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Capulin Canyon Rock Climbing 

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Elevation: 7,362'
Location: 35.77476, -106.37764 View Map  Incorrect?
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Administrators: Aaron Hobson, Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide)
Submitted By: Josh Smith on Oct 26, 2013
You & This Area
Best climbs for YOU in this area
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Claudia jamming through the crux. December 2012.

This is a wilderness area that adjoins Bandelier National Monument. MORE INFO >>>


Capulin canyon in the Dome Wilderness has crack climbing on cliffs up to 200 feet tall. The rock is a relatively high quality welded tuff that lends itself well to gear placements.

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.

Getting There 

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.

Climbing Season

Weather station 5.9 miles from here

149 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',35],['3 Stars',52],['2 Stars',40],['1 Star',17],['Bomb',2]

Classic Climbing Routes in Capulin Canyon

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for Capulin Canyon:
Zozobra   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   Upper Wall
The Viking   5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 85'   Capulin Tower Area
Jack and the Beanstalk   5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 170'   Hall of Giants
Eternal Optimist   5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   Upper Wall
Frisky Widow   5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   Main Cliff
The Trojan   5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   Upper Wall
Tuning Fork   5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c     Trad, 62'   The Hinterlands
Hellbender   5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 150'   Main Cliff
Juliet   5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 65'   Capulet Side Canyon
Buck Up   5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a     Trad, 2 pitches, 165'   Upper Wall
History Lesson   5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 95'   Main Cliff
Loctite   5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a     Trad, 2 pitches, 190'   Main Cliff
The Holy Grail   5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 75'   Capulet Side Canyon
Capulin Classic   5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 180'   Main Cliff
Burning Man   5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 100'   Upper Wall
Anklebiter   5.12- 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 75'   Capulet Side Canyon
Tip of the Toe   5.12- 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 100'   Upper Wall
Petrichor Crack   5.12- 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a     Trad, 110'   Capulin Tower Area
Futuristic   5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b     Trad, 1 pitch, 75'   Capulet Side Canyon
Isengard   5.12+ 7c 28 IX 27 E6 6b     Trad, 1 pitch, 90'   Upper Wall
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in Capulin Canyon

Featured Route For Capulin Canyon
Rock Climbing Photo: George heads up to the fork in the road. April 201...

Tuning Fork 5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c  New Mexico : Cochiti Mesa & Surrounding ... : ... : The Hinterlands
A really cool, solid jamming route to a bouldery finish at the double "tuning fork" cracks. Scramble up the gully to get on top of the block to the left. Reach across to place a #4 camalot and pull over to the crack and a tiny horizontal edge. Big hands to steep hand jamming goes up to the fork. Take the left fork, place high gear and make moves up both cracks to some good holds and a mantle up to the anchor. ...[more]   Browse More Classics in New Mexico

Photos of Capulin Canyon Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Burning up on Burning Man. December 2012.
Burning up on Burning Man. December 2012.
Rock Climbing Photo: Look for the path going out the obvious ridge, str...
BETA PHOTO: Look for the path going out the obvious ridge, str...
Rock Climbing Photo: Capulin Canyon, NM
Capulin Canyon, NM
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking up canyon to to the Upper Wall and Capulet...
Looking up canyon to to the Upper Wall and Capulet...

Comments on Capulin Canyon Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Sep 18, 2015
By George Perkins
From: The Dungeon, NM
Oct 27, 2013
As expected, some people seem to really love this place while others really don't.
Bring 3-4 sets of cams including some wide gear, a helmet, extra water and sunblock. Tape is advised. 2 ropes is best for the Main Wall, 1 is usually enough for the shorter walls. The hike back to the car is burly.

Estimates of hiking times: 30 minutes approach, 45 minutes return. Maybe a little longer the first time. (Steep & loose. Wear real shoes. If you're put off by Sandia approaches, you won't like this either.)

