In the footsteps of the Anastazi / Anasazi

                 "scenes from the Rio Cuervo in New Mexico"



To see the last climb to the top 5-2010

Well it has finally happened! On 9-12-8 the journey to the top of Felipe Mesa took place. Let me give you some background. It was about 10 years ago when I circled the mesa looking for logical ascents. I looked at the obvious ascent where I had been told that many kids had gone to the top. We knew that there was a sky village located on top by Anastasia and pueblo people. The cowboys of old had placed a ladder in the cave and kids of all ages had gone up the ladder to the cave to a hole in the top of the cave that broke through the top of the mesa. This would be the first ascent that I would make only to find out that the ladder was a single post about ten feet in length with about six cross bars on it. When placed in the proper position it left us short by five feet of the cave bottom. Later I was to find that the cave pass through was blocked and this would no longer be a place to ascend. So the challenge would continue. Later that same year (1998) another gentleman and myself would walk around the entire base of the mesa noting the three best spots to ascend. With a climbing pick in hand and a full 40 pound pack we made three attempts to get to the top he would be at a position just about 100 feet to my left and we would try the climb. The base was always the same about two to three hundred feet of gravel hills and steep climb getting steeper as you go. Then would come a vertical climb of about 50 to 80 feet that would be quite dicey at time and you always felt that your pack would pull you off into a bad fall to the ground. This would be followed by about 20 feet of rocky vertical climb that would be a challenge. You would now be on a rocky ledge where you could take a breather and notice that only about 20 and you would be on top. The problem always turned out to be that the last 20 feet was straight up and around rocks that would stop you from getting to the top. On this day I a one time found myself on the top of that last 20 feet only to find that the part I climbed was cleaved away from the actual mesa top by about 7 feet of crack abyss that separated me from the main mesa top. What a scary let down to my best effort climb. On the next climb I found myself clinging to the side of the mesa about 70 feet in the air having lost my foot holds just holding by my climbing pick. I first got my pack off and let it go on its way to the bottom of the mesa. Then I spent time digging with one foot a new hold to begin my descent. With my failures to make the climb I still heard rumors of those who made it. Frankly I figured that there must be something I did not know.

My next serious attempt was approximately 5 years later with Greg the mountain goat. If anyone could get to the top it would be him. We began near the cave face just to the south. This spot had always look like the best bet even though I had failed there on my first attempt 5 years earlier. I had no problem getting to the rocky rim just 20 feet from the vertical climb to the top. While resting there and evaluating the possibilities Greg wedged himself into a cleavage of sandstone and rocks that had been eroded open and the next thing I knew he disappeared to the top. There was no way that I could figure out how he did it nor was he close enough to me to give me a hand. He was on top about 15 feet over my head. He spent about two hours on top while I explored the area. After coming back down (I do not know how) he felt if we had a rope he could have gotten me to the top as well. He was not sure how he wiggled up that cleave but he felt he could do it again. I tell you this guy is a mountain goat. My next attempt was with Tom. He knew about the Greg success and every time we passed Felipe he would want to give it a try. He said he wanted to try the cave. About three years ago we went to the task. He climbing for the first time toward the cave and I retracing my steps with Gregg. Once again I was with heavy pack but Tom was confident. I believe he said "I will meet you at the top". This time the side of the Mesa had changed and eroded quite badly and my climb was deliberate and scary. It was about 100 degrees and I frankly was afraid. Tom who was about 50 feet to my right when we had split directions called out his determination. I then could not hear or see him as I pulled myself up the side of the face foot by slippery foot. Finally I reached the spot Greg had wiggled through but it too had changed. The opening was no longer big enough to get your body in. The ledge was narrow and slippery. It crumbled as I shifted my weight. I pressed myself against the face of the Mesa and wondered if I could turn my body around on the narrow ledge without it falling beneath my feet and dropping me to my death on the rocks below. I yelled to Tom for help. I heard nothing. I managed to turn my body thinking I could drop my pack and find a way off this ledge and down to safety. I then heard Tom's voice, not from the top but below me. I slid down holding my breath and amazed that I did not tumble to my death. I got down to the manageable area where my pack had settled in. There was Tom safe and sound on the bottom hill. I ask him what had happened, how come he was at the bottom? He said oh, I turned around after we separated. He added "We can't get up that thing". We laughed, I felt like crying. Would we ever get to the top? Mike my climbing buddy and James my son in law were game. Mike bought climbing gear and ropes and was convinced we could do it at the Greg site. Greg convinced him he could get up it and drop a rope to me. I was convinced no one could ascend on that spot again. Then I got an email from this guy name Peter. Peter said he and his wife go up all the time. Now just think about all that I have told you of my experiences and his statement, he and his wife go up all the time. I figure that this guy definitely knows something I do not know. After talking to him a couple of times he seemed like a good guy who had found a spot further south on the Mesa where there was only a 15 foot climb on the final ascent and there were foot holds. He turns out to be a man's man, ex navy like myself and about 20 years younger than me. I question him about that last 15 feet. He says someone has a rope there and it will be no problem. So off we go. The final ascent on San Felipe Mesa. Peter turns out to be a climber and a bundle of energy who is just glad to see God's creations. And there is no better place than the middle of the badlands and San Felipe Mesa to see it all. Wild horses, open range,

