While the likes of Utah, Colorado, and Yosemite steal the climbing scene in the US, new climbing spots are developing somewhat under the radar and are well worthy of our battered fingers. New Mexico is quietly establishing itself as an underrated trad, sport, and alpine climbing, and bouldering destination, across a multitude of different rock surfaces including basalt, granite, sandstone, and limestone.
Furthermore, where the focus is on climbing elsewhere, climbers in New Mexico can savor the delicious remoteness and enjoy some peace and quiet away from overcrowded crags. So, without further delay, welcome to our ultimate guide to rock climbing in New Mexico.
Intro to Climbing in New Mexico
Where Is New Mexico
New Mexico is a 315,000 square kilometer state in the South of the US, just to the West of Texas and East of Arizona, and sharing part of its Southern border with the country of “Old” Mexico. Sandwiched between the vast plains of Texas and the Southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, the largely dry and rocky landscape provides some excellent opportunities for cave lovers, rock lovers and pebble huggers, hence the development of rock climbing and bouldering in New Mexico.
General introduction to the New Mexico Rock Climbing scene
As New Mexico is an entire state spanning a wide variety of terrain, the type of rock and type of climbing varies dramatically. Aside from Deep Water Soloing, climbers of every discipline and background will find plenty to do on the limestone, granite, basalt, and sandstone surfaces.
For a long time, the climbing scene in New Mexico has been developing a little beneath the surface and away from the eyes of mainstream media. Now a popular bouldering spot, the world-class sandstone blocks at Roy were, up until recently, only spoken about by word of mouth, and still to this day there is little public information about the routes, aside from a book published in 2016. As the spotlight shines on Yosemite and climbing becomes more popular worldwide, many are looking to escape the crowded crags, and destinations such as New Mexico are luring nature and adventure lovers and those looking for something new to climb across the state borders.
Furthermore, warm and predictable weather, particularly in the center and south of the state, provides excellent conditions for climbing all year round. Bouldering and climbing crags are mostly located close to established cities, and so food and accommodation are never too much of a problem, providing you have a car to travel between destinations.
A brief history of climbing in New Mexico
While, as aforementioned, the climbing scene is still developing away from the eyes of mainstream media, there is a long history of climbing in New Mexico. The first recorded ascent in New Mexico found to date was a climb in the Organ Mountains, back in 1904.
In 1939, the first climb in the US to use expansion bolts for protection was the first ascent of Shiprock by David Brower, Raffi Bedayn, Bestor Robinson, and John Dyer, in San Juan County. There are multiple records of bold climbers in the Sandia Mountains throughout the 30s and 40s making ascents of stunning lines such as the Knife Edge and The Needle.
Bouldering started sometime around the 60s, although initially as a way to practice difficult crux moves close to the ground before committing to longer trad climbs in the Sandia Mountains. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Bouldering developed into a climbing style of its own and continues to grow as a popular discipline.
Around the 80s, sport climbing arrived in New Mexico, and towards the end of the decade, many of the shorter pre-existing trad routes were re-bolted and established as sport lines.
Types of Rock Climbing at New Mexico
As New Mexico covers such a vast area of varied landscapes, including a small portion of the Rocky Mountains, there are many different types of climbing on offer to those eager to get their fingers chalky. The main overall focus does tend to be on sports and trad climbing, although multi-pitching and alpine climbing are also possible.
The trad climbing in New Mexico tends to go hand in hand with multi-pitching and alpine routes, although there are several single pitch trad routes, particularly around the Albuquerque region. The trad climbing tends to be relatively easy and very approachable for beginners who are looking to try a new form of climbing or just to get started.
Sport climbing is considered the most popular climbing discipline in New Mexico. Almost all areas, including around Albuquerque, the Jemez Mountains, & Taos, include some form of sport climbing on a multitude of different rock surfaces. Sports climbing routes tend to be on the easier end of the climbing scale, with most being between 5.8 and 5.12 on the Yosemite Decimal system. Furthermore, as there are so many crags covering a plethora of different terrains and rock surfaces, there are routes of all styles, from technical slabs to powerful pumpy overhangs.
