After AAfter Action Report: Wheeler Peak W5N/SS-001

After AAfter Action Report: Wheeler Peak W5N/SS-001
Taos Ski valley is the trail head for numerous SOTA peak, including New Mexico’s High Point. There are two ways up, Bull of the Woods (7miles) and Williams Lake (4 miles) one way. There is no really easy way, both trailheads are at 10000 feet ish. We chose the Williams lake route. Wheeler is a popular peak, as such the trail is well marked and heavily. It is not unusual to see Texans in flip flops attempting the summit. The USFS was able to get some good trail work in this year and by SOTA standards is easy. That said, if you are not acclimated to high altitude this one will knock you down. The first two miles meander up the Hondo Canyon bottom through fir and Spruce forest. USFS trail 62 trail reaches the top of a small pass, which is a old glacier moraine (pile of boulders). It overlooks Williams Lake Circ. The Trail to the summit USFS 67 is marked by a post and is a well beaten path. The first half mile is below the tree line. There it breaks out and starts to zigzag up the mountain. There are long patches of rockslide and scree that make footing difficult. There is no real vertical exposure… Just steep. The is no water to speak of so plan on ditching a few liters near the tree line for the trip back down. You are exposed to the elements on this part of the trail. There is no place to hide from the wind, lightning or avalanches. USFS trail 67 meets USFS trail 90 just a few hundred meters from the summit. The hike down the ridge line was a bit tedious but not dangerous. The summit itself has a large rock cairn and a post in the middle, which is actually visible from the ski valley with good binoculars.
We were in the middle of a howling windstorm, in fact the entire southern Rockies were under a high wind alert. On the beaufort scale it was hurricane force or about 70ish miles an hour. There was some nagging fear that we could get blown off. Randy K5RHD had managed to tie his crappie pole to the post that was in the top of the cairn and string his trail friendly antenna down wind. He summited about a hour ahead of me. WB5USB wisely turned back when he showed signs of altitude sickness. That said Randy compiled his QSOs despite a G3 magnetic storm and wind threating to blow his KX3 to Kansas. I followed on and worked CW with my Mountain Toper attached to the trail friendly endfedz. CW was very difficult, and my keying was erratic due to the cold. I was ungloved to work the key. Completed 6 contacts including one VHF. Our VHF was into Albuquerque nearly 130 miles to the south. There must be a window through the mountains, or perhaps a bit of propagation.
We did not finish until about 1600 local. This was bad. Randy was cold, and I was not feeling well. There was a real urgency to get off the exposed ridge and face before sunset. Going down is always more dangerous. Every so slowly we picked our way down through the boulder fields We reached the Teeline just as the Sun Slid behind Kachiana Peak. We reached FS62 and the valley just at dark. Fortunately I had a headlamp and we shared the circle of light all the way down. We even bumped into a Family of 6 on their way up to Williams Lake to see the moon rise. We saw a bit of wild life, Deer, Grouse, Bald Eagles and Marmot. We reached the Trail Head totally trashed at 8pm.
Lessons learned.

  1. The evening before carbo load with non-spicy food.
  2. Consider acclimating for two days before the attempt.
  3. Base layers and hard shell parkas work well. Cotton and Denim will kill you.
  4. Consider a sturdy vertical antenna for work in high wind.
  5. APRS was handy for family to watch us, consider a SPOT tracker for safety reasons
  6. Ditching heavy survival gear, bivy and stove half way up was a gamble. Summer it is not needed.
  7. Training for the high mountains is a must.
  8. Have a go, no go point and turnaround time, establish leader in large group, establish consensus in small group before you climb. Stick to the rule. Randy and I both agreed to finish the activation knowing full well we had passed a safety return point.
  9. We had plenty of water and water discipline. A drink at every stop. Backup water cached along the trail.
  10. Invent a hand muff for working paddle in cold weather, better yet key with chattering teeth.
    This was a well-traveled mountain and a perfect choice to make Mountain Goat. We will do it again, although in warmer weather pre or post Monsoon. I might well use it to train for Mount Rainer.
    Scotty NM5SW
    ction Report: Wheeler Peak W5N/SS-001