The main reason I fancy myself an explorer is that, even though I’ve never personally filled in any blank areas on the map, there is nothing more exciting to me than exploring something new. What’s around that next bend? What’s in the next valley over? How can I get from point A to point F? I wonder if that goes?
Wheeler Basin is one such place that’s been on my radar for a while. On the map at least, there’s this trackless valley in the Indian Peaks Wilderness which curves in from the west around the north side of North Arapaho Peak. No lakes or prominent climbing routes; it’s not on the way to anything, but it looks like it might be cool anyway. Even if it turns out to be completely boring, the hike to/from is known to be gorgeous and spectacular and I could desperately use a little mountain therapy.
And boy was it nice! Like most places in the Indian Peaks west of the Divide, it’s remote, beautiful, and hard to get to. In terms of wildflowers, solitude, stunning views of high, prickly ridgelines, it’s equal to anything I’ve found in the Gore Range or elsewhere in Colorado. Gerry Roach describes it as a “fairyland” and that seems accurate. At several points, the trail (such as it was) vanished in a jungle of waist-deep wildflowers. Creek crossings and fallen timber were another challenge to be (literally) overcome in many spots. Don’t expect to keep your feet dry!
The difficulty in exploring Wheeler Basin from the east side is that you have to go up and over the Divide twice. You start from the Fourth of July Trailhead (which is always worth the trip), climb 2000′ in 3 miles to Arapaho Pass, then drop another 2000′ in another 3 miles down to Coyote Park. Finally, with this substantial warm-up over and at the same elevation as the trailhead, you’re ready to start. On the way back out, you’re faced with another 2000′ climb up the daunting switchbacks above Caribou Lake, then the long, inexplicably-grinding descent back to the car. I logged more than 5000′ of climbing in 20 miles!
While there isn’t a trail on the map, Wheeler Basin is not entirely trackless. There is a faint trail which becomes easier to follow as you go on… until you get into the valley proper and you won’t be looking at your feet anymore anyway. I won’t ruin your fun by giving you all the answers but here are a couple of GPS waypoints to guide your exploration (courtesy of http://www.mountainlake.com/mlp/perm/wb20.htm and my own cross-checking):
- The place to bear right from the Arapaho Pass trail and cross the creek: N40º 2.31′ W105º 40.40′
- The location of the second critical creek crossing where the trail becomes much more obvious: N40º 2.64′ W105º 40.50′
- Follow the trail as far as you can. It just gets better the farther up/south/in you go!
Have fun! Let me know what you find! Oh, and definitely bring a camera.