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Marble Canyon - North, NM

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Guide 1 Triplog  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southeast
5 of 5 by 1
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,619 feet
Elevation Gain 3,000 feet
Accumulated Gain 3,300 feet
Avg Time One Way 5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 16
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall, Seasonal Creek & Peak
Backpack No
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
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
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Feb, Mar, Oct, Nov → Early
Seasons   Late Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  5:51am - 6:02pm
0 Alternative
Not Really the Best Route?
by imike

I headed into this hike with expectations a bit too much on the high side. It's sister canyon, Marble Canyon (south)is an exceptional canyon trek, exhibiting variety, challenge and vistas right from the get go. This northern cut, though sharing the first portion of the bottom mile of the canyon, departs up and away without the drama, without the great upper vistas, and without any of the characteristics common to it's southern sister.

I found the first hour or so to hold to that pattern. It could well be that the issue is in the comparative only. In fact, it is a nice canyon hike. It moves steadily and easily up through mostly shrub and smaller boulders. Not too far up it forks, with the main cut staying to the right. The left cut is a shorter spur canyon that would terminate out in the 6800' level over into the ridge that accesses Ortega Peak. The right cut is the main canyon, and fortunately, as you work your way ever higher, it gets better and better. If I had to note one characteristics over any other, it was that there were repeated 9-15' high obstacles, usually bedrock waterfall slits with a chock block boulder. These turned into more and more interesting challenges and give the hike an interesting aspect.

Eventually, a very nice staircase waterfall is reached that includes a nice rock basin. This is a great picnic spot, and for many people may also be the logical place to stop and return back down the canyon. For those desiring the full canyon experience, above this point do lie some more of those challenging mini-climbs, and then one of the easier upper sections of any of the frontal range canyons. The grade stays soft, and the canyon bottom narrows and fills with dense growth. You will eventually reach a very surprising feature: a meadow formed from what appears to be a man made berm, once probably creating a small tank for collecting the seasonal runoffs.

At this point you have the choice of taking the first drainage cut coming in from the left, which will carry you directly up to the base of Ortega Peak.... or, continuing on up the main cut to the basin below the false peak next to Hershberger Peak... or, head up the drainage to the right which will carry you directly up to Hershberger Peak. I suggest that if this is your first time, take the route to Ortega Peak.

No matter which path you follow to the top, most likely you'll trek down the mountain on "A" Trail 119.

I'd have to suggest that if you plan to hike all of the Marble Canyon hikes, do this one first... saving the others for later!

Check out the Triplog.

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

2010-02-26 imike
    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 of 25 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Plan was to hike S4 up Marble North, but Luster only hiker to show up... and he'd never hiked the basic Marble North canyon. We stayed in the bottom and enjoyed the great and variable scrambling, talking about all the north and south side spurs. I had not gone beyond Ortega Cut in five years; my memory was that it tended towards dull in those upper levels. Wrong!

    The characteristics of the canyon shifted, but not for the worse. Bedrock continued... Tree canopy thickened. Side walls moved in creating a great narrow defile. It was very good.

    One of the negatives to hiking upper Marble North: getting out! I'd never had a good route... too steep... poor footing... but today, I decided on a winding ascent using the upper sections of Ortega Cut. This approach softened the grade and provided ever nicer far vistas. We scored by being able to follow a very nice Elk Trail... all the way up and around to the "A" Trail. It was good.

    Alas, our later start (waiting for hikers that did not show!) pushed the finish of the hike into the dark. I was able to get to my bike in time to head out before full dark... by running down the trail.

    Great day out!
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Mary and Darrel joined in for this exceptional bit of scrambling... hyper steep: KickAss Kut! Legs held up surprisingly well after yesterdays over the top effort... maybe later today it will finally hit me? 100+ pound load on steep trail had to beat me up, but today felt okay.

    Exit was a mild exploratory down the ridge... not as nice as our old route down Ridge Cut and Slab... I'll go back to using that nice amble.

    This side spur offers so much nice bedrock mixed with vertical rock... just pure fun... and it takes you up to Fossil Rock. Today I limited myself to a single rock fossil... gotta let the legs rest! Marble North has so many of these great spur cuts... three more on our schedule for this Fall. Challenging... bit dangerous? Fun!
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Marble North S4
    This one has been on the calendar a number of times... and viewed from surrounding ridges for years. Finally, it happened.

