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Wheeler Peak, New Mexico solo winter ascent
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By Roger Roots
Jan 6, 2014

WINTER ASCENT (WILLIAMS LAKE TRAIL)

by Roger Roots, Hawkins, TX

I was driving from Texas to Montana and decided to swing wide into New Mexico and try to “bag” Wheeler Peak on the way. I’ve been occupied as a college instructor in Texas, so I didn’t have any cold-weather outdoor gear with me. When I opened the door of my car in the Taos Valley parking lot, the temperature was twenty degrees. I put a second pair of dress slacks over my first pair and doubled up my socks inside my New Balance running shoes. I left the car at 7:00 a.m. as the sun was coming up.
Snow at the base was above mid thigh but the beginning of the trail was well packed by skiers and snowshoers. At about the 2-mile point, a smaller trail led off through snow toward the left and to the summit. It was this trail that turned out to be treacherous. I postholed through the surface and up to my thighs at least a few dozen times. This was extremely draining.

After a few switchbacks in this manner, I managed to scramble up to some exposed rocks. Eventually I worked my way up to the top ridgeline by way of various rocky areas and shallow snow fields.
The weather forecast had predicted great weather in the Taos valley. But as I gained elevation, there were fewer and fewer mountains around me to break the wind. By the time I reached the top ridge, the wind was ferocious, blasting me from the right with what must have been gusts of 70 miles an hour or higher. The wind chill easily penetrated through my leather work gloves.

Thankfully, I had worn a heavy black leather jacket which stopped the wind on my torso fairly well. But when I reached the monument at the summit I was so wasted from the wind that my fingers simply didn’t work. I flopped down on the “lee” side of the monument to catch my breath and try to warm my fingers before I addressed the summit register.

Eventually, I realized the safest decision was to get off the top as quickly as possible. I took a couple pictures, opened the iron pipe register, dropped my gloves and pulled out a pad and pencil that was inside the pipe. Unable to sign my name in a normal manner, I wielded the pencil like a knife blade and scratched my name and the incorrect date. (I saw that the signature directly above mine indicated someone had been there on December 12 and blanked out as to what the date was; I entered December 13, but I realized later it was December 18.)

It was on the descent that this trip turned harrowing. I plodded quickly down by the most direct route possible, finding that the blasting wind grew weaker with each hundred feet of elevation loss.

I made the decision to glissade down a large steep snowfield, assuming that its entirety was made up of the kind of snow that existed at the top, which was somewhat powdery. Instead, I found myself gaining speed on the icy surface of a hard-packed snowfield that I was unable to claw or kick into. Even worse, I was flopping, rolling and twisting awkwardly—at times plummeting downward ON MY BACK, HEAD FIRST toward large rocks at the bottom.

For a moment I thought I may have climbed my last highpoint or maybe even breathed my last breath. If I became incapacitated by slamming into the rocks I would surely die there, as no one was anywhere within miles and my broken body would not be located until spring. I had not even notified anyone of my intention to climb Wheeler and no one who knows me was even aware that I was in New Mexico. At best someone might notice when my car with Texas plates seemed to be there for an unusually long period of days and start wondering about its driver.

But it was not to be my last breath. Even as my body reached breakneck speed down the ice, the snowfield turned softer near the bottom, and my running shoes plunged into this softer snow shortly before hitting the rocks, causing me to flip over onto the rocks in a fairly gentle manner. I was left hyperventilating on my back with my head pointed downhill. I was in shock but still alive.

After I caught my breath I made my way to another snowfield and stupidly tried to glissade this one in a similar manner while holding a sharp rock for use as an impromptu ice axe. Once again, I slipped into a direct plummet downward on an icy snow surface. And once again my life was saved only because the ice layer gave way to a powdery surface just before the snow met the rocks at the bottom. By now I was more leery of the snowfields and started to pluck my way down on rocks and brushy snow areas that looked quite shallow.

The steepness gradually faded and the snowfields grew softer. I tried sledding down a few snowfields on my slacks and made it down a few hundred feet. Then when the grade grew less steep, I flopped around on my back and kicked my way down headfirst, a trick I used to get down Mt. Hood in 2011. Anything other than postholing step after step through the snow.

Eventually I had to try to walk, and postholed at almost every step. When I got back onto packed trail I was quite grateful. There was some melting going on, but by and large the packed trail from the Lake turnoff to the trailhead was well packed and held my weight.

At summit
At summit


sliding my way down
sliding my way down


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By Russ Keane
Jan 7, 2014
Where's Waldo?

holy crapola - that is a pretty dicey epic!


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By vincent L.
From Redwood City
Jan 7, 2014
First day of school

lol , you get around ...

www.supertopo.com/tr/Grand-Teton-Unroped/t12030n.html

nice climb .


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By Jamespio
Jan 7, 2014

Russ Keane wrote:
holy crapola - that is a pretty dicey epic!


It's apparently how he chooses to move in the mountains, based on this and his other TR from the Grand.

I've got no problem with peoploe choosing to put themselves in stupid situations, except htat we live in a society where others will feel compelled to risk themselves attempting a rescue. There should be a system for "Do Not Rescue Orders," kind of like "Do Not Resuscitate" orders. Then I wouldn't have to think about my friends who do SAR when I read somethign like this.


