Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Wheeler Peak conquered by W & M
W & M climbed Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, as W officially began his "highpointing" quest to climb the highest peaks in the lower 49 (he is going to skip Alaska's Denali).
M and W camped overnight in Twining, arriving after a rainstorm. Arising at 5 a.m for breakfast and breaking camp, they were on trail at 7:15. Hike up was beautiful along a briskly moving mountain stream. They got slightly lost on a ski trail, but quickly recovered with the aid of GPS. As they neared the ridgeline, a descending hiker who W & M referred to as "Grandpa Mark", told them that he had encountered an impassable snow patch and thus had turned around perhaps 10-15 minutes from the summit. "Grandpa Mark" had left at 4 a.m. to try for the summit, and W & M had seen him the previous evening in basecamp, naming him "Grandpa Mark" because of his grey beard and that he was camping alone. W&M were slightly discouraged by the Grandpa Mark report, but decided to proceed anyway and see for themselves. Fortunately, they were able to easily hike up above and around the snow patch. Shortly thereafter they reached the appropriately named Mt Walter, and 10 minutes later Wheeler Peak.
They lingered about 45 minutes at summit, but seeing a thunderstorm approaching decided to descend.
After walking back along the ridge a way, W & M saw hikers descending off the exposed ridgeline to Williams lake, and looking at map, could see that this would be a viable way back. Thus began a downwards scramble through loose rock of about 2000 feet before reaching a trail. On the way they encountered a beautiful big-horn ram who lingered quite close to trail. After reaching the lake they soaked their feet. A mild thunderstorm rolled in, dropping silky dreamlike hail as they continued their descent, eventually reaching and walking on a road for the final 2-3 miles back to Twining.