Peak(s):  Mt Wheeler - 13,161 feet
Date Posted:  10/07/2011
Date Climbed:   06/25/2011
Author:  Monster5
 Kachina to Wheeler Traverse  

Kachina -> Wheeler Peak Traverse, New Mexico

Peaks Climbed (in order):
Kachina Peak
UN 12,535
Lake Fork Peak
UN 12,807
Bighorn Peak
UN 12,728
Simpson Peak
Old Mike Peak
Wheeler Peak
Mount Walter

TH: Williams Lake Trailhead (south on dirt road from Taos Ski Valley)
Mileage: ~9.25 mi RT
Elevation Gain: ~5,100'
YDS: Class 2 with three short class 3 sections
Date Climbed: June 25th, 2011

Beta Credit: Strudolyubov (SP), Barry Raven


Boring Introductory Stuff

First, I apologize for the lateness of this report; however, I figured it was a rare enough route to warrant posting. In addition, it provided an opportunity to finally contribute a report void of epilepsy, rockfall, SAR, and helicopters (more boring stuff, anyways). Second, I didn't feel like messing with image size requirements so I just scaled them all down.

Upon graduation in May, I told my employer that if I didn't get field work, I would begin looking for a new job... They kindly sent me to Trinidad.

Trinidad wasn't all that bad in that I met a rather wonderful young lady. However, a quick stop at the local Wal-Mart confirmed a certain surgery reputation I took lightly. Needless to say, I was rather happy when they sent me to Red River to work on a far more interesting project. I found myself with a bit of free time at the conclusion of the project and decided to hike Wheeler Peak. Luckily, Barry Raven's post on a current thread saved me from crowded class 2 tediousness. I headed south to Taos, swung east, and found myself at the ski resort: an empty, deserted place void of even Texans. A quick bite at the highly recommended Stray Dog Cantina, a nap at the Bull of the Woods TH (No car-camping allowed up higher), and I began hiking at the pre-monsoon hour of 5:45 AM.

The Route

From the Williams Lake Trailhead, promptly leave the trail after the Phoenix Grill and follow a dirt road ("Lower Patton" ski run) zig-zagging beneath the Kachina Lift (#4). If you are unsure of your route, simply head straight up beneath the lift. At the top of the lift (Hunziker Bowl), you are confronted with forested steep walls split by couloirs:


Curl west around the rocky knoll center-left and head straight up the couloir ("Main Street") to Kachina's summit ridge. If you're lucky, you may come across lonely, abandoned skis - back away slowly from those dangerous creatures.

The decorative summit of Kachina awaits you shortly after gaining the ridge:


Along with a plethora of flowers reaching for the caress of summer:


From Kachina, continue south on the ridge until you reach UN 12,535's North headwall - bypass it on the flagged trail heading right/west before regaining the ridge.

View of UN 12,535 and Lake Fork from Kachina:



A simple class 2 ridge will bring you to Lake Fork Peak, where one may become dis-heartened by the remaining distance and jagged ridge-lines laid out before them. As is common, the cruxes are easier than they appear.

Follow the ridge south to UN 12,807 and contemplate the first of three class 3 ridges. Class 2+ bypasses are available on the right, but where's the fun in that? This section, the easiest, leads to Bighorn Peak:


The true summit is slightly hard to determine - just hit them both. From Bighorn, gaze NE at Wheeler (left) and Old Mike (right):


Below is looking back at the second ridge crux between Bighorn and UN 12,728. Again, the ridge itself is easy class 3 and 2+ bypasses exist on climber's right.


From UN 12,728 to Simpson peak, one is confronted by the technical crux, which also happens to be the most exposed and fun. Staying ridge proper yields interesting knife edge class 3+ options on moderate-quality rock reminiscent (although briefly) of Ellingwood Point's SW ridge. Venture to climber's left for San Juan-esque, hoodoo scrambling and good views of "y'all" type hikers gawking from the summit of Wheeler. Again, the weary may bypass on a faint trail climber's right (east).



From the summit of Simpson, head east to Old Mike, where you may take a deep breath before immersing yourself in New Mexico's heavily-traveled, smaller Mt Elbert. Wheeler on left and Walter on right:


Finally, pay homage to the fierce peak guardians and claim your summits after a class 1 ridge walk:



Descend the tolerable looseness west from the Wheeler-Walter saddle before rejoining the Williams Lake trail back to the trailhead. Better photographers than I may be able to take advantage of the rippling stream guiding the trail on home.

Lastly, I recommend taking the scenic route through Eagle's Nest and Cimarron back to Denver. Hope somebody finds this report helpful!


B: c2, R:c3

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Sounds dangerous out there
10/08/2011 16:55
Which were more scary, the ”guardians” or the ”y'all type hikers?”
I've only been to Kachina in the winter, but Wheeler's worth hiking any time it's safe.
Thanks for a solid TR of a loop I hope to do some time.


Even Trinidad beats a Desk
10/08/2011 23:53
Cool report Ryan. Don't know about you, but I was blown away by how similar NW New Mexico looks to SW CO. I would recommend Michael's Kitchen in Toas. Best damn breakfast burrito I've ever had.


10/10/2011 23:20
Matt - definitely the guardians. The baby certainly gives off a ”don't mess” vibe.

FOTM - I'll have to check that place out! I was only able to drive through. Taos seems like a good place to explore.

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