Southwest Ridge in Lean Spring Snow

Southwest Ridge in Lean Spring Snow

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 39.38060°N / 106.1359°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 20, 2012
Activities Activities: Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring

Springtime in the Rockies!

Wheeler MountainMuch of our route is visible in this image

Springtime in the Rockies!

This phrase is usually summoned for the purpose of dry sarcasm for events such as:
- Mother's Day getting soaked in cold snowshowers.
- Your garden getting frozen solid the first week of June.
- Memorial Day flight cancellations due to snow storms.
- Freezing your hiney off in alpine winter conditions despite the calendar telling you summer is just around the corner.

This day, however, the weather gods delivered something fine in the form of sunny blue skies with puffy blue clouds floating past and relatively warm temperatures. About the only thing this day didn't serve up was ample snow to attempt one of the more ambitious snowlines on the southern slopes. No need to have regrets, though, as this was one fun, beautiful day!

Roundtrip Distance: 8.5 miles (approximate, from Magnolia Mine)
Elevation Gain: 2,850 feet

Initial Approach via Wheeler Lake Jeep Road

The beginingThe beginning | SenadR
Meet KodiKodi on the move | SenadR

Westbound on the roadWestbound on the road
Up Platte GulchLooking up Platte Gulch

What's to say about the approach via Wheeler Lake Jeep Road? Unless you've got a modified 4x4 rig to ride it, it's not going to be the most exciting part of your day.

"We're here for the hike, not for the drive."

With an almost stock Rubicon, I was no match for the challenges of Wheeler Lake Jeep Road, so we parked near Mangnolia Mine. (We did not, however, park before I got to enjoy the first road obstacle to the background noise of: "No, you're not driving up that, are you?")

The walk along the jeep road makes for a nice warm-up. It's a good time to chat and catch up with friends; To tell stupid jokes and re-live stories only other climbers can appreciate. It's a time to wish you hadn't had that third shot of J├Ągermeister last night and opted instead to relish another hour or two of sleep, or hope you don't regret forgetting to put your footbeds in your Scarpas (which I still regret...)

The beginning of the jeep road was dry and rocky. We surmounted several areas that were challenging enough by foot, let alone on four wheels. The road soon turned to a combination of snow drifts, mud soup and stream bed and we occasionally opted for a willow bash to avoid the bog.

Into the Wheeler Lake Basin

Heading into the basinHeading into the basin
Nestled into the basinNestled into the basin

After the long haul in and out of the rutted, mushy roadbed, it's quite a relief and a joy to turn right and head into the Wheeler Lake Basin.

What a place of beauty!

And here, with snow still packing the road in spots, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of this basin that can be enjoyed when it's accessible via foot traffic only. From the foot of the basin, we were able to gaze up at our goal, the rugged Wheeler Mountain. The weather was divine and the south slopes looked purely inviting. This was going to be a very, very good day.

Leaving the Lakes to Gain the Ridge

Above the second lakeAbove the second lake
Ridge....first step toward summit.Finally on the ridge | SenadR

Steep grass!Steep grass!

Southwest toward Bartlett MountainSouthwest toward Bartlett Mountain

Along the southwest ridgeAlong the Southwest Ridge

Southwest along the ridgeSouthwest along the ridge

Gaining the ridgeGaining the ridge | SenadR

The lakes are a destination for many summer visitors, but a lovely waypoint en route to the top of Wheeler Mountain for us. Both the larger, lower lake and the upper lake were covered mostly in white ice and snow, but with an alluring rim of aqua near their outer edges.

We were kicking steps through a few inches of fresh snow on top of who-knows-how-much firm, older snowpack. We noticed a set of solo footprints and an axe impression, possibly from yesterday but more than likely this morning, indicating someone was ahead of us.

We worked our way first around the western shore of Wheeler Lake (elevation 12,168 feet | 3,709 meters), then wriggled up onto a shelf above the eastern shore of the upper, smaller lake. It was around this point that I noticed the glean of an ice axe on the ridge above us and...a pair of bright yellow climbing pants. Indeed, we were following someone, and this someone had curious taste in climbing attire.

We ascended some pleasant, easy snowslopes to a plateau and found ourselves standing at the base of the Southwest Ridge. Time to go!

Ascending dreadfully steep tundra, following a slight users' trail, brought us to the rocky crest of the saddle between Wheeler Mountain and the long northern ridge of Clinton Peak.

