views en route
NOTE: There are multiple trails/trailheads via which Holt Mountain can be accessed. This description is for access via the TH at the end of Sheridan Coral Road [aka Catron County Road C054].
If peak-bagging/hiking to a destination point is your thing and you’re passing through the area, [or just want a sample of what the amazing Gila National Forest has to offer], then the hike to Holt Mountain is a great option. Located just off Highway 180 at the end of a graded/well-maintained dirt road, [Sheridan Coral Road, aka Catron County Road C054], the TH is very accessible, doesn’t require high clearance, and, [unlike some hikes in the massive Gila National Forest], doesn’t require hiking 10+ miles one-way in order to reach your destination point.
At the TH off Sheridan Coral Road/County Road 054, you’ll take the Holt Apache Trail #181. Interestingly enough, right at the beginning, there is a yellow metal sign warning you that the trail is not maintained, yet I found the trail conditions to be excellent and route finding [for the trail portion] to be a breeze… something that cannot be said of other trails in the Gila National Forest which could definitely use such warning signs! Finally, while on the topic of ‘warnings’, do take caution if you decided to sign the log at the trailhead. When I opened the lid of the wooden compartment that houses the log, my face was almost ambushed as two terrified chipmunks that had taken up residence in there frantically leaped out!
As for the hike, the first mile or so has some ups and downs as the trail contours through the mountains before dropping you into Sheridan Gulch. There isn’t much shade during the first mile, but the trade-off is having awesome views of the surrounding area. Make sure to enjoy the views, [as well as the brief drop into / subsequent flat section of Sheridan Gulch], because rest of the journey is an uphill grind, with the next 2+ miles having virtually no views, due to the thick growth of trees. The gulch is very beautiful and there was some off/on light water flow & clean pools when I did this hike at the end of May 2016. You’ll also be in complete shade almost every step of the way up. That said, the elevation can definitely creep up on you, so be sure to pace yourself! The very gradual grade in the beginning gets steeper as the trail takes you higher, and it cumulates in a steep set of switchbacks that take you out of the gulch.
As this point, the views start to open, but you still have another 2+ miles of climbing before reaching the summit, some of which is quite steep and will likely seem grueling to the average hiker. The bushwhack required to reach the summit is only about 1/2 mile one-way; the exact distance depends on where you choose to leave the trail. From all sides of the mountain that I saw, the topography is very favorable; however, [for at least one of the ways], I would recommend NOT opting for the most direct / as-the-crow-flies route for your bushwhack. There reason is: the best views of the entire hike occur after the trail rounds a corner and heads NE, toward UN 9521’. Taking the most direct, ‘as-the-crow flies’ approach means missing these awesome views.
As for the summit, views are blocked in most directions and there are no views from the highpoint due to the surrounding trees. En route to the highpoint, I was able to catch some views to the NE, but the best/most unobstructed views are definitely along the segment of trail I described above, as the trail heads toward UN 9521. In the vicinity of the highpoint, there is a medium sized cairn located right next to the survey marker for Holt Mountain[which is actually quite nice]. The cairn/survey marker are not in the immediate area of the highpoint, and if I hadn’t spotted the cairn, I would have missed both. I placed my phone on top of the survey marker and then way-pointed the location: lat: 33.294862, lon: -108.77742860000001. Nestled under some of the rocks that form the cairn, I spotted a broken dark glass jar. At first glance, it looked like trash [broken beer bottle] but upon closer examination, it proved to be what was left of the register, which met its end in a fire. The blaze had darkened the glass and smoothed the top part of it that had shattered. Inside was what remained of the log book; the pages were almost completely blackened.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.