Wheeler Peak, Elev. 13,161 ft
Completed 8/13/04 - #11
Alright, time to tackle our first peak over 10,000 ft.
We arrived in Albuquerque the night before and spent the night in Taos at approx. 8,000 ft. After consulting our guidebooks, we had decided to take the shorter but steeper Williams Lake Trail. The trailhead began at about 10,000 ft, so we had pretty much broken our record before we started!
However, being from Dallas, Texas we were not at all acclimated to the altitude and even in the beginning we were breathing pretty hard!
The hike to Williams lake was beautiful, took about two hours, and had Christy huffin' and puffin' the whole way. For a moment, she thought she might not make it to the top. Denny's a bit more acclimated since he flies all the time for work.
As we approached Williams Lake, we saw several
chipmunks running around the surrounding rocks. We approached
them to see if they wanted a snack. To our amazement, these
critters came right up and ate out of our fingers. One had
a nibble of
As we continued down the hill to Williams Lake, we found that these guys were actually accustomed to visitors. They followed us and waited for more snacks. Cute little fellas!
Now we began the last 3/4 mile to the summit where we would gain about 2000 feet. Because we were not acclimated to the altitude, we stopped every 50-100 feet to BREATHE. The up side of that is we got to enjoy the views often!
The climb at this point was steep, and every 100 feet the scenery changed around us.
Once out of the woods, and before the steepest part of the climb to the saddle, we ran into some marmots. Once again, we had to see if they wanted a snack. Yup, they were interested, although more cautious than the chipmunks.
While we were taking pics and movies of our hungry marmot friends, another big guy was on the trail chewing on our trekking poles! He took a nice chunk out of Denny's grip!
Onward and upward.....we reached the saddle, topped the ridge....and then the high point! This last 3/4 of a mile took us 4 hours to accomplish, but we had summited Wheeler Peak!
At the summit, a concave stone wall has been built, making a great wind block. We ate our lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, enjoyed the view, signed the register, and started back down. On the way down we saw 3 bighorn sheep, a pika, and more marmots & chipmunks.
The entire climb took us 8 1/2 hours, 6 to reach the peak, and 2 1/2 hours back down to the bottom (sliding and trying not to fall on the loose rock)!
We now know that we must acclimate to the altitude before trying our next climb above 10,000 ft. (duh)
Near the trailhead, we stopped at the Bavarian Inn for dinner. Excellent bratwurst!
Next, the Oklahoma highpoint.....but first SLEEP!