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The Highest Peak in New Mexico: Wheeler Peak

Finishing the Four Corners State High Points | Friday & Saturday, September 3-4, 2021

After climbing Humphreys Peak on Thursday, and then spending this morning on Mount Taylor near Grants, it was now finally time to finish off the Four Corner state high points with Wheeler Peak in New Mexico. Following my short visit to the La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs near Santa Fe this afternoon, I continued north to Taos and then headed up to the trailhead in the Taos Ski Valley. I was hoping to find a place to spend the night along the way, but the Taos Ski Valley was not really my kind of place to visit and camping options were very limited. Luckily, just before leaving home I had thrown my backpacking gear into the Jeep, just in case, so I thought it would probably be a better idea to just backpack up to Williams Lake in the late afternoon and then hike to the summit of Wheeler Peak first thing in the morning. The weather forecast for the rest of the evening was looking good, so that’s what I decided to do. The hike up to Williams Lake is not very long, just under 2 miles with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain, so it didn’t take me long to reach the lake, but like the other hikes I had done earlier in the day, it was still very humid out.

Starting up the Williams Lake Trail from the Taos Ski Valley.

The Beginning

Most of the trail was in the trees until just before reaching Williams Lake.

Williams Lake Trail

Entering the Wheeler Peak Wilderness.

Wheeler Peak Wilderness Sign

The views from the trail start opening up a bit shortly before reaching the junction with the Wheeler Peak Trail.

Opening Up

Wheeler Summit, to the left. Williams Lake, straight ahead.

Trail Junction Marker

I found a place to camp not far from the junction and then spent the rest of the evening wandering around Williams Lake.

Williams Lake Camp

Looking up the start of the Wheeler Peak Trail, but this trail would have to wait until early the next morning.

Wheeler Peak Trail Sign

Williams Lake is located in a nice little cirque below Wheeler Peak and Lake Fork Peak.

Williams Lake

There were a couple day hikers at the lake when I first arrived, but they all left well before sunset and I had the place to myself for the rest of the evening.

Ridge & Clouds

It was a little breezy this evening, which was good because when the wind wasn’t blowing the mosquitoes were pretty bad.

Nice Clouds

Wheeler Peak above Williams Lake.

Wheeler Peak

Williams Lake, Elevation 11,040

Williams Lake Sign

Wheeler Peak & Williams Lake shortly before sunset.

Wheeler Peak & Williams Lake

Williams Lake Reflection

Williams Lake Reflection

Wheeler Peak Reflection

Wheeler Peak Reflection

Once the sun had gone down and the color on the mountains was gone, I headed back to my tent and went right to bed since I would be getting an early start on Saturday morning.

My alarm went off at 4:30am and I was well rested and ready to go. I was on the trail before 5:00am and it was a bit chilly out, but also still humid, as I walked under a canopy of bright stars with my headlamp leading the way. I made it above treeline before sunrise, so I was able to watch the colors in the sky change as I climbed up to the top of the ridge.

Morning in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Morning In The Mountains

Lake Fork Peak & Magenta Clouds

Lake Fork Peak Morning

The first light of the day strikes the top of Lake Fork Peak.

Light On The Top

Over The Ridge

Over The Ridge

Once I reached the saddle, I turned right and followed the trail up the ridge toward the summit.

Ridge To The Summit

Trail To The Summit

Trail To The Summit

A view from the summit of Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in New Mexico, and the final state high point that I care about! Since I had gotten an early start, I had the summit all to myself again.

Wheeler Peak Summit

The view from the top was spectacular this morning!

Summit View

After I spent a while on the summit, I started hiking down the other side so I could also visit Simpson Peak and Old Mike Peak.

Old Mike Peak & Simpson Peak

Descending down the south ridge of Wheeler Peak.

Descending From Wheeler Peak

I eventually caught up with the Lost Lake Trail near the saddle.

Trail To Simpson Peak

Looking back to Wheeler Peak from the south.

Wheeler Peak View

Shortly after crossing the saddle I came across this sign in the middle of the trail. All the maps I have looked at show that the Taos Pueblo property doesn’t begin until Simpson Peak, but I decided to stop at the sign and turned around here.

Taos Pueblo Property

I followed the Lost Lake Trail on the way back so I wouldn’t have to climb all the way over Wheeler Peak again. There were actually light flurries of snow from the dark cloud on the left as I hiked back.

Wheeler & Walter

On the other side of Wheeler Peak the trail follows the ridge over the summit of Mount Walter, which was my next destination.

Trail On the Ridge

I followed the trail to the summit of Mount Walter.

Saddle View

Hiking Mount Walter

Mount Walter Summit

Mount Walter Summit

I returned to the saddle and then started descending the Wheeler Peak Trail. This is when I started running into other hikers who were on their way up.

Descending the Wheeler Peak Trail

Looking down to Williams Lake from the trail. It looks so small from up here.

Williams Lake Below

I passed quite a few people coming up the trail as I was on my way down, which wasn’t really surprising since it’s a popular trail and the Saturday of a holiday weekend, so I’m glad I got an early start and had the summit to myself for a while. When I reached the junction with the Williams Lake Trail I packed up my gear and then finished the hike back down to the trailhead, which was overflowing with vehicles this morning! I drove down from the Taos Ski Valley and then headed north into Colorado to continue my loop back home.

Headed back down the Williams Lake Trail to the Taos Ski Valley.

Headed Down

>> Wheeler Peak & Williams Lake Photo Gallery

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