Distance: 13.6 (roundtrip) – description covers 9 miles (roundtrip)
Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Water: water available in creek
Trail Condition: Moderate to Unpassable
Given how remote Mount Withington is, there is significant appeal in making the long trek and drive to the island peak south of US-60. Unfortunately, as of 2017, the trail has been washed away following a fire in the upper portion of the Potato Canyon Trail – Trail #38, so this route is no longer a good option.
Still, the lower section contains some worth and if you’re motivated enough, it could be possible to reach the crest and Forest Road 138 without the trail.
To reach the trailhead, go south on NM-107 west of Magdalena for about 25 miles. Turn right on Forest Road 52. After a few miles, turn left on Forest Road 56 to descend into into Big Rosa Canyon. At roughly 3 miles, you will reach the Potato Canyon trailhead on the right. All of these Forest Roads have the potential to be extremely rough. High clearance vehicles only.
From the trailhead, the hike begins in a wide wash. The trail is detectable at points, but comes in and out so just follow the wash, which narrows as you go. In this section, the wash is dry and without water.
Before 2 miles, there is a significant fork in the canyon. The canyon is fairly wide and there’s significant vegetation in this area, so it can be easy to miss. Choose the left fork.
Here the canyon narrows and the trees and underbrush become significant. The trail is also easier to follow in this area, and in June 2017, water appeared in this stretch of the canyon.
A little over 3 miles, the canyon narrows into a waterfall. Climb up and through the waterfall. Depending on how much water there is in the stream, the rock can be slippery so be mindful of your footing.
Past the waterfall, the hike reenters the wash. The canyon walls are lower here and quickly disappear and the canyon widens again. This section of the canyon burned a few years earlier.
Eventually, the trail climbs atop the left bank above the wash. The trail here becomes difficult to follow, but it eventually crosses again to the right (north) side of the wash. It was quite clear that the trail was washed out following the fire. The banks of the wash had incised to a depth of 10-15 feet and the trail through this burned forest was indiscernible. At this point, the trail disappears completely.
Also, when I did this hike in June 2017, a hail storm with thunder and lightning rolled in at this point, draining my willingness to trudge uphill off-trail.
I turned around and returned to the trailhead at this point.
From where I turned around, it was about 1.5 miles to the crest and the junction with Forest Road 138. Because of the fire, the ridge above was visible, making it possible (with good weather) for experienced hikers to continue up to the crest.