    Ross and Mary were looking for a shorter day; they hiked in with me up Marble North. As always, that canyon is just so nice! Instead of entering the bottom of the S4 Cut, I opted for an earlier, lower approach. We had determined the lower dryfall blocked the canyon access, so I headed up the sidehill to the west. Hyper steep, it carried me up to the cliff bases where I encountered an over grown blockage... but working through all that, I made it to the cliffs... and a break that suggested a possible route.

    The cut turned delightfully vertical. It did let me up. Once on the ridge I traversed around and down into the S4 drainage, to find yet another overgrown section stretching up to yet another dryfall blockage. To save time, I moved back out and up, re-entering the cut above the dryfall.

    Bedrock... lots of nice Bedrock. ...and... overgrowth! I had to work my way through thick blockage. For those familiar with hikes in this area, this was sort of a combination of our Rap Steppes and Dead Elk Cut. I worked at clearing a route to make it easier if/when we returned.

    Climbing higher it proved to be more like Rap Steppes on Steroids! That and Deadfalls... lots of trees down.

    It climbed... and climbed. The cut ascended way up the north side of Hershberger Peak. Might be appropriate to name it Hershberger North Cut..?

    Once up, exit options were numerous. I'd originally planned to cross over into Surprise and enjoy the easier down into Marble South. I could simply head down Hershberger Ridge. Instead, I hiked around and up to overview Marble South, North Fork. To my surprise, I was above the Amphitheatre... by a couple hundred feet. The peak was not that far above me?

    Longterm plans include a new trail up to the peak along the north ridge... this was an opportunity to check our more of the options for that route. I angled up and around enjoying a fairly open and easier path. I scored great vantage point overviews of canyons to the north... and an ever changing view of Ortega Peak.

    As I looped from the west side of the mountain to the east side, a had a couple of concerns. Daylight... getting off the trail before dark. Energy... and final route. From Hershberger I could descend the Mesa ridge and traverse to drop down Rockachucky right at my house... or... I could continue to move further east and connect with the "A" Trail for a trail descent. I decided on that. I got lucky on route... looping high above the blocking side cuts on the north... dropping just below the saddle between the peak and false peak. I only had 100' of climbing to score the trail around the north side of the false peak. It was further on down than I remembered to hit the trail... but I was there by 2:30pm.

    At that point I was 7 miles from home. Six years ago that would have been a two hour trek. Now... I'd be lucky if I could complete the 4.5 miles of the trail in those two hours. That is how it worked out. And, I got lucky at the trailhead. Ross and Luster and been monitoring my progress. They both knew this would be an overly long day for me. I scored a ride home!

    It would have been a much easier day if I had not had an expandable pack along... I scored 20# of great rocks as I worked my way up S4... adding a bit too much to the day. I was beaten up by end of day. Also, glitched left knee early on but managed to have a nearly complete correction by the time I was down the hill.

    End of day: big salad! Bed!
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Ortega Cut
    Finally... after four years of glancing over and down (or up) into this longest of the Marble North spur canyons, we wandered up into this cut. It was not what I expected.

    From the north side ridges it displayed bedrock slabs. The impression was that it would be an open amble... broad sidewalk of tilted slab. I knew the entry might pose a problem; I'd tried four years earlier with Yubao and we were turned back... 12-30' dryfall with no obvious routing... on that day we went another way.

    As always, Marble North was exceptional... fun and challenging scrambles. Great moments of Rock. Nice Vistas.

    It was a bit different today... I was slipping and sliding around due to a shoe malfunction. I'd come across a nearly new pair under the bed...and at the last moment put them on instead of my normal scrambling shoes. I was surprised to find new shoes... by end of day I realized why they had been tucked away: slipperly souls!!

    The climbs were made precarious... and finally, I fell. I was at the top of a 12' bouldering... and I got lucky. My feet came together, head back... I landed upright, and Ross was standing there to keep me from tipping back over and falling the additional 10'. Bruised a bit... not busted.

    That element continued to impact the climbing for the rest of the day, but it stayed fun.

    Into the Ortega Cut we worked our way up to the lower blockage. There were routes. I liked the too slick left side, but the upper rock was rotten. We opted for a sidehill scramble up the right side...spotted and chosen by Mary.

    The canyon stayed consistent... small boulders and massively overgrown! I spent a great amount of time clearing our route. It will be fun to return and ascend with the newly opened route. The slab sidewalks were not there.

    We knew there would be two massive blocking dryfalls... 30-60' with no obvious relief. Reaching the lower one it displayed to be as shear as expected. From above we had spotted a side drainage that cut cleanly through that level of cliff, but it was well down canyon... an extra hour of effort if we chose to use it to ascend. I opted for us to move along the cliff base, hoping to find a reasonable route.

