Type: Trad, Alpine, 280 ft, 2 pitches
FA: Gary Hicks, Mark Lewis 1986
Page Views: 2,574 total · 18/month
Shared By: Monomaniac on May 10, 2007
Admins: Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Drew Chojnowski

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Access Issue: Seasonal raptor closure for some areas in the Sandias Details


This brilliant route is the jewel of the Gemstone area, and certainly one of the best of the grade in the Sandias. Every move on this route is engaging; there are no trivial sections, and no sub-par stone. The route offers excellent protection, but you have to work for nearly every placement.

P1, 5.8++, 160 feet. Begin in the 'center' of the Gemstone East area, on a large, sloping ledge, just left of the start of Opal. With a 60m rope its possible to belay 20 feet below this ledge at the trail terminus. Start just right of the largest, and left-most, of three black streaks. Climb up over a slight bulge just above the belay ledge, then immediately work back left to a roof in a left-facing dihedral. Exit the roof on the right, then slab straight up, finding gear in intermittant cracks for 80' to another roof/bulge with a splitter crack. Surmount this fun bulge directly, place your 3" cam, then continue up an ever-steepening, left-trending ramp. The upper half of this slab is the crux of P1, and may actually be harder than any of the moves on P2. Hint: don't forget to look left! A mild runout leads to a very thin, parallel crack that gobbles up a 0 TCU. Unfortunately this pod will not fit gear and fingers at the same time. Ten feet higher a BD Angle Piton protects the crux: a tenuous traverse right on micro edges. Move onto the less-steep slab to the right, then up to the two-bolt chain anchor. Don't be put-off by this crux, as none of the moves on P2 are any harder.

P2: 5.9+, 120 feet. The money pitch. There are three possible finishes. Saphire (5.9?) downclimbs to the next dihedral to the right, and Emerald Hiway starts up Emerald City, but cuts left along a shallow, left-facing dihedral after 30 feet.

Emerald City is the best-looking option, though I haven't tried the others. Follow the obvious left-facing dihedral immediately above the belay. The moves right off the belay are a bit tricky, so beware. Continue along this dihedral as it gradually morphs into a slab with a thin, splitter crack. Generally the crack is only used for gear. The slab offers excellent thin edges, crystal nubbins and other unique features. At various times the route wanders a bit right or left of the crack, and occasionally you will be placing gear at your feet. The crack vanishes just before the end, where a few feet of easier face climbing lead to the 3 bolt chain anchor atop Revenge of the Elderly. Rap as for RotE or Opal.


Center of the Gemstome East area. See photo topo.


Gear to 3", with many nuts and RPs, and a 0 TCU or equivalent. I placed 7 nuts on P2, including 4 RPs (size 4-6). Bring several long slings for P1 to reduce rope drag on the wandering pitch.
I have a xerox of the original topo for this route, and unless I am confusing it with another route, it was called Emerald Road, with a route to the right called Saphire. The both started left of a huge hollow flake, at the high point of a gully. We did it in 4 pitches in 1986, and Brian Komen and I placed an anchor bolt at the top. The first ascent was done by Mark Gillis and Greg Rix. May 11, 2011
Anthony Stout
Albuquerque, NM
Anthony Stout   Albuquerque, NM  
Hi Brian,

Are you sure of this? If so, I can change the first ascent information and the name of the route. That would be really cool if you were able to scan in the original topo for the route! I really enjoy seeing historical information on these routes in the Sandias!

Best, Tony May 15, 2011
J. Albers
J. Albers   Colorado
I just read Brian's comment and I went and looked in my old (circa 1994) "Climber's Guide to the Lower Sandia Mountains" guide by Barry and Rita Loucks. In the book, the topo states the following route names (I will reference Mono's beta picture topo posted here on MP to help with identification).

- The route Mono has listed as 'Emerald Highway' (in yellow) is listed in my guide as 'Emerald Road 5.9 (some runout)'.
- The route on Mono's topo listed as 'Emerald City' (in blue) is listed in my guide as 'Emerald City 5.9+ extra on small pro'.
- The route on Mono's topo listed as 'Sapphire' (in green) is also listed as 'Sapphire' in my guide, but instead of breaking right from the 1st pitch belay of Emerald, my guide shows 'Sapphire' coming up sharing the start of 'Opal' (which starts just to the right of 'Emerald') and breaking left into the 'Sapphire' dihedral just before the first pitch belay of 'Opal'.

Anthony, unless you think there is a copyright issue, I can scan in the topo from my book and post it.

Brian, thanks for the post bringing this up....its always nice to hear info from original sources. Moreover, a scan of the original topo would be really cool.
Best. May 15, 2011
George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
FA info from Hill's guide:
Emerald Hiway (= Emerald Road?): Gillis-Rix, 6/85
Sapphire: Gillis-Rix, 6/85
Emerald City: Hicks-Lewis, '86
Revenge of the Elderly: Holcomb-Riley 5/87
Surf's Up: Leonard-Benyak, 5/88

Seems possible Emerald City was still unclimbed when you were on Emerald Road in '86, with that and Sapphire to its right being the only 2 established lines. (Emerald City being climbed later, sharing the 1st pitch with Emerald Road, with the 2nd pitch following a seam between the two routes)? May 15, 2011
As requested, here are scans of the original topos. I got them in July of 86, and climbed both routes that same month. I had just returned from an ascent of the Triple Direct on El Cap and was full of confidence. After climbing these 2 routes, I went up and did Warpy Moople as well. It was a good month!

I included the page on "Leonardo da Smear." It was hard as I recall, and I never did really get it, although I hang-dogged my way up once. Paul Horak and Mark Leonard made it look easy, though. I moved away before I could get good enough to really do it. Oh, well.

George may well be correct, that Emerald City goes in between the routes I know of. I have been out of the scene for a long time. I hope you enjoy the topos (and the routes!). May 21, 2011
J. Albers
J. Albers   Colorado
Great descriptions and topos Brian. Thanks for contributing. May 21, 2011
Wes Martin
Denver, CO
Wes Martin   Denver, CO
On the second pitch I went straight up and after the left facing corner petered out I headed right, towards a shiny new bolt (Sapphire?). Created some rope drag for sure, and spicy slab. The bolt was enticing - but probably better to head straight up if you already chose that way.

Also, we rappelled straight down the route to the first anchors (not RotE or Opal), 2 double rope rappels and it was no problem. Fun! Mar 26, 2017
Davito Hammack and I climbed Emerald City and Sapphire yesterday (Happy Earth Day!) for the first time in decades. We both found the thin climbing to be very heady. I used several bird beaks (thanks Davito for bringing them) and a #1 stopper on the second pitch of Emerald City; make sure you have many small wires, micro cams and a cool head. We rapped from the bolted anchor atop the second pitch back to the anchor at the top of the first pitch, and then climbed Sapphire. Even with a 70m rope, it's best to use two ropes for the rappels. Both climbs have sustained climbing that will give your calves, feet and mind a good workout, but the rock is fabulous and the views superb. Apr 23, 2018