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One More Chance for Last Chance Canyon

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by on 05-30-2012 at 12:12 PM (322 Views)
Around the turn of the century (ie. 1999/2000) a husband and wife, who are still teaching at Texas Tech University, began to bolt climbing routes in Last Chance Canyon, NM (in the Lincoln National Forest: Guadalupe District). Their work remained a strict secret for many years and was only shared with a small handful of climbers deemed worth of inclusion in the secret club. Anyone who looked the area up on Mountain Project was greeted with “Don’t bother, the only people who know about it won’t tell you.”

The first time that I was let in on the secret (2007 in my sophomore year at TTU) I was given vague driving instructions such as “Drive to Queen and turn right at the chimney.” When I finally got there I spent an entire day trying to find a route. No one was there to help and all of the bolts had been painted to match the rock.

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The above pictures show the approach to Last Chance.

Although this first experience was frustrating, I began to love the isolation. Last Chance was the reason that I made the transition from a gym climber to an exclusively outdoor climber. Last Chance Canyon is relatively isolated and many people still don’t know about it or don’t bother to drive out there. For this reason, it is still a wonderful place to find isolation and climb with close friends.

The camping is free and if you know your way around, you can spend an entire weekend without seeing anybody else. The locals are great too. If you are lucky you will meet a couple of hippies who started climbing together in high school and climb there about 50 weekends a year. They will tell you that they are waiters, but really they are climbing bums; they work to play. However, because of these great benefits, the word finally got out about 3 years ago; the area is on Mountain Project now, so anyone can find the routes.

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Though Last Chance is growing in popularity, the extreme drought last year resulted in several forest fires in the area and the canyon is currently closed to the public. The drought caused the following issues:

1) The vegetation burned so there is nothing holding the top soil in place when the wind blows,
2) The fences in the area burned down,
3) Several free range cows got down into the canyon and died for lack of water; their carcasses are still there.

The National Forest Service has begun a project to replant native plants in the effected areas. They were hoping to have the project done and the canyon open by the middle of April, 2012, but that has not been possible. It is still closed since the grass has not yet grown to a point of sustaining the topsoil. Hopefully this great area will be open again soon, but it is always a good idea to call beforehand to make sure that you will be able to camp and climb. Also, be sure to ask about any burn bans. Additionally, bring lots of water as well as toilet paper since the camping is primitive.

Last Chance Canyon is a wonderful place to climb and it is sure to grow in popularity through the years. Since 2006, the Forest Service has had a bolting ban in effect, but if this is ever lifted I am sure that the climbing possibilities will skyrocket. Currently there are about 120 routes in the canyon ranging from 5.4 to 5.13b, but it is conceivable that another 200 routes could be added in this large, beautiful canyon. I imagine that Last Chance is now what Shelf Road was in the mid ‘80’s. If you have never heard of Last Chance, then you should look it up.

If you ever make it down to West Texas or Southern New Mexico, it would be worth your time to print off some directions (fortunately for new visitors, Mountain Project has detailed directions) and go climbing at one of the best kept secrets in the U.S.


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Stephen Campbell is a guest blogger and a student at the WEST Institute in Laramie, Wyo. He is primarily a rock climber, but also enjoys backpacking, kayaking and fly fishing.

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