The ridge before us leading to the summit of Wheeler Mountain certainly looked fun and interesting, but made it clear it was not going to yield too easily. A voice in my head reminded me that if this was easy, half of Denver would be up here today. Instead we had this mountain to ourselves (and Mr. Yellow Pants).

Let the fun begin!

Southwest Ridge of Wheeler Mountain

Looking back southwardBack southward along ridge

Early on in our journey along the ridge, we ran into Mr. Yellowpants, who turned out to be a very nice man named Mark. He gave us a few pointers on the route-finding to the summit, and we notified him that one of our party had opted to hang out below the ridge and not attempt the summit.

The Southwest Ridge of Wheeler Mountain is a place both beautiful and delightfully thrilling! The views of surrounding high peaks are non-stop, yet the terrain and routefinding are bound to keep your attention.

This ridge is relaxed enough that you can stop and savor the views, but requires attentive route-finding, scrambling on solid rock, trusting not-so-solid talus-upon-scree and negotiating a few slick, downsloping areas a bit less cozy due to recent light snowfall.

There's no reason to rush this ridge!

The weather seemed to be holding, with only moderate clouds building, and the views of surrounding mountains and ranges are worth stopping to catch your breath and scan the horizon for familiar summits.

Ridge is the funThe real fun is about to begin!
This is me in easy terrain along the lower, early reaches of the Southwest Ridge of Wheeler Mountain. Clinton Peak rises in the background.

Views, views....The views from the ridge are nothing short of amazing
Are these views not amazing? I nearly slipped off the ridge on slick snow or unstable rock a few times because I was busy taking in the scenery.

Where is the summit?
Lake from above with Mt. Lincoln in background.
Summit comes into view
Quandary Pk. from summit

Along the west side of the Southwest Ridge

Final gully
Working along the west side
West side boulders
Beginning to work along the ridge

The Summit!

Almost to the topSenadR working the last fun move to the summit

We were weaving our way along the Southwest Ridge, mostly sticking to the western aspect, but sometimes clinging to the ridge proper. Several humps must be overcome and gullies ascended and woven together. But soon we got that summit fever...all roads seemed to lead to Rome and we had to be nearing the top!

A nice, steep Class 3 move up a horn brought us to the broken, jagged rocks that make up the final last steps to the summit.

The apex of Wheeler Mountain is petite and exhilarating! There is not a whole lot of room for just two people to move around to take photos, enjoy the views and grab some lunch. The world seems to drop away all around you (I guess, really, it does!) making this a summit you won't soon forget.

After celebrating, we snapped photos like rabid paparazzi, grabbed a quick bite to eat, then wistfully began our descent.

Descending the Ridge

It's on the way down that you are reminded parts of this mountain are not really attached. Most of our return down the route was basic retracing of our steps and solid downclimbing, but at least two rubble chutes got our attention as we paid close care to every footfall and downclimbed "single file" to avoid having anyone in the other's fall-line.

Returning to the rock outcrop that marks the end of the ridgeline fun was quite the let-down, but it was time to outhike and head home.

Descending Southern Slopes Into Basin

Descending upper snow slopes
Two well know guys
Perfect spring day
Snow and Mount Lincoln

The upper southern slopes were pleasant and the snow had held firm (firm enough that I almost slipped on my keister. It was as we dropped down near the lakes, however, that the trouble began.

The dreaded postholing.

Lucky for us, safely stationed on dry, high ground, Deb & Mark were on standby to laugh at us as we flailed across the warm early afternoon snow. That, I guess, is what friends are for.

Outhike and Epilogue

Once past the lake, it was back to the Wheeler Lake Jeep Trail. Under the warm afternoon sun, the roadbed had turned into a streambed in places. We charged on, eager to get back to the parking area, kick out of our boots and relax.

What would we do without days like this in the mountains?
Kodi, Mark & DebKodi, Mark & Deb with Mount Lincoln (14293 ft | 4357 m) in the background


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-19 of 19
Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - May 23, 2012 11:09 am - Hasn't voted

Re: :)

LOL! This made me laugh so hard I spit out my coffee. Alas, at this time, according to Wikipedia, in the Americas the following was happening:

Moxos ceases to be a significant religious area in South America (approximate date).
The Teotihuacan culture in Mesoamerica begins (approximate date).
The Maya practice sacrifice and mutilation.
The Olmec II phase of the Olmec civilization begins; San Lorenzo and La Venta grow in population.



