Wheeler Peak, at 13161 ft, is the tallest point in New Mexico. And we're going to climb it!
If you're unable to make the first leg of the Extended Week of Hard Stuff in June, please join us as we do Wheeler Peak again in August. This event is subject to cancellation should New Mexico catch on fire (again).
I'm taking the extreme minimalist approach to organizing this. That is, we're leaving the Williams Lake Trailhead at 7 am Saturday—figure your own way to get there and where you want to stay. Suggestions/advice follow. Please use the comments to coordinate.
I plan to car camp at the Twining Campground (free, but first-come first-serve), but you are free to get a suite at the nearby (5 min walk) Taos Ski Valley, hotel in Taos, whatever. I'm planning to leave at 12 pm the Friday before the weekend to get there before dark, making stops at REI and Trader Joe's along the way. If you're coming later than that and would like to camp (e.g. you cannot leave work Friday until 5 pm), let me know, give me your tent/etc, and I'll do my best (no guarantees! I hate camping equipment and camping equipment hates me) to reserve a campsite and setup your tent.
Note: there is no potable water at the campsite. You either need to filter your water from the nearby mountain stream, buy water and bring it. There is not much water on the trail either (only 2 locations, Williams Lake and La Cava Basin, some 8 mi apart, with a few mountains in-between). I recommend buying water from Sam's Club in Albuquerque.
Here's my schedule for Friday afternoon:
- Leave 12 PM from Las Cruces—sharp!
- Arrive in Albuquerque at 3 PM, go directly to Sam's Club (I-25 exit 228, Montgomery/Jefferson) to get more fuel (it is some 20¢ cheaper/gallon; I will lend my membership card to anyone who'd like the discount). I will pickup water here.
- After Sam's, I plan on going to REI down the street. I am not spending more than 30 minutes at REI. I want to make camp before dark.
- After REI, depending on time, I may go to Trader Joe's (I-25 exit 232, Paseo del Norte) for snacks.
- After Trader Joe's (or after REI), I may go to Chipotle for lunch (down the street from TJ's, heading back to I-25.) My plan is to leave ABQ no later than 5:30 pm.
- At Santa Fe, I'm going to take a quick detour to Santa Fe Brewery (I-25 exit 278) to get campground libations and maybe enjoy happy hour. No more than 20 minutes here.
- After SF Brewery, onto Taos. I hope to arrive by 7:45 pm, just before sunset (the campground is in a canyon, and it will already be dark).
- After setting up camp at Taos Ski Valley, if there is time, we'll go back into town and get dinner. Having time for this is unlikely. Taos Mesa Brewery, off the mountain but also outside of town, is likely.
You do not need to do any of the above with me, but if you intend to do more, or take longer, I cannot wait for you!
- Start at the Williams Lake Trail (#62), carpooling over from Taos Ski Valley/Twining Campground.
- Cut over to the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail (#67).
- Meet Wheeler Peak Trail (#90), and summit Wheeler Peak.
- Depending on how we're feeling, take a look at the other peaks south of Wheeler, such Simpson Peak, Old Mike Peak, Red Dome, and Taos Cone (there's a trail to all of them).
- Take Wheeler Peak Trail all the way back to Twining Campground, summiting Mount Walter (2nd highest point in NM).
On numbers: it's 4.4 mi from Williams Lake Trailhead to the Wheeler Peak's summit, with an elevation gain of 2960 ft. Needless to say, it's steep. Also, the elevation is extreme—many people who do this trail suffer from mild to moderate elevation sickness (headaches, nausea, dehydration, etc). It is your own responsibility to take care of yourself.
If weather turns bad, we may need to alter the route and come back a different way (i.e. the way we came up, via the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail).
If you are a guest of the United States (i.e. non-citizen), there is a US Customs & Border Patrol checkpoint demarcating passage to/from what the ACLU calls a "Constitution-Free Zone". If this bothers you, donating to the ACLU and harassing your congress critters; otherwise please bring appropriate documentation of your entry into the US (passports, visas, etc—you know better what you need than we do). Group hikes are not the place to make a stand for your civil liberties.
DISTANCE is 13.5 mi from Williams Lake Trail head to Twining Campground.
ELEVATION GAIN is 2960 ft gained from Williams Lake Trail head to Wheeler Peak summit. We'll lose 3700 ft going from the summit back to Twining Campground.
FEES: None. Of course, if you carpool, please compensate your driver for gas!
DURATION: Finish by mid to late afternoon. I recommend everyone free up the entire day and allow others to take their time.
PET FRIENDLY? Yes. Bring a muzzle (you shouldn't need be told to bring a proper leash), and if you'd like to unleash, ask others before you do so. Make sure your pet can handle the elevation and distance (if you keep your pet at home most of the time—no, it can't).
SKILL LEVEL is *NOT* beginner friendly. Take notice of the extreme elevation (it is 3x that of Las Cruces/El Paso). Otherwise, there is nothing technical involved.
TERRAIN is high-elevation alpine forest. The ascent from Williams Lake is steep, and the way back along Wheeler Peak Trail is on completely exposed ridgeline. No off-terrain—I plan to stay on trails only.
WEATHER may include thunderstorms. Please bring rain gear. Also, it will be chilly in the morning and it's windy and surprisingly cool towards the summit and along the ridgeline. It would not hurt to bring a warm hat and lightweight sweater.
AFTERWARDS I'm staying the Saturday night at Twining Campground/Taos Ski Valley, and Sunday driving to the Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado, which I will do on Monday.
MEET for carpool/caravan at:
- Las Cruces: 12:00 pm on FRIDAY, AUGUST 2, K-Mart parking lot on North Main/US 70 and Del Rey, near Shell. See map (OpenStreetMap or Google Maps).
- El Paso: Please meet us in Las Cruces.
MEET for hike at:
DIRECTIONS to Twinings Campground from Albuquerque:
- Head north on Interstate 25.
- BEFORE you reach Santa Fe, take exit 276 and get onto Veterans Memorial Highway (NM 599). This highway bypasses Santa Fe.
- When NM 599 ends a bit north of Santa Fe, take US 84/US 285 north.
- In Espanola, New Mexico, do NOT follow US 84/US 285, and take NM 68 north, which will take you into downtown Taos.
- Once in downtown Taos, NM 68 will end and turn into US 64. Follow US 64 north out of Taos.
- North of Taos, you'll meet an intersection where US 64 turns and goes west, while an NM 150 goes north/northeast up to Taos Ski Valley. Take NM 150.
- Follow NM 150 to Taos Ski Valley.
- Once you've entered Taos Ski Valley (if you go into town (very small, narrow streets), or go past, you've gone too far!), look for a road going up an incline to the left where you'll see many RVs parked, and look for signage for the Twining Campground.