Ascent of Wheeler Peak on 2017-09-16

Climber: bob l

Date:Saturday, September 16, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Wheeler Peak
    Location:USA-New Mexico
    Elevation:13161 ft / 4011 m

Ascent Trip Report

I drove in from Albuquerque spending the night at the Alpine Suites. After a decent sleep, I drove up the bouncy dirt road to the Williams Lake trailhead where I geared up and started the hike around 6:15am or so. The forecast was for perfect weather in the high 50s with tranquil winds and the early morning ambiance at the trailhead was nodding approval. The mid-September, mountainous winds, which had an ominous cold feeling the night before in the ski village, were now just gently fondling the surrounding trees. I was surprised that I didn’t need my winter hat or gloves. With the help of some strategically located signs, the trail exits the parking lot passing a cute German restaurant before changing into a dirt road then transforming into a wide, maintained forestry path. Along the wooded path, you continue to move slowly but noticeably uphill and you will pass some interesting rocky formations and gardens. Eventually, you reach the lake area where there is a sign pointing you to the turnoff for the trail to the peak. If you’ve done your research, you know this is where the real hike begins. The start of the peak trail initially climbs moderately through an alpine backdrop heading for the tree tops. Here and there, you can actually see the peak area off and up towards your right. Once above treeline, the trail starts to take a few slugs at you as it swings and then makes a big partial loop through a summerly looking grassy area. You’ll enjoy looking back down at this section when you’re stopped higher up catching your breath. It’s scenic. After this grassy section, the trail hits a rocky, lunar like section that tightly switchbacks aiming for the saddle area between the Walter and Wheeler peaks. Throughout the entire hike, the wind kept notching up its presence, but it was in this moony section that it started jumping out at me ready to fight. A few times, I had to lean into the gusts to hold my balance. I also had to layer up into some winter wear here. In addition to the wind, these switchbacks also weigh you down due to the elevation, but you can see the ridgeline where you need to go, and with some push, the saddle area is soon reached. At the saddle you go right. Here, I felt like I could reach up and touch the clouds that were zooming by, but the wind and chill were pretty strong, so I hurriedly and uncomfortably moved along the flattish ridge, first up an over a false summit, then finally reaching the real summit. There’s a neat placard and great views awaiting your arrival at the summit. All in all, this is a big fairly traversable mountain and a respectable state high point.
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