Wheeler Peak ◆ New Mexico High Point ◆ 13161'
On the Way to 50
If you have navigated around this site to the Destinations home page and clicked on the Alpinist Peaks page, you would know that my best friend George is close to climbing all 50 U.S. state high points. I have been on several of these with him, either accompanying him to the top or providing logistics and moral support. New Mexico was one of those states that stood in his way. A trip to Santa Fe was in order. George picked a date that turned a long weekend into an escapade to the enchantment state, with time in Santa Fe to drink in the pueblo culture and allowing us to dash off to the Sangre de Cristo range to bag one of the last remaining states at 13161 feet, the 8th highest state in the U.S. It was planned for September on the thought that the conditions would be early fall with mild temperatures and a cake walk up the Bull-of-the-Woods trail to the top. My kind of peak. However, and there is usually a however, the conditions were far from optimal . To start off, there had been severe forest fires in the area that threaten to close access to the peak in August and then we were met with cloudy, rainy skies on the day of the ascent. The signs were all there!!!
We woke early, drove thru the early dawn, had to settle for some greasy breakfast and finally made it to the Taos Ski Valley. Rain followed us but our determination was a greater force. Once we arrived, the temps were dropping and it was just a matter of elevation before the white powder would show itself. The trail starts at a parking lot for the ski area and then climbs up to attain a ridge, that you basically follow all the way to the top. Approximately 8 miles in length you pass Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture, Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain (getting the point!), Frazer Mountain, La Ca Basin and Mount Walter. There is a second trail that ascends from Williams Lake direct below Wheeler Peak, which is a good option to return as long as you can position your vehicle or a second up the ski valley. The trail was recently rebuilt after fires in the summer of 2011 and George reports it to be in great condition.
The Climb & Summit
As we ascended the trail and temperatures dropped, it became obvious we were underdressed for the trek and there was not going to be another opportunity to re-attempt. With this in mind I gratefully handed over my North Face Polartec to keep George warm and bid him farewell and good luck. I had no doubt he would make it and I slowly rambled back down the trail to a bit more warmth.
Good end to the tale, as George made it and another state high point was notched. Way to go Ranger!!!
May our paths & errands meet