and there in front of us Felipe.

Peter shows James and I the place where he turned over his Jeep just below the south side of the mesa. What a guy! Then up the hills we begin. Peter with a broad smile climbing like he is just walking up stairs. James just behind wondering where the tough part begins. Then me following about 20 feet behind making excuses for why it is taking me so long. Here is where I had my epiphany. Just yesterday I went on Medicare. That makes me 40 years older than James and 20 years older than Peter. My epiphany was "What am I doing here"

Once again I have the heaviest pack and once again we are at the rock ledge. I must admit this path was a good one. It did have foot holds. But! But, there always is a but. There is this one rock. It is about 5 feet wide and 7 feet long and it sticks out of the side of the mesa face. You must hug the rock with your arms around it and spread eagle climb or hang from it to get to the next foot hold. With my gut I figured this is a major risk for me. Peter had no problem. James had not problem. And I said throw me a rope. The rope that had been there had broken and was in a crevasse or ravine about 30 feet straight down under the rock. It had a seat that was used to pull people up over the opening. Peter knotted the rope every two feet and dropped it down to me. We pulled the packs up then it was my turn.

I held the rope with my left hand and used it as a safety line. It worked. I am not sure that I needed it but I felt a lot better with it as I rolled around that rock to get to the next foot hold. With my pack I could not have done it at all. In less than 45 minutes and ten years I was at last on top. As it turns out there was a metal stake driven into the sandstone at the top for the rope that had broken. There was evidence that someone had taken some equipment to the top. A broken light bulb, a case of water with haft the bottles still full. Several heavy metal cutting and digging tools. Just about 20 feet from our entry spot they had been working to dig a shaft into the mesa. They had a system of pipes across the shaft to act as a pulley for a bucket to pull something out of the bottom of the shaft.

The bottom seemed to me to be a cave entry. They had clearly known where to dig the shaft and it looked as though they had used a jack hammer to cut through the hard sand stone layer. What were they after? Only further investigation will tell us. On the top there is evidence of several dwellings.

From the pottery and building types it seems that many generations of Anastasia and pueblo people have used this strategic spot. There are what could be man modified water catchment ponds. I think this mesa had it wet and dry times. During the wet times these ponds could have supplied water year round. James saw a rabbit. How a rabbit population endures here is a mystery. We saw no evidence of other game animals. The mesa is larger than one imagines from below. It also has several subtle terrain's of its own. Near each foundation there is much pottery to be found and flakes from years of tool making. Peter says he had found many points on the top as well. This would lead me to believe that the rabbit population was heavy at times. From the top you had a clear view of the badlands and TAS.

James points to the big water fall. One could imagine the population of Felipe watching the fires of the population of TAS a night just below the big water fall. I forgot to have James with his handy GPS unit check the elevation while we were there.

Pete is still full of energy. I sat on a rock at the north end and take it all in. Just like being at the big water fall you get the feeling of soaring height and the great expanse of distance without a trace of man. There is also that new definition of silence as it is broken by a passing hawk.

James found a friend. Now it is back to the Hummer, all we have to do is go back down! Approx. 1,000 feet!

The next week we saw this guy.

A little research by Mike Potts told us not touching it was a good idea. It is a SW blister beetle. Blister being the operative term.

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copyright 2008 Chuck Dawson Corrales NM

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