Black Crest Range Trail to Hillsboro Peak

The segment of the Black Crest Range Trail to Hillsboro Peak was one I’d attempted to hike in 2018 but as you may or may not recall, I ended up going the wrong direction from Emory Pass heading south instead of north. After realizing my mistake I planned to return and hike to the peak, which I finally got around to doing the last weekend of March.

The route – without the inevitable sidetrips that Abby and take – clocks in at about 10 miles and almost 2,000 feet elevation gain, but it actually feels much easier due to the steady, well-graded ascent. From Emory Pass the trail stays within the boundary of the 2013 Silver Fire for almost 4 miles which. to be truthful is a lot of singed trees, but the plus side is that without foliage to block the view there are some incredible vistas the entire way. The vistas include other burned forest to be sure but mostly it allowed me to observe the dramatic, and now-denuded, contours of the Gila Range as well as the subtle gradations of pastels from sky to peak. I might even argue that overlooking the burn scar might be the only way to appreciate the distinctive topography of the Gila Mountains, but thoughts such as that feel a bit presumptuous.

In any case, Abbs and I headed up the mountain on an unseasonably chilly March 31st under cloudy skies and accompanied by quite the breeze. Though the trail ducks around some of the smaller peaks approach Hillsboro, there were few times when I wasn’t enjoying the views. Abby too appreciated the greater visibility as this area seems to be dense in wildlife; she frequently paused with ears cocked to overlook the canyons below as we traversed the ridge line, tracking some invisible-to-me animal below. The views (and in Abby’s case, the wildlife) combined with the cooler daytime temperatures made it a very pleasant hike for both of us.

After about 4 miles the trail turned around the north side of Hillsboro Peak and immediately entered a (non-burned!) shady section still covered in snow. The snow was initially a surprise to me this late in the season in southern New Mexico but the abnormal winter, as well as the area’s orientation in relation to the sun did make it feasible. In the end the half-mile snowy section was fairly easy to cross and we emerged unscathed upon the gentle slope of the top of Hillsboro Peak. Once of dry land Abbs trotted ahead of me towards the fire tower and building while I took in the views of the valleys to the south and noted the signage informing me that one building was a ranger residence and the other was a public-use overnight cabin. It being the end of March neither the cabin nor the fire tower were staffed but Abbs and I made our way eventually into the cabin, taking note of the old stove and wire bed frames which would be pretty nice indeed overnight at 10,000 feet regardless of the time of year.

Leaving Abby below I then climbed the fire tower as high as I was able and was treated to a very nice overlook of the cabin and the canyons trailing into the white, windblown valleys of the east. The valleys weren’t the only place windblown however and I made a fairly hasty retreat down to solid earth where Abbs displayed her approval regarding me staying on the ground by nosing me in the leg. Together we cruised around the peak for awhile but then it was time to descend back to the desert, back through snow and burn scar.