Ascent of Organ Needle on 2021-11-08

Climber: Bradley R

Date:Monday, November 8, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Organ Needle
    Location:USA-New Mexico
    Elevation:8980 ft / 2737 m

Ascent Trip Report

***$5 fee to enter the Natural Area***

How I chose this peak:
The main goal of this trip was Sierra Blanca Peak, but I had three days to fill and was looking for two other peaks to fill this solo trip. Guadalupe was the first of the two. Organ Needle had high prominence and excellent views and fit well as a loop of driving from El Paso.

I placed La Cueva Picnic Area, Las Cruces, NM 88011 into Google Maps and it took me to the trailhead. You can pay the parking fee with envelope and drop box. The natural area's hours change with daylight savings time, when I went the hours were 8AM-sunset. I'm not sure if they lock the entry gate or not...

The hike:
I arrived just before 8AM and was on the trail by 8:05AM.

In early sections of this hike I wasn't sure how far I'd go, and just told myself to not get in a hurry and enjoy it. I was pretty worn down from travel and the hikes each of the two days before. Not getting in a hurry helped me enjoy the hike.

I started on the Fillmore Trail (Called La Cueva Trail by some sources). The trail was well maintained gravel, and here, early on in the day, I saw the only other people on trail for the day, an older couple bird watching. I followed the trail, for about 0.8 miles, around La Cueva Rocks before turning left at a junction. (0.8 miles total)

After turning left in another 0.15 miles I turned right into what I believe is Fillmore Canyon. This wasn't really my intention I was just following the most obvious trail and this is where it took me. I walked about another 0.15 miles into the canyon and realized the true trail ended. Every direction but how I came in was pretty steep, I got a glance of what looked like a man-made wall (on the way out I realized it was an old dam of the spring that runs into this canyon, holding the only running water I saw during this hike.) Continuing straight ahead I climbed briefly, but steeply up use trails out of the canyon. (1.15 miles total)

Once out of the canyon I followed an unmaintained trail through a cactus and shrubby areas for the next, roughly 0.85 miles. In the area there were plenty of prickly pear, barrel cactus, and other thorny vegetation. I took care to not brush up against anything as much as I could help it. I'd strongly suggest long pants for the hike, and say it's nearly mandatory. Through this section there are a couple trail junctions with no signage for which direction takes you where. Each time (once, maybe twice) I felt I had started in the wrong direction my GPS confirmed and I was able to turn back and quickly find the correct trail. At no point did I go far from the correct trail. Also in this section, but I did not observe it, is a trail that's supposed to come in from the Modoc Mine, an alternate starting point, maybe the most common starting point in years past. The portion of the trail remained relatively easy, only gaining about 600'. (2 miles total)

Based on my research I believed around the two mile mark is when the trail would start gaining elevation more aggressively. This was true. In the next ~0.5 miles the trail gained ~1200' and reaches Juniper Saddle. The saddle is a very brief flat area, with nice views of what lies ahead and all around for that matter. It's a good place for a break. In the half mile to Juniper Saddle the trail varies a bit between loose rock and solid rock. There's some alternate trails, but they're almost always within sight of one another and eventually come back together. (2.5 miles total)

After Juniper Saddle the trail again gains elevation steeply, gaining 700' in the next third of a mile. Just after leaving the saddle I step on a large rock that I believed was seated well in the ground. It wasn't and rolled under my feet. I fell off and landed awkwardly on my feet, but managed to catch myself just in time for the rock to roll over my foot and up my shin. It hurt enough that I needed a minute to recompose, but there was happily no real injury. Again the trail splits creating a variety of options. I just remain on what seems to be the most worn option and continue uphill. It feels like an "all roads lead to Rome scenario", where all trails will lead to the Dark Canyon. I stop at a point, winded, and decide to down as much water as I can and leave my pack behind to reduce the weight. It's a good place as I'm next to a tall tree that stands out amongst all the shrub in the area. (2.8 miles total)

Soon after this stop I'm in the Dark Canyon, between the Organ Needle and the Retaining Wall. With the two spires overhead my GPS becomes lost, but the direction is clear, straight up the canyon. On the way up this felt like it took forever, gaining 400+' in 0.15 miles. Here you get wonderful views to the East of more needles and long range views. (2.95 miles total)

For the final bit you loop around the East side dropping just a bit of elevation. I went till I couldn't follow the "trail" any more then started up the rock. I knew I was in the right place because I saw a rope ladder and blue rope, this is the crux. There's a diagonal cut in the rock that I was able to climb up carefully, but confidently without assistance of the rope or ladder. From here it was a brief few steps to the top of Organ Needle. I was happy to arrive with excellent views despite overcast skies. I signed the summit register and took plenty of pictures and started back down. This last section was 0.15 miles gaining about 100' overall. (3.1 miles total)

On the return when I reached the area with the rope/ladder I was not as confident in my descent. I looked at the three options (ladder, rope, diagonal in the rock) for several minutes before choosing to start down the diagonal with the rope in my hand. In hindsight I think the rope just ended up in my way and I'd been better off focusing on the rock. I made it down without trouble though. I'm not the person to go to for rating rock, but I'd call it, although brief, class 4. From here I descended as I came up being sure to use the same trails until I reached my pack. I was happy to get to some water. From that point I continued my descent stopping at Juniper Saddle to fly my drone. Between Juniper Saddle and flatter terrain I'd have two falls, both where loose rock rolled under my feet. On the second I fell right into a Common Sotol, the teeth from its leaves embedded into my fingers hands and wrist. Most of these teeth came out easily, but I pulled out one at the hotel that night and another after flying home. Overall still much better than falling into a prickly pear or other cactus. The only real variation on the way down is I circumvented the small canyon I'd climbed up early on. Here I could see, more clearly, the man made wall and it was a dam for the small stream feeding the canyon. I reached the car just under 8 hours after leaving the trailhead. (6.1 miles total)

After the hike I stopped at the visitor's center to see if they had postcards, they did not. I asked about the dam I'd seen and they had no idea what I was talking about. I also asked for help IDing the plant I'd fallen into and was told a Yucca, I accepted that answer, but was confident it was inaccurate. Not the best source of information IMO.

Very happy I had the opportunity to complete this one. Challenging hike with wonderful views.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3588 ft / 1093 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3588 ft / 1093 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6.1 mi / 9.8 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3588 ft / 1093 m
    Distance:3.1 mi / 5 km
    Route:Fillmore Trail>Organ Needle Trail
    Start Trailhead:Fillmore Trail  5392 ft / 1643 m
    Time:4 Hours 19 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3588 ft / 1093 m
    Distance:3 mi / 4.8 km
    Route:Organ Needle Trail>Fillmore Trail
    End Trailhead:Fillmore Trail  5392 ft / 1643 m
    Time:3 Hours 38 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Bradley R
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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