5.8+). 10' of finger crack lead to blocky and easier ground. Keep going up following the path of least resistance until you run out of rope. Supposedly, you can avoid this lead by escaping to the left side of the ridge blocky 5.4.

A couple hundred feet of easy scrambling (you'll want the rope coiled) lead to the Needle's summit.

Descent: Hike east back to the saddle from the summit and make 1-5 rappels depending on your rope, routefinding, and willingness to 3rd class, dropping back into the loose gully you originally descended. One can also downclimb this descent (listed as 4th class, feels like 5.4), but rappelling is easier and recommended. Details are found on Needle Main Page


Very prominent on the Sandia Crest, the SW Ridge of the Needle is self-described.

In the late afternoons/early evenings, from Albuquerque, this climbs defines the sun/shade line on the Needle.


A questionable fixed pin on the third pitch and a solid one protecting the crux on the last pitch are the only fixed pieces I can remember. Bring a full rack up to 3.5 with doubles in .75-2 camalots.

5.9 or 5.10 climbers will likely be fine with smaller racks and/or be ok with simulclimbing much or all of the route.
John Kear
Albuquerque, NM
John Kear   Albuquerque, NM
This is a classic outing in the Sandias. The rock quality itself isn't exactly classic but the climb and the experience are top notch for sure. Highly recommended adventure climb. Dec 10, 2007
Albuqurque ,NM
longfeather   Albuqurque ,NM
There is a cool VAR if you start right 9ish

Long Loose worth it better after next ice age

caught a bowling ball while a a belay lucky it was slow mover Apr 13, 2008
Daniel Trugman
Los Alamos, NM
Daniel Trugman   Los Alamos, NM
Unless you do some weird intermediate pitches out of the alcove (belay stance at the top of pitch 2), the fourth pitch will have the hardest move on the climb and is a desperate sandbag at 5.8 IMO. It is, however, well protected and is the only move on the climb that I thought was harder than 5.8.

The approach really isn't that bad. The variety of moves, length of the climb, and incredible views more than make SW ridge a classic. The rock is a little dubious and it is neccessary to tread lightly and test holds. May 20, 2009
Daniel Trugman
Los Alamos, NM
Daniel Trugman   Los Alamos, NM
No problems George - old school ratings are fun! I think it might be possible to avoid that move by moving right and climbing over some dubious-looking but juggy blocks, but I didn' try it.

Notes on the approach - descend into the gully that is adjacent to the Needle (to it's south). Thrash down the ravine, passing the incredible looking Hidden Wall. Find an extremely wide looking ridge/face with an obvious cave about 250 feet up. This is the SW ridge, start near the right arete of this wall, and have fun.

Notes on the descent - find a steep, loose gully that has trees with slings around them. You will not be able to reach the bottom of the steep stuff from the first or second highest tree with a rappel off a single 60m. Either downclimb to the third tree (off to your left) or do a short rappel off the first tree to reach it. You will be able to reach a flatter area from a rappel off this tree, and a third-class downclimb will bring you to the ravine you descended on your approach. May 21, 2009
Daniel Trugman
Los Alamos, NM
Daniel Trugman   Los Alamos, NM
Bill Lawry said: "P10: An obvious weakness trends up and left from the tree on the small ledge. Stay away. Near the end of the weakness waits some unprotectable loose-grained face climbing (5.9R?) - not recommended."

