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Wheeler Peak or bust!

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Offline dkerr24

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Wheeler Peak or bust!
« on: August 20, 2009, 11:28:34 PM »
I just returned from 4 days in the Wheeler Peak wilderness area near Taos, NM.  The weather was great, no rain at all the entire time I was there.  Was 40F this morning when I woke up.

I successfully climbed Wheeler Peak... the winds on the exposed ridges coming up the Bull-of-the-woods trail was brutal!

Trip report and pics coming soon...

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Offline randell

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2009, 12:04:45 AM »
Can't wait for the report.  I wanted to do that last year but wound up going to BIBE instead.  I'll be there one day, though.
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Offline sleepy

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2009, 08:47:28 AM »
give with it, man!   We are going to bag Wheeler in a couple of weeks coming from the Red River side.
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2009, 02:29:07 PM »
A couple of pics while I work on the trip report.  This is 'Bull of the Woods pasture'.



Here I am at the summit.  Took about 4 hours hiking from my base camp to get there:

« Last Edit: August 21, 2009, 02:31:20 PM by dkerr24 »

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2009, 02:43:46 PM »
Your daughter did not tag along with you?....great pictures so far.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2009, 02:58:50 PM »
Your daughter did not tag along with you?....great pictures so far.

Hey Homer... I think you may have me confused with BadKnees...  both of my daughters think staying in a hotel is 'camping'.  They just think I'm crazy for doing what I do.  :)

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Offline randell

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2009, 03:29:48 PM »
Nice view up there!  Are you doing state highpoints or did you just happen to pick a state highpoint for this hike?
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2009, 03:33:36 PM »
Nice view up there!  Are you doing state highpoints or did you just happen to pick a state highpoint for this hike?

Actually, Wheeler is only my second state highpoint to climb.  I picked it as it was about the closest place to home with a daytime temperature that was bearable in August.

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2009, 11:05:23 PM »
Day One: Aug 17, 2009



After hiking the high point in Texas last May, I began to think about climbing other state high points. Guadalupe Peak (elevation 8,751 ft) in Texas was ranked 13th toughest of the state high points. The views from the Guadalupe’s summit were awe-inspiring.

Number 12 state high point on the difficulty meter is Wheeler Peak (elevation 13,161 ft) in New Mexico. From the trip reports I have read, Wheeler Peak is a long steady climb similar to Guadalupe Peak - just much higher which explains the increased difficulty rating. Since I cannot train for altitude, I am sure this will be the most daunting task of summiting Wheeler Peak.

The most direct route to the summit is from the north, starting at the parking lot of the Taos Ski Valley. The ski area is accessed by driving north from Taos on US Hwy 64, then turn onto State Hwy 150. The trail is called ‘Bull of the Woods’ trail, and it is 8 miles long from the ski resort parking lot to the summit of Wheeler Peak.

My plan is to find a place to setup camp, and hike several of the area trails as day hikes, carrying only a small daypack. A small 15lb day pack should be more than enough food and water to complete most of the day hikes in the area.

I left my home at 4:30am, heading for the Taos Ski Valley. From Oklahoma City, there are several routes I could take. I decided against driving out I-40, as I’ve driven that route many times before on trips to the Grand Canyon. I decided to drive through the Oklahoma panhandle, then through Clayton, Springer, Cimarron, NM before arriving at the Taos Ski Valley. My hope of not running into road construction fell apart before I made it to Guymon, OK. Road construction cost me about an hour of lost time. There were 2 areas of construction that required you to come to a complete stop and wait for a lead vehicle to lead you through a single lane through several miles of construction. Also ran into rain in the panhandle around Guymon, but nothing severe. Guess I get a little gun shy after having my car repaired twice for hail damage. Nice view of the storm clouds looking back east:



I ran into the long arm of the law in Springer, NM. I was stopped by a Springer NM cop who said I made a illegal right turn from a parking lane (?). The intersection I turned at had a solid white line on the right, but since it was at the intersection, I assumed that was the turn lane. I told him I’ve never heard of parking lanes within 15 feet of an intersection. He replied in their community, you can park up to the very corner of a intersection. Strange. I think the stop was more of a reason to check for license and insurance on a out of state driver. After radioing in my license and tag number, he let me go without a ticket. Politeness and having ID/insurance handy always pays. However, that little stop cost me more time.

