Backpacking Wheeler Peak

January 01, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

God's creation is AWE-some! Breathtaking.... Fringe benefits of backpacking in the wilderness!! East Fork Trail

The interesting thing is that each time we have hiked we learn something. We are amateurs in that we are exploring and learning as we go. We don’t have guides or more experienced hikers giving us tips or advice. We learn by trial and error as we go.

The goal for last summer was to backpack to Wheeler Peak from the East Fork Trailhead (1st picture) which is coming up from the Red River side of the mountain.

Wow. The views are breathtaking. Pictures don’t do it justice. It is amazing how far and how awesome the views are from that altitude.

We backpacked up until about 11,000 feet (about 7.5 miles) and set up camp. We were tired and thunder and lightning was getting closer and closer. Good thing we set up camp when we did because it started pouring as soon as we got ourselves and our gear inside the tent. From what the Rangers who were at the peak told us, it was the biggest rainfall they had all summer! It’s wonderful in the mountains when it rains. It was windy too. We could hear it, but we were protected by all the trees. By the time it came to our tent it was a breeze.

The biggest lesson learned that night was to always bring your mat  to use  under your sleeping bag. With the pouring rain running all over the place, some water was seeping in under the tent and the seams at the door. The mat helps keep you dry and warm.

Another thing that has come in handy many other times is something I learned many years ago from camping. Always bring some large trash bags. They fold up really small and they are light to carry. We’ve used them as raincoats, to hang food out of critters’ reach, and to keep things dry when it rains.

Some areas on some trails have good phone service and some don’t. The Sandia Mountains generally have good service. There have been some spots where it’s not accessible but for the most part, you will have service. Hermit’s Peak, non.  Wheeler Peak, off and on. We’ve learned that if we don’t set our phones on airplane mode, the searching will wear out our batteries fast. 
The morning was crisp and clean and smelled great. It was sunny so it helped when we hung the wet items to dry. We left things drying and took our day packs to hike up to the top of Wheeler Peak. We saw some longhorn sheep as we climbed above the tree line. The views along the way are beautiful. Once we were above the tree line… wow…. amazing views. I think I had expected it to be dry and barren above the tree line.

To my surprise I learned that it has its own kind of beauty up there. More pictures are available in the Gallery linked at the bottom of this page.

My most favorite spot was Horseshoe Lake. It's a large lake above the treeline, tucked up against the mountain with a steady stream overflowing which makes a
waterfall downstream.
I want to come here again and spend more time. 
There are more pictures in the gallery of Horseshoe Lake. It is shaped like a horeshoe and we were able to see the whole lake once we climbed past it.

We also were introduced to these little critters. Adorable! They are probably accustomed to the people that go up there. They got really close and didn’t seem afraid. They are about 2 feet high when standing. I learned later that they are called Marmots.

The weather was great as we climbed. More on the cool side which was great for hiking uphill. When we got to the top, we felt the wind coming from the west that we had been protected from and didn’t know it. Burr.. that wind was cold! At 13,100 feet after a heavy rain with west winds coming up the Taos Sky Valley….. yeah…….. it was cold at the top. But oh, soooo beautiful!

The Colorado Rockies are visible in the distance to the North. Being the highest peak in New Mexico, we could see for miles all around us. It’s hard to describe the beauty of God’s creation isn’t it? Wow. Breathtaking. 

There’s also another peak close to Wheeler, Mt. Walter. It’s only 20 feet lower
than Wheeler. Being so close to it, we had to go there right. 

After a little while of being up there we came back to reality and remembered that because of some last minute changes with work schedules we had to cut our trip a day short so instead of having to hike back to camp to spend the night, now we had to not only hike back to camp, but we had to pack everything up and backpack it all the way back to the trail head!

Having to rush back left us with a yearning to go back and spend more time there.

So back to camp we go. Of course we were tired by the time we got back to camp but no rest for the weary. We packed everything. Took a few minutes to eat, and loaded up.
On our way down we saw fresh bear tracks by one of the creeks. We had seen several deer on our way up but we didn’t see any coming down. Needless to say, we were walking down the last few miles in the dark. Good thing there are headlamps.

We learned from our previous adventure at Hermit’s Peak to carry extra batteries although we didn’t really need them this time.

After a day’s hiking about 11 to 12 miles total, we arrived at the Trail head about 9:00 p.m.

Yay! We made it! We were looking forward to a nice, hot, sit down meal at a restaurant when we got back
to Red River. To our surprise, restaurants were closed! We found a brewery that was open. As soon as we walked in we were informed that we couldn’t order off the meal menu, only appetizers. We were tired and hungry so we were ready to take what we could get!  Always an interesting adventure.

It was a great experience, wouldn’t change it for the world. I never expected that I would be backpacking much less climbing the highest peak in New Mexico. What a Blessing! Many thanks to my backpacking partner, Peggy, who made the adventure all the more enjoyable!

Below is a slide show with more pictures. You can also visit the Gallery: Wheeler Peak





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