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Wheeler Peak and Williams Cirque Traverse


Author: Gary Clark

Participants: Gary & Lynn Clark

This is almost the same trip reported by Mark Schraad last November. We were inspired by his example but did the trip in reverse (clockwise), climbing Wheeler Peak first, then traversing the entire ridge line to descend into the Kachina Bowl ski lift area. In the process you traverse over 7 "major" summits and a bunch of little ones. I report this not to add any significant new information, but rather to highly recommend this outing, which must certainly be one of the best general mountaineering experiences to be found in New Mexico.

We started in the ski valley village itself to add a little more distance and elevation gain to what was supposed to be a routine training hike up Wheeler Peak and back. Since the village is officially at 9020 ft., this would be about a 4140' net elevation gain. We reached the summit in 3 hours. The day was exceptional, with little threat of thunderstorms, so we decided to continue on the ridge to the south, reasoning that we could bail into the Williams Lake Basin whenever we felt like we'd had enough for the day. The further we got, the more determined we became to complete the whole enchilada.

As Mark has reported, it looks from afar like there will be several challenging sections on this traverse, but when you get up close, easy passages appear. It would be stretching it to call any of them 3rd Class - maybe Class 2.8c+ / 2.8d. There is considerable exposure in spots, and the views are spectacular all the way around. There are very few poor quality sections; a few short talus traverses are all I recall. To finish, we went over the top of Kachina Peak, then down the NW ridge to the saddle and up over the next little peak. Now we were in the ski basin directly above the moderate ski runs of the Kachina Basin. We dropped into the basin (some remnant snow) and followed the ski runs to the base of the lifts, then down the access road to the village. The entire traverse required about 9 hours. It would have been at least an hour less if we had had enough food along to fuel the effort. Since we had planned on a much shorter outing, we had only a light lunch along. I ran out of energy at about 7 hours and spent the remainder in a sugar-depleted haze, barely able to perambulate with the help of two ski poles. Fortunately a (single) restaurant was open in the village. After injesting a few thousand calories and a pitcher of lemonade, I felt fine again. Mark did the same trip in only 6.5 hours, but he cheated in two ways: first, he drove to the upper parking lot which shaves off probably an hour and a half on the round trip, and second by being young and fit. Neither of these is fair.

The traverse as we did it is about 11 miles, with a roughly estimated gross elevation gain in excess of 6000 ft.


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