High Points on My Horizon: Walter, & Wheeler via Williams

Crossing Paths: Marmot!

Crossing Paths: Marmot!

This week I added a long coveted summit: Wheeler Peak, at 13,161 feet, the highest point in New Mexico! I’ve been wanting to climb Wheeler for years, but for some reason, I thought the climb required an overnight stay along the 16-mile Bull of the Woods trail.

Turns out, the park service blazed a new route to the summit in 2011 called the Williams Lake trail, an 8-mile out and back past William’s Lake up the saddle between Wheeler and neighboring Mount Walter. The trail was built by a Forest Service trail crew of 8 people from the Gallatin National Forest. Working 12 hour days using only hand tools, they built 4 miles of switchbacks to the top in 14 days. It’s a fantastic, scenic trail. Summit Post (one of my favorite mountain resources) calls the trek a Class 2 climb, but except for a couple of short rocky sections, I’d call this Class 1 all the way.

En route, we saw a dozen big horn sheep, including several fluffy white babies and a huge male with epic horns. When he ran across the slope below us, the whole mountain seemed to shake under his hooves. We also saw and heard countless marmots and pika in the rocks above tree line. Thanks to an early alpine start, we were the first on the summit, but we passed several dozen people on the way back down the trail. The William’s Lake route was news to me, but it seems like it’s no secret in northern New Mexico!

William's Lake just after dawn.

William’s Lake just after dawn.

Wheeler Peak above William's Lake

Wheeler Peak above William’s Lake

The Way Up To Wheeler

The Way Up To Wheeler

This sign is so old, they didn't need to designate which World War.

This sign is so old, they didn’t need to designate which World War.

The final approach up Wheeler

The final approach up Wheeler

Dio on the Highest Point in New Mexico

Dio on the Highest Point in New Mexico

Beefiest summit register I've ever seen!

Beefiest summit register I’ve ever seen!

The summit plaque says: Named in honor of Major George Montague Wheeler (1842–1905) who for ten years led a party of surveyors and naturalists collecting geologic, biologic, planimetric and topographic data in New Mexico and six other southwestern states.

On top of NM!

On top of NM!

Mount Walter, named for a man who loved these mountains.

Mount Walter, named for a man who loved these mountains. Only 20 feet shorter than Wheeler, it’s the second highest point in New Mexico and yet I’ve never heard of it!

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
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12 Responses to High Points on My Horizon: Walter, & Wheeler via Williams

  1. Josh Baker says:

    Gorgeous terrain and photos!

  2. That is a great hike! Did it once myself. Thanks for sharing!

  3. How do you find out where it’s ok to hike with your dog? I have the worst time tring to find anything that isnt overrun with other people. My hiking companions are two miniature dachshunds.

  4. ritaroberts says:

    Great post Mary as always ! You certainly look overjoyed at your goal. Take care.

  5. Spud says:

    You sure make me want to get outa Floriduh girl !

  6. Shweta says:

    (y) great photos & writeup

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  8. Great photos. That is a hike that we never did when we lived in New Mexico. Maybe sometime down the road. We’re getting closer to being on the road in our little pop-up with lots of places we’re looking forward to seeing. Carol

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