We took this line. I followed it and it felt like 5.8 (R) but it looked like a terrifying lead. The mantle onto a giant block that doesn't look attached to the wall was very exciting! Best avoid is right! Jun 23, 2009
Bill Lawry
New Mexico
  5.8 PG13
Bill Lawry   New Mexico
  5.8 PG13
Daniel, My son led the P10 left-trending weakness and beyond; his partner followed with a hang or two. I then led to the end of that weakness ... and promplty down climbed back to the tree with my tail tucked between my legs - then followed the more reasonable line going rightward. Anyway, my hat is off to your and Jason's car-to-car time which was about half of ours! Bill

P.S. I deleted the route beta I posted earlier as it has been captured well enough in the description. Thanks! Jun 23, 2009
Bringing out the old man in September for a 50th anniversary ascent! Can we get a 69 year old in shape in a month? Aug 4, 2009
My son Charlie hauled me up this on 8 September 2009 as a 50th anniversary climb. Dave Hammack (79 years)had hoped to watch us do it but he had hip operation planned for following Tuesday. Charlie spent 5 weeks getting me in shape. Hadn't done the climb since 1971. I wasn't much help in route finding (he led every pitch) and we wound up in 5.8 and higher when we didn't want to and had 10 hours on the rock.Gave up on trying to find the 3rd class descent and followed cairns down rappel gully. Got off the last down climb in time to turn on headlamps (15 1/2 hours car-to-car). Sure was a lot harder and longer than I remember at 19 (1959) and 30 pounds lighter. Sep 15, 2009
Chris Wenker
Santa Fe
Chris Wenker   Santa Fe
On P7, to find the line with the fixed pins, you should start out of the notch as far climber's left as you can (stemming out over the abyss). Once you are established on the face, there is a vertically fissured weakness directly above, with the 2 pins. The top pin backs up ok w/ a small cam.
At the end of P9, for some it might be worthwhile to continue past the big ledge and end at the next tree. That would cut down on potential bad rope drag on P10, since it wanders so far right and then cuts back left. Jun 14, 2010
CaseyE Eales
  5.9 PG13
CaseyE Eales  
  5.9 PG13
Rock quality was terrible, the crux pitches where pretty fun but everything else to get to those pitches is kind of repetitive. I enjoyed how high everything feels but I don't understand why this is considered a classic.

Bottom line, huge ordeal to get up early and make the approach for low quality climbing/mountaineering. Not worth the trouble in my book.

No offense to the locals who rate it so well. May 17, 2011
Welcome to the Sandias. If you want cleaner rock then you have to climb harder routes. Try Mountain Momma and link it with a route on Muralle or another on the Torreon and you can stay on the good stuff. May 18, 2011
Sandias bite another one.
John's first comment is pretty clear as to what this climb is all about. May 18, 2011
William Penner
The 505
William Penner   The 505
Hilarious. Too bad you did not have a good time Casey.

The SW Ridge of the Needle is just something you have to do in the Sandias so you never need to go back. Like Eric said, the rock starts to improve the harder the route is. 5.10 and up are better bets for the Sandias and even then you'll still find choss.

John Groth used to say anybody could climb good rock but only good climbers could climb bad rock--a classic back-handed compliment to the value of the Sandias. Based on Casey's response evidently not everyone can appreciate choss. May 18, 2011
LeeAB Brinckerhoff   ABQ, NM  
CaseyE, the Sandias are definitely not Yosemite, but then again where else is?

Classic for length, feature and history. You will hit some bad or questionable rock on almost anything longer than a single pitch. As others have said though this can be minimized by getting on generally harder routes that climb cleaner rock. Remember that the old classics follow weaknesses in the rock while the newer routes tend to climb the best looking rock that seems climbable.

You almost have to suffer through some of the bad before you find the good, but try these:
Mountain Momma-The last pitch will have questionable rock
Little Yellow Jacket-I found route finding a not entirely straight forward but reasonable
Wizard of Air-just do the first 4 pitches and rap, possible to link with Mountain Mamma or Voodoo Child
Top Flite and Splinted and Screwed-Link both for a full day
The Promise Land-Just pull on a bolt here and there and it will be completely reasonable, wait for the fall when the closure is lifted

On all of these the harder bits are bolted. May 19, 2011
Mick S
Mick S   Utah
Texans ... welcome to the Sandias! May 19, 2011
perropirana Santibanez  
  5.8 PG13
Finally did this route, I think it's a great work out. I am heading to the bugaboos next month, so good perp for it. As far as quality, I can say it's the worst route I have done in the Sandias ( I have done many routes in the dias). I think as a whole package it was great!
We found some gear on the route contact if yours.
L. Jun 20, 2011
CaseyE Eales
  5.9 PG13
CaseyE Eales  
  5.9 PG13
Thanks for the suggestions guys, and no offense if you are in love with the route. I will be going back to the Sandias soon just not for this climb. I guess I was wrong to expect the quality to be like The Second Comming or Aviary(also classics?).


