You can take two routes up to the Wheeler Peak area - Bull of the Woods or Williams Lake. The former is longer (7.5 miles) but more gradual, while the latter is shorter (4.1 miles) but steeper. We did Bull up and back down and clocked it at over 16 miles and 9 hours total. Unless you are limited on time, you really must do Bull of the Woods - supposedly it is more scenic than Williams Lake. (Or do a loop of both, just realize that you may need to walk on dirt road for 2 miles to get back to your stop). Don't hike up in the afternoon during monsoon season (summer) unless you want to get struck by lightning - start when the sun rises and be wary of the skies. Also, pay attention to the trail and signs, there are multiple splits. Bring a map.
I can only write my review on Bull of the Woods as we did not do Williams Lake, but it was amazing. We started out at Twining Campground at 6 am after spending the night. The trail immediately began its ascent up a dirt path near a cascading river with an unbelievable number of blue/purple columbine flowers in full bloom surrounding the path. It was a little intimidating getting really tired after only 30 minutes, knowing that we were only 1/8 of the way there, but we got used to it, just have plenty of water/food and take breaks. Ascend gradually and breathe deeply.
We finally crossed the cascades via logs that were tied down over the water. This part of the trail was painful - 2 hours of nonstop, uphill dirt road surrounded by pine trees and small meadows. Eventually it climbed out of the tree line and entered Wheeler Peak Wilderness. Once above the treeline the views were phenomenal and can only be described as enchanting. There were still large patches of ice hanging off the sides of the alpine slopes. The trail here was relatively flat and much easier, providing a nice break from the uphill road. Eventually it descended into La Cal Basin - a gorgeous stream surrounded by brilliant green pine trees.
After we got down into La Cal we began the final, painful ascent. From this point it was nothing but switchbacks all the way up to Walter (then a short but rocky stretch to Wheeler). With the elevation high and the air thin it was really hard to breathe, but with patience we pushed ourselves to the summit and it was definitely worth it. Once we got to the ridge there were amazing views of Horseshoe Lake to the left. There were wildflowers covering the slopes of the mountains, and we also saw bighorn sheep and dozens of marmots. Don't forget to open the time capsule below the Wheeler plaque and write in the notebook!
The way down was less tiring but hard on the knees. Don't slip on the rocks, especially from Wheeler to just past Walter. If taking Bull of the Woods back, the road towards the end takes a while to get down (seems to go on forever). Follow the signs to Twining/Ski Valley.
Overall, there is so much to see here and if it weren't for the storms rolling in during the afternoon and how exhausted we were, I would have loved to explore all of the trails (for example, Bull of the Woods Pasture). The hike up the Wheeler was one of the most beautiful things I've ever done.
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