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Purgatory Cliffs, NM

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Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southeast
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Difficulty 3 of 5
Route Finding 3 of 5
Distance One Way 1.9 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,401 feet
Elevation Gain 800 feet
Accumulated Gain 840 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 4.7
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Seasonal Waterfall
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
Post the 1st photoset!
Author imike
author avatar Guides 253
Routes 0
Photos 6,930
Trips 2,467 map ( 21,513 miles )
Age 69 Male Gender
Location Cloudcroft, NM
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Preferred   Oct, Apr, Mar, Nov → Early
Seasons   Late Winter to Early Winter
Sun  5:52am - 6:00pm
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Look Out Below!!
by imike

Purgatory Canyon, the substantial drainage area lying to the north of Long Ridge and to the south of Alamo Canyon, is a less than pleasant hike if attempted from the canyon bottom. Overgrown for much of the way… cliffed out before you manage to traverse even half of the canyon, it is one of those routes to avoid.

There is an alternative.

Along the south side of the canyon there is a ridge of rock protruding up and out, providing a nice walkway above all the obstacles. This ledge route is the easy way to experience Purgatory Canyon. You can follow a constant cliff edge around and up, nearly all the way to the huge water fall formation that blocks the drainage below Purgatory Peak. Once up and on the top of the cliffs the hike is a relatively gentle slope. Climbing up to the cliffs from the mouth of Purgatory Canyon is a bit steep, but after the first quarter mile most of the difficulty will be behind you.

The initial climb is obvious. Standing in the mouth of the canyon, look up and to the right… note the game trail heading up and around the sentry rock formation, heading to the small cut to the top of the cliffs. That is your access route. Once on top of the outcropping, your path is simple… walk the edge with it’s constant overview down into the canyon bottom.

This route offers better views of the canyon than you have climbing the north side, Purgatory Ridge… and is much easier. When you reach the ends of the cliffs, you have the option to descend into Upper Purgatory Canyon (there is an easy track down to the canyon bottom), turn around and go back the way you came… or, work your way further up and around to see the huge terminal wall about a quarter mile further up the canyon.

Walking cliff edges has a certain allure. It you enjoy that edge walking, off trail adventuring, consider the Purgatory Cliffs.

Note: The rock formations in this area are sharp and pointed... combined with the prickly plant growth, it makes for a shredding environment; go prepared!

The approach hike up Alamo Canyon is 2.7 miles... and though it is an official Forest Service trail, really it is an off trail, sand and gravel slog. Plan accordingly for the time the full hiking day could take.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2013-04-27 imike

    One-Way Notice
    This hike is listed as One-Way.

    When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Purgatory Cliffs
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Ross and Mary out for this longer day, semi-exploring the best entry and exits to this great cliff edged route. next, need to do the canyon and check out the variety of options for a canyon/cliff edge loop. It was their first time to hike our exit route: Good canyon then down Alamo canyon. The ten hours may have been a bit too long, but the weather was perfect. Great day out. Mary scored Elk Antlers!
    Purgatory Cliffs
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Terri’s Friday group put off the Garden Wall hike until next week… so, I decided on a long delayed exploratory: Purgatory Ridge. Since Purgatory Canyon cliffs out from below, the ridge was a shot at seeing what the upper portion of the canyon held.

    No real energy, so slow slog up Alamo Canyon, 2.8 miles to the mouth of Purgatory Canyon, and the climb up and onto the Ridge. There the hike began for real.

    I chose to angle up below the crest of the ridge, following deer trails that overlooked Purgatory. Eventually, I angled over the crest to take in the views into and across Alamo Canyon… very nice! After an easy crest walk the ridge cliffed out… I opted to scoot around and below on the right and scored a great Elk Trail… that carried me up past the rocks, and once above, again I crossed over to check out the Alamo Canyon area. The Ridge was giving me views I’d never had across so much area that I spend time hiking across. It promised to continue to give more and more as I climbed higher and higher.

    I continually opted to follow game tracks off the top of the Ridge crest on the Purgatory Canyon side… it paid off with sneak peaks down into the canyon, but never any clear views. I did note an obvious detail: across and above the canyon, the rock cliffs that formed the barrier to scaling the south side of Lower Purgatory Canyon made for a consistent incline ledge that, like the Garden Wall hike, formed a natural hiking route. You could access the Cliffs down at the mouth of the canyon and walk their upper edge up and around nearly all the way up to the terminal waterfall formation that capped out Upper Purgatory Canyon. It would not be a too hard hike. Nice.

    Up… and up some more, very slowly.

    Finally, I wrapped around and found myself on the cliffs on the north side of the canyon… walking the edges towards a dramatic waterfall formation… 80+ feet of sheer wall closing off the uppercanyon.

    I made for the top of Purgatory Ridge to the north… and climbed up to the north fork saddle. From there, up to Purgatory Peak and the high point of the Ridge. The views were impressive, and I spotted an alternative return route: Good Canyon to the east looked to intersect back with Alamo Canyon… probably near the old cabin site above the mine? If it would connect, it would mean returning sort of on trail.

    It looked clear… it was. It dropped me right to the cabin!

    There was a small problem… I’d planned on a 4-6 hour hike. I’d brought along fluid and calories for that effort. But, here I was nearing the six hour point and had yet to turn for home. I’d noticed that my feet could begin to cramp if stressed to a particular position. Not a great sign.

    At seven hours I was on the way home, but moving slow. The slower pace did have a bright spot: I paid more attention to the route of the old roadbed from the mine down the canyon… and took more pictures documenting the remains of the old water line. I also paid closer attention to the engine block below the mine. Over the years it appears then reappears as the depth of the river bed rises and falls. Today, I checked it out. It was a straight six, Oldsmobile engine. I have no idea from what year.

    Also found some interesting bottles from 50+ years ago… with very specific text… I snapped pictures; they’ll be posted.

    Legs began to cramp after the seventh hour… not steady, but did not portend well. The pace slowed, but I was now plodding along over paths I’d covered many, many times before… getting home was a sure thing. I just wish I’d thrown in that second half gallon of OJ… it would have made the extra hours about right. The half gallon of OJ and two no cal energy drinks that I did have was just not enough. This would have been a great hike to have 1.5 gallons of fluid… and the potassium from the full gallon of Orange Juice.

    As I opened the door to the truck at the trailhead, I noted that the hike logged a bit over 12 miles… 3700’ of up/down… and 8.5 hours of total clock time. GPS showed 1.5 hours of down time; I’m not sure that is right.

    I drank the half gallon of OJ within the next 30 minutes… hands and legs still cramping here two hours later, legs really twisting me up! My fault. It was a fasting day. If the hike is longer than four hours I add in 200-300 calories per hour of OJ to try to diminish the impact, and get that potassium that will keep me from cramping. Today, not enough of anything, except effort.

    Thinking back to the highpoint of the hike: it was a great day. Purgatory Peak is a must do. Purgatory Cliffs may be another great mid level effort route to add to the lists. Purgatory Canyon remains as before: why go there!

    I think I’ll check Good Canyon off my list this coming Sunday!

    Wow, this is fun stuff! Solo wandering up and around, out and about…

    Note: first snake sightings of the year!

    Permit $$
    None


    Directions
    Map Drive
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    Road
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    Follow Alamo Canyon trail (T104) 2.7 miles, from it's lower trailhead in Alamogordo... Up past the upper trailhead for the Roundup Grounds trail. At the mouth of Purgatory Canyon move to your right and ascend the ridge, climbing up and above the rock cliffs.
    page created by imike on Apr 27 2013 10:46 am
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