Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Not As Hot as It Might Have Been!
Around on the back side of Hershberger Peak (East) the deep cut so defined by the very distinctive Devil's Backbone ridge of rock cliffs, suggests potentials for a canyon full of protruding limestone falls and bedrock walkways. Instead what you get is a lazy, gravel bottomed walk, mostly surrounded by towering beds of sand and gravel sedimentary deposits, looking to cave in at any moment. There are adjoining benches of grass filled meadow areas; this is a canyon so accessible that the deer and elk prints range up to the top of the cut.
The map labels the branch immediately adjacent to the Devil's Backbone ridge as the specific "Hells Hole"... probably because of some of the adjacent mining activity from the abandoned Warnock Mine? Old piling debris has been pushed over the upper edge near the top of the canyon cut... and that area is the easiest access up and out of the canyon. The Forest Service's Hell Hole Trail passes along the canyon edge at that point. Following Hell Hole Trail a short distance up will put you at the official eastern trailhead for the "A" trail... and a potential loop back down and around into Alamogordo.
Down in the canyon there are some redeeming features, in particular a sculptured section of waterfall that for most hiking days would make for a nice turnaround point. Enjoy a picnic at that falls then head back down and out. If you do proceed past that point, keep an eye out for more of that sculptured rock forming a wall on your right... that pour over is the waterfall that is fed by the Hell Hole section. Climb up and enter the narrower cut and decide how to best proceed from that point. If your goal is to go up and out, I'd suggest exiting the bottom, moving steeply up towards the Backbone... once high enough to orient, angle towards the northern end of that ridge formation where the climb to the top will be much easier.
Once up a ways you well see that there are additional upper forks to explore directly adjacent to Hershberger Peak, with a possible peak assault possible? For another day.
AS a canyon hike, up and back out, this is one of the easier outings. You do have the approach up Alamo Canyon, then up Caballero Canyon... and briefly into the Caballero Canyon North cut before this canyon truly starts. It will add up to lots of off trail miles.
Note: The start to this hike is into the drainage on your left as you follow T103 down off of the hill adjacent to the riparian section of the Caballero Canyon trail. You will pass under a water pipe trestle shortly after entering the North Fork drainage. Turn left at the first split beyond that point... you will know you are in the right canyon if there is interesting sculptured rock on your right and a towering sand/gravel cliff on your left.
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.
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