Several weeks ago we climbed the Williams Lake Trail in the Taos Ski Valley in the hopes of also completing part of the trail to Wheeler Peak, which begins at the end of the first trail. We spent about 18 minutes on the Wheeler Trail before losing it completely. Any markings or tracking we had previously noted were nowhere to be found, so we turned back and headed down.

Wheeler Peak Trail, icy and snow-covered

Wheeler Peak Trail, icy and snow-covered

Last weekend, we planned to attempt the Wheeler Trail, but after five to six inches of new snowfall, any semblance of a tracked trail had completely disappeared, even at the beginning. This past weekend, after a week of 50+ degree temperatures resulting in significant snow loss, we made a second attempt to climb from Williams Lake to Wheeler Peak.

Our "slippery slope" trail

Our “slippery slope” trail

We completed the hike to Williams Lake in an hour and noted that trail had lost much of the snow from the week before. We checked out the Wheeler Trail and noted it had been tracked and appeared accessible, though still covered with ice and snow. We climbed up to the icy trail through several snow banks and followed it on a slant up a slippery slope. On the right side as we climbed, the hill rose sharply above us, as if we were walking along a wall. On the left side, toward which the trail sloped, we looked down on a drop of about a dozen feet. Thankfully this only lasted for about 50 feet, after which we were rewarded with a horizontally level, though vertically climbing trail, which had land on both sides.

Then we began to encounter the “post-hole” issue. While the Williams Lake trail had been well-traveled and frequently hiked through the winter, the Wheeler trail had not. This made its two to three feet of snow much softer than the Wheeler Trail which we had easily hiked without sinking down into the snow to the bottom of the trail. Once on the Wheeler Trail, however, we began having sinking problems at random places, our legs dropping down dramatically into the snow depth creating a post-hole as well as a wet leg and foot.

Post-holes along the trail

Post-holes along the trail

Though the trail was a bit intimidating and the post-holes shocking when they occurred, we marshaled on, negotiating the occasional icy angle or corner. We also reminded each other to tread carefully to avoid a sudden descent. After we had been on the Wheeler Trail for about35 minutes, 17 minutes longer than our last attempt (!) we traversed an intimidating downhill slope, complete with numerous post-hole opportunities made visible by previous hikers. Just as we completed this treacherous slope, the trail and any tracking again disappeared. Try as we might, we could find neither our trusty blue dots on the trees, nor the footsteps of those who had gone before us. It was as if previous hikers had simply been airlifted from the spot.

Wheeler Peak, NMAt that point, looking down the slope and balancing carefully to avoid a sudden descent, in more ways than one, we decided to turn back again. We were disappointed to be unable to complete the trail on our second attempt, but were pleased we had doubled the distance we had covered. Maybe next week…

Read more about New Mexico campgrounds and things to do in New Mexico.

Leave a Reply