Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Two dozen members of a Texas-based hiking group are safe – although many of them have sore rear ends – after an attempt to summit the highest point in the Organ Mountains on Sunday.
The large group’s effort led to several 911 calls when the hikers became stranded at various points along the Organ Needle, a rugged peak about 9,000 feet above sea level.
It was likely the largest search and rescue operation in the mountain chain flanking Las Cruces, at least in recent memory. The Las Cruces Fire Department’s Technical Rescue Team, along with members of the Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue, Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police, worked through the night to take the hikers to safety, said Dan Trujillo, a spokesman for Las Cruces Police and Fire departments.
“It was some hiking group out of El Paso,” he said. “They go to different areas, they hike, and this time they chose the Organ Mountains and it didn’t work out that well.”
The group ranged in age from teenagers to adults in their mid-60s, with a range of trail experience. They set out for the summit at 4 a.m. Sunday.
The group splintered into smaller groups and became disoriented on the route, according to a Las Cruces Fire Department news release.
SummitPost, a website that describes the routes to the tops of prominent peaks, says that to stand atop the Organ Needle, one must link a mix of hiking trails, bushwhacking, route finding and a short but exposed climbing section just below the summit. It says some people need a rope belay to make it to the top.
Trujillo said it didn’t appear that any member of the group reached the apex, with everyone turning around at various places throughout the climb, which ascends 4,000 feet over four miles.
“It’s a very steep grade. So on the way back down, they were sliding on their rear ends,” Trujillo said. “So they had bad scratches. … The seats of their pants were worn out on some of the individuals.”
As the day turned into evening, the hikers, unable to find their way off the mountain, made several calls to 911. One 47-year-old woman couldn’t get down on her own and had to be carried down. She was taken to Memorial Medical Center with injuries that were not life-threatening.
The other hikers reported minor issues, like butt scratches, rolled ankles and dehydration.
All told, Trujillo said about a dozen rescuers from the various agencies were hard at work from about 8 p.m. Sunday until 4 a.m. Monday.
He said it was at least the third time in 2021 that the Fire Department’s Technical Rescue Team partnered with Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue on a mission in the Organ Mountains.