Knife Edge of the Shield

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New Mexico, United States, North America
Route Type:
Time Required:
Most of a day

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Knife Edge of the Shield
Created On: Aug 22, 2005
Last Edited On: Aug 20, 2009


Knife Edge Route
Sandia Mountains
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

In the Sandia Mountains, "W" stands for "EXPOSURE."

The exposed "W" on the Knife Edge, that is. One of the most famous climbs in the Sandia Mountains, the Knife Edge and its exposed "W" is a must do for any Albuquerque climber.

"W" Stand for "EXPOSURE" in the Sandias

PHOTO BY d_shorb


Start from Piedra Liza south trail head North to Rincon Ridge. Then West to the base of the ridge. Scramble up the ridge to the North Sandia Peak, link up with the North Crest trail and follow South to the crest.

Route Description

Stay on top of the Ridge!!!! Stay in the middle there are a lot of side trails on the Rincon ridge so always head up and stay North. It is basically a free climb, but very airy! About 200 feet from the top you will reach the crux, the "W" as it is named.

The "W" is so named because you descend steeply into a notch, over a little hump, and back up the final steep headwall. The ridge becomes very narrow at the "W" and the exposure is legendary.

Starting into the "W"

PHOTO BY Garon Coriz

Exposure in the "W"

PHOTO BY d_shorb

At the "W" you have two choices. There is an exposed class 4 "sneak" ledge on the left (as you are looking up the ridge). The direct route goes right through the "W" on the crest. Most people will want to rope up for the "W" unless you are an excellent free-climber.

The climb over and down the backside of the middle point of the "W" seems particulary frightening because it's about a 8 feet drop onto a narrow platform with massive exposure on both side. There is, however, a nice hidden ledge on the summit side of the point that makes the move infinitely easier than it first appears. (Check out the You Tube video below of crazy nuts jumping from the middle point of the "W.")

From the "W" it is two pitches to the summit ridge and the walk-off.

Essential Gear

Approach shoes are necessary because the approach and descent are long. Most people will also want a rope and a basic rack.

Cibola National Forest Closure Info

The area around the Shield is closed every year March 1 through August 15 to protect nesting Perigine Falcons. The ridge on which the Knife Edge route ascends marks the northern boundary of the closure area. The Knife Edge route is specifically noted by the Forest Service to be excluded from the closure area.

For more information:

Cibola National Forest, Sandia Ranger District

U.S. Forest Service Restrictions (includes a topo map of the closure area)


Perhaps the best descent is between the Shield and the Needle (Juan Tabo Canyon) and bushwhack down to the parking lot. During the closure period (March 1 through August 15), this descent route is closed.

Alternatively, you can hike along the Sandia Crest all the way over to the La Luz trail and descend on the trail.

If you are really lazy, you can hike along the crest to the Tramway and descend via cable car. You will need to set shuttle so that you can get back to the Piedra Liza trailhead.

External Links

Here are some links to other photos of the Knife Edge:

Looking down at the "W"

Looking up at the "W"

The "W" as seen in profile

The "W" and the cliff below...

Here are a couple of You Tube videos of some NUT CASES who are jumping from the center point of the "W" to a small ledge:

Another You Tube video of climbers going over the middle point of the "W:"

Administrative Remarks

I do not live in Albuquerque anymore, but took over this page because the route was mis-named and the page was neglected. If you are an active Sandia climber and want to take over this page, please contact me!

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

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Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Jul 15, 2008 3:10 am - Hasn't voted

The Knife's Edge

This climb is known by the locals as "The Knife's Edge." It's actually only class 3 but the "W" is so airy with a thousand feet of exposure on both sides that it seems a lot harder. Serious psych factor.


asaking11 - Jul 15, 2009 1:41 pm - Voted 8/10

The Knife's Edge

I'm pretty sure this area is open all year long. The ridge is the border of the falcon area closure, but they still let you hike it. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong here, I don't want to get anyone the crazy huge fine for the violation.

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