RT Length: 9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2810’
My alarm clock rang and I hit snooze. Today’s worry: starting too early. I wanted to be home from the hike around 1pm because that’s when my daughter would be home, but I didn’t feel the need to start too early when this was a short hike with minimal elevation gain. I didn’t think it would take me more than 5 hours.
After trying to fall back to sleep for 20 minutes I gave up and drove to the Montgomery Reservoir trailhead, arriving at 4am and taking my time getting ready. It was much colder than I’d anticipated and I put on my winter gloves from the beginning. The drive in was uneventful and I was the only one in the parking area when I arrived.
I was on the trail at 4:30am. It starts at the east end of the parking area (you pass it when you drive in).
The trail passes the Magnolia Mine and follows an extreme 4WD road for 3.3 miles to Wheeler Lake. If your vehicle can make it to the top of Lake Como you have a chance in being able to navigate this road, but you should probably just hike the 3 miles. This is my third time on this trail, and I can tell you it’s much easier to follow without snow.
In the dark I saw a bunch of flickering lights and wondered what they were? They looked like gas-powered lights, fire and all, and I figured they were probably from a mine. In the daylight on my way out I realized they belong to a house/structure on private property.
There are some flat areas and very bumpy parts to this road, making a quick pace nearly impossible.
It was windy and cold and I wasn’t ‘feeling it’ today so I trudged along, hiking slower than usual. Windy is normal here (it’s a basin after all) but the cold along with the wind made this easy part of the hike more challenging. After hiking for 3.3 miles and an hour and 45 minutes I made it to the lake, just as the sun was beginning to rise. I still needed my flashlight but aimed it away from the lake, as there appeared to be campers there. I could see a tent and heavy-duty 4WD vehicle parked beside the lake.
There’s a trail along the left side of the lake that’s used for both the Clinton-McNamee-Traver hike and Wheeler Mountain, so it’s easy to follow. The only downside? It was iced over and slick. In fact, any part of the road/trail thus far that had held water had been iced over.
The trail up past Wheeler Lake towards Wheeler Mountain is less traveled and more difficult to find. Here’s the path I took, staying to the left of the waterfall. It passed around the outskirts of the willows.
I passed someone’s getaway vehicle along the way
At the top of this gully there’s another small lake. This time I skirted the lake to the right, following well placed cairns. Oh, and the wind stopped! This was fantastic! I was finally starting to warm up a bit.
Once above the second lake the trail is faint but the cairns are helpful. The trail turns and heads northwest. The goal here is to gain the saddle.
I felt there were just the right amount of cairns here to keep me headed in the right direction, but basically I was just aiming towards the saddle. During the last bit the trail goes left and then angles back right over a grassy area
Once I gained the saddle the wind picked up intensely. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a normal wind, but this wind was a steady 40mph and icy. It was like an arctic blast was blowing directly against me as I hiked. I turned right at the saddle and headed northeast. Instead of going up and over the ridge (which doesn’t look possible) I skirted it to the left, following the cairns.
There aren’t very many cairns here, but they are all placed in helpful areas. If you can’t see a cairn, you’re off trail. This is not something I’d want to attempt in the snow. I skirted several gullies
I found myself at the top of a particularly sketchy gully where it looked like I was going to have to lose some elevation and I didn’t think I was headed the right way. Also, I couldn’t see any more cairns. The wind picked up dramatically and I seriously considered turning back. My fingers were frozen and finding the “Y” in the ridge that indicated the summit was taking a lot longer than I thought it should. I looked all around but wasn’t sure where to go? I started jumping up and down to get warm, and that’s when I saw it: a cairn just over the next rib. Woot! I just hadn’t been tall enough to see it. So yes, I went down this gully, and then back up and around, aiming for the cairn
I was so glad I hadn’t decided to give up! The summit was in sight, and there were enough cairns leading the way so I didn’t need to do too much route finding. Here’s the way I took to the summit
There was a rock gully to climb
And then I turned left (north) and did some fun rock climbing the last way to the summit. Well, it would have been fun if I hadn’t been frozen and if the wind would have stopped. This part was exposed and I stayed low on the rocks to avoid the gusts of wind, worried they’d knock me off balance and I’d fall over the edge.
I finally knew I was on the summit when I found the summit register (which I never sign, but it’s nice to know they’re there)
It was far too cold for me to take off my gloves to set my camera up to take a good photo, and there honestly wasn’t much room to set it up, so I just took a selfie. I have no idea what time it was (I couldn’t pull out my cell phone to check) and sorry, but no video either (I take those on my cell phone as well).
I didn’t stay on the summit any longer than it took to take a few pictures. I returned the way I came
Back down the rocky gully, aiming for the cairn
Heading back was much quicker because I was sure of the correct way and had no problem locating cairns. I was in a hurry to thaw out.
Once back at the saddle I located the cairn that told me where to descend, and turned and headed back down to the lake(s)
And back down to the 4WD road
In the daylight I could see all the waterfalls were a bit icy. I completely understood: It was cold, even without the wind (which hadn’t yet let up).
The campers I’d seen at the lake in the morning were gone, and their vehicle had crushed all the ice along the road as it drove out. I saw several modified vehicles on my way back: probably 10 or more, all part of a caravan. I was hoping to see wildlife, but with all the vehicles I realized that wasn’t likely. I didn’t see any hikers the entire day. Here’s looking at the way back to the reservoir.
The wind never let up but it did get a bit warmer as the sun rose. I never took off my gloves. It looks like it’s time to bring out my heavy-duty winter gear! I started this hike at 4:30am and made it back to my truck at 11am, making this a 9.5 mile hike with 2810’ of elevation gain in 6.5 hours.
I was a little bummed it had taken me so long because the elevation gain was minimal, but I knew it was due to the cold and that bit of route finding on the ridge. This peak all in all was much easier than I’d thought it would be, yet took me a bit longer than I’d thought to complete. Despite the wind and cold, today was a fantastic day!