Wheeler NE Couloir: A Tale of Two Seasons

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jun 18, 2011
Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
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Wheeler NE Couloir: A Tale of Two Seasons
Created On: Jun 22, 2011
Last Edited On: Jun 22, 2011


Wheeler Mtn (13690’)
Via NE couloir
6.1 miles RT, 2400’ gain
From Blue Lakes TH (11420’)
Participants: Dwight & Kevin

Slideshow & Vids

Wheeler has been on my short list for snow climbs for quite some time. I got a good view of it from the Cristo couloir on Quandary the week before and it was looking pretty good. There isn’t a whole lot of info on this couloir and we weren’t sure what to expect. The standard route is up the s.e. side from the Wheeler Lake drainage. While driving in the evening before, I couldn’t quite tell of this reclusive climb was still totally filled in.

Dwight and I met at the Blue Lakes TH Fri night and were quickly off to bed in our 4Runners. The road to the dam was gated at 11420’ by the utility company even though you could drive to it. A storm blew through earlier in the evening and left some new snow with rain lower down.

Winter or Spring?

We set off at 4:40am even though the approach is very short because the couloir is a northeast facing aspect that gets very early sunhit. We were a bit concerned by the warm overnight low, but hoped the wind cooled off the snow. We decided to go around upper Blue Lake on the north side, which was a bit more tedious than expected even though there was a trail for a bit. We returned on the south side and it was much easier.

Sunrise over Blue Lakes:
From Wheeler

The hike up to the base of the couloir took longer than expected even though the postholing was minimal. We still did not have a complete view of the couloir until we were directly under it and there was some confusion as to which one we were to climb!

Approach to Wheeler:
From Wheeler

Cool clouds over Quandary:
From Wheeler

We got underneath it and it didn’t look too steep, although we were a bit concerned with the water content of the snow. We were lucky that clouds were in the area delaying a 6:15ish sunhit, otherwise we may have had to turn around. We put on crampons at the base of the apron and headed up. Dwight led and started traversing further right than the couloir I was looking at. He thought we were going up this icy scariness, but we don’t have the gear for it!

From Wheeler

The easiest line is left of this narrow couloir and looked to be no steeper than 45 degrees. We worked our way up and the lead climber had to work pretty hard with the soft snow. There wasn’t much postholing though and it seemed pretty well bonded, although the conditions we saw would warrant getting off it very early if it was a clear day.

As we got into the couloir proper, it began to snow moderately and the visibility dropped. This ended up being a blessing in disguise as it kept the snow from getting too soft. We knew the climb was short and that we could safely push through the weather as long as there was no electricity.

And summer is next week?
From Wheeler

The couloir itself is only 6-700’, and we were soon at the top. I measured the slope angle at about 40 degrees halfway up, and it didn’t get much steeper than that. As we crested the ridge, we got blasted by the wind and had to quickly don some extra layers. I thought winter was over a long time ago!

Dwight in the couloir:
From Wheeler

Fog tends to confuse very easily and we incorrectly headed left on the ridge instead of right. We were quickly on a summit in short order and it didn’t seem right. Just as we discovered our error, the clouds lifted and we saw the correct summit!

Wheeler summit at far left
From Wheeler

It looked like we could skirt any major difficulties on the left side. I found a cairned route and we slowly picked our way up the snowy, loose mess. I topped out on a summit and it was still not the highpoint and it was too tough to downclimb on the other side, so we backtracked and found a workable albeit loose 4th class section to get back down to easier ground.

Dwight downclimbing off the false summit:
From Wheeler

The new snow made things slick, but the exposure wasn’t too bad and we took our time. We finally topped out at 8:40 and soaked up the views from this cool 10 Mile range summit that truly had an alpine feel to it today.

Final climb to the summit:
From Wheeler

We carefully made our way back to the top of the couloir and layered down as it was now quickly heating up.

Dwight makes his way back up the crux:
From Wheeler

The snow was soft enough to glissade safely from near the top of the couloir and it was a quick descent down to the apron.

Looking back up the couloir from the end of the glissade:
From Wheeler

The snowshoe back to the cars went much easier than expected as the postholing was minimal. We arrived back at the trailhead at 11am. It turned out to be a great half day hike in the hills!

From Wheeler


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Wheeler NE Couloir: A Tale of Two Seasons

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