By Jay Foley
I feel the rock’s crisp texture in my hands; a cool breeze blows back my hair. Nothing is on my mind but reaching the next hold, which seems impossible, yet by using my feet and legs to stand on a perfectly flat edge, it puts my body in balance on the rock. Suddenly, what seemed impossible becomes effortless. As I reach the top, feeling the exposure and taking in a view unlike any I have ever seen from the ground, my mind feels clear and alive. I take a breath of the freshest air and feel truly part of nature and this stunning landscape.
Elated with the accomplishment of attaining the seemingly impossible, for a minute I melt into the solitude of being the only person on the edge of this cliff as I become one with my surroundings. I call down to my belayer before sitting back on the rope and am lowered to the ground.
I should have been scared, but my guide has taught me to trust the ropes; I know they can hold thousands of pounds. A feeling I have cheated the laws of gravity passes through me as I pass through this vertical world with safety and confidence. What an extraordinary way to experience the majestic landscape of Northern New Mexico.
Despite some impressions that only muscle-bound adrenaline junkies practice rock climbing, it is actually a slow-paced, dance-like, safe endeavor that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels. Since climbing techniques start with legs and feet, anyone who enjoys hiking or can make it up a flight of stairs can succeed on a beginner rock climb.
A beginner is always attached to a sit harness and a rope that is anchored above them. This anchor and rope can support more than 4,000 pounds. Once climbers reach the top or decide to stop, they simply sit back into their harnesses and the rope safely lowers them to the ground.
Taos has become a world-class destination for skiing, hiking and outdoor rock climbing. With well over 300 bluebird sunny days, it is possible to comfortably climb outside year-round. Taos is the perfect place to experience outdoor climbing for the first time or test your skills as an advanced climber on many different climbing styles and locations.
For first-time climbers
Interested in trying this rapidly growing sport that will be featured in the 2020 Olympics?
Taos is one of the best spots in the U.S. for beginners to learn to climb. Join world-class guides on perfect beginner cliffs that literally start as easy as a flight of stairs or venture off on your own to discover one of more than 800 climbing routes in the Taos vicinity. The nationally known outfitter Mountain Skills has a professional, friendly and enthusiastic staff of qualified rock climbing guides here in Taos. Mountain Skills rock guides can provide all the equipment, teach the basics to someone who has never climbed, get a group or family out for a once-in-a-lifetime outdoor adventure or guide the most experienced climber up the area’s longest, most difficult cliffs.
For the seasoned climbers
If you have your own gear and climbing skills, visit Mudd N Flood mountain shop on Bent Street or Taos Mountain Outfitters on Historic Taos Plaza and pick up a copy of “Taos Rock” (Sharp End Publishing) or Dennis Jackson’s “Rock Climbing New Mexico” (Falcon Press). Either of these books will provide you with maps and written directions to dozens of locations and hundreds of climbs in and around the Taos area. Or visit online at climbtaos.com and click on the “new route info” sidebar for directions and descriptions to some of Taos’s newest climbing areas. You can also search Taos on mountainproject.com.
Plan on hitting the Río Grande Gorge National Monument area for warmer temperatures or venture up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to find cool temps in the summer. If you are looking to set up top ropes from above, try the Dead Cholla area on the west rim of the Río Grande Gorge. Check out Tres Piedras, 27 miles east of Taos, where you’ll find free camping in a pine forest and spectacular granite domes minutes from the car.
“TP” offers classic traditional routes soaring to independent summits over 200 feet high. Comales Canyon, 2 miles east of Sipapú Ski and Summer Resort, features quality, bolted sport climbs as well as some moderate traditional routes next to a creek in a cool mountain setting. West of Taos near the small town of El Rito, you can crank on world-class gymnastic sport climbs with big protruding cobbles and in-cut pockets. North of Taos near the small town of Questa, you’ll find a granite dome nearly 1,000 feet tall with adventure climbing in a wilderness setting as well as the Wild and Scenic area of Río Grande del Norte National Monument with its splitter cracks and dramatic views.
There is enough quality climbing in the Taos area to last a lifetime. Each cliff is unique and offers its own adventure and setting. Some climbs offer easy stair-step climbs that allow you to practically walk to the top, while others are almost upside down and require great fitness to surmount. Many cliffs have obvious routes to the top, but some require chess-like strategy, balance, specialized climber tricks and the perfect sequence to reach the top.
Jay Foley is the author of the climbing guide “Taos Rock” and lead guide with Mountain Skills Rock Guides. He has been living and climbing in the Taos area for more than 25 years and continues to be an avid pioneer in the Taos rock climbing scene.
Mountain Skills Rock Climbing Adventures
Mountain Skills Rock Guides have been in operation in New Mexico for more than 20 years and is the only professional permitted and insured guide service and climbing school in Santa Fe, Taos and Río Grande del Norte National Monument area.