I recently completed a hike to the top of Wheeler Peak in northern New Mexico. What a joy this hike is, without a doubt one of my favorites. The main challenge in the summer, in addition to the obvious physical demands, are the potential thunderstorms, which are a constant threat during the summer monsoon season. So the trick is to get up and down the mountain quickly before the storms, and the potential for lightning, move in. It really makes it fun!
Wheeler Peak has an elevation of just over 13,000 feet above sea level. The hike itself is 4 miles with an elevation gain of 3000 feet. But numbers might not tell the whole story, especially if you are not a hiker. Just for a little perspective, the Empire State Building in New York City is 1250 feet tall to its roof. That means the hike to Wheeler Peak is like climbing the Empire State Building almost 2 and one-half times! To add to the challenge of Wheeler Peak, the elevation brings with it a significant reduction in oxygen. It turns out that the effective oxygen concentration is about 40% less at 13,000 feet than at sea level. Gasp! As if all that is not enough, the last one mile of the hike crosses several scree fields. In case you didn’t know, scree is a fancy word for rocks. In this case, rocks that range from the size of baseballs to Volkswagens. Not that there is any climbing involved, but I think you get my point. Crossing a scree field can be tricky!
So, imagine my surprise to meet an 82 year-old man on the trail. That’s right, an 82 year-old! His name was Jim and he was hiking with a couple of his buddies, one a 58 year-old and the other a 68 year-old. I was on my way down while Jim and his buddies were on their way up, but there is no doubt that Jim made it to the top. What an inspiration! As we parted, I shook his hand and told him that.
Earlier in the day on my ascent, I overtook a couple also headed to the top. They were in their twenties and I watched them slowly fall behind me until I lost sight of them. They did not make it to the top. Which means that Jim passed them somewhere along the trail. I figure Jim was probably 55 years older than this couple. Wow. I will just leave it at that and thank Jim once again for the inspiration. Think about it. Jim conquered the storms, he conquered the scree fields, he conquered the lack of oxygen. Mostly, he conquered the fear that could have stopped him at his car.
I hope you enjoy the attached image that I made from near the point where I met Jim. More importantly, I hope you find Jim’s hike as inspirational as I did!