This is a strenuous scramble. It averages just under 1000 feet of gain per mile, which some may see as a mild challenge. Attentive map readers will observe that very little of that gain comes at the beginning of the hike. Consequently, the end game is an exercise in geologic “shock and awe”. In close company with cacti, ocotillo and sotol, scramblers find themselves kicking steps into a scree surface over steep terrain. Falling is an option, but a tumble or two in such prickly quarters is not going to improve morale. The rewards come in the last quarter mile. Having gained good footing on the ridge top, you’ll find precipitous views north into the basaltic wonderland surrounding Baldy and Organ Peak and long views south across the Organ Mountains all the way to Bishops Cap.
This route is not for beginners. On USGS maps Shark’s Tooth is identified only with an altitude label, “point 7974”.
- On East University Avenue, in Las Cruces, head east and reset your mileage meter at the traffic light for the on-ramp to I-25 South. Continue east on University Avenue. (Don’t get on I-25).
- After 4.9 miles on East University Avenue turn right onto Soledad Canyon Road. (University Avenue is renamed to Dripping Springs Road after just 1.3 miles, but the transition is not well signed).
- After 0.6 miles make a left turn. The new road is still known as Soledad Canyon Road.
- After 4.2 more miles, at the end of the road, park in the Soledad Canyon parking area (gravel).
The trailhead is a gravel parking area with a trash receptacle and a map board. There is no water (although there is a functioning windmill nearby). The trailhead is close to town and (unlike Dripping Springs) free of charge. It is popular with photographers, dog walkers, birders and mountain runners. The parking area was not packed on this date, but there may be days when an early arrival would be advisable.
- Starting Elevation: 5600 feet
- Ending Elevation: 7980
- Elevation Gain: 2380
- Distance: 2.5 miles one way
- Maps: USGS Organ Peak, NM quadrangle
From the trailhead ascend uphill into the canyon on the Soledad Trail. The trail is a well maintained and much-used, so navigation is generally obvious. There is a large side-canyon coming in from the northeast called Bar Canyon, which leads to a popular waterfall. You want to remain in Soledad Canyon. Arrive at a fork for Bar Canyon at 0.2 miles, at a junction where the Soledad Trail leaves the tread to the right. Go right onto the trail and continue ascending. The trail crosses a wash at several places and the wash is so open that it is tempting to ascend it.
If you do find yourself hiking in the wash, don’t worry. You are going in the right general direction. Just look for the next trail crossing to regain the Soledad Trail. If you find yourself in a short and rock-walled canyon that is blocked at the uphill end, then you have gone a little too far. Turn back to where the rock walls begin and leave the wash on the steep, gravelly north bank to regain the trail. You should be near a rocky ridge (shown above) with a volcanic throat called Chimney Rock. You will be ascending Shark’s Tooth along the far side of this ridge.
The Soledad Trail terminates at a stout metal fence 1.2 miles from the trailhead. Turn left (north) and ascend a climbers tread that follows the fence line. At the top of the first knoll look north towards Shark’s Tooth. In the adjacent photo Chimney rock is on the left and the summit of Shark’s Tooth is in the middle. The peak’s shoulder runs down towards Chimney Rock. At the apparent intersection look for a whitish rock rock face on the shoulder (rather small in this photo). The route described here takes you across the intervening grassy valley to the flanks of the mountain. Then it ascends a steep sided bowl towards this whitish rock face. (Here referred to as “the target rock”). Also, look at the lower right corner of the photo. There you will see an area of bare rock where flowing water has scrubbed away soil and vegetion. The easiest way into the valley is to descend from the knoll to the top of this scrubbed rock (as opposed to staying along the ridge to get to Chimney rock). From the scrubbed area move out into the valley, crossing three small arroyos, and ascend toward the target rock on the mountain’s shoulder.
The valley floor rises towards Shark’s Tooth and offers several possibilities for ascent. Look for a bowl below the ridge line west of the summit. In the photo on the left, the west side of a bowl is defined by a large, blocky rock rib (coming in from the left edge of the photo). The east side of the bowl is defined by the pale cliff face that descends from the summit and arrows into the basin, forming an arête between the bowl on the left and the mountain’s front face on the right. But how do you enter this bowl? Study that blocky lefthand rib and you’ll see that its foot is shrouded in dense green vegetation. Presumably, that’s awkward terrain for travel. (It may help to double-click the photo to see it enlarged). But to the right of that green mass you will see a bit of pale rock that provides you an easy entrance. Ascend the valley and enter the bowl.
