By the time I started out at Dripping Springs Visitor Center on Tuesday morning, I was no longer hell bent on reaching the top of Organ Baldy. I thought, if I could just get up to the high canyon, strolling among the pines, or maybe even to the ridge line between Organ Peak and Organ Baldy where I could sit and take in the views, then I would be satisfied. I started crunching along at a brisk pace. The mountains looked beautiful in the fall morning light. I snapped a few photos of views I've looked at a hundred times. I was at the the old hotel before 9:00 AM and walked right past it into the brush and boulders of Ice Canyon.
I 'd gone back in there once before when I could hear water running and needed into investigate. That time I made it up to the old dam before turning around. This lower section of the canyon(before the dam) is probably the most lush spot on the whole west side of the Organs. There are huge evergreen oaks, big chokecherry trees, New Mexico buckeye, and ash trees with wild grapevine growing everywhere in between. Huge junipers cling to the canyon walls.
At the dam is an abrupt transition to bare rock. Water was trickling over the top of the top of the now completely sand and gravel filled in impoundment. It also trickled out of a rusty pipe sticking out from the bottom. The first dicey maneuver is at the dam itself,one of many to come. Water was flowing in earnest now as I made my way through a cave-like passage beyond the dam. A few small climbs, no big deal. Soon the canyon opened up, and higher up cascades could be seen and heard. Both sides of the canyon were dripping with seeps and tiny springs. A steady flow ran in the center on the bare smooth rock. I love seeing any live water in the Organs, but it occurred to me later, that in most of the photos I've looked at, those folks are climbing around in this canyon when its dry. I don't know if it was deliberate, but if it was, it makes sense. Water in this canyon changes a lot. A little water on the bottom of your boots, and you might as well be on ice, such is the frictionless surface of this rock. Add a little mud,moss or algae, and it can become even more treacherous. The whole process of the hike slowed down at this point, way down. I'm having to stop and evaluate every little bit of terrain that will take me few feet further up the canyon. I think about turning back for a long time. Second revelation: if I was hiking with a group and an experienced leader, I wouldn't have to be doing all this thinking that's sucking up so much time. I used to take advantage of going with groups when I wanted to accomplish hikes that put a little bit of fear in me. That's how I made it up to Organ Needle,Cookes Peak and Rabbit Ears Plateau.
I continue along the edge of the stream. Sticking to the south side. As the canyon begins to turn to the east, it opens up on the north , where the hillside is strictly desert terrain punctuated by a large rocky peak. On the south edge where I'm pushing through the brush, there begins to be junipers, oaks, silktassel and the very occasional ponderosa pine. When I get to yet another waterfall that must be maneuvered around, I'm at a loss. Both sides of canyon seem so steep they don't really seem like a good alternative to clinging to the edge of streambed. I've been hoping, perhaps foolishly, that the waterfalls will end, and I'll at least be able to boulder hop and maybe even walk in the streambed in the upper canyon. I give up. I'm tired of using my arms as much as my legs, pushing through the brush, and contemplating the consequences should I slip and fall. It's been a little over an hour and I've barely reached the bend in the canyon. It's been probably been less than 1/2 mile of horizontal distance. I remember something else from Ungnade's The Mountains of New Mexico: the time to climb the peak from the old hotel is 3 hours( I'm pretty sure he's talking one way). Now I can see why. I start thinking of other routes to get to the upper canyon, or even the peak. I'm done with this one for today. I climb up the hill a short ways, sit on the dirt slope beneath a ponderosa pine and eat a snack, and then I start to head back down disappointed.
I make one false move on the way down, slipping in some mud at a spring that emerges from underneath a huge juniper. The rest of the descent was slow but uneventful. I linger a bit. Taking many photos,I know the many waterfalls don't have enough flow to make for good pictures,but I take them anyway, just to show I've been here on this day. The misty clouds that have been drifting in and out of the crags are wonderfully atmospheric, although it occurs me later that even a tiny bit of rain, had it occurred, would not have been good. Note: although this hike starts on the Dripping Springs Trail of the Organ Mountains/ Desert Peak National Monument, past the old hotel there are signs warning to keep out of military lands.