Peak(s):  Wheeler Mtn  -  13,690 feet
Post Date:  10/27/2011
Date Climbed:   10/22/2011
Posted By:  Papillon

 Winds Of Change   

There are winds of changes blowing
Gathering leaves up in its path
And the people who are the leaves
Will remain in our hearts
With love, till eternity

Eric Burdon & The Animals

I was down but not out. Nineteen days and counting. Something had to give. And sooner rather than later...

I had gotten real soft real quick the previous weekend at a Sinatra haunt in the Sierra Nevada. When I wasn't dodging cigarette hangovers and casino floor despair, I was neck-deep in a sea of Bay Area frauleins with trendy fingernails and plastic handbags and cancelled eyes. Damn weddings...

A quick return flight to DIA and I found myself desperate to get back on the winning side of things. I believe mountaineering is very streaky. When you're hot you're hot and when you're not, well, you attend GoLite and REI garage sales and let your gear closets do the talking.

A cupcake Saturday? One foot in front of the other? I wasn't ready to start singing the class 2 blues just yet. I'd have all winter to do that. What I wanted was a late October test piece, something with a little sketch and maybe some snow. Something on the fringes of my comfort zone. Something real.

And that is how I found myself on US-285 last Friday evening with the usual chick by my side. We had the Jimmy Johns subs and the cooler full of beer and no obligations for the next 48 hours. Our destination was the Tenmile Range and our booty was Wheeler Mountain.

We could've slept at Montgomery Reservoir but opted for Blue Lakes instead. I was concerned about the rock-crawlers and off-roaders who frequent the former. You know the kind… dig Skynyrd and chair fights and drink motor oil "cuz it's smoooooth..."

I don't have a high tolerance for riff-raff and Blue Lakes turned out to be a good call. It was just us and the goats and the wind until dawn.

Gotta love those 9 A.M. starts. The essence of October...

The road to Wheeler Lake is pretty beastly in sections. There are lots of rocks and large frozen puddles that make it difficult to get into any kind of rhythm. It is over three miles to the lake but the vert is nominal. Snow was calf deep around 12,000 feet and we took a break near the vintage car parked on the northwest shore.

From here we were able to survey our route up to the Wheeler-Clinton saddle. It looked complicated but pretty dry (at least compared to the entrance to the Clinton-McNamee-Traver amphitheatre which was all snow). And by complicated I mean not straightforward. We would do our fair share of zigging and zagging as we climbed up to the saddle at 13,300 feet.

The snow along the way was patchy and more of a nuisance than anything else. With each step, you weren't sure if you would find rock, solid ground, or nothing for eighteen inches and risk a face plant or ankle-grinder.

Eventually, we topped out and it seemed like winter was waiting up there on the other side of the ridge. Your textbook wind ambush. Communication was futile and I ended up pissing all over myself. Nice dude nice…

400 feet now separated us from the summit. But it wasn't an easy 400. Staying ridge proper was not possible without rope and/or industrial-strength crap diapers. We ducked onto the west side and the spindrift picked up and I could barely see a thing. We pressed on, searching for cairns and sections that would go. Eventually, the wind subsided and fall conditions returned. About time.

Our route would undulate the rest of the way. There were rock ribs and runout gullies but nothing terribly loose. A decent amount of snow existed in places but not enough to warrant taking out the axe or putting on the microspikes. We didn’t need the buckets either. It felt good to get out and scramble again.

The summit block looked toothy from our vantage point. We chose the dotted-line ascent in Bill’s route description. I went up to take a look and when I popped my head over the last rock, I could make out the summit register and a couple of old weathered wooden signs a mere ten feet away. All that remained was an airy catwalk where grab ass would not be an option. Gotta love those class 3 finishes.

I called down to Sarah and she joined me moments later. Great views all around but we didn’t linger. There wasn’t much room to lounge so we quickly retraced our steps to the saddle and began a slow and languid descent to the lake.

And that is when we heard the gunshots.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I would count over one hundred during the next twenty minutes or so.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Wooderson: Is somebody shooting an elephant down there?
Papillon: Sounds like the set of a Peckinpah flick.
Wooderson: What are the odds the clown is wearing one of those Big Johnson fishing rod shirts?
Papillon: You mean the ones that ask if you are a ‘Master Baiter’?

We returned to the shores of Wheeler Lake and settled down for a snooze. I popped some margherita pepperoni and took in the snow and the wind and the cool crisp horizons. And for a few half-conscious moments, summer returned to me in a whirlwind of images:

9:37 P.M. sunsets and bare-legged campfires. Deep county road trailheads. Kaleidoscope tent cities. Nut-hugger beers.

Patio burgers and salty potato chips. SPF and DEET. Balsamic vinegar socks. Rotten trail runners and stiff treacherous skivvies.

Topos on the hoods of hot metal cars. The backseat reek. Immortal conversations. Sleepy headlamp starts. Full-blown gapers.

And just like that summer was gone…

The road flirts with class 3

Basin Views

Yes, we made it to the lake...

Let me tell you what Melba Toast is packin' right here, alright. We got 4:11 Positrac outback, 750 double pumper, Edelbrock intakes...

