Cookes Peak • Highpoint: Luna County
• Range Highpoint: Cookes Range

As seen from near City of Rocks
(Nov. 2006)

Edward works up the canyon.
A few hours later ths
was all under snow.

Snow starts to collect on everything

Edward starts up the rocky stuff

Sound effects: "BOOM!!"

Clouded summit


Me on the descent.

N.M. PageMain Page


Date: April 11, 2004 • Elevation: 8,408 feet • Prominence: 2,568 feet • Distance: 5 miles • Time: 4 hours • Gain: 2,400 feet • Conditions: Low clouds, rain, snow and graupel higher up, and lightning. Otherwise, dandy • Teammates: Edward Earl

Cookes Peak has one of the more unique and recognizable profiles of any mountain. Located north of Deming in southern New Mexico, Cookes Peak is a prominent mountain whose summit is a rocky spire, slightly skewed to one side, similar to a dollop of whipped cream. From below (and even up close), it looks like one would need rock-climbing gear to get up this peak, but in reality the climbing is much gentler than would be expected, although it is by no means a walk in the park.

Deming sits along Interstate-10 about 300 miles from Phoenix, Arizona, and is a nice town to stop in for a meal and a hotel. My wife has relatives on her dad's side in Deming going back about 130 years. On one of our trips we stopped in at the historical center, and once she mentioned her family name, they knew her old-time relatives well. It's a nice town, sitting in the high desert, with the large Florida (pronounced "Flo-ree-da") Mountains nearby, and of course, impressive Cookes Peak up north. I had put off climbing Cookes peak for some time for a variety of reasons, but I was close to completing my 5-year project to hike all the county highpoints in New Mexico, and this weekend proved to be a good opportunity.

Adam Helman was in southern New Mexico, hiking some peaks of his own, and a few other like-minded people had coordinated with Adam to tackle a handful of southern New Mexico highpoints. We all had different intentions, some of us had differing schedules, and not everyone desired the same peaks, but somehow Adam was able to formulate a schedule so that we could partner off as needed for our peaks of interest.

I had driven out on Friday afternoon, camping in the Coronado National Forest with Scott Casterlin and Adam. Saturday (yesterday), Scott, Adam and I had an enjoyable afternoon exploring "Ghost" Peak, before driving back to our site in the forest. The weather was unsettled, including a hail storm. After a nap back at camp, I drove to Deming by way of Columbus, arriving in town about 6 p.m. to meet Edward Earl, my partner for Cookes Peak, and Dave Covill, who was heading southwest to meet Adam. We all ate dinner at the Rancher's Grill in town. After Dave got moving, Edward and I were kind of bummed to see the weather had become very stormy. Our plan was to drive to the trailhead and camp, but I didn't want to drive dirt roads in the dark in a storm, so we stayed in a cheap hotel in town.

The next morning the rain had stopped but the clouds hung low. It was quite cool but very still. We weren't heartened by the weather, but absent a major deluge, we'd at least drive out to the trailhead and hope for the best. From Deming, we went north on US-180 for a mile, then northeast on NM-26 for 14 miles to County Road A29 on our left. The county road was gravel and "grabby", the previous night's rain making the dirt sticky and slick at the same time. The first six miles was solid. We went another six miles up this road, now a notch worse in overall condition, with yesterday's rains not helping much. I skidded and lurched up this road, fishtailing in places, until we reached a gate. Beyond the gate is a small corral used by the local rancher, but beyond this pen, the road continues and is on BLM land again.

The rancher had given us permission to pass through the gate. We were on his property for just 100 feet before passing the second gate back onto public land. The road hereafter was much rockier, necessitating 4-wheel drive, but the rocks were more stable than the slick mud we had coming up. I coaxed my trusty truck up another couple of miles, parking in a clearing near the junction of a very old side road that headed west into the range, elevation 6,000 feet.

The weather was cool, gray, with low clouds. The whole scene was kind of ominous, but so far, no more rain. Temperatures were in the 40s and there was no breeze. What we could see was gorgeous: high desert scrub and succulents, lots of yucca, canyons and rocky mountainous ridges. An old mining town sits a few miles up the "main" road from here but we did not explore that way. Cookes Peak itself was hidden in the clouds. We started our hike at 8 a.m.. Given the conditions, I held little hope of success.

We walked southwest up this old road for a short while, as it gained steeply up the bajada slopes and into the canyons, all this in a half-mile. At times the road would switch sides, hugging one side of the canyon before crossing over. We stayed on the road another quarter-mile until it came to a sharp left turn. The road actually switchbacks up the slopes here, but based on previous reports, this just leads one into a gruesome bushwhack afterwards. Instead, we left the road, staying on a southwest bearing, and hiked up the bottom of the canyon itself. The going was good as the canyon floor itself was open. We kept at this for a little while more as the canyon began to noticeably narrow and steepen. Whenever the canyon would split we always went left. In time we had hiked nearly to the canyon's headwall, and it was time to venture onto the slopes and gain the ridges.

