September 20, 2002
It was a fairly long drive down to Taos from Longmont partially due to traffic in Denver and Colorado Springs. Once I crossed into New Mexico it was already dark and the road from Raton to Taos is quite desolate. There was something magical about traveling across the desert with a full moon out and many stars shining in the dark blue sky. The road crosses a mountain pass and winds down the Taos Canyon that was pretty scenic in the dark, I couldn't wait to see it in the daylight. I arrived in Taos around 10 p.m. and checked into the local Day's Inn. Time to hit the sack with a 5 a.m. wakeup call coming early in the morning.
September 21, 2002
The wakeup call came all too early but I managed to get up and out the door by about 5:30 a.m. It was still dark out as I made my way up towards the Taos Ski Valley. The instructions in Don Holme's book were right on except taking the Phoenix Switchback off of Twining Road. I had read a post on americasroof.com noting to take Zap's Cutoff instead. This information was correct and I arrived at the Williams Lake Trailhead around 6:30 a.m. It was still dark, the days are growing far too short already. There wasn't a single car in the parking lot, I love having the summit to myself. The woman working the front desk at the Day's Inn had told me they the mountains had received some snowfall a few days before and she wasn't lying. Snow covered the ground on the way to Williams Lake and the only sounds were my feet crunching on the snow.
I arrived at the lake around 7:15 about 45 minutes after I left the trailhead. The lake had a fog suspended over it but the nearby peaks could still be seen reflecting in the water.
Wheeler Peak can finally be seen from the lake and the route gains the ridge on the left side of the photo below between Wheeler Peak and Mount Walter.
The route from the lake ascends through the trees and then heads up a gully shown in the photo below.
There were already some tracks in the snow from previous parties and sometimes it was helpful to walk in the footprints, and other times it was easier to make my own. I felt really good and continued to charge up the hill. It was such a beautiful morning that it just kept renewing my energy everytime I stopped to look around. The slope never got too steep but I've hiked over 70,000 vertical feet this summer on Colorado 14ers so I might be a little biased. The photo below was take about midway up to the ridge and shows the route to the saddle.
From this point to the saddle the snow was almost knee deep and it was much easier to walk in the footprints instead of making my own tracks. Pressing onward I arrived on the saddle and was greeted by the first rays of sunshine to hit my face that morning. I was happy to see the summit wasn't very far away from this point show in the photo below.
I made my way across the ridge and arrived on the summit at 8:45, 2 hours and 15 minutes after leaving the trailhead. I guess hiking all those 14ers had really paid off, I expected it to take me longer. There wasn't a single person in sight and I had the amazing views all to myself.
The surrounding peaks were all covered in snow.
I took in the views and read through the register a little bit. There were some highpointers there a day earlier that were heading off to Oklahoma next where the hightpointer convention was going on. I thought I would probably see them there since I was going to hike Black Mesa later that day. There is a plague on the summit honoring George Wheeler for whom the peak is named.
For a summit panoramic Click Here--See Note below if image seems small.
NOTE: some version of your browser may shrink the image to fit in one window, if this is the case, hold your mouse over the image for several seconds and click the button that appears on the right side of the image.
After staying on the summit for about 1/2 hour I decided to head back down. The snow made it possible to really fly back down the slope. I just planted my heel firmly and blazed back down the slope. In a couple places I tried glissading but it didn't really work out that well, snow wasn't quite hard enough. Almost back down to the lake I ran into 2 ladies from upstate New York who were quite charming. After chatting with them for a little while I took off and was back down to the lake at about 10 a.m.
From the lake back to the trailhead I passed about 5 more people in total, all of them just heading to the lake and not the peak. I got back to my car at 10:30 a.m. making my hiking time almost exactly 4 hours. As I unpacked my backpack I chatted with a guy from Wales that now lives in Taos, such a small planet sometimes. Wanting to hike Oklahoma's highpoint still I hit the road. As I neared Taos I was treated to some views of the Taos Ski Valley that I couldn't see earlier this morning in the dark. The photo below shows some of the peaks near Wheeler, I don't believe Wheeler is one of them in the photo. What a fun hike and a very beautiful part of the country. Off to Black Mesa, OK