Wheeler Lakes

Lower Wheeler Lake
Lower Wheeler Lake
With intentions to hike from Copper Mountain Ski Resort to Frisco, Colorado, I left the car at the parking area near I-70 exit 196 on the west side of Frisco, and walked a short distance to the Summit Stage bus stop, a wonderfully free service in Summit County.  When I arrived at the bus station, there was a small crowd of longboarders that would build to 20 or so by the time the bus arrived, who were taking the bus up to Copper then riding down on a paved trail that skirts I-70 to the south.  I overheard one guy talking about his lastest ride down and how he hit 35 miles per hour on a particularly steep section.  I don’t know about you, but I get nervous going 35 on a bike, nonetheless a large skateboard.
Copper Mountain
Copper Mountain
After a quick 10 minute bus ride, I stepped off at the first stop in Copper along with the longboarders who quickly made a train-like procession across the street to begin a 7 mile downhill ride.  To get to the Wheeler/Gore Range Trailhead, one must backtrack across the overpass then down the far side of I-70, all in all, about a quarter mile.  The trail deceptively begins relatively flat then quickly steepens to a respectable grade that sustains until close to the first Wheeler Lake.  For the first mile or so, I-70 traffic is audible in the not-so-far-off distance, then slowly fades as the trail weaves deeper into the Eagles Nest Wilderness area.
IMG_4092
On the trek upward, I struggled…a lot.  I was barely able to manage a mile per hour and found myself counting steps to pace myself and avoid stopping.  I have always struggled at altitude, but was discouraged with my inability to maintain a decent speed.  Thoughts of whether I’ll be able to manage uphill sections on the Colorado Trail began to enter my mind, but I pressed on with a slow and steady mentality…remember the “Tortoise and the Hare”?  It wasn’t so much that I was out of breath or my legs ached, but my heart was pounding in my chest like a base drum that seemed to shake my upper body with every rapid beat.  I eventually fell into a slow but sustainable pace and slogged on until the Wheeler lakes came into view.
Uneva Pass
Uneva Pass
Due to time constraints and the realization that Frisco was an additional 9 miles away on my intended route, I decided to bushwhack for a mile to extend the Wheeler Lakes hike past its customary 3.1 miles.  I made my way through boggy fields, past the lakes and down a steep slope dotted with snow near a creek fed with an abundance of snowmelt water from the lowest lake.  For a few moments I had intentions to follow the creek and valley to a small I-70 exit east of Copper, but quickly determined that the terrain was too steep to safely negotiate and worked my way back up to the lakes.  I followed the Wheeler Trail, frequently muddy and creek-like from snowmelt, back down to Copper and arrived only a couple minutes before the hourly bus to Frisco arrived.  Not exactly the hike I set out on, but for my purposes of training, it worked.
Blue Flax
Blue Flax