Dave Covill had described a good set of switchbacks that leave the canyon bottom and ascend the ridge, topping out near the knob shown as elevation 7,402 on the map. Try as we might, we never found these switchbacks. We did, however, find about three or four "trails" that angled up the hillside and that at first seemed solid, but each time they'd degenerate into thick brush.

In the process of looking for the switchbacks, we lost time, but not too much. Instead, we hiked as far up the canyon as we could, always staying left wherever the canyon split. We spotted footpaths and cairns, but nothing substantial. Finally, we made our own way up to the ridge, hiking over rock piles and moderate foliage to gain the top of the ridge. A GPS reading put us a bit southwest of Knob 7,402.

We then hiked southwest along the spine of this ridge, blazing a path through the brush and man-high trees. We made steady uphill progress, then surprise, found an obvious man-made trail which expedited our progress substantially. This trail put us on the principal southeast saddle just below the peak. Covill also said we'd find red yarn tied to tree branches and a fence line, which we did, and we followed these. Bear in mind, we still had about 30 feet of visibility, no more. It was good to know we were in the right place.

We trudged up the steep slopes, following the yarn path. Then the weather went to hell. Rain fell, and at this elevation it was cold enough for it to become sleety, or at least a graupel mush. In any case, this motivated us to move quickly. We were soon at the base of the summit rock fin. Fortunately, the rock lies back enough so that the slopes aren't treacherous when wet. STill, we moved with care.

We climbed up a natural line, following clefts and ledges as we found them. We gained about a hundred feet fairly quickly, then were on the last easy slope toward the top, now just a stone's throw away. We couldn't see more than a dozen yards, and the rain fell moderately. Then ... CRACK ... BOOM! Lightning. Sonofabitch. We were exposed on the ridge, sitting ducks. We bolted to the summit rocks, got one or two lousy photographs, then ran our asses back down off the rock and into the relative safety of the brush and trees below.

Fortunately, that was the only lightning strike we saw (or heard). The rain had now turned to snow. We were back on the "good" ridge trail, and when it turned to descend into the canyon we followed it, hoping it would stay good, which it didn't. It just petered out into the brush. We chose to descend directly down the slope, no longer trying to locate paths, the worst obstacles being a few crumbly cliff bands, 6-8 feet high at worst. The snow was sticking but not accumulating in any great quantities.

Actually, the snow was falling slowly, there was no breeze and all things considered, conditions weren't too bad. The snow made our footing a little more surer, as we could usually smoosh our boots into the snow and it would usually hold. Quickly we were in the canyon bottom, which we followed out to the road and back to my truck, arriving at 12:30 p.m. The snow line was at this elevation as we could see a distinct line of snow in the terrain. I changed into some drier clothes and we didn't waste any time starting the drive out.

Driving out proved to be quite an experience. The rough rocky mountain roads above the corral weren't too bad, since the rocks held us in place. We passed through the gates at the pen and were now back onto the gravel/sand road we'd driven coming up. The rain had turned this road into a slick, clay muck. I had no traction most of the time, spinning my wheels and more often than not yawing in place and kicking up all sorts of gunk. The only upside was that we were not on any slope where we had danger of going over the edge. I was in 4-wheel low and if I went really slow, I could inch forward with some progress but it was excruciatingly slow. We'd hit patches where I could make up about 100 feet then hit a gigantic mudpit, hopping I had enough momentum to get through it. It was torturous.

I came upon a somewhat clever solution: the road grader had pushed a berm of rocks along the side of the road, so I eased one side of the truck onto this berm, where there was more traction, and inched forward slowly, all the while at a steep side-ways lean. This worked, although it took an hour to drive out the 12 miles of this road back to the pavement. We were damn glad to be back onto the hardtop afterwards, and especially pleased to have climbed Cookes Peak despite the weather, and to be back out where we were safe. The drive into Deming went quickly and I dropped Edward off at his vehicle, before making my long drive home.

As I left Deming on westbound Interstate-10, the storm subsided and the clouds lifted, offering me a chance to get a good look at the peak we'd just climbed. The top was covered in newly-fallen snow and was quite beautiful. I was genuinely surprised we'd actually made it! The drive home was its usual long boring endurance contest. The storms had caused some trouble: a big rig was laying on its side near Willcox, Arizona, and some stretches of highway were covered in hail or snow mix. This surely was the last big storm of Spring as usually by this time of year the temperatures are starting to rise into the warm regions.

For some excellent photographs of Cookes Peak in clear, dry conditions, please check out Gerry Roach's fine report: Cookes Peak. The east face of the peak looks quite intimidating! It also shows the scrambling sections nearer the top. Despite the seemingly severe exposure, the rock is solid, it lays back well and is actually very nice, easy scrambling.

(c) 2004, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.