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Knife Edge 

YDS: Easy 5th French: 1+ Ewbanks: 3 UIAA: I ZA: 5 British: M 1c

Type:  Trad, Alpine, 900', Grade III
Original:  YDS: Easy 5th French: 1+ Ewbanks: 3 UIAA: I ZA: 5 British: M 1c [details]
FA: ?
Season: All- The Knife Edge is not included in the falcon closure.
Page Views: 19,004
Submitted By: Steven VanSickle on Aug 30, 2008

You & This Route  |  Other Opinions (57)
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The lower section of the 5th class

  • Seasonal Falcon Closure MORE INFO >>>
  • Juan Tabo Canyon is subject to annual access closures from March 1 to August 15. MORE INFO >>>

  • Description 

    The Approach is the crux for sure. The rock is good enough if your cautious. The route is an excellent solo, just make sure your damn solid at the 5.3 grade! Bringing a rope on this route would be a lot more work than its worth. Its 85% 4th class then a bit of 5.3 at the top that is really fun.


    The route is the NW Ridge of the Shield. Follow the Crest Trail north, until you see the "10 K Trail" post mark. In this clearing go to the edge of the limestone band, and start descending the gully. There are some game trails but for the most part you`ll be suffering in the brush. The prominent ridge line on your left is the route. There is a well defined trail on the ridge line that takes you up the route.


    No fixed gear

    Photos of Knife Edge Slideshow Add Photo
    Rock Climbing Photo: veiw from the knifes edge
    veiw from the knifes edge
    Rock Climbing Photo: Miles of virgin? terrain just outside Albuquerque.
    Miles of virgin? terrain just outside Albuquerque.
    Rock Climbing Photo: Such a cool feature to have in our backyard.
    Such a cool feature to have in our backyard.
    Rock Climbing Photo: A view of The Shield's southern face.
    A view of The Shield's southern face.
    Rock Climbing Photo: Randy climbing the 5th class.
    Randy climbing the 5th class.
    Rock Climbing Photo: From the top of the upper 5th class.
    BETA PHOTO: From the top of the upper 5th class.
    Rock Climbing Photo: The last 50 feet of the upper 5th class section - ...
    BETA PHOTO: The last 50 feet of the upper 5th class section - ...
    Rock Climbing Photo: Richard and Craig traversing left (north) around t...
    Richard and Craig traversing left (north) around t...
    Rock Climbing Photo: Knife-Edge from the Approach
    Knife-Edge from the Approach
    Rock Climbing Photo: The "W" from below...
    The "W" from below...
    Rock Climbing Photo: Upper section of the fifth class, and the summit
    Upper section of the fifth class, and the summit

    Comments on Knife Edge Add Comment
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    Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Jul 4, 2017
    By LeeAB Brinckerhoff
    From: ABQ, NM
    Sep 19, 2008

    I have always approached this route from below, leaving a car at the tram terminal and driving to the trail head that is on the dirt road that continues past the right turn that goes to the La Luz trailhead. I believe this approach is shorter, it is definitely all on a pretty good trail, though you do need to drive two cars and purchase a tram ticket back down.
    By mtnrobb
    Oct 8, 2008

    I agree that the best approach is from below, up the Piedra Lisa trail to the Rincon. Descending Chimney Canyon is probably the fastest hiking route unless you down-climb the Knife-Edge or do the rappels. Favorite run/scramble in the Sandias!
    By Bill Lawry
    From: New Mexico
    Aug 17, 2009
    rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

    Marc, Going down the ramp instead of Chimney Canyon sounds enticing. How is the terrain between the base of Procrastination and the highest well-defined part of the Fletcher Trail? Last year I went down the descent you suggest as far as the base of Procrastination - cool and adventurous (thanks for whoever put up the fixed rope!). This year, I've been up much of the well-defined part of the Fletcher trail until cutting off to head up to the S Route - very good trail that far. I just have not connected those two sections.
    By Orlando
    Aug 26, 2009
    rating: Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c

    Very few parties rope up for the knife edge. I'm one of them...
    A few years back a buddy and I did it in Jan. or Feb. just for fun. You generally stay on the north side of the ridge, but since it was iced up, we had to stay on the south. There's a second "crux" near the top where the ridge steepens and it's a little trickier if you have to go to the south, as we did. Anyhoo, I pulled down on a big ol' block and it was fine. Behind me, my partner did the same and he was left holding an 80lb block of granite. Just before he fell. If we hadn't been roped up, he would be dead.
    Just a cautionary tale about the Knife Edge. Have fun, be safe. But I doubt you have to keep leaving your gear behind...
    By John Kear
    From: Albuquerque, NM
    Aug 26, 2009
    rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

    Bill, the terrain from procrastination down to the good part of the fletcher trail is OK a little scrambly in places and maybe a little trashing through the bush but not bad. Someone cleared the trail fairly well 2-3 years back with saw and pruners probably in order to haul big wall gear to the base. The trail up to the base of Procrasty was great then. A party was also hard at work last winter trying to finish a new route before the closure, so the trail was probably good as of late Feb this year. Personally I'm a big fan of using the tram to get down and some sort of car shuttle like Lee mentions. Civilized.
    By Bill Lawry
    From: New Mexico
    Aug 30, 2009
    rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

    Thanks, John. Sounds like the conditions depend some on the current activity level. I'll give it a go one of these days.

