Wheeler Peak

So for some reason getting this high point accomplished has been quite the struggle for us. I think the problem is that at 5 hours away, it falls into that category where it is just far enough from home to be a pain, but at the same time close enough that it feels like there is always another day to do it. As a result we have probably made plans at least 3 different times to go do this hike, and then not followed through. So we were proud of ourselves for finally getting our butts down there!

At about 12,000 feet we saw a group of 6 or 7 big, full sized bighorn sheep. Including multiple males with the full curl. We never got a great close up of them but we did get pretty close. It was neat seeing them up so high. Jeb and I had always thought that from around 6,000 feet to 10,000 feet was bighorn sheep terrain and that above 10,000 feet was mountain goat terrain. But this shattered that thought!

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This hike really wasn’t that hard or difficult, but it was insanely steep. We read online that the last mile ascends 2,000 feet. I’m not sure if this is completely accurate or not, but it definitely felt like it. At 3,000 feet of gain, 7 miles round trip, and 13,159 feet- it wasn’t a particularly long hike, but it definitely was a lung burner! Also I was excited to wear my new green vest!

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So one of the things that makes motivating ourselves to do this hike the most challenging is there is no great place to spend the night the night before. You can either 1. reserve a campsite like an hour away 2. hope to find a closer site in the national forest- but these are first come first serve (which means always full…) or 3. Spend the night in an expensive hotel in Taos Ski Valley (the ski resort town at the base of the mountain).

Well Jeb and I came up with a 4th option, though probably not entirely legal… In blue raz (my car) we put the back seats down, because they fold completely flat into the ground. Then we slid the front seats up and stuck our packs and extra stuff there. We then put one sleeping bag under us for cushion, and we got into the double wide sleeping bag. Believe it or not we were actually able to lay all the way flat in the back of my car. Jeb slept 5 hours like this and a sleep 3. This was actually a pretty successful night of sleep before hiking a big mountain.

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The fall colors were in full swing down in the valley here. We hit it just right. The colors combined with the ski resort made for some pretty spectacular views.

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We were completely unsure of what to expect in terms of the conditions on the mountain. Unlike 14ers there isn’t a great site for trip reports or peak conditions. We hoped there wouldn’t be too much snow. It turned out there wasn’t any snow. What we did have instead was frosted rocks! It was cold enough that a thick white layer of frost had formed on the rocks. This was RIDICULOUSLY slippery! Fortunately by the time we headed down the sun had melted the frost off, but up was a challenge. We tried to take a picture to show the layer of frost.

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The craziest thing for me about this hike was that not a single person passed us as faster than us the entire day. I’m used to being passed by tons and tons of people on 14ers. With a 6:30 start it wasn’t that we started too early and no one was on the mountain. The strange thing about hiking mountains out of state is that people are in way worse shape. Coming down the mountain just about every person asked if we actually made it to the top, and how were we done already lol. We are not used to being the stars of the hike. 🙂

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We made pretty good time on this hike overall. 3 hours and 30 minutes up, 15 minutes at the top, and 2 hours down. A 5 hour and 45 minute hike total was not at all what we were expecting to encounter. I guess the bright side of super steep is that you do ascend quickly!

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At 10am had the summit entirely to ourselves. It was a little bit windy, but other than very peaceful and quiet up there.

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Because getting down there was such a pain (driving till midnight, being super exhausted, and having to sleep in the car), we went into this hike not expecting to like it that much. But it turned out we loved Wheeler Peak! It was pretty, challenging, but still an enjoyable hike.

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This hike officially marks the end of our summer hiking/climbing/14er season. It is kind of a bittersweet feeling. On one hand I’m ready to move on to some different things, and I’m super excited for ski season, but on the other hand I feel like we are in good hiking shape and the hikes themselves had become even more enjoyable as a result. Oh well, there is always next season to hopefully pick up where we left off!

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Not in this picture (I actually don’t think I got a good picture of it), but you could actually see some of the 14ers in southern Colorado from up here.

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I kind of like that someone put this stick here, we could see it from quite a bit lower and it signalled to us that this was really the top, and not a false summit. This might not sound that important, but false summits are dream crushers and spirit killers! After Mt. Elbert, the hike of the endless false summits, I was not in the mood to deal with that again!

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We both forgot sunglasses! We started early in the dark and they were in the front seat of the car. Fortunately we were in the dark at first, and then in the shade, and then coming down the sun was mostly behind us.

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Cold enough for the puffy layer of my ski jacket. It really wasn’t that much colder than Elbert was, we were just better prepared this time.

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Had to take a selfie, no one was even up there with us by the time we left!

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Jeb signing the summit register and stating that this was our 15th high point! 35 more to go still sounds like a lot, but I think 15 is a pretty good milestone.

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Finally we have completed New Mexico! It feels really good to have New Mexico and Colorado done. They are so close to home that otherwise it is hard to call yourself a highpointer without having done them! Next summer, Rainier here we come. We’ve got a long road ahead of us!

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