Friday, February 24, 2012

Wheeler Peak, Taos NM

Wheeler Peak New Mexico
Wheeler Peak, the far high point, New Years 2012
The wife and I spent our New Years in the backcountry near Taos. Specifically, we hiked into the Bull-of-the-Woods yurt two miles northeast of Taos Ski Valley. From our toasty wood-stove fired base camp our party spent the holiday-weekend roaming around the nearby hills by ski and snowshoe. There's plenty of terrain to tour around on nordic skis as well as some decent backcountry skiing on the slopes of Gold Hill. I was drawn like moth-to-flame to the Wheeler Ridge which stretches south from basecamp toward the highest point in the state, Wheeler Peak, 13,161ft.

Grabbing the first ascent of the new year seemed pretty keen to me so while the others were out ski-touring I taped up my heels, stepped into my boots, and set off up the trail on a New Year's adventure run with three hours of daylight and a mostly full moon to light the way.

bull woods yurt nm
Base Camp

Wheeler Peak trail taos
Through tree-cover to the ridgeline. Light-footing the drifts to avoid death by post-hole
Fast and light. Snowshoes for impassable sections

Wheeler Peak trail taos
Taos Ski Valley in the distance
Wheeler Peak trail taos
Just 5mi to Wheeler, up a few hills

Wheeler Peak trail taos
Gaining the ridge. Some evidence of trail though better footing to be found off trail

Kachina Peak New Mexico
Big-horn sheep, a ram and ewe. Taos Ski Valley and Kachina Peak in the distance (12,481ft)

Big horn sheep nm
I steered well around these two. They didn't have interest in me either fortunately
Wheeler Peak ridge Taos
I thought Wheeler might be behind that big guy top left. My route crossed through the bowl to the left

Wheeler Peak ridge Taos
Gunning for the high ridge in fading light. It was beautiful

new years sunset mountains
To the west, the first sunset of the new year

Latir Peak Wilderness
To the north, the ridgeline approach, the Latir Peak Wilderness and Culebra range further north, the Spanish Peaks far right, Blanca Peak range distant center-left

Wheeler Peak New Mexico
From my high point I see I'm short by a (very scenic) mile. Wheeler at far right
Fine effort, good run. A little brandy to power the return trip
Wheeler Peak full moon
The moon helps guide the run home

The trail was at least 6mi from camp to summit (a two mile head start from the trailhead). I felt like I was really moving and would steal the summit for certain. In the end there were four false summits on the approach and I made it up only three. Gazed across the fourth and destination-fifth (Wheeler) as the sun set behind the Jemez. The summit push was another 1mi+ of snowy and technical ridgeline, across and back in the dark, which didn't look like fun so I tipped some brandy in a New Years toast and turned it around. Well played Wheeler, well played sir.

Summit gear included gaiters, ski poles, snowshoes (precautionary), a headlamp and a thermos of hot chocolate and brandy. With the snow, the primary challenge was route-finding - and retracing the route on the return (super-important).

I was really excited to be out in a mostly-full moon. The lights of Taos Ski Valley shined invitingly from below the ridge as I ran along hoping from rock-to-rock and vaulting snow cornices with the aid of my poles. What would the new year bring? Anything I will it to I suppose. Nearly anything is possible if you just get out and make it happen.

Related Links

 - New Years 2010-11: Cumbres Pass Yurt, Neff Mountain CO

View Wheeler Peak in a larger map

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