My Kind of Paradise: The Overlook, El Rito, Los Conchas

I wake up later than usual, meditated, and sighed.

I shower, then use the remaining container of blueberries from my camping/climbing trip to make pancakes that are more blueberries than batter – almost, but for some reason not quite like the ones I made at the Juniper campsite in New Mexico. I make some coffee in the french press, and proceed to sulk

…trying only to forget
the swinging doors of paradise
~ wangzen, Electra

My porch, with my hanging hammock/couch is calling, and I settle in.

It’s cozy, and comfortable, and a portion of my yard is shaded like a fake rainforest in this high desert of Colorado but…it just isn’t the same.

I’ve just returned from a 3 day Memorial day weekend with friends I met on FB. All of them were fairly new to climbing in general, and climbing outdoors in specific, and needed a guide.

And I needed to get outside.

The siren song of New Mexico at this time of year is very loud. Spring is a good time to go – still somewhat cool, sunny yet the ravages of the Summer heat not yet set in.

I was there a year ago, and wrote a tongue-in-cheek dont-go-there report, and I kept meaning to go back. But for whatever reason I couldn’t seem to get anyone interested. But this group I’m a part of wanted to get out, so I posted: New Mexico – let’s go!

Turned out, 4 other climbers wanted to go.

Camping at the Juniper campground

Camping at the Juniper campground

We stayed at the Juniper campground, which is fairly central to all of the climbs I wanted to do: Los Conchas in the Jemez Valley, The Overlook in White Rock, and El Rito in, well, El Rito.

Los Conchas, Jemez  Valley, NM

Los Conchas starts in a meadow and extends through a shaded corridor that follows the river that undercuts the rocks. The elevation is 8,400 feet, making it a higher altitude than Denver by over 3,000 feet.

Frankly, I’m not sure what the rock is, other than of volcanic origin. It’s one of the few places I’ve climbed with actual tufas rippling up the walls. At the Cattle Call Wall area the rock is sharp and extra grippy, leaving your skin aching at the end of the day. But great for climbing.

Cattle Call Wall

Cattle Call Wall

The first route I did I misread the routes, and what I thought was a easy 5.8 warm-up turned into a 5.10D horror show (for me, at least). My belayer noticed Elvis leg about halfway up, and the tremors didn’t cease until I clipped the chain. On the way up, I was going, ‘Wtf? Are the ratings sandbagged here, or do I just suck?’ I was conscious of the group next to us staring up at my struggles. Later, I found out they were going ‘I can’t believe he just walked up and climbed that. That route is really hard.’

Cattle Call Wall

Melinda taking the lead at the Cattle Call Wall

Later, when I found out it was rated 5.10c/d (FA rated) I felt better about my shaky lead. 5.11 is my glass ceiling, and 5.10D is climbing at my limit.

We did another route before we turned in for the evening, tired from our long drive from Denver.

The Overlook, Los Alamos, NM

The next day we went to The Overlook, in White Rock/Los Alamos area. The Overlook is named for a scenic viewing area in Los Alamos that, well, overlooks a huge valley with the Rio Grande river winding in large lazy S curves on its way through. The Overlook has tall basalt walls rising up from the desert slopes above the Rio Grande, very different than the high elevation meadow of Los Conchas.  It reminds you that it is desert with the sun reflecting off the basalt walls. Most of the routes are top roped, which makes it fairly convenient for a quick burn, but with several routes if you needed an all day adventure.

There’s a railed viewing area, but in order to get to the climbs, you’ll have to leave the relative safety of the cement platform and venture out into the wild. The path crests a sort of small ridge, then winds down the left side and then onwards to the South East side.  From there is a series of Tope Rope (TR) bolts used for anchoring at the edge overlooking the Rio Grande.

Summer at the Overlook

Summer at the Overlook

Overlook, Southeast crag

Overlook, Southeast crag

TRing it at Overlook, Southeast crag

TRing it at Overlook, Southeast crag

The routes on the South East wall ranges from 5.8 to 5.12D in difficulty, but we stuck to the easier ranges. Basalt is not typically my favorite to climb on, but this seemed grippier with clean crimps and edges.  The sun hits squarely on that wall, though, but luckily we went early morning and it felt great on our backs as we climbed.

Summer at the Overlook

Summer top-roping at the Overlook

El Rito

El Rito is the only place in the US I have encountered conglomerate rock climbing: cobblestones encased in a surrounding matrix. Since some of the cobbles fall out (wear a helmet!), they leave cavities and pockets that make for juggy and pocketed climbing. The smooth cobbles can let slip a toehold, or two, so the precision foot placement is key here.

Author climbing the cobblestones at El Rito

Author climbing the cobblestones at El Rito

Frankly, since I don’t climb this type of rock often, it’s a tad weird at first. You have a toe skit off a smooth rock surface which can psychologically affect the rest of the climb if you let it. But, juggy thuggy climbing abounds, as well as delicate face climbing – depending on how the cobbles popped out, or the matrix formed.

It was, shall we say, a “target rich environment” – you could spend quite a bit of time test-driving holds and feet placements, thinking that maybe, just maybe, the next hold would be a better one. A lot of time was wasted in unproductive feeling around, until I just told myself: ‘find the ones that are good enough, and go with them. It made for more efficient climbing.

"Green Chile Two Step" on the Rad Wall

“Green Chile Two Step” on the Rad Wall

Descending from a route on the Rad Wall

Descending from a route on the Schoolhouse Wall

Three crags, three completely different types of rock and types of climbing: Volcanic sharp rocks (Los Conchas), crimpy flat basalt planes (The Overlook at Los Alamos), and Conglomerate cobbles (El Rito. All within 1 hour of each other with campgrounds that never fill up and routes you never have to wait for.

It’s my kind of paradise! (Don’t tell anyone!)

El Rito 11D/12a Video


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3 thoughts on “My Kind of Paradise: The Overlook, El Rito, Los Conchas

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