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Wheeler Peak or bust!

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #15 on: August 24, 2009, 02:32:54 PM »
08/19/09 Wheeler Peak

Today was the big day to attempt climbing Wheeler. I slept much better last night than the night before and didnít wake up with a bad headache. Since I was going to leave my camp setup at the pasture, all I needed to carry today was a mostly empty pack with snacks, food, water, and a fleece vest. Pack weight was under 20 lbs. It would have been lighter if I had my daypack, but that was still back in the car at the parking lot far below.

I started heading up the trail around 7:15am. No sooner than I left my camp, I came across a couple from Dallas who were headed to the summit as well. Another couple was hiking with them, and was pretty far ahead as they were hiking at a good pace. They said they were going at a very leisurely pace, so I proceeded ahead.

The Bull of the Woods trail does not make a straight ascent to the top of Wheeler. It first climbs a ridge near Fraser Mountain, then loses about 500 feet going into the La Cal basin. It was a bit disheartening to look down into La Cal basin and spot the trail climbing back out the other side. I cannot see why they donít reroute the trail and bypass La Cal basin on the southwest side. It may be due to snow avalanches in spring but thatĎs hard to say in August when no snow was on the mountains at all.

The wind on some of the western ridges was causing me some difficulty. It wasnít a constant windÖ it would die off almost to dead calm, then a sudden blast would come roaring up the slope.



I stopped for rest and a snack lunch at the ĎMiddle Fork of the Red Riverí. Nice area for a rest stop with plenty of shade and the soothing sound of bubbling spring water trickling past. Getting out of the wind was a nice break, too. 
 

 
Soon after leaving La Cal basin, the trail quickly climbs above the treeline and into a tundra-like area where a number of switchbacks bring you up to the ridgeline for the final ascent to Wheeler. Marmot dens were all over the place in this section. In this picture taken near the top, you can also see the trail branching off and heading down slope in a hurry towards Williams Lake:



I saw a group of people actually climbing up that route. They were struggling with loose scree as they climbed up.

At this point, I decided I didnít need to carry my pack the rest of the way, so I dropped it behind some rocks out of the wind. I carried just my camera for the final climb. The climb didnít take very long, as I was trying to get past the exposed areas quickly between blasts of wind. I was so busy looking down at the ground to avoid twisting an ankle when the trail stopped climbing. I looked up and was at the summit! It took me about 4 hours and 20 minutes with rest stops to get from my camp to the summit.

Three people from Dallas were at the top signing in the register. There was a small rock wall built on the western side of the summit which was great for huddling behind to get out of the wind. It is hard to describe the views; it was 360 degrees of panoramic awesomeness extending to the horizon.


 
I took pictures of the Dallas threesome with their camera, they took pictures of me with my camera.  I was glad I brought along the extra layer of clothing as temps at the summit were only in the 40's.  The wind chill made it feel far colder than that.


 
I was glad there was someone up there to take my picture, as the wind would have made setting up my tripod for a self-portrait a questionable idea. While resting, we found a 2 way FRS radio stuffed between 2 rocks. The radio was still partially charged and you could tell it hadnít been there for very long. I told the other 3 people that I bet it belonged to the other pair of people hiking with the Dallas couple. I told them Iíd return it to the couple when I saw them on my way back down. 


I only stayed at the top about 20 minutes, which was enough time to sign the register and snap a few photos between blasts of wind. On my way back to retrieve my pack, I took a picture of the summit of Mt. Walter:



Just below Mt Walter, I met up again with the couple from Dallas.  I noticed he had the exact same FRS radio as the one I found.  He was concerned that the other couple was out of radio contact for so long, but was happy to get the other radio back.


Several pretty alpine lakes were on the Red River side, like this one:


 
 
The hike back took a bit less time - 2 hours and 45 minutes with breaks. Iím glad I had my hiking poles with me, they really helped to take a lot of pounding off my knees, especially when traveling downhill.

When I arrived back at camp, I was tired but elated that I had completed the hike to the highest point in New Mexico. My next decision was to either pack up camp and head back to the car, or spend another free night up here at the pasture. I liked this spot so much, I decided to spend one more night. However, that meant yet another trip down to the car as I had only carried up enough food to last today. It would mean another 3.6 miles of hiking, but without the weight of a pack on my back.

After hiking down to my car, dropping off extra gear and trash, then returning to my camp with extra food, I was pretty much done for the day. I tried to write some of my trip report after dinner, but started nodding off mid-sentence.