We would love to hear from people who climbed here pre-2010. Only 5 lines had fixed gear or webbing, others (especially the cleaner lines that top out), we're not so sure about.
By Eric Whitbeck
Nov 4, 2013
Went and checked it out. Unlike most NM areas, this one is better than I expected. It looks a bit like the Creek, but climbs like Paradise Forks. This is certainly my favorite traditional crag in the state. It will eventually draw some crowds and the trail system is going to be an issue. If anywhere deserves some serious trail work it is this place. The routes developers have done a great job, but the trail work needed is impressive. If you dig jamming, this is the place in NM.
By Jason Halladay
From: Los Alamos, NM
Nov 12, 2013
It truly is an impressive area and I feel it's the best concentration of crack climbing in the state. Regarding the trails, that's a tough topic with no easy answers. It's a wilderness area and therefore more sensitive. The local climbers don't want to do anything to jeopardize access to the area and building new trails without the support of the forest service would do more harm than good. So for now it's just "climber's trails" following obvious ridges or gullies for minimal impact to access the bottom of the canyon.

A few folks are trying to open good communication with the FS regarding the importance of the area to the climber user group. It would be wonderful to get the opportunity to partner with the FS to establish some real trails into the canyon.
By Eric Whitbeck
Nov 12, 2013
I agree. The thing is that not building really good trails leads to more rather than less impact. Think of the trail up to Castleton Tower. Without real trails, the crowds will cause far more erosion and impact than they would with trails. I am not suggesting trail work without FS acknowledgement, but climbers are going to go to Capulin Canyon and they can either walk down a well established trail or thrash their way down a hillside. Add in the effect of the fire and the intensity of NM rain fall and you may see the trail as it is now simply disappear. Anyone, I am not blaming anyone just making a suggestion. I think what you guys have done out there is awesome and I look forward to going back.
By Jason Halladay
From: Los Alamos, NM
Nov 12, 2013
Thanks Eric. I hear you for sure. It's a bit of a rock and a hard place at the moment but hopefully something better materializes in the future.
By George Perkins
From: The Dungeon, NM
Nov 14, 2013
That's correct, "David". We were reluctant to share the area publicly in light of the Crystal Cave situation on the other side of the Jemez, and the bolt/power-drill issues in the Sandias. (Ultimately, we hope that sharing the info will help long-term access.) Hopefully, we (climbers) can avoid fucking up here.

And, we've seen no sign of archaeology at, or near, the cliffs.
By Eric Whitbeck
Nov 14, 2013
The Forest Service is certainly going to notice the increase in use in the area. It seems ridiculous to think otherwise. There were probably more than a dozen or so climbers just at Upper Wall last weekend. The bottom line is this is a superb crag for traditional climbing in NM. In terms of not sharing the area, you may not have shared it with the FS, but the in depth posting of routes, gear descriptions, and photos are certainly sharing. I am not complaining, I am as psyched on the place as anyone, but you cannot post routes on the Proj then think people are not going to go. If people are going to go, the FS is going to notice. As much as I would hate to lose the place, I can only imagine how frustrating it would be for Josh and the rest of the developers if their years of labor led to a few ascents and a closure.
By George Perkins
From: The Dungeon, NM
Nov 14, 2013
Prior to posting this area, it was discussed with Access Fund, Jemez District of the FS, and some people from NM Crag. All said that climbing here was an acceptable use of our national forest wilderness areas. Still, one can't help but be a little concerned that something could go wrong.

I'm glad the info on the area is publicly available; it's cool to see people from ABQ climbing here now. I'm hopeful that more visitation will in fact be viewed as a good thing by the FS. I'm also hopeful that sharing this area will encourage others to share the new crags they've been climbing at in NM, especially those that are high quality or offer a unique experience in the area.

As an aside, a few of us who climbed here in 2010-11 have already had to come to grips with the possibility of losing the area. It wasn't clear that, following the Las Conchas fire, that there would still be reasonable road access.
By Jason Halladay
From: Los Alamos, NM
Nov 14, 2013
The decision to post the area on MP was not taken lightly and a lot of thought and consideration went into the decision. No one thought for a moment that adding it to this site would be sharing with climbers but not with land managers. Increased traffic to the area was fully expected considering how unique and enjoyable the climbing is in the area.

