Monday, September 12, 2011

Wheeler Peak: New Mexico's Highpoint

I woke up at 4 am this morning, ate a quick breakfast and set out on the road for the trailhead for Wheeler Peak. Having never seen the trailhead area before, I had a bit of difficulty finding it in the dark. I ended up driving the rough road to the Williams Lake trailhead before backtracking to the correct trailhead down at the end of the Taos Ski Valley parking lot.
When I finally hit the trail I could hear, but not yet see moving water. It was dark for the first hour of my hike and as I approached Bull of the Woods Pasture I momentarily lost my way in a maze of old roads and ski trails. Finally back on track I reached an overlook just in time to see the first hint of sunrise.
First Light

Sunrise from the Slopes
Soon I found myself near treeline and the early alpenglow really bathed the surrounding mountains and hills with a wonderful warm glow.
Golden Light


As I rested and admired the early morning light I heard the sound of some companions that would hike with me for a bit, a herd of cows.
Cows on Trail

I closely followed these cows for about a mile before parting ways with them near the boundary with the Wheeler Peak Wilderness.
Wheeler Peak Wilderness

Once I passed into the wilderness the hiking was nearly all above treeline and the winds grew cold and relentless.
Cold Wind

The summit appeared bathed in fog and cloaked with snow.
Approaching the Summit

It was tough walking in the non-stop wind. The wind coupled with the altitude really slowed my flatlander pace a bit, but soon I could see my destination, the top of New Mexico.
Wheeler Summit View

At the summit I rested in the shelter of a low rock wall and tried to enjoy the scene as best I could.
Eric on Wheeler Summit

By the time I started to make my way back down it seemed the wind was finally starting to relent a bit.
Of course the decent went much more quickly than the ascent. I spied a few marmots above treeline
Hiding Marmot

and was able to enjoy the scenery a bit more.
Mountain Trail

It was a 14 mile round-trip hike with nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. A tough hike for sure, but worth every ounce of effort. As a reward for my toils I decided to head into Arroyo Secco after my hike for lunch at the delicious Taos Cow. It was the perfect end to a great New Mexico adventure!   

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