I climbed Wheeler Peak, the Highpoint of New Mexico at 13,161 feet, on Saturday September 6th, 2003. It was my 8th state highpoint.
I wanted to climb Wheeler Peak on my way to Vail, CO after spending a week in Ruidoso hiking and getting acclimated to altitude. I left Ruidoso on Friday morning and spent Friday night in a motel in Taos. Scattered T-Storms were predicted for Saturday. After watching the lightening in the mountains on my drive north on Friday evening I had my doubts as to whether I could make the climb as planned. I decided to go to the Williams Lake trailhead early and play it by ear. I would have liked to go up the Bull-of-the-Woods Wheeler Peak Trail and down the Williams Lake Trail, or vice versa, but because of the potential severe weather and also because I had a non climbing friend waiting in the car I thought it best to take the quickest route. My friend had joined me on some shorter, easier, hikes but he, like my wife, is not fond of steep climbs. At the hikers parking lot I met six brothers from Texas and a friend of theirs from Colorado. They said I could join them and we started our hike at about 7:30AM. We reached Williams Lake at about 9:00AM and spent the next two hours slowly struggling our way to the summit. Im in fairly good shape. I workout and jog regularly. My cardio fitness was good and I seemed to handle the altitude OK but jogging 30 to 40 minutes each day, weight training, and occasionally doing 20 to 30 minutes on the Stairmaster doesnt quite prepare the leg muscles for this. The lactic acid in my legs built up and my thighs would burn so bad I had to stop every few minutes to rest. I didnt feel too bad because everybody else, who was at least 20 to 30 years younger than me, were doing the same. As we got closer to the summit it got cold, foggy and misty. Im glad I had my gloves in my pack because I had to scramble on the cold rocks for the last hundred yards and my hands were getting cold. It was sleeting when we first reached the summit but then it cleared and the skies turned blue and we had spectacular views in all directions. I saw approximately 25 people on the mountain that day and there were about 15 at the summit while I was there. It turned out that a couple that was gaining on my group and caught us at the summit were members of the Highpointers Club. They live in Colorado and are originally from Illinois but I didnt catch their names. They were not dressed very warm and didnt stay at the summit very long. The brothers and friend decided to go on further and were planning on going down the Bull-of-the-Woods Wheeler Peak Trail so I said goodbye. I ate my lunch, signed the register and enjoyed the views while having the mountain all to myself. It didnt take long for the summit to go from slightly congested to complete quiet and solitude with no one else in sight.
I went down the same way I went up. Actually I kind of skied down in the loose rocks most of the first half way down. It was easier on my cardio system but seemed harder on my knees and thighs and I had to stop about as frequently as on the way up. By the time I reached Williams Lake my legs felt like jello and I was exhausted. I dont know if it was because my legs were so tired and I was walking like Rubber Man, or because I was carrying my old military pack and wearing military trousers and hat, but I noticed some people looking at me kind of strange, more so than usual. Maybe I looked like a crazed militiaman who had been living in the mountains and had come down to terrorize the women and children. It turned out to be a warm, sunny day and there were lots of families and dogs hiking around Williams Lake. At least the dogs liked me.
When I got back to my car my friend, Curt, was talking to a former Marine from Phoenix who was planning on climbing Wheeler Peak the following day. He was another non-member of the Highpointers club who was interested in doing as many highpoints as possible. When we told him that I would be in Colorado for the next week he asked if I would be interested in climbing Mt. Elbert with him. I told him that I did it 20 years ago but would like to do it again. I gave him my number at the timeshare resort that I would be staying at in Vail but I never heard from him. He may have tried to call and not been able to get through to me. My wife said when she first called me it took 10 minutes for the desk to figure out which condo I was in and put the call through.
According to Blake Murphy, who I met climbing Guadalupe Peak, Texas last Tuesday, a Forest Service Ranger told him that they were considering putting switchbacks on the trail from Williams Lake to the summit of Wheeler Peak possibly in the near future. Blake had attempted Wheeler Peak a few days before I met him in Texas. He didnt make it because he got headaches from altitude sickness at the 12,000-foot level. He had not spent any time getting acclimated to the altitude. He may try again before heading back to Georgia.