Las Cruces Magazine

Fall/Winter 2015-16

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20 I In Our Backyard M ost Las CruCens see the organs from the valley floor—the mountains' craggy spires towering over the city. Intrepid hikers, however, climb the strenuous trail to the top for views few ever see: 360-degree panoramas for 100 miles in any direction. On a clear day, from the summit, hikers can see the glistening dunes of White Sands National Monument crest in per- fect waves of gypsum to the east. To the west, Las Cruces unfolds, and the Florida Mountains outside Deming rise 75 miles away as the crow flies. "You feel like you're on top of the world," says Edward Audi, 41, a hiker FROM ABOVE Organ Needle Hike miles. The trail up Wheeler Peak, New Mexico's highest point at 13,161 feet in el- evation, ascends 2,900 feet along its eight miles. The trail to the top of the Organs' pipes climbs 4,490 feet in four miles; it's nearly entirely uphill, without the aid of switchbacks to ease the grade. Difficult enough, but there's also this: At points in the trial, trekkers must scramble up the underdeveloped trails, using their arms and hands to gain purchase on the rocky, steep slope and primitive trail. The hike usually takes 10 hours—though John has accomplished it in as few as seven with an experienced, fit group. John recommends newcomers only attempt the hike with someone who has completed it previously. In fact, if you ask in at the Dripping Springs Natural Area visitor center, the locale of the trailhead, they'll give you John's name— as well as those of other experienced hikers—and suggest you contact him for information. Drew McPhee, 58, another of the hikers to which the staff refers, at- tests that even GPS will lead you astray on this trail—he observed one such hiker attempting, and failing, to navigate with a device this spring. John's first successful trip to the top was with a friend. (He tried it previous- ly with two Needle novice co-workers first, but fell 250 feet short of the summit because he wasn't aware of the pitch that accessed it.) Once he'd completed it, he quickly found that he wanted to share the experience with others. He's since led two hikes a year—one in April and one in October—for the past seven years. John aims for 10 to 12 participants, though his April 2015 group had 18 and he's led groups of up to 20 participants. He doesn't represent any organization, or charge or accept money to guide the hike. "It's not my intention to profit financially. I find a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment in sharing challenges with people who are likeminded," John says. At age 67, John also enjoys the personal satisfaction of proving he can complete the challenge VIEW from Tucson, Arizona, who drove in just for the climb. And you nearly are: At 9,012 feet, the Organ Needle is the highest peak in Southern New Mexico. Edward is just one of the dozens of hikers who have joined Las Crucen John Lowry on excursions to the apex. The journey is nothing short of arduous, with climbers taking it on to see the views, check it off their local bucket lists, to complete the physical challenge, or for personal growth. Even experienced hikers often describe the Organ Needle hike as the most difficult in New Mexico. La Luz Trail in Albuquerque to the crest of the Sandia Mountains climbs 3,775 feet over eight Written by Ashley M. Biggers Photography courtesy Dan Diemer and Paul Fetterhoff Facing page, from bottom to the top: A sense of camaraderie and excitement as the group poses near the trailhead at the start of the adventure. Middle, right: Brian Foote, president of the Doña Ana County Search & Rescue, starts the guided hike's ascent. Center: Drew McPhee leads hikers as they negoti- ate "The Wall" crossing. Top, right: Resting in an amphitheater-like setting at the summit, John Lowry recaps the climb. Top, left: Ron Nims celebrates his first time reach- ing the summit.

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