Black Peak • Range Highpoint: Pinos Altos Mountains
• Central Grant County

Date Climbed
November 24, 2006

Elevation
9,029 feet

Distance
1.2 miles

Time
2 hours

Gain
450 feet

Conditions
Clear, dry, brisk

Prominence
2,349 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


The Pinos Altos Range as
seen from near Silver City


Beth walks up the trail


An interestingly-bent tree


Me on top

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  Summitpost


Black Peak is the highpoint of the Pinos Altos Mountains, located north of Silver City in southwestern New Mexico. Silver City itself lies at 5,900 feet elevation, in the transition between mountains and desert, and the Pinos Altos can be seen from town as a ridge of peaks, uniform in appearance, about 10 miles from US-180 (the main east-west road through town). Although not a huge range, it has its attractions: a thick forest and plenty of hiking trails, and not a lot of visitors. We were here in 2004, and during that trip, while on a day tour up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, we drove up to Signal Peak (immediately west of Black Peak) to the lookout tower. There was a race going on at the time, with people on horses following a route through the hills. At the top of Signal Peak was a race checkpoint person, as well as the guy in the lookout. We stayed up there about an hour, chatting with everyone. However, at that time we did not venture to Black Peak.

This trip was planned for the Thanksgiving Holiday. North of Silver City is the old town of Pinos Altos. Today it's a community of about 100 people, with some historic buildings, but a hundred years ago it was a bustling city and the county seat of Grant County. It has genealogical interest to Beth, as her paternal line goes back five generations in Pinos Altos, among the first caucasian settlers there. They were railroad men and miners, while her grandfather was the first Pinos Altosian to be accepted to the West Point Military Academy (this being the 1930s). So while a hike in the range was on the agenda, so was some genealogy. That, and some amusement including a parade a nearby hot springs. The irony is, as we left Phoenix to Silver City, we arrived late enough in the day and without any plans, so that our Thanksgiving dinner was just some cheese, crackers, salmon-in-a-pouch and some cups-o-soups, enjoyed in our Super-8 hotel room.

We planned our hike into the Pinos Altos Range the next day (Friday), and got moving in mid-morning. We followed state route NM-15 about 15 miles north of Silver City, intending to take Gila National Forest Road 154 up toward Signal Peak. Even though we drove this road back in 2004, we (or, mainly, I) had trouble remembering where it left off the highway, so we (meaning I) drove up and down the highway thinking I'd missed it, but eventually I (with significant help and encouragement from Beth) found it. Beth enjoyed watching me get lost. We drove up this fine road for 5.7 miles to a pullout on the left, near a trail access sign. Black Peak is less than a mile to the southeast from this pullout. Although the day was clear, it was quite cool, with an occasionally strong breeze. We were the only people there. After suiting up, we started hiking about noon.

We followed a segment of the Continental Divide Trail. From the parking area it rose gently south into the trees, then went gently left (southeast), all the while at a very lenient gradient. The trail was very well constructed and easy to follow. About two-thirds of the way up we encountered some patches of ice along the trail, but nothing to cause trouble. According to the 1999 topographical map, the trail is shown as staying right on the ridge between Signal Peak and Black Peak, but our trail never achieved the ridge until much later than what the map said. When we finally achieved the ridge about 30 minutes later, we stopped for a break while I took a GPS reading. We were east of the peak, but it was standing right there, in front of us to the west, so that worked out well.

After our break we hiked up through the trees, pine needles, pine cones and some scrub to the top, about 120 vertical feet of off-trail hiking, putting us on top of Black Peak. Two buildings sit at the top, and some radio towers. The summit is cleared and there are great views south and east toward the Florida Range near Deming, plus Silver City below us. It had taken us a total of 45 minutes to get here, including our break, so we took another one at the top while I signed us in the log. We found the benchmark in a rock, while the actual high area seemed to be a few feet north near a witness marker (maybe 6 inches higher). We took some photos, but deliberatly framed the buildings out of the pictures. We noted a trail coming off of Signal heading west, but decided not to follow it, instead retracing our steps down the slopes to the CDT.

The hike out went well, and the whole journey took us 2 hours, covering 1.2 miles and about 450 feet of gain. On our drive down we came upon two different vehicles, but that was all. Coming back into Pinos Altos we stopped near the old church and toured the cemetery grounds, some graves dating back to the 1800s and many of them unmarked or badly worn from age. We hoped to randomly find a "Cousland" but had no such luck. Some old-timers digging a grave could not recall any Couslands buried there. We had a relaxing day back at the hotel, highlighted by a forced move to a new room when the toilet above our room overflowed and started to cause some water damage in the walls of our bathroom.

The next day we planned to look at a short hike up Burro Peak but opted against it due to time. Instead we spent a day at the Faywood Hot Springs about 30 miles southeast of town near the City of Rocks State Park. Then, that evening we took in the Christmas Parade in Silver City. Most floats were simple and mainly Christmas lights strung out over flat-bed trailers. Some weren't even that elaborate. Our favorite was the "Peacemeal" Vegetarian Deli float, which was three guys sitting in the bed of a truck playing bongos and tablas, with their shop's name spelled out on milk jugs strung together.

The next day (Sunday) was our big drive home but on the way, we scouted Burro Peak. We figured we could drive to the radio towers on nearby Jack Peak, and hike a short ways to the real summit, but all the roads were deep sand and we wanted to part of that, so we decided to get moving and to come back another day.

(c) 2006, 2011 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.