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Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

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Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby taylorzs » Wed Mar 09, 2011 12:50 pm

Hello all, I am headed down to NM from Co tomorrow with intentions of climbing and snowboarding/skiing Wheeler peak from Williams Lake drainaige on the west to southwest facing aspects this Friday. I have been trying to gather some information on snowpack conditions in the drainage. From what I can tell the ascent involves climbing up a 30 degree (maximum pitch), west facing slope. From what I can tell the N NM area is dealing with a shallow snowpack with basil facets still being the primary concern and that issue being mostly on north and east facing aspects with west facing aspects being fairly scoured and wind affected. Has anyone been up there recently to confirm this? I am hoping to be able to follow wind scoured snow up the west face avoiding avalanche danger by not crossing much snow with basil facets under windslab. Obviously we will dig pits before we commit to the steeper part of the route but I am wondering about stability opinions of the west face of Wheeler right now. Have any of you been up there recently? I will definetely reciprocate and post all our snowpack observations from the trip here afterwords so that you all can have that info. I have already been to the NM ave center website and have read both the S San Juan and Sangre ave forecasts by the CAIC, as well as talking to one of the CAIC forecasters this morning, and talking to the Taos ski patrol. I still have not gotten as much current info as I would like. I am looking for additional information regarding first hand snow pack observations in the drainage (or surrounding area) and any other pertinent information regarding avoiding avalanche terrain on the ascent up, particularly just below the saddle between Wheeler and Walter which is where there would be an ave issue if there was one. If we do not get a summit descent that is ok, just want some good skiing/ snowboarding and do not mind walking a ridge a bit to get to the summit if needed. I do not really want to do the long slog from Bull of the woods either. Any other possible ascent lines in Wheeler in that drainage that would be better and allow for some nice turns too? Thanks Zach

Zach Taylor
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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby MtHurd » Wed Mar 09, 2011 2:19 pm

I wish I could help you more, but I do know that snow has been very light this year for Taos and Red River. Here are the web cams for Taos. The skiing may not be all that great. I'm guessing the avalanche danger would be less this year than normal.

http://skitaos.org/webcams

It's possible that you may get better sking on Lake Fork Peak. See pic. It would cost you money, but you could take the Kachina Lift at Taos, climb Kachina Peak, then do the traverse over to Lake Fork Peak (might be a little dicey if it is icy). You might try and get ahold of the person who posted this pic. I think he has skied these peaks.

http://www.summitpost.org/lake-fork-peak/443728/c-154526

Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby taylorzs » Sat Mar 12, 2011 8:08 pm

So just got back from a summit and descent of Wheeler peak. Below are snow pack observations as I know Sangre de Cristo snowpack info is hard to come by.

We skinned from the Taos ski area hiker lot up to just before Williams lake. From there we turned left and began skinning up the gully/avalanche path that tops out at the saddle between Wheeler and Walter. We were able to skin up almost the entire gully until the last 2-3 hundred vertical feet where we booted up the last bit to the saddle due to lack of snow and then walked the ridge to the two summits. We descended our ascent line.
We dug a pit at 12,071' when we were considering leaving the gully for steeper terrain on the west face of Wheeler. The pit was on a WNW aspect and was 118cm deep. The pit revealed two easily noticible weak layers; basil facets at the base of the snowpack and a distinctive 7-8 cm deep faceted layer that was buried about 60 cm off the ground. The basil facets did not fail on any test. The buried faceted layer 60cm off the ground seemed to be the problem layer here. The first block we cut failed while I was cutting out the back with my saw. It popped out with energy on a smooth planar surface (0Q1). I did a column compression test on the next column which scored a 11Q1, failing on the mid pack faceted layer discussed above. That was followed by an ECT 29 Q2 score again failing on the same weak layer.
Based on these results we chose to stay in the gully on pitch angles 31 degrees and lower. We observed no cracking, collapsing, or whumping and saw no avalanche activity on similar slopes in the drainage. We did observe one soft slab avalanche that had run adjacent to the ski area across the valley since the last storm cycle. The slide was on the hike to peak at the ski area but just out of bounds (ENE aspect?). I would guess from my vantage that the slide ran 100 to 130 feet wide and about twice the vertical. It was too far away for me to venture a guess at the depth of the slide. I would probably call it a D2-R2 in size and destructive capability.
Overall we felt conditions were very yellow light. We were comfortable skinning up the lower angle parts of the slide path and being below steeper terrain since we knew there was no one above us. WE would not have been comfortable crossing through ave starting zones or pitches 34 degrees and steeper. I hope this helps out. Thanks for the info I got here the other day before I drove down from Co. Zach
"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds." Edward Abbey
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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby RockyRoad » Wed May 18, 2011 1:23 am

Anyone who has been up recently, I'm curious if snowshoes would be needed? Also, which route up would avoid the most avy danger? It looks like there are a few approaches... Williams Lake, East Fork, and Bull of the Woods... After initial research it looks like Bull of the Woods is the safest avy free route. I'm hoping the lack of snow will help. It seems like it has been a light snow season around Taos.