...bored over 30, 11 to 1 pop-up pistons, turbo-jet 390 horsepower. We're talkin' some f---in' muscle.

The task at hand

The usual chick

Gaining the ridge

Still gaining the ridge

Hero Shot

Ridge to Clinton

Wheeler Lake

Enter the South Ridge

Sugar and Spice

Looking back

Typical terrain

A room with a view



The summit makes an appearance

Sugar and Spice II

Getting closer

And I do my little turn on the catwalk...

North Star

Blue Lakes Dam

These are great days we're living...

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

When the going gets weird...     10/27/2011 19:15
Fantastic write-up. I was awake well into the morning hours last night reading Hunter S. Thompson. Your writing voice is similar to his, which to me is a fine compliment. Nice climbin' too...


Writer writer ...     10/27/2011 20:10
Pen's on fire. 8) Okay, first things first, my friend ... there ain't nothing ”usual” about Wooderson. Get over it, and don't use that type of language again .. you hear!?! Secondly, any man who claims that he knows anything about ”pissin' on himself” is full of sh*t ... men know NOTHING about the full parameters of the subject as they are able to: 1) stand in an upright position; and, 2) have the ability to at least try and direct said discharge through means that don't need to be elaborated on in this comment. Oh, and I'll give you $50 for the ”Melba Toast” ... yum yum. Great shots, my friend. Always love seeing the smiling Wooderson in a photo. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!

Jon Frohlich

Not the song I would have picked     10/27/2011 20:25
I would have gone for Scorpions. Great trip report. I was curious after our snow climb in June how the other side went. You guys should go back next spring and do the north ridge. I'm still tempted to try Wheeler -> North Star one of these days (next year).


Solid Effort     10/27/2011 21:24
And great write up, loved the summer summary. Nice late season action.


Fantastic write up!!     10/27/2011 23:51
Very entertaining read and nice photos. That one looked like a lot of fun.


About time     10/27/2011 23:52
Been too long since you've written a TR!
Good work, and I'm glad you made it to the lake, that's half the battle. ;)
I'm sorry you pissed on yourself. I've done it too, but I was drunk.


Usual report.....     10/28/2011 04:59
When is the book coming out? Great pics but your story telling is quite entertaining and alive. Thanks for taking the time. However, I do have one beef.... what beer did you bring along?!


My favorite     10/28/2011 14:47
If someone was to hold a gun to my head and say ”pick your favorite mountain” I'd probably say Wheeler. So thank you for honoring my favorite mountain with a fine trip report.


You gotta get some shoes on that thing     10/28/2011 16:03
Those are Pizza Cutters!
One great culture reference after another, a vibrant, living narrative, and beta o' plenty.

Presto, men who are too excited can pee in their own faces. Nuff said.

Who makes those wooden summit signs, anyway? The ”calligraphy” looks eerily similar to the one that used to be on S. Maroon.


Loved     10/31/2011 13:26
the read, Papillon! And nice job getting Wheeler too. Funny we were up there the same day, too bad we didn't run into each other.

Kevin Baker

excellent     11/01/2011 03:23
I always enjoy reading your expansive vocabulary, Kevin. Gotta hate it when those banshees gust at inopportune times! Wheeler is not your typical 10 mile summit for sure. I really enjoyed doing it as a snow climb from Blue Lake this spring. A great one to get back in the saddle on!


Topos on the hoods of hot metal cars....     11/01/2011 03:43
The imagery of summer...

Just try reading this while listening to Roberta Gambarini singing Round Midnight. It all falls into place.

Great report, Kev. Now can we please start getting some regular episodes again from the writer with the pen on fire?

Thanks for yet another wonderful NLTR!


Wheeler     11/01/2011 05:45
is not a place for FBG's, even better with snow. Nice way to paint the picture of time spent in the hills at the end there. Balsamic vinegar socks. Classic McConaughey reference...


Thanks for the encouragement...     11/01/2011 16:28
@Neil - I much appreciate the compliment. Hell's Angels is my favorite HST offering.

@Presto - Sorry we missed you and the dude last week. And you are right about Sarah. Without her, I am nothing.

@Jon - I enjoyed your report of the snow climb and will try to give it a shot next spring. But I've gotta side with the gringos in southern Texas on the music. They love their Eric Boooooooordin (especially with War).

@d_baker - Sarah said I was long overdue. I hope to catch up with you soon.

@SuperPolok - I'd have no gripes about going back and repeating Wheeler. Great peak and a great route.

@Matt - I am now 0 for 2 in trying to sneak pop culture references past you in TRs. No clue on the signs - there is one on Democrat as well.

@Johnson - I think about a book every day, just need to get the cajones to go all in. And it sounds like they are playing your wife's song in the background of this scene here:

Let me tell you what Melba Toast is packin'...


Lol     11/06/2011 15:02
Yes, I believe they are.... how in the world did you ever notice that?


Another hit     11/11/2011 06:15
The gunshots may be Peckinpah but the story telling is pure Leone. I've been anxious to read this after I returned home from my trip and it didn't disappoint. You have a clever appreciation of dark humor and good livin. Much enjoyed with a new Double Black IPA from Odells. A satisfying moment in all ways.

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