By: John McKinley
WHEELER PEAK, A WINTER ASCENT
Despite my year's assignment as a VISTA volunteer to the Salt Lake City area of Utah, I've still managed to maintain climbing and was fortunate enough to recently attain the winter summit of Wheeler Peak.
One other VISTA volunteer, Paul Bidstrup, and I departed for Baker, Nev, in the usual DPS style on Friday evening and carried through in the usual DPS style with many beers at the roadhead.
We awakened Saturday to a too bright sun and debated whether a tour of Lehman Cave might be more appropriate after the night's festivities.
After much discussion, we decided to do the peak and make a loop-trip out of it. We would climb the peak via the Lehman Creek trail and return via the road to the Stella Lake trail. We had a bushwacking 2800' snowshoe to our basecamp, as we watched the beginnings of a blizzard developing over Wheeler. We awakened Sunday at 7:30 and to a 25 mph wind, 6 inches of new snow, and in the midst of a blizzard decided to go for the peak.
We were greeted at the 11,000 foot saddle by a 40 mph continuous wind blowing a frozen fog that felt, very much like sandpaper whenever it hit your face. It's normally a class 1 walk-up to the summit along the ridge from the saddle, but with visibility now reduced to as little as 40' and the driving wind, it seemed like a 5.8 climb. After what seemed like days, we finally reached the summit, but due to the heavy snow and cold, we were unable to locate the register. Paul had a thermometer and wind-gage along and recorded a temperature of 4º with a wind velocity of 40 mph. On consulting a wind chill-factor chart, I was surprised to find that standing on the summit, we had experienced -50° below zero cold.
We spent just 5 minutes on the summit, as the weather appeared to be deteriorating rapidly. On the way down to the saddle, however, the storm broke and we witnessed one of the most beautiful interminglings of sun and clouds I have ever seen.
Camp was reached just at sunset with the next day being a beautiful, but rather uneventful return to the car and home.
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