Cross-O Mountain

November 25, 2019.

4.6 mi | 1400′ ele. gain | 3.5 hr.

View from the top of Cross-O Mountain

Photo album

“It’s not that far of a walk…”

After leaving White Sands, we drove into Las Cruces for our first restaurant meal after camping for over a week. Then it was on to Hatch, New Mexico to buy some chiles. Lastly, we needed a place to stay for the night. I spotted some camping opportunities in the Gila National Forest, and we headed that way. We ended up driving all the way up and over Emory Pass, watching the sun drop lower and lower in the sky. At a sign for Wright’s Cabin picnic area, we pulled over immediately. On Google Maps it was listed as a campground, but that was clearly wrong. With a lack of “no camping” signage deterring us, we took it as an invitation to spend the night.

We hastily gathered wood for a fire: the FIRST campfire we’d been allowed to have this whole trip! We wouldn’t be stuck in our tent as soon as night fell! It was really exciting.

The following morning, I scrambled to put a hike itinerary together. Since I wasn’t sure where we’d end up spending the night, I didn’t have a map or a hike planned for the morning. Before leaving home I remember searching on the internet for ideas. I remembered the name “Cross-O” and made a rough estimate of how long the hike would be. With no cell phone data to confirm, we packed up and went for it.

The wind was blowing like crazy. We zipped up, layered up and started moving. Our trail disappeared within a half mile of the trailhead, so we bushwacked a bit and picked it back up again. The area had burned in 2013, which cleared out lots of trees and made it easier for us to see through the forest. The well-graded and maintained trail made it easy for us to get within spitting distance of Cross-O.

We didn’t have to go that far off the trail, but travel was significantly more difficult without a path. Patches of snow, steep hillsides, cactus and yucca provided formidable barriers to progress. We slowly made our way upwards, hoping our summit would come into view at any moment. The wind continued ripping by, and although we were working hard we stayed nestled in all our layers. I was fglad I’d left my long johns on underneath my hiking pants.

When we reached the top of the peak, I dug around for a summit register. It was a glass peanut butter jar, with only one entry in it from this year. Despite being so close to the trail, it apparently sees few visitors. My kind of place.

I asked Aaron if he’d prefer to go back the way we came or to make a beeline straight down the slope to the trail below. Our way up was slightly longer, but more gentle, than my proposed hike down. We decided to take the “shortcut.”

This went really well for a short distance, and then we plunged into a thicket of twisted trees. In between the trees, thorny plants snagged our pants and shoelaces. It was so much type 2 fun.

We stubbornly pushed ahead, dreading the thought of slogging back up slope to go down the other ridge. Miraculously, we made it all the way back to the trail, deftly avoiding some camouflaged barbed wire that could have made for a really bad day.

After hiking off-trail, no matter what distance, it always feels amazing to travel on an actual path designed for walking. The rest of the hike was easy. We managed to follow the trail back to the car, correcting our previous error (the trail turned onto a gravel road with no signage to indicate that).

All I wanted to do at that moment was get out of the wind. But I was happy to have sneaked in a hike, tagged an off-trail highpoint and visited a new wilderness area, all before lunch.

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