Organ Needle

May 2003

By: Richard L. Carey


The Organ Mountains are an impressive range of mountains on the eastern side of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico. The range, when viewed from the west, is a classic that is often featured in New Mexico calendars. Organ Needle is the highest point of the range and is also the highest point in Dońa Ana County, a fact that made the ascent of this peak especially desirable to my friend Adam Helman. Adam was trying to complete all 33 New Mexico counties this year and Organ Needle is one of the hardest to climb.

Adam and I set off for New Mexico early May 20th and by May 2lst we were at the base of the mountain on the west side. We had checked out a BLM park, which might have served as a good starting point for the climb except that the park was closed until 8:00 a.m. and there was no camping allowed. We had made arrangements with a worker to have the gate opened early at 7:00 a.m., but after exploring the dirt roads north of the park we found a good access road where we could camp and start as early as we wanted. So we thanked the worker, but still made arrangements to check-in with him by cell phone at about 3:00 pm. to advise him of our progress.

Setting off at daybreak at 5:30 a.m. we headed up a jeep road to the abandoned Modoc Mine. Shortly the road ended and we turned left at a cairn up a good trail. This proved to be a mistake, but we didn’t realize it was the wrong route until we had gained about 1500 feet. There is a bump to the south of Organ Needle at 7778 feet that directions said we should head for. We were too far north with big canyons and cliff faces between that point and us so we headed down. Back at the cairn we saw a poorer trail that headed down and then east into the canyon so we scouted that route out and soon decided it was the correct route. But, it was too late and in the heat that was building we knew we wouldn’t have enough water so we headed back to the truck determined to try again the next day.

The next day we set off again at the same time and took the correct trail. By about 8:00 we were at the saddle north of point 7778 feet looking up at the summit area and checking the route with some photos Adam had from previous climbers. The peak had rugged, steep walls up to the top with some brushy canyons. It was somewhat similar to Picacho del Diablo in its complexity. We followed a ducked route over slabs and past a dry waterfall and then up steep slopes in the brush. Then we made a wrong turn again and followed a use trail that soon ended on ledges that looked too narrow and difficult. So backtracking we found a route across a ridge that was not obvious, but soon led up the correct canyon.

After a steep ascent we came to a saddle identified as Dark Saddle in our route descriptions. The summit was very close, we were right under it on the south side.

Descending on the use trail we found an old cement sign “Needle. Go 125 feet turn left then up” in the weeds. This was good advice and turning left we scrambled across and awkward rock rib and up to a sloping crack that was the crux move. It proved not too difficult, maybe easy class 3, and this led to easy slopes to the top. We were on top by about 11:30 and found a big ammo box register. Quite a few locals climb this peak and not many from other states. We ate lunch, but were harassed by hordes of bugs so we soon headed down. At the sloping crack we used webbing to lower our packs. The route down was fast. We found a full liter water bottle by the 7778 saddle, which we consumed. It helped a lot in the intense heat at the bottom. Temperatures were in the upper 90’s back at the truck at 3:30 p.m. and rather than sit around in the heat we found a cheap motel in town and celebrated our ascent. Below are more detailed driving and climbing directions. I suggest a cooler time of year, but not too near winter months since rain or snow would not be good on this peak. In the driving and climbing directions below there are reference to GPS waypoints in parenthesis. A GPS file is available at: Another trip report by Adam is on his web page at: Click on the New Mexico map and look for his report on Dońa Ana County.

Driving Directions:
From Interstate 25 in Las Cruces exit on University Ave. and go east. The road turns into Dripping Springs Road on goes on the north side of the hill with the “A” on it. At 4.9 miles go straight at a junction with Soledad Canyon Road (ORG1). At 6.1 miles cross a cattle guard (ORG2). At 7.9 miles turn left onto Baylor Road, which is graded dirt. At 9.3 miles turn right onto a narrow dirt road heading east. At 9.6 miles go right at a junction and at 9.9 miles the road gets worse and four-wheel drive may be needed. A small, cleared campsite is at 10.2 miles (ORG3). We hiked from here, some drivers may push on, but the road gets very rocky and slow.

Climbing Directions:
Start from the camp area and in about 1/3 of a mile there is an unlocked green gate at waypoint ORG4. Follow the old road and at ORG5 go right on a narrow, steep ATV shortcut. Past the Modoc Mine area the road drops 50 feet then goes up a steep section and ends at a high saddle with cairn (ORG7). Two trails start from here. Take the trail straight ahead that descends toward Fillmore Canyon. Waypoint ORG8 is just past a few large oaks in a side canyon. Follow the trail up a ridge and below the west rock face of P7778, a small peak. The trail reaches a saddle north of P7778, waypoint ORG9.

Stay on the trail heading north then east through some brush and over a slab below a dry waterfall (ORG 10). Then climb up steeply on the use trail. Just past ORGI I on the slopes the trail crosses a ridge leading into a canyon heading east. This ridge crossing may not be easy to see, but it is near waypoint ORG 12. The trail hugs the canyon wall in thick trees and brush and after much climbing you will top out at Dark Saddle (ORG 13) at about 8940 feet. Descend the east side about 80 feet and stay on the left side crossing an awkward rock fin (ORG 13) into a small, steep canyon coming down from the summit area to the west. Just above the rock fin is a 15 foot ledge sloping up to the right that you climb to reach easier slopes that lead to the top. The summit is waypoint ORG 15, which has an ammo box register below it. This climb of about 3800 feet takes about five to six hours for the ascent. Allow about 3 1/2 hours to return.

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