Basically the entire main Capulin Canyon page text here came from a document drafted by Josh and edited by a few others that was then sent to the Jemez Ranger District personnel. One of the primary drivers for sharing information about Capulin here on MP was to emphasize the importance of the area, the history of climbing in the canyon, the fact that the area is in a wilderness area and the ethics of climbing and placing fixed anchors in wilderness. A major catalyst for sharing this information was the purported instance of a group of climbers arriving at Capulin looking to "establish sport routes [using a power drill]". An action like that could do serious harm to the reputation of climbers in the wilderness area. So it is hoped that sharing this information, and emphasizing the rules of wilderness activities, will ensure us climbers don't jeopardize access to the area.
By Eric Whitbeck
Nov 14, 2013
It seems like you guys did everything right. Hopefully the idea of powerdrilling routes is more urban legend than real although it is NM and you never know. You would have to be a pretty serious idiot to do that. Like I said originally, my only concern is the havoc that increasing crowds will wreak on the current trail system. Once people start camping there and you get large groups thrashing up and down those ridges you are going to have all sorts of erosion, rock fall, etc. Anyway, I won't belabor my point. I am just happy the place is out there. So many cracks to try to onsight! Thanks again to the developers, lets keep the place open. I am deleting all my following posts related to pointless internet drivel with trolls.
By Eric Whitbeck
Nov 15, 2013
Check Capulin out. You will dig it.
By Francisco Munoz
From: Albuquerque
Sep 12, 2014
Does anyone know if the gate at the entrance of Indian Service Road 90 is open (access to Capulin from the Cochiti pueblo)? I'm planning to drive up to Capulin from Albuquerque tomorrow and I would prefer to avoid going through Los Alamos or the Jemez. I've heard that the gate is normally open in the summer...
By William Penner
From: The 505
Sep 12, 2014
The road is open from the Albuquerque side for approaching Capulin--I drove it yesterday to get there.

I recommend a high clearance vehicle because the fire and resultant floods caused the Rio Chiquito to overflow its banks. You now have to drive up the stream for a couple hundred yards and the banks are somewhat steep with cobbles in the riverbed. A Subaru would work fine and we even used a 2WD truck earlier this summer, but I would still use caution. The rest of the road was recently graded so that is fine, albeit bumpy and loose in sections.

Temps were hot in the sun so bring lots of water.
By Francisco Munoz
From: Albuquerque
Sep 12, 2014
Thanks for the info William!
By Eric Whitbeck
Sep 18, 2014
Maybe New Mexico's best crag and unquestionably the best trad crag. Cheers to all those that cleared trails and bolted anchors. Well done.
By Josh Smith
Sep 28, 2014
Approach beta is updated as of September 2014. See the new map and only use the single approach. Once you're in the wash, look for cairns leading to the Upper Wall/Capulet at the shoulder that separates these two features. The trail up to the Main Wall was marked with cairns every twenty feet or so in June, but they may have washed out in July/August.
By William Penner
From: The 505
Sep 29, 2014
The new trail is a significant improvement over all the other access routes. Climbing in and out of the canyon is still quite an effort, but is now more straightforward.

Many thanks to everyone who developed this area. It is an excellent addition to NM climbing and serves up some sweet cracks.
By Francisco Munoz
From: Albuquerque
Oct 13, 2014
Hi everyone. I'm pretty new to NM and I just got back from my second visit to this amazing spot. I've probably climbed about 8-10 routes in Capulin and one thing that caught my attention was the way the anchors had been placed.

Why is there such a short section of bolt sticking out of the rock? In several anchors I was able to see 2 or 3 threads of the nut (see picture below).

Also, I recall years ago when I bolted a dozen of routes back in Chile that there was a minimum recommended distance between bolts that depends on the softness of the rock. Is the rock at Capulin hard enough that the bolts can be placed super close to each other?