I stopped for lunch along I-25 at the Cimarron NM exit. It was a nice drive up to the pass leading into Eagles Nest. None of the grades were too steep, although I did have to shift down to 2nd gear to make a few of the sharp turns. The view of the valley and lake were very nice:



From this point, I could either take the south loop to Taos, or the north loop through Red River. I haven’t been to Red River since I was a kid, so I decided to drive that loop to get to the Taos Ski Valley. It was a very scenic drive with one pass to climb that was around 9800 feet. My 1.8 liter engine pulled it stronger than I expected. I think a fresh set of spark plugs and a clean air filter helped quite a bit.

Side note: I recently purchased a ‘Scangauge II’ which was handy for monitoring the performance of my car. For example, water temps hit about 210F climbing that pass. My gas mileage was all over the place driving in the mountains, although my average gas mileage was around 37 mpg for the trip. I highly recommend this device for anyone who wants more information about their engine than the standard gauges provide. Simple to install, just plug into the diagnostic port (OBD-II) underneath the dash.

I arrived at the Taos Ski Valley around 4pm. You can park your car in the ski resort parking lot right at the trailhead. With at least 3 or 4 hours of daylight left, I figured I would have plenty of time to find a camping spot. Camping along the trail is allowed, as long as you are camping on public land. I read that no permits or fees are required, and the sign at the trailhead confirmed this.

It took me about 30 minutes to get my gear sorted and loaded in my pack. As this was my first time on this trail, I didn’t know what to expect for camping spots. After 9 hours on the road, I think any flat spot big enough for my tent would be fine. It was about 1.8 miles to Bull of the Woods pasture. A couple I met coming down the trail said I could find several empty camping spots at the pasture with water nearby. I have to admit, I do like the idea of not carrying 20 lbs of water on hiking trips. Water seemed to be about anywhere along the first section of trail leading to the pasture:



The elevation was the killer. The parking lot elevation was 9200 feet. The Bull of the Woods pasture was at 10,800 feet. I had to climb 1600 feet in 1.8 miles. My lungs felt like useless empty luggage going up that trail. I had maybe 35 pounds in gear, 1 liter of water, and lungs that were accustomed to 1200 feet elevation. During that last ? mile, I think I only made about 50 feet of forward progress before stopping for a minute to catch my breath. It took about 70 minutes to cover that 1.8 miles. At one point, the trail crossed a stream and you had to either get your feet wet or try to balance your way against some logs lashed together:



The effort was worth it… the camping spots there were very scenic and right next to a small pond. Well… pond might be a bit too generous of a term. It was more like a small watering hole. Pretty nice spot to camp, though:



According to my map and GPS, the elevation here was 10,800 feet. It sure felt like it, as even light exercise was making me breathe hard. The skies were a bit overcast, so I went ahead and pitched my tent with the rain fly just in case. I went to bed after dinner, not long after sunset which was around 8pm.

Day 2 coming up next...
« Last Edit: August 22, 2009, 10:27:12 AM by RichardM »

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BigBendHiker

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2009, 12:56:05 PM »
Thanks for the trip report and pictures thus far. Can't wait for the rest!



BBH

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2009, 04:19:12 PM »
Aug 18, 2009

I slept fitfully and awoke with a splitting headache.  The thinner air was definitely causing me problems.  I figured if I didn’t feel better after breakfast, I’d pack up and head back to the car.  After a breakfast of oatmeal and a cup of coffee, I felt much better.  The problem must have been lack of caffeine as much as the thinner air.

I did a pretty hurried job of packing my gear yesterday, and realized I was short a warm shirt, spare socks and food.  Did the 3.6 mile round trip hike to the car to pick up the missing items.  It wasn’t nearly as hard without a backpack.

Since today was a day for me to get acclimated, I decided I would climb Gold Hill as a training climb.  The trail spur for Gold Hill was only a few yards away from my campsite.  The sign at the spur said Gold Hill 3 miles.  I thought a 6 mile loop hike would be a good way to get used to the altitude.

After the trip back to the car, I started up Gold Hill trail.  The first mile of the trail was a steady climb through stands of blue spruce and aspen trees.  You couldn’t see ahead more than 20 or 30 yards due to the dense forest.  After the first mile, the trail broke free in a meadow with a nice view to the southwest towards the ski valley.   You couldn’t quite see Taos from there due to a range of mountains blocking the view:



About this time I began to hear cattle, and not long after that 2 riders on horseback stopped and asked me if I spotted any cattle.  I said I hadn’t seen any, but heard some in the trees to my right.  About that time, one came out of the trees, and the riders headed off after it.  I didn’t realize this area was open cattle range.

