Big Hatchet Peak


By: Bob Michael



There are those places whose sheer lovely remoteness stirs the blood of the desert lover: the Last Chance Range of California, the Arizona Strip, the Land of Standing Rocks in Utah, to name a few. While driving I-10 between Deming and Lordsburg, New Mexico, I had glimpsed distant, rugged peaks far to the south in another Blank Spot on the Map, the New Mexico bootheel, the far southwest projection of the state into Chihuahua. In January, I finally got to do some rambling in this raw border country.

Road maps show two big peaks down there, Animas Peak (8,519'), on the Continental Divide, and Big Hatchet Peak (8,366'). Animas, though a bit higher, is a rounded mass. Big Hatchet, true to its name, nobly cleaves the horizon with its sharp prow. Even from the distance of I-10, the feet get itchy and the peaking instinct thrills at the sight.

Although the peak and most of the surrounding country is BLM land, the easiest access passes through the ranch of Mr. Mahian Eberhart; he is a kindly and hospitable gentlemen, and would surely welcome advance knowledge of your intentions at P0 Box 44, Hachite, N. M. 88040.. Phone is 505 436-2511.

From I-10 between Deming and Lordsburg, State 81 turns south to the village of Hachita. As soon as your out of earshot of the river of l8-wheelers, the lonely mood of this half-forgotten country takes over. Hachita is an unintentional movie set waiting for a speghetti-western border epic, a fascinatingly forlorn place where the twentieth century has flowed past without leaving many visual traces.

About ten miles south of Hachita, on the way to nowhere particular, a dirt road, clearly marked with a sign, turns off to the Hatchet Ranch; it's six more miles from there to ranch headquarters. Do not turn into the living area; an obvious road to the east of the buildings passes through some corrals and heads south. At .4 miles, turn east at a fork; the road continues 4.1 miles to a windmill. This road crosses numerous little transverse gullies in the bajada; a piece of cake in a pickup, but just enough washouts and rocks to make driving in a standard car pretty edgy. I finally left the car just before a rocky gully about 2/3 mile from the windmill, at 4750'. From the windmill, the road continues 2.1 miles up the broad fan of Thompson Canyon to a big steel stock tank; it ends about a mile pest the tank, at 5700'.

The Big Hatchets have the terrible beauty of all truly desolate places; the scenery is strangly reminiscent of southern Nevada, as though part of the Nevada landscape had simply taken the vast leapfrog across the intervening lush Arizona desert. Block-faulted gray and tawny cliffs of Paleozoic limestone with a black stubble of pinyon and juniper rise above broad creosote bush bajadas and distant playa lakes. Indeed, there's a striking resemblance to Potosi Mountain in the Spring Range, although I think Big Hatchet is even more arid. Although the climb was at the end of January, not a single patch of snow was seen, even over 8000 feet.

From the road end, a trail which is extremely faint and squirrelly at the beginning leads south up a canyon, past fine pinyon and live oak stands and bristling fat blue agaves, and then begins a no-nonsense climb to a shoulder of a subsidiary 7500' peak. The trail - sometimes vague but always there - contours along the E. slope of the subsidiary peak to a 7200' saddle between this peak and the broad S. ridge of Big Hatchet. I finally did lose the trail at this point, but it's a straight shot up this mildly brushy ridge about a mile to the top.

The summit gives tremendous views into four states - Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua. The snowy 10,000-foot peaks of the Mogollon Mountains in the Gus Wilderness could be made out far to the north. Closer at hand is the gut-shrinking void of the north face, where at least 1500 vertical feet of limestone have simply ceased to exist. To the south, range upon range of strange, unknown blue and gray mountains and broad plays valleys rolled to the edge of the world somewhere down in Chihuahua.

That night I camped out where I had left the car, and watched the infinitely soft purple and maroon sunset radiance fade over the harsh face of a nameless desert range east across the Hachita Valley in Mexico. Even after the rosy terminator - the shadow of the earth in the atmosphere - had climbed into indigo specs, the cream-colored plays at the mountains foot glowed with en eerie inner light. I drifted off to sleep in a valley where not a motor - not an airplane - not one light broke the primal silence of the stars.

Brown Bear Mountaineering Club
Denver, Colorado

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