Please don't misinterpret my post, I don't mean to be rude at all. I know the effort that goes into bolting new routes. I'm truly curious as to whether this is intentional or if it is something that the openers did not pay much attention to.
Rock Climbing Photo: Anchors
By George Perkins
From: The Dungeon, NM
Oct 13, 2014
Francisco, on which routes are the anchors "questionable"? (I had one surprise out here, pulled a glue in out with no effort). The rock at Capulin is (at best) generally softer than at most other New Mexico areas, and is sometimes really crumbly. The reason some threads are showing is likely because of (a) bumps in the wall behind so the hanger can't lie as close to the wall, or (b) bolt/sleeve not tightening down as readily, due to soft rock. It's not ideal, but bolts might sometimes be close together to use higher quality rock, or because they were hand drilled from an awkward stance. Josh, Aaron, & Jason have each bolted a few dozen sport climbs elsewhere in NM, but it's still worth double checking, especially here.

If something looks a little strange and you're not sure, consider backing up the anchor with a cam until you trust it, and please let someone know (post here, email the FAs- most can receive messages through, or tell someone who's more familiar with anchor hardware), so someone can take a look and fix if needed. If you have the experience, feel free to replace any unsafe fixed hardware. Most bolts on the main wall were there during the 2011 forest fire-- Those that I've looked at seemed ok still, but fire-caused damage to hardware or underlying rock is a possibility. If any anchors need improvement to be trustworthy, let's fix them.
By Josh Smith
Oct 14, 2014
There are a variety of bolts out there because of the learning process, but hopefully none of them are unsafe. If you see an anchor set that is, message me (or who ever did the FA) with the route name and we'll take a look and upgrade if need be.

I probably placed the ones in the picture, which means they're stainless sleeve bolts (those look like half inch). I did have some bolts delivered that had sleeves that were too long, which means that the threads didn't show as much as would be ideal, but they tightened very well in the hole and seemed perfectly solid. I fixed the the issue when I discovered it, but in a few cases that was at the top of a route, and if I felt the bolt was good I didn't necessarily re-climb and replace; hand drilling a 1/2 inch hole is a bit of a commitment (as is climbing some of the routes). But as I said, if an anchor is unsafe, we'll upgrade it. Please communicate specifics to us. We love the area and believe in it.

Also, as George said, some (most) of the routes at the main wall will not have been climbed since the fire, which did some weird stuff. Be cautious down there. Some of the anchors there are at the very top of the cliff and are in pretty soft rock.
By Eric Whitbeck
Oct 30, 2014
Superb trail work. Thanks for the hard work. The new trail is brilliant.
By Aaron Miller
From: Santa Fe, NM
Feb 11, 2015
The St Peter's Dome Road is currently closed for the Winter, to reopen in March. This is because the USFS does not want folks driving on roads while snowpacked and potentially muddy which would cause damage. The normal closures for these roads are until April, however, the SPD road opens in March due to hunting season permits. So, this leads one to question whether they could open the road even earlier for other user groups, especially on years such as this where there is little to no snow on the roads. I urge you to call the Jemez District office to let them know that climbers would like to request to access SPD road as early as possible when the roads are dry. The contact, as far as I can tell, is Jeff Harris 575-829-3535.
By Paul Davidson
May 8, 2015
A small bit of history: First person to tell me about this area I believe was Paul Horak and that would have been ~'88. He had climbed here some and kept telling me to get up there for the crack climbing.

Jean DeLataillade also mentioned the area to me, he needs to chime in on what he remembers about the area and Bertrand Gramont's activities.
This was when Cochiti Mesa and area was very active but I recall hearing about folks spending time here.

Finally, I believe John Duran spent quite a bit of time climbing here in early -mid '90s.

But no specifics that I can recall regarding actual routes.
By Jason Halladay
From: Los Alamos, NM
Jul 9, 2015
The American Alpine Journal just published an online article, written by Aaron Miller, regarding Capulin Canyon including some fantastic photos by Grindrite
By Peter Gilroy
Sep 18, 2015
Hey Guys,
Just a heads up, i had a little encounter with a rattlesnake near the base of Psycho Killer at the Upper Wall over labor day weekend.
Awesome climbing though!

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