Peak(s):  Wheeler Peak (NM) - 13,161 feet
Date Posted:  10/08/2010
Date Climbed:   10/03/2010
Author:  emcee smith
 Wheeler Peak Quickie  

Quick Wheeler Peak (NM) Beta

The hike took me 3.5 hours up, 0.5 on top, and 2.5hrs down. Although this report comes off as if the hike was not fun, it was. It was very enjoyable to turn off the foot minding and just walk, think, and enjoy the morning. I would go back again.

For all those who have dared dream of the NM state highpoint, but were unsure of your route finding or mountaineering skills, please read on. If you have no inclination to venture south of the border or below 14k, please disregard.

With a weekend in Santa Fe with nothing to do on Sunday, I may as well attempt my second state highpoint. It was almost 2 hrs on the dot from the plaza area of Santa Fe to the parking lot at Taos.

Looking across at the ridge up to Wheeler. I can't tell if the humps in the center are Wheeler or Walter, but that is where I was headed.

Note here, the summitpost directions to the parking are pretty good, but the immediate left after the sign looks much like turning into a parking lot, not a road. Up the parking lot a ways is Twining road and about 40 yards up that road is the trail. I parked right at the entrance to Twining Road.

The first mile or so of trail is actually a bit rough and moderately steep. There are several horse trails that branch off, but they appeared to switchback and re-cross the main trail. I stuck to the main trail. It is about 1 mile from the parking lot up to the saddle-ish area where you take rights at the intersection.

In some places, it looked like you could continue straight, but there were helpful signs telling which way to go

The creek crossing; these logs are tied together, so it is very stable

Another helpful sign; in this case not much of a trail going straight

At this point, you may be about ¾ mile up the road. I went right but the trail rejoined the road after about 100 feet, so take your pick. By here, the trail becomes very smooth and easy (class 0.5)

Almost at the top of the saddle, the signs tell me to go right. If I were to go straight, there is a white yurt about a hundred yards further.

Within just a few hundred feet, another intersection, and again, stay right

Many helpful signs; there were a lot of these, and at times the only one not marked was the Wheeler or often Bull of the Woods trail.

I reached the true ridge right at sunrise; nice view

Still on the road; one of the places where the path on the right is marked with some other name, so stick to the road on the left, which is unmarked.

Aside from the map, the fact that I am on the ridge and heading south, here is nice confirmation that I am still on the right path, but less than halfway there. The road is about to end.

A few feet further at the gate area, the road ends and the trail begins. If you take the trail on the left, you may be in for a nice surprise. If you can't stand the suspense, look a bit up the trail to the right to see the surprise.

Around to the west side of the ridge. The trail snakes back and forth across the ridge and actually rarely stays on the ridge proper.

Looking back down the ridge. At the low point, the road goes west and drops down into the trees. The gate and transition from road to trail is right at the low point on the ridge.

Good thing the trail is well defined. Perhaps obviously taken in the morning whereas the clear shots are on the way down.

Right about here, you can see that we are not much closer to the Peak than we were 4 miles back at the car. I am at a higher elevation, so I'll take it.

OK, here is where the fun begins or ends, this being La Cal Basin. The trail is approximately in blue; you can note that it gives up a bit of elevation. I went up on the green path (no trail), as it looks fun and more challenging. From here it looks like there could be some 2+ fun (another surprise coming ). In orange would be the path I would take if I were tired either up or down. It looks like you could easily traverse and avoid the re-gain in elevation. Note the red X for later photos.

A bit closer, you can see the trail route and the traverse route. A hiker is circled.

Here is taken from the red X, looking up the ridge. From a distance, it seemed like fun. From close, it is just a short rock hop. I guess that you could traverse around to the right, as it was steeper.

And from the red X, looking back at the first little hump, plenty of grass walking on this off trail ridge.

Taken on the way down, from near the ridge looking down and across La Cal Basin.

And looking up to gain the ridge. I think that this is Walter that you can see poking up.

From near the right hump in the previous photo, looking back along the ridge and basin. You can see plenty of grass on the ridge line, that made that option mildly interesting, but only mildly.

On the other side of the hump, I can finally see Wheeler, but Walter is standing in the way. I guess that is just life, having to climb over #2 if you want to get to #1.

A bit foggy in the morning to find my way up. The fog actually held out hope that the trail might get worse (and fun), but it never did.

Here is the last bit up to Wheeler, from Walter. You can see the trail heading down and to the right; I presume this is the shortcut via Williams Lake

No indication, but this is the 2nd highest peak in NM. Nothing against those NM guys or H.D., but there is no way this is "official".

Finally on top, looking back on the trail toward Mt. Walter. You can see from the photo, I don't think Walter qualifies with either distance or saddle drop, but I'll take it.

Given the fog, the easy nature of the trail, and the relatively quick pace, I opted to return the same way. My regret is that I didn't continue around the ridge to nab #3, which is aptly named Old Mike Peak.

Here is the map from summitpost.

It actually was a bit helpful to determine that you keep going up away from the peak almost to a saddle, and that there really was an elevation drop across La Cal Basin.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Went orange myself
10/08/2010 20:38
The photo of La Salle basin showing the green, orange and blue paths? I took the blue path on the way up and the orange path on the way down. Definitely the way to go for my tired, old (55 yr) knees!

Thanks for the memories of a lovely outing.


Good Info
10/08/2010 21:33
This is on my list to do. Thank you for the good report.


If I could give two thumbs up I would.
10/09/2010 03:43
This is a well documented report - thanks for the nice and timely beta. I'm heading to Taos and Cimarron at month end - Wheeler Peak is on the agenda.

There are a lot of aspens in that basin and they don't look fully turned yet. Not much may be left in three weeks but I hope to catch the last of it. Currently, how is the autumn color down lower, in and around Taos?

Thanks for the beta and report.

emcee smith

10/08/2010 23:58
It was mostly yellow; I didn't see any orange or red. Hopefully there will be something left for your photos.


10/09/2010 15:03
good to see my home state's gettin some love up on this website. New Mexico's gotta bit of everything including the Rockies.. Backpacked this trip over the summer and forgot my camera hahahah


04/18/2014 19:27
Thanks Mike for the write up I to will be there within the next 3 weeks to tag the state highpoint.

Shawnee Bob

I like Wheeler
10/10/2010 01:15
Been up Wheeler twice, but from the other side via the East Fork Trail and the Middle Fork Trail. Nice report.

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