P.S. On the descent from the ridge down to the SW Ridge I noticed what looked like the most perfect splitter I have seen in the Sandias. Is this an established route? It was off to the left down a gulley, on one of those smaller features. Probably nor more than 160 feet tall. Just wondering. Jul 3, 2011
Mick S
Mick S   Utah
Most likely unclimbed. Let me know how it goes, I'm always on the lookout for clean cracks up there. Aug 1, 2011
Nick Dolecek
Denver, Colorado
Nick Dolecek   Denver, Colorado
Great route! The approach is easy, with very minimal bushwacking if you stay against the hidden wall on the way down the drainage. The rock quality on the last few pitches is grainy, and there are some bushes to contend with, but overall this is a great day out, and the belay ledges are really nice. Aug 17, 2011
Bill M
Fort Collins, CO
Bill M   Fort Collins, CO
Must not get climbed very often. Did it yesterday, on a Labor Day weekend and had the whole place to ourselves. I'm certainly going to do it again. Sep 4, 2011
Evan Belknap
Placitas, NM
Evan Belknap   Placitas, NM

A quick epic for yall. Oct 6, 2011
Just went up this route 6-7-2012. My partner and I went right-ish after the first pitch, ended up having to pull a scary (but protectable) roof to a balancy UNPROTECTABLE (for 25 feet) traverse... anyway anyone done this before? If not is should be called the Dumbasses didn't read the guide book variation.

Other tips:
1) drive up to the Crest, don't hike in from the bottom
2) this is ligitly 12 - 14 pitches
3) You can get by with a small rack (a few c3s, .3 - 3.5 and a double here and there)
4) climb fast
5) We had hiked in so didn't know the way back to the Crest very well.
a) head NORTH and east for the walk to the rap rings which are on the saddle on the north east of the needle
b) using a 70m was great here, 2 raps to the bottom
c) after 2nd rap, stay right (west) until you get to a better spot to head east
d) walk east to a decent saddle, you will find a trail
e) it gets rocky and difficult to find, keep going UP! (mostly straight east), don't drop down right or you will have to climb limestone to get back up to the trail!

Enjoy! What an epic climb, beautiful, aesthetic from afar, shity shity rock;) Jun 7, 2012
C Archibolt
Salt Lake City, UT
C Archibolt   Salt Lake City, UT
Ive spent most of my life in Utah, but have never been to New Mexico!

Would this route be more enjoyable in July or October? May 31, 2013
Mick S
Mick S   Utah
October, cooler temps, no thunderstorms. May 31, 2013
June, longer days... Jun 6, 2013
Mark Dalen
Albuquerque, NM
Mark Dalen   Albuquerque, NM
The SW Ridge is classic the same way some old movies are classic. Not as measured against sound & visual effects or acting styles today but for the leap in possibilities they represented at the time. For some the sight of the SW Ridge silhouetted against the setting sun is compelling enough to overcome the mediocre rock itself, for others that won't matter a darn. Top-to-top approach is highly recommended. Also recommend simul climbing for those inclined - huge stretches in between the first few pitches & the midway point, as well as from there to the top may be climbed quickly & hence more safely in this manner. Fall is my favorite time in the Sandias. Settled weather, temperate days & those golden aspens ... ! Mar 12, 2014
Chris Walden
Soldotna, Alaska
  5.9 PG13
Chris Walden   Soldotna, Alaska
  5.9 PG13
The approach somewhat long and has a "faint" climbers trail so be prepared for some route finding. We spent the day before our SWR attempt climbing Estrellita (5.8) and Miss Piggy (5.8) to get a feel for 5.8's in the Sandias. Overall felt a few of the pitches were harder than the 5.8's we did the previous day.

