Cerro Pedernal from the West
During a trip to the Taos region of New Mexico, I was looking for an interesting climb that would expose us to the high desert area a little more. Rather than doing the popular Wheeler Peak, New Mexico's highest point, I remembered a mountain in the area that looked interesting that I had seen on Gerry Roach's website. I looked it up again, found out that it was less than 2 hours of driving, and decided to go for it.
Using Gerry's road directions, we soon found ourselves inside the Santa Fe National Forest. The drive in was beautiful and remote. We passed Albiquiu Reservoir, high buttes, green flood plains, and red desert sandstone.
The turn to the trailhead was not signed, nor was the mileage from Gerry's website correct (at least for my car). Just to be sure, I decided to drive a portion of the 4WD road toward the mountain to the first landmark mentioned. One mile in, I found a sharp turn that Gerry referred to. Fairly sure that I was on track, I parked on a closed road and we began hiking.
The remainder of the road was lined with Pinons, and the beautiful forest soon gave way to a high meadow with great vantages of Cerro Pedernal. From a distance, it looks like the cliff band is impenetrable. From this vantage point, we could see the large cave in the southern face of Pedernal. This cave would be the landmark we would use to find the crux weakness in the cliffs.
Using Gerry's directions, we made a beeline straight for the cave. We found portions of a use trail in the forested, steep slopes heading this way, and tried to follow it. This slope was very, very dusty and loose, with ball-bearing sized volcanic rubble all over it. It made for slow going - one step forward, slide two steps back. Exhausted and dusty, we found ourselves below the cliffs.
I had lost track of the location of the cave while we were in the trees, so we followed the trail along the bottom of the cliffs to locate it. Heading East, I didn't find the cave, but I did luckily spot the crux, marked with a large, painted arrow. The crux looked a little stiffer than Gerry's Class 3 rating, and I felt it was more of a 4. It was really short, however.
I climbed it first. My wife, who has a bad fear of heights, had a lot of trouble following me. I downclimbed and pulled her up. Once above the crux, we followed an exit ramp with some exposure to another trail. The trail led through the upper cliffs to the ridge above.
Once on top of the ridge, we climbed 200 yards to the high point, and were greeted with amazing vantages. We could see Culebra Peak in Colorado, the ranges around Durango, the Wheeler group near Taos, and lots of high desert scenery that took our breath away. It was one of the most diverse panoramas I've ever seen on a mountain summit.
Beautiful desert scenery from the summit of Cerro Pedernal
Getting down was easier. We got down to the crux quickly and I downclimbed it first. My wife was really freaked out going down, and I had to climb back up to guide her feet down. Luckily, the crux was short! Once she made it down, we noticed another trail heading more westerly from the cliffs. We wanted a better option than the way we came up, so we took it and found it much better. Back on the road, we hiked back to our car.
All in all, I was really glad that we took a chance on this obscure peak. Big thanks to Gerry Roach for inspiring me with his website. This one really is a "classic."