Wheeler Peak, New Mexico 13,161 feet (formerly Taos Peak)
DRIVING ROUTE. (1) From the center of Taos take US 64 "west"(actual direction of travel being almost north) for about 5 miles.(2) At the flashing light, turn right on state route 150 (signto Taos Ski Valley) and follow it 15 miles to the very end. (3)The trail begins at the uppermost ski parking lot, the trailheadbeing marked with a large signboard at 9400 ft.
HIKING NOTES. Liz and I had not planned to hike Wheeler Peak onthis trip, but in walking Black Mesa in Oklahoma two days beforehad met two brothers from Rhode Island who enthusiastically recommendedthe New Mexico highpoint as especially scenic. They were absolutelycorrect although we were newly arrived from the Great Plains andthe high-altitude hike turned out to be a punishing 11-hour roundtrip.
Beginning about dawn, we climbed northeast in the woods--firston a trail, then on an old mining road--for about an hour anda quarter to reach Bull-of-the-Woods pasture at 10,800 ft. Herethe old road goes almost directly south, skirting the west slopeof Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain and ending at a T-junction witha fine view to the east at 11,500 ft. Here the hiker leaves theroad (which climbs left to the old mining area on the top of themountain) and follows a trail downhill slightly to some woodenrailings in open meadow, then climbs fairly gently first througha wooded area, then onto tundra.
The trail eventually peaked at 12,160 ft on Frazer Mountain, andour hearts sank with the view ahead: loss of altitude! (Well,we can read a topo map and knew it was coming, but the realityis hard to face anyway.) We dropped into woods at about 11,800ft, where the trail crossed two small streams about 2 hours pastBull-of-the-Woods pasture. After leaving the woods, the wholeway south is over tundra.
We climbed on long switchbacks, being greeted at close range bycheeky marmots hoping for a handout. When you think you are there,it turns out you are on Mount Walter (13,141 ft), so continuesouth in the breathtaking scenery for another half mile or soto Wheeler Peak, which is a tad higher (13,161 ft). We ate lunch,signed the register, took some photos, and set out on the longtrek back. This is a spectacular hike, perhaps the best high pointof the half of the states that we have done, but I do recommendbecoming acclimated before tackling this high-altitude trip.
ALTERNATIVE ROUTES. (1) In the 1995 revision of his book Fifty State Summits, Paul L. Zumwalt provides "New Directions forthe shortest route to Wheeler Peak," but I don't recommendit. The route consists of driving a back road from the ski areato its gated end and hiking another 2 miles to Williams Lake directlywest of the summit. From here one scrambles cross-country "straightup" for nearly 2000 ft, which is great for an old mountaingoat like Zumwalt, but it still took him 6 hours to reach thesummit. (2) We met a personable chap on the trail who had comein from the Lost Lake region east of crest trail. His trail comesin at the wooded cull with the two streams mentioned in the accountabove. He told us he does this hike every year, but we got nofurther details about the route. --Jack P. and Elizabeth D. Hailman (email@example.com)
Additional Notes By Roger Rowlett
Taos means "Red Willow Place."