Aug 20, 2009 Return home

I decided to pack up and head back home today. It was about an hours' hike back to the parking lot.  I drove through Taos, got stuck in road construction there, then hit Hwy 518 to Las Vegas, NM. Hwy 518 is a very scenic drive that passes a ski resort. Very little traffic and good road the whole way from Taos to Las Vegas.

Then it was back to I-40 and dozens of road construction zones on the way back to Oklahoma. No sooner than you would get out of one work zone, you would hit another one.

I highly recommend the Wheeler Peak hike. It is definitely tougher than the Guadalupe Peak hike, as the trail is much longer (8 miles) and is several thousand feet higher. If anything, the wind was even more fierce than Guadalupe Peak. There are several routes up to Wheeler, several from the Taos side, and at least one from the Red River side. There may be more than one route from Red River. Bull of the Woods trail is the easiest of the various routes to the top of Wheeler.

For us lowlanders, best advice is to get up there a few days in advance to get yourself acclimated before tackling Wheeler.

Good luck and good hiking...
 
Darin Kerr 

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Offline mountaindocdanny

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #16 on: August 24, 2009, 05:05:10 PM »
Darin,

Thanks for the report. I enjoyed your photography. The last summit I did of Wheeler was in May a few years ago and involved quite a bit of postholing through the snow. I spent the night in La Cal Basin camped on about three feet of snow and summited the following day. It's a great place.

-Danny

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #17 on: August 24, 2009, 06:04:25 PM »
Danny -

Thanks for the recommendations for the area.  I couldn't do part of what you suggested as my car wouldn't go off pavement without losing some expensive plastic parts... lol 

The area is very scenic and I would like to revisit it someday and hike some of the other trails.  Maybe borrow my Dad's Jeep for future excursions. Trails were all over the place, it was definitely a hiker's paradise.

Darin

Darin,

Thanks for the report. I enjoyed your photography. The last summit I did of Wheeler was in May a few years ago and involved quite a bit of postholing through the snow. I spent the night in La Cal Basin camped on about three feet of snow and summited the following day. It's a great place.

-Danny

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #18 on: August 24, 2009, 06:19:15 PM »
An excellent TR,Darin...wish you had more pictures to share...fantastic!!
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #19 on: August 24, 2009, 07:46:51 PM »
An excellent TR,Darin...wish you had more pictures to share...fantastic!!

Lots more pics, just haven't uploaded them to the internet.  I have uploaded several videos to motionbox:

Climbing Gold Hill:

http://www.motionbox.com/videos/7a98dfb51d19eacaf5

Guy with a Shihtzu climbing the final ascent to Wheeler:

http://www.motionbox.com/videos/7a98dfb51d1ee6c1f5

And a very out of wind me narrating from near the top of Wheeler.  I almost sound drunk.  lol

http://www.motionbox.com/videos/7a98d8b71d19e6c3f5

« Last Edit: August 25, 2009, 08:41:07 AM by dkerr24 »

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Offline bdann

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #20 on: August 24, 2009, 08:03:11 PM »
sweet trip!
WATER, It does a body good.

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Offline randell

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #21 on: August 24, 2009, 10:30:41 PM »
Thanks for the videos!  Beautiful country up there.
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Offline lparent

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #22 on: August 24, 2009, 10:39:12 PM »
Great trip, Darin.  The first time I climbed Wheeler, I thought I was almost at the summit and was frustrated to find it was Mt. Walter.  Obviously someone else felt the same way.  Somebody had written in the register "Thought it was Wheeler and did not falter, was disppointed to learn it was Walter."  I love going out and climbing peaks and doing other hikes in NM and CO.  Trouble is it's a bit of a suffer-fest the first few days as you try to acclimate to the altitude.  And about the time I get acclimated at the end of the trip, I have to head back for the lowlands.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #23 on: August 25, 2009, 07:47:19 AM »
Darin,
great job on the report and the trip! Looks like, despite the wind, it was a really clear and beautiful day on top.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Wheeler Peak or bust!
« Reply #24 on: August 25, 2009, 08:43:30 AM »
I wonder what they do with the old summit logs once they are filled? 

I think a great idea would be to electronically scan them, then post as PDF's for folks to download over the internet.  I enjoy reading the summit logs, but rarely have much time while at the summit to do so.

You never know, a future president or future captain of industry could be in those logs?

 


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