Whitewater Baldy, at 10,895 feet, is the highest point in New Mexico's vast Gila Wilderness area. Several trails converge near the peak; this hike follows the Crest Trail #182 through lush alpine forest to reach the highpoint of the majestic Mogollon Mountains. This area is prone to violent thunderstorms, so start early during monsoon season. Forget about hiking it in the winter, as the road to the trailhead is closed due to heavy snow.
The hike begins at the Sandy Point Trailhead along New Mexico highway 159 (Bursum Road). A sign for the Crest Trail #182 is on the south side of the parking area. The trail heads south and immediately begins a steady climb through cool, dense forest, where mature stands of quaking aspen and moss encrusted engelmann spruce choke out the sunlight along the trail.
The Crest Trail reaches a saddle at about 1.8 miles, where it enters the Gila Wilderness. A side trail to the left at about 1.9 miles leads to Bead Spring, which may have water (check with the Glenwood Ranger District). The elevation gain eases now, as the Crest Trail continues south into the Wilderness along the east slope of Willow Mountain. Views are limited, due to the dense tree cover.
By the four mile point, the trail is well into the 10,000 foot country, and travels along the crest of a broad ridge. Occasional openings in the forest allow for incredible views to the west down Whitewater Canyon.
After reaching a high point at 10,510 feet, the Crest Trail makes a short drop down to Hummingbird Saddle at 10,400 feet, where it meets the Whitewater Trail #207. At Hummingbird Saddle the forest opens up to reveal a small idyllic meadow that is perfect for camping. Water should be available at Hummingbird Spring, which is about 0.25 miles down the Whitewater Trail to the west. Again, check with the forest service for current water availability.
Leaving the Crest Trail behind, the hike to the peak now heads due south from Hummingbird Saddle up Whitewater Baldy's north ridge. A faint, unsigned use trail marked by occasional cairns leads the way. After a short, steep climb, the use trail arrives in the cool, thin air of Whitewater Baldy's flat, forested summit. A giant rock cairn and a summit register mark the top of the peak. Head a short distance south from the summit to the south edge of the mountain. Here, the trees and mountaintop suddenly give way to fantastic views from Whitewater's bald spot. All points south and west are visible here.
Return the way you came, unless you are interested in a longer return hike. There are plenty of options for a long loop hike in this incredible wilderness area.
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.