Particularly in the North and the center of the state, bouldering in New Mexico is becoming ever more popular. Conditions in the South are generally considered a little too warm for the discipline. Roy and Box Canyon are both extremely popular destinations for bouldering, however finding information can be a little difficult, as it is rarely documented and instead spread by word of mouth.
Many of the classic multi-pitch climbs in New Mexico could also be labeled as trad and/or alpine routes. These are largely located in the North of the state in the Rocky Mountains, but there are many multi-pitch routes located elsewhere. Most multi-pitch routes consist of two or three pitches, although a few longer hauls include Excitable Boys, a daring 5.9+ 7 pitch alpine route in the Albuquerque area, not so far from Warpy Moople which has a similar grade and height.
Best Climbing Crags in New Mexico
Naturally, your preferred type of climbing should dictate which climbing areas you choose to visit. While many areas in New Mexico offer a bit of everything, each space specializes in a style of climbing. Check out the following places below.
1. Box Canyon
The Box Recreation area is a little South of Albuquerque, just outside of the historic town of Socorro, and a fantastic destination for boulderers to visit. The climbing is on volcanic Rhyolite, and the routes are documented in detail, albeit largely online. The area is also home to some moderate sports climbing, and is fairly popular amongst hikers. Box Canyon is just outside of Albuquerque, and so there is plenty of accommodation and culinary options available close by.
Roy is a vast and remote sandstone climbing area, particularly popular amongst the bouldering community but still sitting relatively under the radar. Bouldering in Roy is ubiquitous, although not well documented, and the best way to learn about and experience the area is by word of mouth of the locals. Roy is very remote, but there are a couple of established campsites in the area, and it is quite normal to wild camp at the trail heads as you will see many others doing in the area. There are also a couple of sports and trad routes in the area, although Roy is predominantly a bouldering crag.
When visiting Roy, be sure to do so respectfully. Currently the bouldering community and the local landowners and forestry commission are existing in harmony, but as has been seen in other climbing communities, it doesn’t take much to upset this balance. Clean up after yourself, drive carefully, close the gates behind you, and be mindful of others using the area.
3. Santa Fe/Albuquerque
Eager sport climbers flock to the rural areas around the two large cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The area is again, quite large, and so a variety of rock types and route styles can be found including limestone and granite, both slab and overhanging. The majority of routes are between 5.10 and 5.12 in difficulty, making it an ideal location for moderately skilled climbers to experience routes of all styles. Particularly the Albuquerque area is also a fantastic place for Trad and Alpine climbing in the Sandia Park and Chimney Canyon just to the South of the city. Most of the crags are accessible as a day trip from either one of the cities if you have your own means of transport.
Best Climbing Routes in New Mexico
- Pressure Drop (Bouldering V2) – Box Climbing Areas – an easy but popular boulder problem with a sit start and small but dependable holds
- North Face of Sugarloaf (Multi-pitch, Trad, grade III) – An impressive 9 pitch ascent of difficult to protect slabs, complete with unrivaled views of the Organ Mountains
- Rode Hard (Sports 5.11c) – Albuquerque area – a pumpy sports climb that ascends over 35 feet of three imposing connected roofs
- Extra Cheese (Sports 5.11c/d) – Albuquerque Area – a 50-foot ascent that largely follows a fine finger crack.
- Slab City – (Sports 5.13b) – Albuquerque Area – a difficult slab problem with intricate finger work, first ascended by Lance Hadfield
Average Climbing Grades in New Mexico
As New Mexico is a huge area with a plethora of different styles of climbing, climbers of all abilities will find plenty to keep themselves occupied with. With that in mind, it is worth noting that most of the climbing falls on the easier side of the Yosemite decimal scale, with a plethora of routes in the 5.6 to 5.12 range, and fewer routes pushing the upper boundaries of the grading system.
Best time of the year to climb in New Mexico
While the majority of the state offers all year round climbing under warm and dry conditions, those venturing into the mountains in the North should be aware that climbing at altitudes as high as 2400m is best in warmer conditions, which can be found between the months of May and October every year. Outside of the mountains, climbers can enjoy warm and dry weather all year round, with mild winters, hot and dry summers, and cool evenings.