At mile number 2, I passed an abandoned mine, which I guessed is where the mountain got the name from:



Quite a good sized pile of tailings below the mine:



I kept following the trail up to a ridge, but once I reached the crest of the ridge, the trail abruptly stopped.  I could see the peak of Gold Hill off in the distance to the northwest of my position, but my GPS said I had already covered 2.5 miles.  The summit was much farther than .5 miles away… more like 1.5 miles or more. 



I started following the ridge line towards the summit, but gray clouds were coming up the valley from Taos accompanied with a sudden decrease in temperature made me reconsider.  I was only wearing a short sleeved shirt and long pants.  It was getting cold enough my breath was starting to fog, so I figured I better skip on climbing Gold Hill and head back down to camp.  I could see Goose Lake on the other side of the ridge, which was also 3 miles from the trail head. 

The clouds dispersed about the time I got halfway back to camp.  Never got any rain in the 4 days I was in the area.

When I got back to camp, I figured I’d take it easy the rest of the day.  I was surprised that mosquito’s were not out in force considered the ‘meadow’ north of camp was actually a grassy swamp.  I did see a few of them, but they didn’t seem all that interested in biting.  The rest of the afternoon, I sat in camp and relaxed.  The wind rustling through the aspens and spruce was very peaceful.  Every once in a while, a group of day hikers and some groups on horseback would pass by on the trail.  I wondered if the trail was good enough for horses to make it all the way to the top of Wheeler.

More to come...

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Offline lparent

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2009, 10:47:20 PM »
At least you had good weather for your climb.  The altitude is a killer, though, if you're not used to it.  I always suffer the first 3-4 days when I'm out in NM, CO, or other high elevation areas.  I'll attach a photo of my third climb of Wheeler.  As usual for me on that peak, we were chased off by rain, hail, and lightning, even though we reached the summit in a day hike by about 10 AM.  I've been on an on-again, off-again quest to climb the 50 highpoints.  I've done 41, but still have several hard ones left--Rainier, Hood, Gannet, Granite, and McKinley--along with a few odd ones like Kansas and Illinois.  If any of you are interested in the hard ones, let me know.  I should probably climb them while I still can!  It would be nice to have a partner or two.

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2009, 11:13:23 PM »
Ahh... I recognize the La Cal basin behind you in that pic...  so you're coming down from Wheeler in that pic?  

I saw several trails coming up from the Red River side as well.  I don't think I'm even remotely qualified to climb some of the remaining peaks you have on your list - especially Denali... doubt I'll ever bag that one.  Several of the groups I met on the trail said they combined the Wheeler Peak highpoint with Guadalupe Peak on the same trip.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2009, 11:55:13 PM by dkerr24 »

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Offline lparent

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2009, 09:47:50 PM »
Yes, that's two of my very wet friends coming down toward Bull-of-the-Woods as fast as they can.  They didn't want to stop for the photo.  The lightning was, shall we say, electrifying.

I'm not sure I'll ever get McKinley climbed either.  I've been to 18,500' without any altitude problems other than heavy breathing, but I'm not sure I want to spend two weeks in a tent freezing to death either.

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Offline randell

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #14 on: August 24, 2009, 10:40:36 AM »
I'm not sure I'll ever get McKinley climbed either.  I've been to 18,500' without any altitude problems other than heavy breathing, but I'm not sure I want to spend two weeks in a tent freezing to death either.

Mt McKinley is one of those highpoints that I will mark as a "visited, did not summit".  Most of the high points I hike but the ones that people die on I am scared of.  I don't mean the random unprepared hiker but the well equipped climber who dies in an avalanche.  If I can get to near the base and say I saw the mountain in person, that's good enough for me.  So mark off Mount Hood and Mount McKinley.  I am not sure about Mount Ranier.  The high points that require technical climbing I may do someday if I can go with someone who has more experience at rock climbing than I do.

I really enjoy the high point thing because it also gets you to visit all 50 states.  If I drove across 20 miles of the tip of Pennsylvania someone may say I really did not visit the state, but if I drove across 20 miles and visited the highest point in Pennsylvania...well then...I have an argument.  Because not everyone has driven down that dirt road and braved the 20 steps top of the observation tower at the Pennsylvania high point. 
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

 


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