| Wheeler Mtn (South Ridge)
Wheeler Mountain (13,690)
From Montgomery Reservoir 9.6 mi, 3000 ft
We started hiking from Montgomery Reservoir just south of Hoosier Pass around 7:30 under mostly sunny skies with the intent of climbing Clinton, McNamee, and Traver. The first part of the road to Wheeler Lake was very well tracked, presumably by ice climbers en route to Lincoln Falls. Jamie wore snowshoes from the beginning though, which turned out to be useful for the numerous ice flows we encountered on the road. Further up in the basin I finally put my snowshoes on, but the going wasn't too bad without them. It was a fairly easy hike all the way to Wheeler Lake.
We took a break near the lake, with full intentions of continuing west up into the basin under Clinton afterward. As I was gazing around, my eyes were drawn to Wheeler Mountain in front of us. For some reason, I'd never given it any thought – maybe because I don't tend to hike in the Tenmile/Mosquito Range in summer and I've never seen a winter TR for Wheeler before. It looked kind of impressive from our vantage point and I asked Jamie what he knew about it. Although much of the terrain between Wheeler Lake and Wheeler Mountain is steep, a seemingly gentle, safe, roundabout path to the Clinton – Wheeler saddle stood out clear as day, begging for further investigation. I was in the process of putting it on my mental to-do list, when Jamie piped up and said he was game to add it to the loop today. Plans changed.
From Wheeler Lake we hiked directly to the small lake above, rounded the lake on its east side, and then hiked northwest to the Clinton – Wheeler saddle. As we'd hoped, the route ended up being very nice most of the way. Near the saddle, the slope steepened a little – although I believe this section is safe most of the time, this might not be a great route if snow conditions are very bad.
We stashed our snowshoes and poles at the saddle. At this point we were a quarter mile from and less than 400 feet below the summit, and were looking forward to arriving in a half hour or so. We started north along Wheeler's south ridge and quickly discovered that it was going to be more interesting than either of us had imagined. There was snow to deal with in places and 3rd class rock in others. Or both. We made steady but slow progress, finding a useful cairn or two. Ice axes were a must. Near the end it was not at all clear where the true summit was from below. Since the going was slow, choosing the right one first could save some time. If I had read Garrett & Marten beforehand, I would have known it was the southernmost point. Of course I headed for the other obvious point first and realized when I topped out that the southern one was slightly higher. Since I was already up there, I continued north to a third little summit for optimum photographing of Fletcher and Drift before heading back south to the real summit. We found a register and the last entry was from last September. We were shocked to find it had taken us 1.5 hours to traverse the ridge. Clinton, Traver, and McNamee were quickly fading from the agenda, but we didn't care because we'd found something more interesting to climb. The views from the top were excellent. You could look down into Blue Lakes Basin and at Quandary, Fletcher and Drift, or you could see Lincoln and Cameron. The ridge to North Star looking very interesting, much more so than the ridge we had climbed.
Although the traverse back across the ridge seemed much shorter, it actually took about the same amount of time. We didn't reach the saddle until nearly 3:00. We strapped our shoes and poles to our packs and kept our axes out in preparation for some glissading. There were some steeper slopes around and snow conditions seemed good. We managed a few glissades, but they weren't of the highest quality – mostly just snow eating. Still fun though. Making our way back to the road was straightforward and from there it was a long but easy walk back to the car.
pictures and route map: