Bull-Of-The-Woods Mountain
Frazer Mountain
Mt. Walter
Wheeler Peak P2K
Old Mike Peak
Simpson Peak
Peak 12,819ft P300
Lake Fork Peak 2x P500
Kachina Peak 2x
Sandia Crest P2K

Mon, Aug 3, 2020

With: Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile
Lake Fork Peak previously climbed Sat, Aug 1, 2020
Kachina Peak previously climbed Sat, Aug 1, 2020


Wheeler Peak

I found this to be the best of the three days Eric and I spent together in New Mexico. As the state's highpoint, Wheeler Peak is the centerpiece of the Wheeler Peak Wilderness and Carson National Forest. The easiest route follows the Williams Lake Trail from the Taos Ski Area, about 10mi roundtrip with less than 3,000ft of gain. I talked Eric into a longer outing that would allow us to do a number of additional peaks around the drainage immediately west of Wheeler. To make it easier, we set up a car shuttle, leaving one car at the upper half of the ski area and then starting from the base on the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail. We got an early start around 5a to help if weather developed, which worked well enough, only about 30min at the start by headlamp. We spent 2hrs making our way up the well-maintained trail, almost entirely through forest until we neared the summit. We had expected to be in the Wilderness area from near the start, but came to find that not the case. Near Bull-of-the-Woods Mtn, the trail joins the Northside-Alpine Wildflower Loop, a strenuous mountain bike route that repurposes old logging roads. We had no idea this existed and were a bit surprised at the extensiveness of the trail system above 11,000ft.

Once we'd reached Bull-of-the-Woods' summit, the views opened with an excellent preview of the route ahead to the south. We were done with less than half of the elevation gain at this point, but the rest of the day was far more enjoyable thanks to the views. It took us 45min to get between Bull-of-the-Woods and Frazer Mtn with an extra 500ft of gain over the course of about a mile and a half. The trail crosses into the Wilderness just below the summit, but the highpoint is a short distance off the trail on the outside. An alternate route, the Frazer Mtn Rd, allows mountain bikes to reach the 12,000-foot summit without crossing the boundary. Past Frazer Mtn, the trail drops off the ridge some 400ft to cross the La Cal Basin and then climbs 1,400ft at a steady pace to Mt. Walter, the slightly lower north summit of Wheeler Peak. It's close enough to Wheeler that we could easily see folks atop the state highpoint to the south. The standard route up from Williams Lake joins our route at the high saddle between the two summits. Less than 15min later we were atop Wheeler Peak. After tagging the summit, we walked a short distance east to get out of the cold wind blowing across the summit and avoid COVID-crowding the summit. Another climber came up while we were there, but surprisingly, we had it mostly to ourselves.

It was just after 9:30a with much of the day still ahead of us. Eric had planned to head back via the Williams Lake Trail but was easily convinced to join me for the next two summits to the south. We got back on the trail and followed it along the crest, bypassing the summit of Simpson in order to first visit the summit of Old Mike, about an hour from Wheeler Peak. Old Mike lies to the southeast, off the ridgeline surrounding the drainage we'd been following. It lies within the Pueblo de Taos Indian Reservation, but there are no signs or indications of a boundary anywhere along the route. After tagging the summit, we backtracked along the trail and made the short cross-country excursion to the top of Simpson Peak. An old plaque tells how the peak was named for a 24yr-old forest ranger who died at the start of the US involvement in World War I.

It was now nearly 11a. The next peak to the southwest, Peak 12,819ft, was about a mile away, but there was no more trail. The ridgeline didn't look too difficult by my eye, but Eric thought otherwise and decided to call it a day. While he headed back to Wheeler Peak and the Williams Lake Trail, I dropped off Simpson Peak to start the next leg. It would take me an hour and a quarter to cover the distance, an enjoyable stretch with some easy class 3 near the start and a small intermediate bump to get over somewhere in the middle. Mike Garratt had left a register atop Peak 12,819ft in 2012, about 15 entries all told in the past 8yrs. The only other name I recognized was Teresa Gergen, a prolific CO climber and the second person to climb all the CA 13ers.

I had now covered all the peaks of interest around the drainage. The next two, Lake Fork Peak and Kachina Peak, I had done two days earlier. My original plan had been to drop to the saddle with Lake Fork Peak and then descend the talus/moraine fields into the drainage and return via the Williams Lake Trail. I had told Eric he might look for me at the lake if he wanted to take a swim or nap there. The short reports I'd read on this descent route had described the off-trail portion from the saddle as tedious. It occurred to me while I was traversing between Simpson and Peak 12,819ft that I could probably save the tediousness and maybe some time, too, by continuing on the ridge. I could catch a ride down the chairlift at the ski area if I got there before 4p. On top of that, the hike along the ridge would almost certainly be more scenic than scrambling across a moraine, and with this new plan in mind, I headed off Peak 12,819ft. It took less than an hour to get to Lake Fork Peak where I signed into the register for the second time in three days. The ridgeline between the peaks was all class 2, easier than the previous segment. The ridge gets even easier as one continues north to Rich Peak and then Kachina Peak, about 45min for this stretch. I got back to the top of the chairlift before 2p, much earlier than I expected and certainly faster than the route through Williams Lake. I met up with Eric again at The Bavarian where we had our third meal in as many days. Following this, it was time to say our goodbyes as it was time for Eric to return to Albuquerque and myself to California.

Sandia Crest

Of several route options to get back to CA, the quickest appeared to make use of Interstate 40, which would take me through Albuquerque. I had stopped in the town of Taos for a carwash before continuing south towards the state capitol, all the while checking the peakbagger app for something else to do. I noticed that Sandia Crest was a P4K and a drive-up just outside of Albuquerque that I could do before sunset. Afternoon thundershowers were raging over the summit during the drive and I had to wait about 20min for a break in the weather to run out and tag the summit. It had to be the weakest P4K I've visited ever, given the weather and lack of views. Worse, there was a Wilderness HP nearby that I could easily have tagged had I known about it. Oh well, I guess that gives me a reason to come back another time in better conditions. It was dark before I had finished driving back down to the highway and found my way to the interstate. A few more hours driving would get me further west to the San Mateo Mtns in the Cibola NF where I planned to do a short hike the next morning...


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More of Bob's Trip Reports

For more information see these SummitPost pages: Bull-Of-The-Woods Mountain - Frazer Mountain - Mt. Walter - Wheeler Peak - Old Mike Peak - Simpson Peak - Lake Fork Peak - Kachina Peak - Sandia Crest

This page last updated: Sat Sep 12 15:30:53 2020
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