Wheeler Peak Wilderness was the last stop for the pups and myself on our five day tour of north central New Mexico. We started the trip off with a backpack into the Pecos Wilderness, we followed that up with a filler hike in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness and then finished with this over night trip into Wheeler. The miles were intentionally low and the itinerary light in the interests of my aging pups.
The plan called for starting at the upper Williams Lake trailhead and the Williams Lake Trail and then taking the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail to its intersection with trail #90 and then the summit. From there, we were to drop off the backside of Wheeler and head for Horseshoe Lake and camp.
We got a relatively early start on what was a very cold morning, but I wanted a relatively early start to beat the crowds. Turns out, I only saw four hikers all day, two pairs that started at about the same time as me. Williams Lake has an amazing backdrop, but the lake itself is rather unspectacular. From the lake, it was the summit trail climb to Wheeler's distinct ridgeline. I will admit, the climb was a bit of a slog for me at times, as this was the first time I had carried a heavy pack up to 13K since Forester Pass and the John Muir Trail I believe. Nevertheless, I completed the full pack summit with the pups and we moved on down the ridge towards the Lost Lake Trail. Here I got a little indecisive and after mulling it over in my head and staring at it for five straight minutes, decided to turn around and head back to the ridgeline to bag Old Mike Peak. Simpson was on the way, so I naturally crossed that one off the list as well. Although, it was nice to snag a couple of extra peaks, my real motive was catching a glimpse of Blue Lake. A sacred lake that the local tribe wrestled back from the control of the federal government and now restricts access to only tribal members. The views of the lake were alright, but overall it was the views of the surrounding area not seen from Wheeler that made Old Mike Peak worth the waffling and detour.
After our ridgeline walking peak extravaganza, we headed down to Horseshoe Lake, a barren little lake that sits just above the treeline and directly below the backside of Wheeler. On the way to the lake we saw a large herd of bighorn, which we watched for awhile before letting them go back to their business, which was just laying around for about half of them. It was immediately evident from the start that the wind would be a little too much and too cold to camp near the lake, so we opted for a site just within the trees and a little downhill on the Lost Lake Trail. At camp it was the usual chores, the usual food and the usual one way conversations with Cup and Blanco. I was a little restless and did not sleep well, perhaps it was from camping at nearly 12k or perhaps it was from the hounding wind and freezing temperatures. Needless to say, I had no problem getting out of that tent near first light the next morning and setting off for the trailhead around 6:30 a.m. The hike back was pretty standard. We cherry picked another peak (Mount Walter) and had another bighorn herd sighting. There were more people on the trail than I thought there would be on a Tuesday, which is further evidence of this areas popularity. Hit it early to beat the crowds and avoid the weekends if possible.