Ascent of Wheeler Peak on 2018-09-27

Climber: Ed Wandall

Date:Thursday, September 27, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Wheeler Peak
    Location:USA-New Mexico
    Elevation:13161 ft / 4011 m

Ascent Trip Report

I had originally intended to climb Wheeler on Tuesday, but scheduling got wonky with a horseback ride and I pushed it to Wednesday. However, a rare stormy evening caused me to push the climb to Thursday, which was a good call. I set the alarm for 4am and was in Taos Ski Valley by 4:45. I wasn't sure whether I was going to go up Williams Lake and down Bull of the Woods or the other way around. I chose to go up Williams, which was a mistake. As I drove up the gravel road to the trailhead, I realized I would have to hike back up this later in the day. Since it was dark, I didn't realize I was adding about 800 vertical feet right at the end of my day. I would curse my foolishness later.

I was the only car in the Williams Lake Trailhead lot. I turned on my headlamp and started hiking (5am). There was a full moon, so I was able to conserve batteries by turning off the lamp when I was out of the woods. There is a lot of construction around the Bavarian Inn, so keep looking for the signs. Once in the forest, the trail is easy. The lake was lovely in the moonlight and as I started up the flank of Wheeler, there was just enough dawn light to keep the headlamp off. The first section of the trail out of the lake area is a bit steep and a grind. Once above that, steady switchbacks to the summit.

Remarkably, I had Wheeler to myself. It was quite cold in the wind, so I didn't stay long. As it was only 8:40am, I considered hiking to Simpson, then across to Kachina then down the ski slopes to the car. Instead I chose to head toward Bull of the Woods mountain. In the back of my head I thought I might be able to cut off straight to the trailhead lower down on the mountain.

As I crossed to Walter Mountain, I passed another hiker, the first of the day. Between Walter and Frazer, I passed two more. Just a perfect day in the wilderness.

About this time, I was becoming quite aware that I had spent several hours hiking directly away from my car. I even made an arraignment with one of the hikers I met. Since he was coming up Bull of the Woods and going down Williams, if he passed me he would drive me up to the trailhead. It was not to be.

I intended to climb Bull of the Woods mountain, but as I got close, there was a sign posting it as private, property of Northside...permit required. It also appeared to be a mining area. Since it was now 11am on a Thursday, I thought they might be working so I decided to forgo that summit. Later research shows that I should have gone for it.

Dropping from Bull of the Woods is pretty steep, so hard on the knees. I broke out the hiking poles to ease the pain a bit. I finally got to the trailhead around 1pm. My trusty GPS said I had nearly 2 miles and 870 vertical feet back to my car. All on a gravel road that was constantly being driven by contractor vehicles, kicking up a ton of dust. Not fun.

If you are going to do the loop, start low at the Bull of the Woods trailhead. That hike from Bull to Wheeler is terrific.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4161 ft / 1267 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4161 ft / 1268 m
    Round-Trip Distance:13.4 mi / 21.6 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2961 ft / 902 m
    Distance:4.2 mi / 6.8 km
    Route:Williams Lake
    Start Trailhead:Williams Lake Trailhead  10200 ft / 3108 m
    Time:3 Hours 40 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4161 ft / 1268 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 2961 ft / 903 m; Extra: 1200 ft / 365m
    Gain on way out:1200 ft / 365 m
    Distance:9.2 mi / 14.8 km
    Route:Bull of Woods Trail
    End Trailhead:Williams Lake Trailhead  10200 ft / 3108 m
    Time:5 Hours 

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