    There were a number of climbable sections, but having had one fall earlier, and not trusting my feet... and even more important: lots of rotten slab face... I passed up the early options and took us over to a 16' vertical face of good rock. It had the benefit of a nice vertical slot midway up. I carefully made my way up... realizing as I climbed that we had a problem: Mary would not be able to make this ascent. While she's made remarkable progress over the last year, this little climb included details she had yet to encounter. Fortunately, I'd packed my hand rope... 30' knotted. It worked! Was not pretty... probably was not much fun for her, but she topped out. Ross followed using the rope assist which he probably did not need.

    Second dryfall gave us one of the easiest up imaginable... and the upper canyon flattened ... soon carrying us up to our easy exit route... the "A" trail!

    Deer and sheep provided some diversions on the day... all in all... a very nice loop. And, after too many years, The Ortega Cut is done!

    We still have S4, S5, S6, S7, S8 and N9 to check out... Marble North is not done.

    Unfortunately, the picture set will not include the great moments... hands were too busy during the climbs!
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Marble North Missing Spur
    The intent was to finally get up into the Ortega Cut in Marble North... our oft re-scheduled exploratory of that largest of north side spur cuts. Alas, once again foiled. Today, Mary was not feeling 100%. We probably could have made the exploratory of S4, another long delayed hike, but I finally identified the entry to the Missing Cut... a drainage I spotted from high up on the south side ridge years before.

    Really what I spotted was one too many cuts over on the north side. There was clearly a route we had not hiked, I just was not certain where it dumped into the main canyon. The last few outings up into Marble North I'd paid closer attention... and this morning I was pretty sure we were standing at the base. It sort of made sense we had missed it... it started out with a vertical 30' looking nothing like the mouth of a drainage. Comments were made at the bottom about how that could not be a cut...

    ...and yet, I felt we were there. So, we climbed. Mary nailed it. So odd to have watched her over this last year progress from turning back on our first outing, daunted by a 4' tall rock... to moving through the progressive stages of difficulty, resulting in scaling these 30' exposures. Impressive!

    After we we up above the initial wall, the bedrock continued... twisting and turning and generating a variety of smaller scrambles. At times it opened up... sometimes narrowed into rock bound gullies. For the most part it just moved up... eventually to the Cactus Cliffs. There we once again got lucky... the upper cliff in the cut was another 25'+ wall but with good foot/hand holds. We were up and out without incident.

    Interestingly, it crested right at the Fossil Rock... a point on the cliffs I often lead group hikes to, usually ascending the far easier Slab Cut. Looking over the edge of the cliffs at that point I would have never thought to climb up! We took an extended break, then decided to keep going up, walking the Cliffs around and above the Ortega Cut, then up and over to the "A" trail.

    Everyone was a bit beat up at the end... but I had my missing canyon and Mary had her great climbing day... and she had the naming of this cut: KickAss Kut!

    I doubt if the pics will capture the moments in the canyon... my hands were a bit too busy!
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Not the day planned! Energy off early... then metabolically way off! On top of that, some damaged toes (broken??? ) Too bad, because we had planned a nice exploratory route up a south side spur (W4) and that might have been an exceptional route. Instead, we never left the main canyon.

    Now, the main canyon is impressive. Mary's climbing was dead on! In the end, she got to practice down climbing everything she climbed up! Ross was good until he jammed an ankle... so in general, not the best of days. I barely made it back top the truck; I was having a very bad day!

    We did orient and locate what might be the entry route into W4... 20-30 blocking dryfall at the mouth; we will likely traverse around to the west and get up into the cut... only a cooler, better day!

    May have oriented to the missing north side canyon... between Cactus Cliffs Cut and Slide? That is another one we need to check out, along with the Ortega Cut. Great side spurs... great main canyon. Need cooler weather and a day where I am not sick! Hope that is coming!
    Marble Canyon - North
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    So many little things can pass... for the most part unnoticed, adding up to very substantial things before day's end.

    Up an out the door early... did no hike prep at the house; planned on staging out of the truck. 4:30am with a Meetup hike scheduled for 6am. No problem.

    ...except... truck battery stone cold dead...

    No big deal... stuff the pack full (in the dark so not exactly stuffed with the right stuff)... strapped it on to the bike and pedaled over to the trailhead. On the uphills note that not riding for the last two years means getting way out of biking condition; note to self: start bike training!

    Still dark when I reached the trailhead but finally a morning with a breeze! As the start time nears the hikers show, including one new hiker. My pack review revealed only a gallon of fluid instead of the intended 1.5 gallons. Two bananas/one apple...2 oz peanuts. Okay... I wish I had half gallon OJ; I'm fine with no food.