    An informational note about descending the Knife Edge: Of course there are the merits of free-soloing. I have also been down this twice with folks not up for that. We hung a fully stretched-out 60 meter rope to get nearly down to The W and then another rope as a "hand line" across The W. When incorporating this into a descent of the Knife Edge, it can take several hours to get to all the way down depending of course on the experience level of individuals. Hill's guide lists the Knife Edge as 11 "pitches".
    By Reed Cundiff
    Sep 25, 2009

    Did this over Christmas vacation in 1970 or thereabouts with Leland Davis and Clay Goldberg. Decided that it really was cold when we realized that snot froze immediately on our gloves. Exciting part was that there was a herd of mountain sheep (now extinct I believe in the Sandias) ahead of us and the alpha ram was not happy. We were roped up and I was going over the only tricky part (it was full of snow) and the ram made a mock charge (and I dropped about 10 feet - I wasn't drawing to his bluff as he sure looked big). We dropped down the canyon to the south of the Needle to get back to the car. A lot of snow actually made the descent fairly easy.
    By Asa King
    From: Salt Lake City, Ut
    Oct 19, 2010
    rating: Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c

    Next time I do this, I will definitely shuttle, tram, or take the ramp down by the shield. From car up the ridge, across to La Luz, and down makes for one long day.
    By Robin
    From: Albuquerque, NM
    Apr 29, 2011

    My favorite approach is to park at the Piedra Lisa Trailhead as mentioned by Lee. Then I climb the Knife Edge, walk north to the crest house and have a yummy burger. This gets you fueled for the cruise on down La Luz. But then again I like hiking...
    By LeeAB Brinckerhoff
    From: ABQ, NM
    May 3, 2011

    The burger sounds like a good fuel for the casual walk over to the tram, that way I don't even need to carry food. Of course maybe I'm just craving american food right now.
    By Dave Wachter
    Mar 14, 2012

    I do this solo at least once a year. Can't imagine a year going by without making the pilgrimmage.
    I park at the Piedra Lisa lot and walk up the knife edge, continue up through the limestone band,then take the north crest trail to the TV towers and come down chimney canyon. There's a beautiful rest spot on top of the limestone band just before you hit the North Crest trail, another on the grassy aspen knoll as you start down (just above muralla grande and chimney canyon), and another couple at the bottom of Chimney Canyon near the base of muralla grande/Warpy Moople.
    No rope needed on the knife edge if it's not icy and you drop a few feet down the north (left) side of the ridge crest at the "W," and continue to hug the north side of the crest after the "W." If you go up the south (right) side of the "W" as described by Orlando, you'll experience the excitement of having your ass hang out over hundreds of feet of air, and if you veer off too far in that direction after the "W" you may end up having to reverse some 5.6/5.7 moves in a very scary/exposed dihedral.
    By Chet Butterworth
    From: Chattanooga
    Jan 23, 2013

    I'm driving through ABQ on my way to Moab in March and hoping to do this if it's not covered in snow. I'm from the southeast so I'm not sure what to expect. Will it be?
    By LeeAB Brinckerhoff
    From: ABQ, NM
    Jan 23, 2013

    It is likely that the route will be clear or that you will be able to climb around any snow on route with out too much difficulty. The real issue is that if you plan on going to the crest and taking the tram back down, there will be snow up there in the trees. As far as coming back down along the "approach" to the routes on the main wall, it seems as though part of that is tree covered as well before the rappels. It is hard to know though what things will be like in March at this point. The forest service might have updates on the condition of the Crest Trail, and if they say that is clear you should be good.
    By Mark Dalen
    From: Albuquerque, NM
    Mar 31, 2013

    Steven VanSickle - Intriguing approach for a top-to-top ascent of the Knife Edge. I'll have to try it some time. What I like about Piedra Lisa-Chimney Canyon though (or La Luz, or tram descent) is it gives the whole project a mountaineering feel....
    By Bill Lawry
    From: New Mexico
    Apr 4, 2013
    rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

    For that mountaineering feeling, I've come to enjoy ...

    • up Piedra Lisa trail and Rincon to the base of the Knife Edge;
    • up the Knife Edge;
    • down the SE rap route / ledge system (Photo) with its rap / hand lines /etc.;
    • down the Ramp at the base of the southerly half of The Shield;
    • and then a bit of exposed and unprotected 4th class traverse to hit the well-maintained Fletcher Trail back to the cars.
    By Mark Dalen
    From: Albuquerque, NM
    Apr 7, 2013

    Bill - your post reminds me of my first time on the Knife Edge in December 1975. Party of four roping through a rime-encrusted W to finish with a rappel & traverse to the Ramp right at sunset (that comes no later than 6 PM in winter), descending by headlamp & somehow winding up on the Movie Trail ...

