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A combination of firefighters and wilderness response teams rescued a large group of hikers in New Mexico’s Organ Mountains this past Monday, after the party got stuck during an attempt to climb an ambitious route in the desert range.
The party of 24, which included teenagers and hikers in their 60s, had left from El Paso, Texas with the goal of climbing the 9,012-foot Organ Needle. While the route to the top of the peak—a county high point—is less than six miles, it can be brutally difficult, gaining more than 4,000 feet in elevation, generally through straight-up-and-down gullies rather than switchbacks. Getting to the top requires both off-trail travel and class 3-to-4 scrambling, with most sources recommending a day to make the round trip.
At some point during the evening on Sunday some of the hikers became separated from the group and lost their way. Members of the party called 911, and local firefighters and Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue responded.
In a Facebook post describing the rescue operation, the Las Cruces Fire Department said that emergency responders got permission from the Bureau of Land Management to take an all-terrain vehicle into the area. When they arrived, they discovered that one of the hikers, a 47-year-old woman, was injured and unable to move; in an interview with Las Cruces’ local ABC affiliate, ground team leader Ned Tutor said that she had fallen several times and had also experienced “cactus injury.” Teams transported her off the mountain and took her to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
“Other search and rescue members located the remaining hikers, at various stages of descent, along the La Cueva trail,” the fire department wrote. “Those hikers were escorted to the La Cueva trailhead. Several hikers had relatively minor injuries, mostly scrapes and bruises, and some complained of dehydration.” The operation ran through the night, concluding around sunrise on Monday.
The Organ Mountains are a small yet prominent and steep range near New Mexico’s southern border with Texas. The Needle lies within Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. According to the Las Cruces Fire Department, this was it and Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue’s third joint rescue in the area this year.