    Early into the hike the newbie noted that she had not been hiking in awhile...?

    This canyon is nice but not all that easy. In shape and moving fast I can go up in two hours and down in one. I was thinking we'd pace to do it in 4-5 hours...?

    Nine hours later... and still not yet out of the canyon, my thoughts began reflecting on all the little pieces; those small junctures of events that eventually tipped the scales over into a nearly bad, bad day... and a few that sort of re-balanced the day to a lower level of drama.

    I ended up giving away over a quart of my fluids... no big deal normally... yet today it meant dropping from the 1.5 gallon intake level to .75 gallon. .. there was still over an hour exit hiking to do in the middle of the afternoon (113 degrees when I got home?) when all fluid was gone and the one hiker was showing signs of acute heat prostration! Pace down to nothing... topping every 10 yds to recover from easy downhill walking. Balance: Ross went ahead and drove 4x4 up canyon eliminating that last hour!

    So... many issues raised, foremost: how to make sure everyone comes prepared? I continue to get repped for having hikes that are way too difficult. It is really an issue of folks just not being ready for our routes. If they do the training and come prepared, then these are fun hikes.

    I had fun today... but... if that last hour had turned into full blown evacuation...? Could have been another story!

    It will be interesting to hear their perspective... after the acute memory of the day fades. Their fall was not all that bad... stuff heals.

    I think they'll be back for more. :?

    Ps: 5pm... forgot another of the penalties for those little issues: under hydration and lack of potassium= major leg cramping for me! Fortunately, 1/2 gallon low sodium V8 in fridge correcting both issues. Wishing I'd done the v8 instead of 1/2 gallon chocolate milk I did earlier! Better late8 than never... ;)
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Meetup hikers all no-shows, so no early start, but it was cool enough out, and I routed up Quarry Canyon in such a fashion to remain in the shade to the top of Marbles Bluffs. That may become the new standard route. If the Forest Service closes down the trails due to fire danger this year it could be nice to have this backdoor route ready to go; it is all on private property!

    I cut over to the "A" trail for some up/down AEG... and home by noon to prepare for tomorrow's much longer and harder effort.

    Early starts; Order of the days!
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Met Cathy and Terri for the hike up to the top of the Marble Bluffs... and on to the old Gold Mine. Cathy headed down the "A"... Terri and I headed for the Peak. Ran into Kim and Julia near the Catwalk and walked them on up to the new Spur Trail and on to the peak.

    I'd hiked full time with Kim back a few years ago... this encounter might rekindle that process?

    We stuck together for the hike down to Leah's Lair where Kim went a bit crazy with the climbing... then even more so over at the Caves in the "A" Bluff (Kim's Kave!!).

    From there the group split up... the ladies headed on down... I headed back up for some AEG laps, then a small hit on trail work. The current section is a real batch of work! I'm looking forward to getting up out of the heavy gravel... maybe hit the peak in three weeks?

    So, yet another all day day. It will likely remain the pattern through April as the AEG has to continue to compile.

    Hiking such a soft pace makes for a fairly easy day... feet sore... legs cramping if I fail to hit the potassium at the needed levels, along with net fluid... but, other than that, easy.

    Nice to have made a substantial move in regards the classification of our group outings. I just need to work on our comparative Ortega ratings for each hike. Once each route is scored we will have a fairly workable process.

    Long off trail hike tomorrow... difficult enough to scare most everyone away. Nice!
    Marble Canyon - North
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    Day began stormy, cleared into a great hiking day. Five hikers for the planned "fossil search" up in the Cactus Cliffs.

    Lots of talk about how to appropriately describe the hikes I schedule through Meetup... sounds as if my routes tend to be a bit more difficult than most. Every hike tends to be too much for one or more of the hikers... balanced by giving them exceptional experiences?

    Today I should have logged AEG laps before the late starting main hike. Cold, brash north winds whipped in mid afternoon... along with rain... freezing rain! It cleared after awhile, but made for parka wrapped hiking for a few hours.

    Trail work was cut short; every little bit helps.

    Long, easier laps tomorrow? Meeting with the author of the new Lincoln National Forest Trail Guide later in the afternoon... might be interesting.

    Third week of 5,000' days begins!

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    In Alamogordo, take 10th Street to it's far eastern end, and park at the small city park next to the Fire Station. Walk south and east over to the mouth of Marble Canyon. You can park right at the mouth of the canyon, but the car will probably be more secure at the park.
    page created by imike on Feb 26 2010 8:44 pm
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