Ascent of Wheeler Peak on 2011-08-11

Climber: Clay Mills

Others in Party:Renee
Date:Thursday, August 11, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Wheeler Peak
    Location:USA-New Mexico
    Elevation:13161 ft / 4011 m

Ascent Trip Report

Arrived at the trailhead at Taos Ski Valley and began ascent at 8:45 a.m. with my wife Renee. The trail is well marked and easy to follow all the way to the summit. The first 1 1/2 miles is the roughest part of the climb as the trail is very rocky and relatively narrow in places through the woods with many tree roots and sharp rocks jutting up out of the soil. Also there are many small, loose rocks which make footing less than ideal; nonetheless, it is not a bad trail. After approximately 1 1/2 miles the trail joins a well maintained, though rocky mountain road which continues to the 3 mile point at the base of Bull of the Woods Mountain. This road was used for some years to access a couple of mines located on top of Bull of the Woods Mountain, which we would pass along side of. Along this section of the road we were met by a trail ride group coming down from an early morning ride up to Bull of the Woods Mountain. At Bull of the Woods Mountain the road ends and a well-worn trail turns to the right, marked by a sign clearly pointing the way to Wheeler Peak. Renee said she had done all she could for this climb and decided to wait here for me to go the additional distance and return.

The trail enters a spruce forest for several hundred yards and then emerges into alpine grassland. Shortly after emerging from the spruce forest, I saw numerous bighorn sheep along the trail--mostly females with their lambs and younger males--none with the big curled horns. The trail was steep to the east ridge of Frazer Mountain, at slightly over 12,000 feet. From this ridge I made an easy descent across more grassland and into another spruce forest in order to cross a shallow canyon and then begin the final approach to Wheeler Peak. At this point I stopped for a snack and rest of about 15 minutes.

The final approach is a long fairly steep hike with numerous switchbacks up to the final ridge. Along the path there were numerous marmots; their dens, dug into the side of the trail, were obvious all along the way. At this point I caught up to a father and young son from Tulsa, Oklahoma, also headed to the summit and we hiked the remainder of the way together. Several hikers were coming down at this point and one of them, who had passed me while I was taking my snack break, told us to turn back as storms were blowing in and lightning strikes were almost certain. We had heard one long, low booming thunderclap already, but it seemed to be very distant, and since no storm clouds were close by, we cautiously proceeded to the ridge above. On attaining the ridge, we were pleased to see that the thunderstorms had moved eastward several miles and were nowhere near us. Wind direction indicated that the storms would continue to stay away from the area and so we proceeded along the ridge toward Wheeler Peak, which was still about 1/2 mile distant. Along the ridge is Mount Walter, the second highest point in New Mexico at 13,141 feet. A short walk further along the ridge took us to Wheeler Peak, which we reached at 2:45 p.m., 6 hours from my beginning time. I spent about 20 minutes on top. We took each other's pictures next to the plaque marking the summit to prove we had attained the top of New Mexico.

I left and quickly proceeded down the mountainside heading back the very same way I went up and reached Bull of the Woods Mountain and my wife Renee right at 5:00 p.m. She had waited almost 5 hours for my return, which concerned me. Just as I arrived at her bivouac area a light rain mixed with hail began, which lasted for only a short time. We put our ponchos on and ducked under some spruce trees to avoid the rain as much as possible. Renee was in a chipper mood and told me that numerous bighorn sheep had visited her and she had spent the time enjoying the views from her perch high up in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area. We proceeded back down the trail to the parking area amidst light, intermittent rain, arriving at the vehicle at 6:45 p.m.

Total distance: 16 miles
Total time: 10 hours
Dinner: Ricky's (½ mile south of the plaza in Taos on Paseo del Pueblo Sur (some mighty fine Mexican food!)
1 Advil before bedtime
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:4561 ft / 1389 m
    Extra Gain:300 ft / 91 m
    Distance:16 mi / 25.7 km
    Route:Wheeler Peak Trail
    Trailhead:Taos Ski Valley parking area, NE corner  9200 ft / 2804 m
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail
    Weather:Raining, Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Light rain mixed with hail in the afternoon during descent; temperatures in 50's; slight breeze at s
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:6 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:4 Hours 0 Minutes

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