Because of BC’s previous high altitude problems (not making it on Humphrey’s and going painfully slow on Guadalupe), JO and BC had discussed a strategy of beginning these high altitude hikes very early in the morning, before dawn, so we could be back at the car by the afternoon, and BC could go at a comfortable speed without killing himself.  We decided to go with this strategy, and in the end, it worked beautifully.

Highpoint: Wheeler Peak
State: New Mexico
Height: 13161 ft.
Highpoint #: 39 (JO), 36 (BC)
Date: 8/2/2004
Trails: Williams Lake Trail
Distance: 7 miles roundtrip
Vertical Gain: 3300 ft.
Time Taken: 8 hours
Weather: Chilly and breezy before dawn, sunny and clear after dawn, 70’s
Group: JO and BC
Comments:  We decided to take the Williams Lake route up Wheeler Peak, which is by far the shorter, but steeper route.  You first hike just over 2 miles to Williams Lake, gaining about 1000 feet, then you head east up the slope towards the saddle between Mount Walter and Wheeler Peak.  This slope is extremely steep.  We left the Williams Lake trailhead at about 2:30 a.m. on Monday.  It was a nice night, a little chilly.  We made it to Williams Lake a little before 4, and then headed east up the steep slope.  At about 12000 feet, as we were making our way past the last few groves of trees on this route, JO realized that he was getting very cold and that it would only get colder as we ascended.  We decided it would be best to rest and wait until sunrise, when it would warm up a bit.  So we climbed under the last grove of trees on the slope and promptly fell asleep.  We awoke at about 6 o’clock to a brightening sky, and resumed our hike.  The very top section of this slope was nothing but loose scree at close to 40-degree inclines, which was quite treacherous.  We reached the saddle at just after 8:00 and went over a couple small false summits to make the summit right at 8:30.  BC was jubilant, as this was by far his highest summit, and he was suffering no ill effects from the altitude.  We stayed on the summit for about 30 minutes resting and taking pictures, and then we headed back down.  The steep scree slope which was so treacherous on the way up seemed even more treacherous on the way down, until we stopped trying to catch ourselves, and basically just slid down the entire slope, in a skiing motion.  This allowed us to rocket back down to Williams Lake before 11:00, and we were back at the car by 12:30.  Success!

A look upwards, about 2/3 of the way to the saddle between Mount Walter and Wheeler Peak.

Along the summit ridge, looking back towards Mount Walter.

JO on the summit of Wheeler Peak.

BC victorious at last, 13,161 feet.

A look down from the summit, with Williams Lake at the bottom center.

Back down at Williams Lake, one last look back up at the vanquished mountain.  The grove of trees just left of center directly under the bowl is where JO and BC waited for sunrise.

BC’s success did not come without some scars, however.  In what would become a major source of pain for the rest of the trip, BC’s toes, specifically his big toes, were extremely sore from sliding down the slope of scree and stones and BC was walking gingerly for a couple days.

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