Total Time: 10 hrs 10 min
Total Distance: 10.9 miles
Minimum Elevation: 10,963 ft
Maximum Elevation: 13,857 ft
Elevation Gain: 3,320 ft
Difficulty: Class I road hike to Wheeler Lake, class II+ from the lake to the peak. The distance is reaching the limit for my dogs on a day hike.
Date of Hike: June 9, 2012
There are a lot of mountains in Colorado. We usually don’t have any idea where we are headed until maybe two days before hand. This weekend the weather forecast pushed us a bit south from where we were intending. But the difference between a 20% chance of storms and 5% is significant. Enough so that driving another 45 minutes further was worth the effort.
The parking behind Wheeler Reservoir is 2WD accessible, but it doesn’t have very many spots. Depending on how the first few people position their vehicles there might be between six and ten car spaces. We were first so it wasn’t an issue. Gearing up in our usual pace we headed out on the rugged Wheeler Lake Road. This is most definitely upper 4×4 driving, walking it is not like walking other roads. Many spots required a bit of hiking in fact.
The lower portion of road is interesting with its difficulties. A Rubicon type of 4×4 might be the only stock vehicle capable of driving this. Everything we saw this day was heavily modified. There is a bit of traffic once the day gets going, but it’s moving slow.
Entering Wheeler Basin the road levels off and doesn’t do much of anything until the last push up to Wheeler Lake.
The described route goes around the southwest side of the lake and then up the obvious gully. There was a bit of warm snow that made walking the shoreline a tedious process. So instead we opted to go straight up the rocks which turned to nice ledges and then out in to the next basin under the three peaks.
The dogs were doing better getting through the snow and took the opportunity to rest while we struggled behind. Once past that face above the lake it was a nice tundra walk up to where we found a line on Clinton’s south face.
From the highest point of tundra we went straight up the talus and onto the east ridge of Clinton Peak.
The summits of these peaks are littered in all kinds of thick gauged wire, rusty hunks of metal, nails and unidentifiable debris. I wasn’t pleased with having to chase my dogs up this peak because my mom and Jenn took off without waiting for the others and adjusting the plan. But there we were. The dogs looked toast so we worked around the very level ridge over to McNamee Peak and then off back into the basin. The extra talus slogging would have crushed the Malamutes and that made it easy to skip Traver Peak.
Next came the fun part of route finding in unfamiliar terrain. The way back sounded daunting due to the snow and the hard class II hiking we did above the lake. I tried taking us along the friendliest looking contour lines of the map only to get us stuck on a big section of rock hopping. This couple hundred vertical tacked on a good extra hour of work.
With that over we crossed moderately steep tundra working south. You can see where we turned south on the topo map. This is where I would ascend if heading up this area again. This side provides a simple ledge system that takes you up into the same basin under the three peaks. And from that viewpoint the rock field is easily avoided. There is also an offshoot 4×4 trail up to the bottom of the ledges. Then it’s all road the whole way back.
In hindsight I wouldn’t take the Malamutes on this ascent route. It was an exhausting day.