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By Keenan Waeschle
From Bozeman, MT
Jan 7, 2014
on top of the RNWF <br />June 2012

December 18th isn't technically winter.

Also, you are actually going to die unless you learn basic mountaineering skills. Postholing in running shoes is a great way to lose your toes. Using leather work gloves to keep your hands warm is a straight shot to losing your fingers. Just because you've gotten away with it so far doesn't mean you will continue to be incredibly lucky. Learn how to glissade standing up, your ass will stay dry and you'll have much better control.

thanks for posting these TR's. The inevitable shitstorm they trigger is always good for a few laughs.


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By Jason Halladay
Administrator
From Los Alamos, NM
Jan 7, 2014
Climbing at the Belvedere crag near Nago with a great view of the northern end of Lake Garda and the town of Torbole sul Garda below. June 2013.

Keenan Waeschle wrote:
December 18th isn't technically winter.

Yep, not a winter ascent.

Keenan Waeschle wrote:
Thanks for posting these TR's. The inevitable shitstorm they trigger is always good for a few laughs.

+1. If this was a trip I did, I'd be embarrassed to recount the tale.


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Jan 7, 2014
At the BRC

He MIGHT be ready for Fandango.

Where's the gopro footage? No video = no ascent.


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By clay meier
Jan 7, 2014
Thats Me

This has got to be a troll. No one is that stupid


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By Benn
Jan 7, 2014

clay meier wrote:
This has got to be a troll. No one is that stupid


1+


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By Russ Keane
Jan 8, 2014
Where's Waldo?

But check out that summit photo with the freaking black leather jacket. Amazing!!!


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By David Sahalie
From on the road again
Jan 8, 2014

are you trying for the aaron ralston award?


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By MJMobes
From The land of steady habits
Jan 8, 2014
modern man

" I flopped around on my back and kicked my way down headfirst, a trick I used to get down Mt. Hood in 2011"

I really need to see a video of this.


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By Glenn Schuler
From Monument, Co.
Jan 8, 2014
A grey fox skull wedged in a crack 100' up on a FA I was working on - don't see that every day...

Russ Keane wrote:
But check out that summit photo with the freaking black leather jacket. Amazing!!!


Hey, don't knock it - it's what the Fonz used on all his hardest sends!!


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By Daniel Winder
Jan 8, 2014

James Piotrowski wrote:
Then I wouldn't have to think about my friends who do SAR when I read somethign like this.


Your friends do SAR because they want to put themselves in that situation, not because they have to.


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By Merlin
From Grand Junction
Jan 8, 2014

Daniel Winder wrote:
Your friends do SAR because they want to put themselves in that situation, not because they have to.


Thank you. I'll probably get around to joining SAR where I live this summer, no one's got a gun to my head. If people choose to go rescue jack asses you can't blame the jack ass.

If you've got an ounce of training past the one day first aid course you know they drill scene safety and rescuer priority in hard. If a SAR members chooses to ignore that then it's a conscious choice.


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By Jamespio
Jan 8, 2014

Daniel Winder wrote:
Your friends do SAR because they want to put themselves in that situation, not because they have to.


They do SAR because they want to help, and because they enjoy the training. I don't know a one of them that actually likes to recover corpses.


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By Rob Egan
From Georgetown, CO
Jan 8, 2014

Who says you need gear? Way to improvise!


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By MJMobes
From The land of steady habits
Jan 8, 2014
modern man

Rob Egan wrote:
Who says you need gear? Way to improvise!

yes


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By Bill Kirby
From Baltimore Maryland
Jan 18, 2014
Me eating a cliff bar walking back from Frankenstein Amphitheater

I love the picture of you at the summit with a smile! It sounded like Hypothermia was setting in from your account of signing the register. You couldn't feel your hands and were exhausted but still smiling.. That's awesome!!!

To all the haters out there: I would hike a mountain with this guy any day over most of you well equipped and experienced cry babies I've seen too many freak out when things start to go wrong. Yea OK, Roots is kinda crazy but at least he didn't panic like so many others.


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By JoshuaJones
From Albuquerque
Jan 29, 2014
Rapping from the top.

Sounds like fun. Next time I go up there in winter I will bring snowshoes. Wheeler Peak gave me a good lesson on the usefulness of snowshoes. I was carrying a heavy pack with camping gear last time I did it which made the hike/post-holing that much more fun;) Sounds like a blast!


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By Ezra Ellis
May 13, 2014

An entertaining read,
A Darwin Award candidate in the future for shure!!!!!


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By Eastvillage
From New York, NY
May 13, 2014
Me on the summit of Devil's Tower

Too awesome.


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By DaveOwen
Aug 18, 2014

there is a fine line between fanaticism and stupidity


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By J. Serpico
From Saratoga County, NY
Aug 18, 2014

This reminds me of an Edward Abbey quote.

But man, at a time when society is so risk averse, this guy is really adventuring by the seat of his pants.

Sure, it's stupid, sure he's probably going to end up dead, sure this is probably a troll, but you have to admit, there is something refreshing about just looking at a peak and deciding to climb it without equipment, beta, or even common sense.

Truly amazing! Congrats.


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