Overview:

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 033 east side (portrait)It’s June – the days are hot and the demands on your time are intense.  What’s a hiker to do? Try this short and easy scramble. The trail raises just 1000 feet in a little over two miles. You can explore a little of the country near to Las Cruces and still get back in time to set up the barbecue.

Driving Directions:

  • Enter I25 heading south for El Paso from University Drive in Las Cruces
  • After 2.3 miles merge onto I-10 East (signed for El Paso).
  • After 8.8 (more) miles take exit 151 off of I10.
  • After 0.1 miles, at the end of the exit ramp, turn left onto unsigned paved road (heading east, towards the Organ Mts). This will take you over the highway and to a stop sign for the frontage road, Las Alturas Street. Go straight across the intersection. The road heads northeast, turns to gravel after  1.4 miles, and runs along the west and north boundaries of the Dona Ana County Liquid Waste Disposal Facility. At 3.3 miles the road goes under a power line. Just past this there is an intersection. A wide and well-tended road comes in from the left  (north), while the  road you’ve been driving on continues straight  (ENE) on a narrower and less carefully graded roadbed. Continue straight on the narrow road. In “Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area” Magee says that the road can become rougher at this point and high clearance vehicles might be needed, but as of this date the family sedan managed the road easily.
  • After 4.5 miles on the unsigned road, turn right and park at the trailhead. The trailhead is at the road’s closest approach to the cluster of hills that make up the Bishops Cap outlier.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry, parked at trailhead on the north end of the approach ridge

The mighty Camry, parked at trailhead on the north end of the approach ridge

The trailhead is a gravel parking area next to a wash and immediately north of the main ridgeline for Bishops Cap/Pyramid Peak. It is made up of a short, U-shaped turn-out on the right side of the unnamed approach road. There are no amenities.

Data

  • Starting Elevation: 4400 feet
  • Ending Elevation:  5419
  • Net Elevation:  1020 feet
  • Distance:  2.2 miles one way
  • Map: USGS Bishop Cap, NM

Hike:

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 009 morning sunlight on peak (better)

Sunrise on Bishops Peak from the jeep track at the start of the hike.

The terrain is open and in some places the tread is not obvious.  The general plan is to gain the main ridgeline (running north-south) and follow it to the summits of both Pyramid Peak and Bishops Cap.  Many other approaches are also possible.

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 011 Pyramid shadow on basin floor

Shadow from the false summit, taken from the col immediately above the wash used to approach the ridge

From the trailhead, follow a jeep trail into the adjacent wash and downstream (away from the mountain) for a few feet until the road pulls up over the left bank of the wash. The road initially veers away from hills but a quarter mile from the trailhead it swings to the south and forks. Take the left hand fork back towards a small draw at the north end of the ridge.  The road enters the draw and begins to ascend on a small rib on the right side (south).  Shortly after, at 0.6 miles, it becomes a single-tread trail and, in less than 50 more yards, terminates in a col on the rib. There are good views out to the Mesilla Valley.

Cliffband above col on approach to ridge. Go right (south) to the first break in the cliffs.

Cliffband above col on approach to ridge. Go right (south) to the first break in the cliffs.

Look east to the major ridge above your head and see how the direct approach is guarded by a long cliff. Head south across country  on a climbing traverse. In 0.7  miles from the col enter a gully that has broken an opening into the cliff bands. Ascend the gully to the top of the major ridge.  If you look down on the lower reaches of this gully you will see that it cuts through successive layers of rocks. This succession of layers make it the look of an open-air amphitheater since the rock layers resemble a tier of curved benches. This can be useful – on return you will want to know where to descend from this long ridge.

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 020 rock ledges on back side of first false summit (good)

View of numerous short cliff bands on the south side of the false summit. The bulk of the rock hopping is done over these small bands.

Follow the ridge line south. At 0.9 miles arrive at a false summit with excellent views of the broad valley that separates the Organ Mountains from the Bishop’s Cap outlier. The south side of the false summit consists of many small bands of rock, easily to down-climb but with no obvious tread.  The last of the rock-hopping is marked by a pair of cairns in the col below the false summit.

View south towards Franklin Mountains

View south towards Franklin Mountains

Ascend along the now gentle ridge line, rambling over several minor prominences until attaining the summit of Pyramid Peak at 1.5 miles.  From here there are views south to the Franklin Mountains, east to the other ridgelines of the Bishops Peak outlier, and north along the front face of the Organs. However the biggest attraction from Pyramid Peak is the “wedding cake” structure of Bishops Cap, south east from the summit.

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 035 good view of swale and cliffs

The “swale” mentioned in the post is the opening in the middle cliff band that lies directly beneath the summit block

Descend southeast to the col below Bishops Cap at 2.0 miles. The mid-mountain cliff bands on Bishops Cap are broken by a broad swale. Ascend this steep swale, guarding against the rocks’ tendency to slide out from under your feet. As you near the top of the broken cliff bands, exit the swale to your right, onto a level shelf immediately above the right-hand cliff face. Above you will be another steep rock cliff, potentially a puzzle as to how to proceed. Scout the shelf to the west (towards Mesilla valley) and you will find a clear boot beaten trail that solves the puzzle. This tread brings you into a break in the cliff bands and rises to a steep grassy incline below the summit block.  At the base of the summit block the trail turns back east for just a few feet, to where a gully has been carved into the summit. Scamper up the gully. Footing in the gully is a little better to the right side, once you’ve entered.  Arrive at the summit in 2.2 miles. Descend the way you came.

Recommendations.

For folks in Las Cruces this is a great morning-away-from-home. It is more dramatic than Achenbach Canyon and not as time consuming as the Baylor Pass traverse over to Aguirre Springs. This particular Saturday-in-June eventually became quite hot, but by arriving at the trailhead at 6:00 it was possible to complete the hike under (mostly) cool temperatures. I saw no snakes, but have seen several online reviews suggesting that the terrain can rattle.

Author on Bishops Cap, Organ Mountains in background

Author on Bishops Cap, Organ Mountains in background

The first 0.6 miles on the jeep track described here is not terribly entertaining.  You can reduce the mileage and create a  wilder hiking environment by hiking the jeep track to the point where it begins turning west, away from the mountains (about 30 feet after leaving the wash). Look for a faint trail heading straight south towards the peak.  This faint trail will connect you to a very well established trail, go right. This trail rises slightly over the north end of the ridge, initially curving a little to the west then returning back east to enter the draw and reconnect with the jeep track.  The jeep track looked to be drivable for folks with high clearance vehicles and willing to negotiate entry and exit from the wash.

There are potential driving problems on the unsigned approach road. At the junction just past the power lines – where the approach road narrows – there was a bank of sand across the mouth of the narrowed road. Fortunately, other people in high clearance vehicles had packed down this sand enough that I could get past it. However, if you arrive just after a road grader has been by, you might not be as lucky. It could be handy to have a shovel in your car, if only to ensure you can escape once the hike is finished.

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