I'm looking to do Wheeler this week... Please let me know!

Thanks
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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby kaiman » Wed May 18, 2011 8:11 am

RockyRoad wrote:Anyone who has been up recently, I'm curious if snowshoes would be needed? Also, which route up would avoid the most avy danger? It looks like there are a few approaches... Williams Lake, East Fork, and Bull of the Woods... After initial research it looks like Bull of the Woods is the safest avy free route. I'm hoping the lack of snow will help. It seems like it has been a light snow season around Taos.


I don't know if you saw this trip report from a few days ago which should give you some ideas on the conditions: http://14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=9909

I believe they took the Bull of the Woods route and it looks like any avy danger can be avoided as there isn't really that much snow.
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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby mennoguy » Wed May 18, 2011 9:02 am

All Avy prone areas can easily be avoided, if it's cool enough snowshoes should not be needed. If it is warm then expect to posthole a lot from Bull of the Woods pasture to treeline. There is very little snow down there.

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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby RockyRoad » Wed May 18, 2011 9:53 am

Awesome, thanks for the headsup! Also I didn't see that TR before, so that was good timing. Didn't seem to be much snow. Mennoguy, did you guys bring snow shoes? It is supposed to be warmer and sunny, so I think we will bring at least one pair of snowshoes so I can break trail for my partner.
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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby mennoguy » Wed May 18, 2011 10:56 am

We didn't use snowshoes, the trail is nice and packed. The snow could be heavy and wet so bringing snowshoes could be more of a burden. Personally I wouldn't use them, but this is up to you.

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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby RockyRoad » Sat May 21, 2011 12:03 pm

Well just an update on Wheeler.. I went down to Taos with a buddy and hiked this week, and the mountain has received a lot more snow in the past week since mennoguy's TR.

Snowshoes were definitely a must throughout the Bull of the Woods trail... We were walking through deep, fresh powder. The only snow-packed portion was at the very bottom of the trail. Luckily, we both brought snowshoes so it all worked out. It was definitely a good time, but we did not make it to the top. We hiked in about 4.5 miles and decided to turn around due to our late start and visible snow storm that was coming at us.

I do believe the weather is supposed to turn drastically warmer and sunnier both today and Sunday, so I'm sure it will melt a lot of the snow that we faced.


On a side note.... From the highway, the Spanish Peaks did not seem to have much snow on them if anyone is down south looking for things to climb.
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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby TerryLiv » Sun Jun 12, 2011 11:24 am

I am planning to climb Wheeler this coming Saturday, June 18, but have been unable to locate a map or directions about where to turn off the Williams Lake trail to reach the saddle between Mt. Walter and Wheeler Peak.

Anyone have any help with this.

Thanks,

Terry

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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby kaiman » Sun Jun 12, 2011 3:10 pm

TerryLiv wrote:I am planning to climb Wheeler this coming Saturday, June 18, but have been unable to locate a map or directions about where to turn off the Williams Lake trail to reach the saddle between Mt. Walter and Wheeler Peak.

Anyone have any help with this.

Thanks,

Terry


Try: http://www.summitpost.org/williams-lake/160956

and pick up one of these on your way through Taos:

Taos Area Trails Illustrated Map

It's actually not too difficult to figure out. You will see a steep noticable slope with a use trail leaving the main trail on climbers left before you get to Williams Lake. Just take the easiest/most obvious line of ascent up that slope to get to the ridge between Walter and Wheeler. If you reach Williams Lake you've gone to far and need to retrace your steps back down the trail and then up the slope to the left.

kaiman
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"Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end."

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Re: Wheeler Peak NM avalanche conditions

Postby MtHurd » Sun Jun 12, 2011 4:58 pm

A better route is to start at the Kachina Ski Lift and climb Kachina Peak. Then circle all the way around to Wheeler Peak. Shouldn't take you but about 8 hours max. It will get you 3 of the top 10 highest in NM. You can then descend the trail down to Williams lake.

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