    'Such is youth' - Herman Melville.

    On the plus side this does put you right back at your car. That last bit of trail/road slogging (if you didn't leave a vehicle) can get a bit tedious....
    By Swithich
    Jun 3, 2014
    rating: 4th 1 2 I 2 M 1b

    So I read a number of reports on this before I went and did the route Sunday. I have to be honest though that I didn't see any 5th class climbing. I'm not try to sandbag either, I just never felt I was in a position where I was actually climbing anything. It could be a height related thing though as I often am able to skip holds and avoid moves that others aren't. Anyway, I rated this class 4 the whole way. I thought Cabezon was harder.

    By Shirtless Mike
    From: Denver, CO
    Jun 3, 2014

    I've always thought the W section was low 5th class, or at least exposed enough to warrant 5th class, much harder / more exposed than Cabezon IMO.

    What is everyone's best car to car time for parking at the Piedra Lisa Trailhead? I've done it in 3 hrs 9 min coming down Chimney Canyon to the La Luz, and I am not a good runner. I'll bet someone with a running background could do it in around 2 hrs. Another way to do it faster might be coming down the side of the shield to the Fletcher trail as Bill mentions when it isn't closed.
    By Patrick Vernon
    From: Estes Park, CO
    Jun 3, 2014
    rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

    I have to agree with DTP, this feels like 5.4ish climbing. 3:09 car to car? thats pretty fast! I thought I was clipping along pretty well at 3:50, but I certainly wasn't running and stopped a couple times. Coming down the ramp is certainly faster than Chimney Canyon but bush-wacking through the pricker bushes is not fun at all.
    By John Kear
    From: Albuquerque, NM
    Jun 30, 2014
    rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

    So in response to the last couple of posts about car to car times on the Knife Edge. Glad DTP and PatrickV posted times, it gave me a good reason to get out and do the route again on a bit of a fitness mission. I used to use this route a bunch to train for trips to the bigger mountains. Glad we have this piece of terrain here locally to play on. So my time on Saturday 6/28 was 2:52. I think it can be done faster too, I ran about 70% of the 9.75 miles of the roundtrip. Looking forward to having another go when the mountains reopen. Thanks for the push!
    By mtnrobb
    Oct 18, 2014

    Best car-to-car down rappels - 2:17
    Best car-to-car down Chimney Canyon - 2:36 (start at La Luz TH)
    Best coming down the La Luz 2:56 (Piedra Lisa parking Lot to La Luz Parking Lot)
    Best car to car down-climbing from summit 2:58
    By Reed Cundiff
    Jan 24, 2015

    I believe that two University of New Mexico students were killed on the Shield in the 1930s
    By skelldify
    May 8, 2015
    rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b R

    Wow, just did this route for the first time today. I'm not ashamed to say we brought a 30m rope, and roped up for a bit of it. Saying that a rope would be more trouble than it's worth is misleading. All three in our party were glad to have it and a bit of gear. I think we stayed roped-in for about 3 rope-lengths from the W, which took some thoughtful gear placement. It still would have extremely sucked to fall in a few places, but the rope gave us some peace of mind.

    The cruxes aren't physically difficult, but are extremely exposed and oddly technical (downclimbing and chimneying). There is also a decent amount of loose rock, some of which is hard to avoid (including some suspicious rock at the crux!). Luckily we planned for a bit more of an undertaking than would be implied by this description.

    I'd HIGHLY recommend going with someone who knows the route, there is some very tricky routefinding.

    We parked at the Piedra Lisa TH, and took the tram down. This made for approx. 1/3 climbing, 2/3 hiking. The hiking was certainly the most physically demanding part.

    This is a great route, and an awesome adventure. I'm not trying to talk anyone out of doing it, but the comments and description are sandbagging it a bit.
    By Emmett Wynn
    From: Albuquerque
    Apr 15, 2016

    Good God this route is awesome. Best option is to hike up, climb, then hike over to the tram. There's also a shield/ramp descent that I'm investigating.

    You don't need to rope up. Just take a tiny bit of gear (I mean like 3 cams) and long slings and just give yourself some backup handholds on the sketchy parts.

    But seriously, this is such a good route! The exposure, the views, the rock.... GET ON IT. Don't be scared. It's like 5.0, you won't fall if you use your head.
    By mtnrobb
    Jul 4, 2017

    Recently linked the three big Sandia ridges together in a day - the Knife Edge, the SW Ridge of the Needle, and the NW Ridge of the Thumb. I had dreamt this up some years ago and called it the Sandia Trifecta. It is hard to believe that such incredible, high quality ridge climbs can be so logically combined in a car-to-car loop 10 minutes from home! Highly recommended!
    We parked at the La Luz Trailhead and had stashed climbing gear on the descent for the Needle. A bit of running, some aggressive linking of pitches on the Needle ( 7x70m pitches got us to the top!), and very little roped climbing on the Thumb got us done in just over 12 hours car-to-car.

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