MrYellowPants - May 23, 2012 1:19 pm - Voted 10/10

Great report

It was nice running in to you guys up there!

Senad Rizvanovic

Senad Rizvanovic - May 23, 2012 1:32 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Great report time before you head somewhere send a memo! :)

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - May 23, 2012 1:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great report

Awesome to see you out there, and so glad your name is now official on SP! :) Let's see you again in the mountains, eh? -Sarah


MrYellowPants - May 24, 2012 9:54 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Great report



thatnissanguy - May 24, 2012 1:50 am - Hasn't voted

Mr. Yellowpants

I'm sure has just been mis-identified, because I know his real name is Mother Goose! Nice TR, it's always good to see friends on SP.

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - May 24, 2012 10:49 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Mr. Yellowpants

Mother Goose? Nah, that one just won't go over well with the ladies. Mr. that's got a ring to it!

Some day we'll see those pants preserved in the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, CO. We can all go pay homage. ;-)



MrYellowPants - May 25, 2012 3:18 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Mr. Yellowpants

HA! Thanks for having my back, Sarah!


Monster5 - May 28, 2012 12:25 am - Hasn't voted

Nice pictures!

Saw your name in the register this weekend - looks like you guys had a good time. That road is no fun at all.

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - May 28, 2012 5:47 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice pictures!

Wheeler completely exceeded my expectations...loved it! Hope you enjoyed your visit, too.


markhallam - May 28, 2012 4:00 am - Voted 10/10

Great TR

The "old lady" strikes again!
Great TR & thanks for introducing Mr Yellow Pants... I was out scrambling around in the mountains yesterday and like you was struck by the attire of some fellow mountain go-ers... or rather in first instance it was lack of attire, since I chanced upon a lovely lady sneaking an early morning dip in a freezing cold lake (after coldest May on record!) but then later on a narrow rocky ridge a lone young man (about your age) clad in black shiny boots, black trousers with razor crease, and crisp white shirt - with tie - and apparently rather scared and in need of assistance...
It takes all sorts to make a world - so plenty of space for people who wear yellow trousers, none at all - or black ones with a razor crease :)
best wishes, Mark

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - May 28, 2012 10:03 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great TR


Yeah, the Old Lady can still get out and git 'er done when need be. :) Like the Jethro Tull song...I guess I'm not too old to rock 'n roll if I'm too young to die. ;)

And...thank God , in reference to your above story, that Mark had on yellow pants instead of none at all. LOL! Although it sure would have made for a good fireside tale!!!

Now...where did you happen upon this lad in black trousers and shiny boots in the hills? Huh?



markhallam - May 31, 2012 1:12 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Great TR

Black Pants was trying to ascend Helvellyn, 2nd highest mountain in England, via Striding Edge. He could have been a throw-back to a bygone generation of British mountaineers who would not be seen out in the hills without collar and tie. But perhaps mountaineer is pushing things too far - he seemed most unhappy at the mild exposure on the ridge, not at all amused at my attempts at humour over his dress code - and wanting to be guided to less exciting terraine.

Senad Rizvanovic

Senad Rizvanovic - May 28, 2012 9:14 pm - Voted 10/10


Great TR Srah, made it to front page!

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - May 28, 2012 10:10 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: !

Well, Senad, a beautiful mountain, fantastic weather and good company makes for an easy-to-write trip report.

...I see your summit photo, however, is still getting a higher score than mine. I guess it's the beard... ;-)



WalksWithBlackflies - Jun 1, 2012 3:29 pm - Hasn't voted


Glad to see you made the front page Sarah! All your pictures just made me... smile. What a great mountain.

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - Jun 1, 2012 10:43 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Smiling...

WWBFs: Thanks for the note. This was, indeed, a day to smile. The weather, the mountain...everything was perfect. I can't wait to see your next northeast adventure posted to SP! -Sarah


JoelSkok - Jun 2, 2012 9:15 pm - Voted 10/10

I love it and I voted!

You can bet I am taking notes as to how compile an impressive TR. Just be patient with me please. Tough act to follow

Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - Jun 4, 2012 8:50 am - Hasn't voted

Re: I love it and I voted!


Thank you for the very kind words. I look forward to more of your trip reports, entailing "pleasant misery" or otherwise. :)

Also - should you ever have technical/HTML/formatting questions when posting things on SP, feel free to reach out to me for ideas / help. I'll do my best to assist!


Viewing: 1-19 of 19



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