As many of you are aware, Terry and I have been hiking up in the Taos Ski Valley in recent weeks in the hopes of being able to follow and navigate the trail from William’s Lake to the top of Wheeler Peak. At 13,161 feet above sea level, Wheeler is the highest point in New Mexico and was the first state highpoint we summited back in 2005. It is the eighth highest state highpoint.
While we had no idea what we were getting into in 2005, we set out with Ryan and Meghan, who were 11 and 10 at the time, on a late July morning and, climbing the longer route, completed the sixteen mile round trip hike in just over nine hours. In recent years, the BLM has created a new shorter route (about eight miles round trip) as the previous short trek was nearly straight up over scree and talus, making it largely un-navigable.
In March, 2013, eager to be hiking in the Ski Valley, we headed up and were able, after hiking through a great deal of snow, to reach William’s Lake, the halfway point of the new Wheeler short trail. Really enjoying Ski Valley hiking, and the new Wheeler Trail in particular, we had hiked it probably a dozen times in 2012. In late April, we made our first foray toward Wheeler, continuing on from William’s Lake until we eventually lost the trail. We made the attempt several times in May as well, each time getting a little further along the trail, except for the one time we hiked several days after a spring snowfall, only to find the Wheeler Trail entirely un-navigable.
On June 8th, we again headed up to the Ski Valley and again completed the William’s Lake hike, hoping to proceed a bit further than we had in the past toward Wheeler Peak. Much to our delight, the Wheeler Trail was nearly free of snow, except for a few wooded areas and several north-facing slopes. We were able to hike the entire distance to Wheeler, making our first 2013 summit in two hours, thirty minutes. A bit slower than our record of two hours, four minutes, but not bad for a first attempt.
I have included with this post a photo of a downslope were we lost the trail most recently. Now devoid of snow, it was easy to see where to go, even though the usually reliable trail markings disappear at that point for some reason. We did have to traverse several areas of snow, including a few on slopes, which was a bit intimidating, but navigable. We completed the entire hike in just under five hours, a far cry from our four hour record, and we were exhausted afterwards, given that we are not accustomed to hiking at 13,000 feet elevation. But we quickly perked up as we headed into the Ski Valley Resort property to listen to lively music provided every weekend during the summer months. On the 9th, it was “Kathy and the Cruisers” playing lively and danceable music on the outdoor stage, with the impressive peaks rising into the skies behind them.
A perfect end to our first summit of the year! Add to that the fact that all of the campgrounds on the way up to the ski valley were open and occupied and it is clear that summer has come to the Southern Rockies!
Browse Woodall’s listings of New Mexico camping.