New Mexico is a much quieter place to climb than other places in the US, and crags are likely to be quiet as a result of the States’ low key status. The cheapest time to visit and when hotels and hostels are likely to offer the cheapest rates is around Spring, however, this is the one time of the year that the weather is slightly less stable.
How do I access these key climbing spots in New Mexico?
By far the easiest way to access the majority of New Mexico rock climbing spaces is by car, due to the remote locations and long distances. Most of the state is well connected by highways, and traversing the vast terrain between cities and points of interest is fairly quick, at least by US standards. Most climbing areas and natural parks have dedicated parking spots that are just a short hike away from the base of the crag but do be sure to have some sturdy approach shoes to help you traverse the rocky terrain.
Those relying on public transport may find it a little difficult to get close to the crags without a long hike. With that in mind, multiple dedicated climbing tour groups, such as Suntoucher.com and Beverly Mountain Guides, can help to transport you to and from the climbing locations, as well as providing helpful instructions to further enrich your New Mexico climbing experience.
Types of Accommodation near the Climbing Spots
While there are campsites around, those climbing around the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas would most likely find it easiest to stay in a guesthouse or hotel in the nearby cities. Not only would you be in fairly close proximity to the crags, but also surrounded by restaurants and bars, in which you can wrap your battered fingers around a soothingly cold beer after a long day of torturing them. Both cities provide multiple options for guesthouses, Air BnBs, hotels and hostels.
Those eager to be bouldering in Roy should pack their camping gear. There 2 established camping sites, both of which tend to fill up quite quickly as bouldering becomes more popular and the once unheard of Roy starts to transform into a household name. The Mills Canyon Rim Campground is the most popular and features very basic amenities. Some people also wild camp around the trailheads. Be fully self-sufficient; pack enough water and food and be aware that there is very limited cellphone reception in the area, and that you are essentially on your own in the backcountry.
Around the Box Canyon, there are several established campsites and RV parks, five of which are less than 15km away from the canyon itself. It is considerably less remote than Roy, for example, however, most climbers still choose to camp rather than find a guesthouse.
Most Popular Climbing Gyms in New Mexico
With warm and dry weather blessing the state for the majority of the year, indoor climbing may not seem like an obvious activity to partake in, but New Mexico certainly has its share of excellent indoor climbing spaces. For those days of bad weather, why not check out the following climbing gyms:
- Stone Age Climbing (Albuquerque x2) – two large gyms located in the Mid-town and North of the city, that both include bouldering and rope climbing, as well dedicated yoga spaces and classes
- Boulder Lab (Albuquerque) – a large and open bouldering hall in Albuquerque
- Santa Fe Climbing Centre (Santa Fe) – includes both rope climbing and indoor bouldering
- Clovis Rock Gym (Clovis) – a small but highly rated bouldering gym, dedicated to enriching the local community
What else to do in New Mexico
New Mexico is a great place to explore a multitude of activities on your rest days or as an alternative to climbing. For adventure lovers, the vast remote landscapes and beautiful national parks like Carlsbad are fantastic for hiking, mountain biking and even caving at Cenotes. Santa Fe, the capital, is well known for its artistic and creative community, recognized by UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Its also a great honeymoon destination with some really romantic places to check out.
Below, we have answered some frequently asked questions about rock climbing in New Mexico.
Is there a New Mexico Climbing Guidebook?
Is there a New Mexico Climbing Guidebook?
Which are the most known climbing gyms in New Mexico?
New Mexico is a huge area that encompasses several major cities, and as the popularity of climbing grows globally, new climbing centers are popping up all across the state. Those eager to get their fingers on plastic could start with the two Stone Age Climbing centers and the Boulder Lab in Albuquerque, and the Santa Fe Climbing Centre located in the capital.
Which is the best climbing spot in New Mexico?
Such a big question is difficult to answer in a short sentence, however, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Tao, Roy, & Los Alamos are extremely popular as well as varied, and will provide climbers of all difficulties with more routes than they can complete in a lifetime.