The entrance to the bowl, about 1.9 miles from the trailhead, is a great place to stop for a drink and take on some nourishment. The route is about to get a wee bit steep. In the doubtful shade of a huge, all-but-dead aligator juniper, crane your neck and study the terrain above you. The low point is a col just uphill of the blocky western rib. It is tempting to go that way, since it looks as if the remaining ascent along the ridge would be easy. Previous experience, however, indicates that you also want to study the intervening vegetation. It can be ugly. Here, turn your attention to the arête on the east side (right, looking up hill). Its edge also has heavy vegetation, but a short distance away from the arête is open, grassy and steep terrain.
From the bowl’s entrance, battle uphill on a rising traverse towards the grassy area. The first hundred yards are especially plagued with dense growth. The rubbly nature of this slope becomes very apparent. Rivlets of scree erupt from the soil. Ascending this rubble is a thigh burning matter of pushing upwards and sliding backwards. Side-hilling (that is, making your own small switchbacks) can reduce the slippage. As you near the shoulder the slope eases slightly and a number of juniper trees help to stabilize the terrain. Here and there you may also find animal trails. The stabilized soil on these trails is a real asset. As you approach the shoulder pull east (to the right) of the target rock.
On descent it can be difficult to know where to leave the shoulder. So, when you arrive, commit that ridge site to memory. But do not wait long to look over the ridge to the phantasmagoria that is the southern Organ Mountains. Rock walls soar and canyons plunge in ways that would give fighter pilots reason to pause. A prominence to the north has some similarity to Baldy Peak, but most likely it is the huge buttress that descends towards the west from Baldy’s true summit.
Having hiked about 2.2 miles from the trailhead, turn east and ascend the firm terrain on the ridge top. In places the ridge broadens out and is forested – make note of your path for the sake of an untroubled return. Arrive at the summit having hiked a mere 2.5 miles. Look south to Bishops Cap, west into the Tularosa Basin and north over the dark rock of the southern Organs to Organ Needle and the pale granite mass of the northern Organ Spires. In the west find Las Cruces, Picacho Peak, the distant horn of Cooke’s Peak and (on the faintest horizon) the bumps that are South and North Florida Peaks. Return the way you came.
As mentioned at the start, this is a strenuous scramble. It’s only five miles round trip, but the stress of ascending steep, wild and prickly terrain on mushy footing is very real. A beginner who is about college-age, adventurous and very fit could do this hike and enjoy it. Most beginners will be a thousand-fold happier on the trail up to Baylor Pass or hiking the Pine Tree Trail at Aguirre Springs.
There is little to no shade on this south-facing trail. Place this on your “cold season only” list of hikes.
Do put this on your list of hikes. The Organ Mountains have few places with as much reward per mile.
There currently is no protection for the summit register – we found it lying on the grass. Rain has already washed the old names out of the register. If you’re doing this scramble, consider bringing something waterproof to hold this notebook. The register is about 10-inches long and 7-inches wide, but it could curl. Please leave a comment here so other’s know.
On a windy and sometimes chilly November day I barely touched my water – drinking about a liter. Bring more, of course. There are going to be warm days when 5 liters isn’t enough.
The basis for this report was a hike organized by the Jornada Hiking Club. Many thanks to Steven K. for leading this scramble and getting us out into the mountains.
Ryan Conklin has video posts from ascents in 2014 and 2013. Both videos show summit views from Shark’s Tooth (which he also names as Butler Peak). He identifies several mountains in the interior of the Organ Mountains that look very challenging. In addition, his “Appalachian Ink Trail” website has an entry describing his 2014 ascent. (That website also has a number of great posts regarding his experiences on the AT). It appears that Ryan chose to stay on the ridge above Chimney rock to get to the summit. That would be a significantly different route than the bowl-ascent described here.
Samat has a full GPS track posted for another trip to Shark’s Tooth. Samat’s track looks very similar to the one described here. Apparently Samat did the hike in 2012 with the Jornada Hiking Club, which also has it’s own trip report. That report emphasizes the route’s steepness and loose scree. Count on it!