Wheeler Peak

Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico, has been on my hiking bucket list since moving here.  I finally had the opportunity to experience this rewarding and beautiful hike with Jaycob and our good friend, Marek.

To allow ample time for driving and hiking, and to avoid afternoon thunderstorms common in the summer, one must get an early start.  We left Santa Fe at 6 a.m. yesterday and arrived at the Taos Ski Area shortly after 8:00.  The trail begins here at the Taos ski valley, at about 9,430 ft elevation.  

Taos Ski Area

Kua at a stream crossing

The first part of the hike is a long gradual uphill with a few stream crossings.  After exiting the woods, there are beautiful views of mountain ranges to the east and Colorado peaks to the north.  The trail turns southward, through a snowy, forested area, and leads to La Cal Basin at 11,800 feet.

The final part of the climb is the most challenging, comprising swithback after switchback above the treeline up toward the peak.  Thankfully this section is not steep (in fact we were impressed with some very hard-core joggers who persevered and maintained their stride all the way to the peak), but it definitely tests one’s endurance.

There is a “false peak,” Mount Walter (13,133 ft) about 10 minutes from Wheeler.  After continuing along the ridge we reached the highest peak in the state – Wheeler Peak (13,161 ft).  The views from this point are unsurpassable – 360 degrees of seemingly never-ending mountain ranges.

I recently visited the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, where there is currently an exhibit highlighting the artist’s New Mexico influences.  When viewing her mountain landscapes I was drawn to the number and variety of colors she uses to depict the mountains, and I made an effort to observe the spectrum of colors on the mountain ranges seen from Wheeler.

The return trail follows the same route we took on the way up (thankfully mostly downhill).  With dark clouds looming overhead and a few drops of rain during the last mile, we were thankful we started the hike when we did.

For me, hiking Wheeler Peak was more about the destination than the journey.  Throughout the climb I had my sights set on the goal – reaching the highest peak in the state.  I enjoyed the woodsy portion of the hike and found the views to be stunning, but with the majority of the hike being above the treeline it was hard to stay present.  I found myself to be very focused on the destination.

The best part of hiking in Taos… taking a dip in the hot springs at Ojo Caliente!


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