Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wheeler Lake

Distance: 6.8 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,980 ft - 12,162 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,182 ft
Bathroom at Trailhead:
No Dogs: Off Leash

A hiker lounges at Wheeler Lake near Breckenridge
Wheeler Lake near Breckenridge is a high alpine lake surrounded by the lofty peaks of Mt. Lincoln (14,286 ft), Mt. Democrat (14,148 ft), and North Star Mountain (13,614 ft). The "trail" follows a jeep road with heavy 4x4 traffic. As such the route is very rough, with large loose rocks that are hard to walk on. There are also large road ponds that never seem to dry out. As a consequence, hikers have periodically made social trails through the willows on the side of the road.

Montgomery Reservoir
Parking area near the pumping station. The trailhead is around the bend to the left.
Looking up the creek while standing on a metal bridge over the water diversion.  That is North Star Mountain in the distance. 
The trailhead for Wheeler Lake is located on the western side of Montgomery Reservoir on the southern side of Hoosier Pass. If coming from Breckenridge, you will see a dirt road on the right coming towards you. The very sharp entrance to this road is approximately 0.5 miles from the pass itself. Follow the road down to the reservoir and then take the road the travels around it. You can park where a water diversion tunnel enters the lake or continue on the rough, single-lane road around to the back of lake. Near the pumping station is an area for about 15 vehicles. The hike begins up the road toward the large aluminum-sided mining ruin.

Heading up the trail. First stop a large mining ruin.
Another antique
Starting up the rocky road
After the mining ruin, the route rises steadily through trees and occasional vistas until you reach the broad open valley. From this point on the views only get better. Mt. Lincoln dominates the south, Mt. Democrat is located at the end of the valley, and North Star Mountain guards the northern side. All three of these peaks are bare, talus covered massifs. The valley itself is filled with willows that will look stunning in the fall.

Looking up at Mt. Lincoln
Looking down the valley
Typical road pond with social trail off to the right. 
Wheeler Lake is an obvious glacial remnant. It sits atop a broad shelf on the north side of the valley and is obvious from a distance. The road splits on the western side of this shelf with a small two-tire road heading off towards Mt. Democrat and a steep, very rocky road heading up the shelf. This portion of the route is like walking on a stream bed. The rocks are large, round, and filled in with dirt, pebbles, and small streams. Be advised there are several false shelves before the main shelf, which is quite large. The lake itself is nestled at the very back.

View of Mt. Democrat
Stream pouring down from the lake
Road heading up to the lake
The area around the lake is very scenic. On this trip, wildflowers carpeted the meadows surrounding the lake, and a small picturesque stream drifted slowly through a rock garden to the right. Hikers lounged in the sun on several of the broad flat rocks that dotted the shoreline while a large group of 4x4ers chatted by their vehicles. Climbers on the summit of Mt. Lincoln were visible against a startlingly blue sky.

Looking back down the valley
Another view of Mt. Democrat
At the lake. It is a bit if walk after ascending the last shelf. 
Note that while the trip back down the trail is not too difficult, the loose rock can pose a slip hazard. Waterproof boots, poles, and ankle-high boots are recommended. Long pants will also protect from willows.

Rock garden to the right of the lake
Finally, Wheeler Lake (singular) is not to be confused with Wheeler Lakes (plural) near Copper Mountain.

2 comments:

  1. Great pics and commentary (as usual)...thanks :-)

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  2. Thanks for the great description. The lake looks great but think I will pass on this one.

    ReplyDelete