Peak(s):  Wheeler Mtn  -  13,690 feet
Date Posted:  06/27/2011
Date Climbed:   06/25/2011
Author:  Jon Frohlich
 A few nuts, a hungry porcupine, lots of snow  

Wheeler Mtn (13690')
Route: East Couloir(?)
From Blue Lakes TH
Gain: ~2400 feet

When my main climbing partner contacted me last week wanting to climb something I was torn between a few options. I've been taking BMS with the CMC and eventually decided that a snow climb sounded good. Inspired by some recent trip reports on Wheeler it looked like it would give us a good snow climb plus some interesting scrambling at the top. We headed out from Denver after work Friday night and parked at the road closure about a third of a mile below Blue Lakes Dam. It's not clear why the road is still gated since there is no snow on the road. As we got organized and set up to sleep in the back of the truck the conversation inevitably turned to the subject of nuts.

Partner: "My nuts are all over"
Me: "You can't just go throwing your nuts all over the place randomly"
Partner: "Yeah, I think there are laws against that"

Later in the middle of the night I woke up to a strange scratching noise. Eventually I determined that the odd sound was not coming from the person sleeping next to me and instead was coming from outside. I decided to venture outside and investigate. Shining my headlamp under the car brought me face to face with a porcupine. I grabbed some rocks and convinced him to move on. He took off down the road and I went back to sleep. Some time later I woke up to the same noise. Our new friend had returned. This time I got him out from under the car and then picked up a larger rock to convince him not to come back. I've never been good at baseball but apparently when annoyed in the middle of the night by a creature chewing on my car my aim gets better. After getting hit in the back the porcupine apparently was convinced that my car didn't make a good meal and we were able to sleep peacefully the rest of the night.

We set off in the morning at 5:30am after some delays getting organized. Route finding was no real issue and we found ourselves near the base of Wheeler in about an hour. From closer up it appeared that the NE couloir we had intended to climb had partially melted out since the last trip report so we decided to climb the obvious couloir farther north instead and then climb the north ridge to the summit. In the photo below from Summitpost it's the obvious couloir on the right side of the photo.

Wheeler Photo on Summitpost

The couloir was good most of the way up until we decided to take a left hand branch to gain dry ground near the top. This turned out to be rotten snow and after a few unpleasant steps I made it to dry ground and we both took off our crampons. Route finding on the ridge was interesting. We mostly stayed below the ridge on the east side before coming to a tower blocking the way to the summit (the same tower that benners and his group ran into a few weeks back in their TR).

We were able to navigate the tower to the left instead of the right as they did since this section was mostly dry. After getting around the tower we continued along the ridge and some false summits before spotting the real summit with a small cairn just across from us. A quick scramble up a chimney brought us to the summit and the register. I'd say that the north ridge is definitely Class 4 in a few places. We also saw a group of 4 skiers climbing a couloir on the North Star - Wheeler ridge. If anyone knows who they were I have a few pictures of them near the top.

Looking back across the ridge from the top

Democrat, Clinton, Traver

North Star from Wheeler (note skiers)

Quandary from Wheeler

Drift (L) and Fletcher (R) from Wheeler

After a short summit stay since it was getting hot we headed back the way we came. This time we traversed a few ribs on the east side of the ridge to reach the top of the main couloir instead. Some downclimbing facing in brought us to good glissading terrain and two nice long glissades got us back down to the valley.

Looking up at Wheeler from about the halfway point of the couloir

Coming down the couloir

Sweet glissade back down

We hadn't brought snowshoes along so we had some postholing adventures getting back to the dam but overall it wasn't too horrible and we returned to the car after 6 hours and 15 minutes. The parking lot was busy now with day hikers and probably a few Cristo climbers on Quandary. Cristo is melting fast and won't be good for much longer. We tested the brakes on my truck to make sure that our friend hadn't chewed through the brake lines and then made our way into Breckenridge for mexican food. Great day in the mountains!

 Comments or Questions

Looks like a great day!
06/27/2011 21:00
The tenmile certainly is picturesque right now. Was planning to take a shot at Wheeler later this summer when it's dry, but looks like the snow might be more fun.

Nice climb, and way to teach that porcupine a lesson!

Doug Shaw
06/28/2011 02:52
Jon's climbing snow! That's awesome, congrats!

My invite from five or six years ago still stands - let's go climb some snow sometime!


Good stuff, Jon
06/29/2011 01:32
Thanks for the photos. I hope the class turns out well for you. Sounds like that porcupine is in dire need of a swift and savage beating...

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