Climbing notes:
  • Bring lots of water
  • Plan to clean out some cactus & brush in the cracks
  • There is a bailout spot before pitch 7 on the east face. Rapping down ~4 times on trees
  • Beware of chossy rock
  • Recommend camping the night before right before you drop down into the crest. This will shave off 45 min on the approach and provide closer refuge on the descent
  • Get your alpine start on this is a long climb
Sep 10, 2014
Dad seems strong still. Only 4 more years and I can drag him up for the 60th!! Jan 23, 2015
Aaron Miller
Albuquerque, NM
  5.8 PG13
Aaron Miller   Albuquerque, NM
  5.8 PG13
A truly earned summit in the Sandias with excellent views. My friend Chase and I finished it yesterday in about 13 hrs car-to-car, starting about an hour or so after sunrise and returning during the sunset. Removed the old sun-baked rope slung to a boulder at the bottom of the P4 finger crack. We brought a single 70m and were able to link up P5 and P6 when belaying from the bottom of the bushy gully with a little rope to spare. Chase accidentally led up the 5.9R portion Bill mentioned on P10, definitely not recommended, but we felt it more 5.8+R with a TON of rope drag, poor pro, and pendulum potential over super airy moves. On the rappel off the summit, we added a loop of webbing and a ring to a tree about 35-40m below what seemed to be a 60m double rope rap anchor (second from the top). May 20, 2018
Casey Gierke  
We went up the SW ridge on May 26th, 2018 and I dropped a green, 0.75 Black Diamond Camalot on the 3rd pitch. It should be just laying there at the belay ledge. It did take a pretty good fall, probably about 40 or 50 ft but I think that it didn't suffer too much impact and mostly landed in what I recall to be fairly loose gravel at the belay ledge. I would appreciate if the finder were to contact me and return the cam but if not, inspect it and climb at your own risk knowing that it did take that fall. May 28, 2018
Davito Hammack and I climbed this classic yesterday, 59 years after David Hammack and Reed Cundiff did the first ascent. By climbing smoothly, strategically, and safely, we were able to do car to car in 11:55; the climb itself took us 7:33. Using a 70m rope allowed us to do it in 10 pitches, the last of which was basically 4th class. This is a climb that will test your mountain skills, from the approach, to dealing with loose rock, to route finding. Expect a long day and take it seriously. The loose grainy rock on much of this route makes for insecure footing. But, it is a great route and good training for the great granite ranges...just give it the respect that it deserves. May 28, 2018
George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
I wrote the above pitch-by-pitch description and had it added to this page ~12 years ago, based on memory and notes annotating my topo from 2 ascents 14 & 15 years ago. At that time MP in New Mexico was still young, and this page had only a terse few sentence description and I felt my notes had some usefulness over the info in the book on its own (in particular, my main motivation was that I felt the book didn't find the best belay breakdown with respect to the 3rd cl. scramble sections at notches)-- but even then, the climb wasn't fresh in my mind, so I may have missed some things. Looks like a few points got added to it in the interim as well.

Climbed it again (still enjoyable!-- for those with a mountain-climbing mindset)-- and I now feel an OCD-type person that takes their time on the route (i.e., doesn't simulclimb, rush, and run pitches together like we did yesterday) could edit & update it to really make it much better and more user-friendly for other 5.8/5.9 parties that'll be on the route all day. (A few of the other comments suggest a lack of clarity or some confusion.) Please contact an admin if interested and recently familiar with the climb.

I apologize for losing my socks at the top of pitch 7, it made the hike out suck more. Oct 1, 2018

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