Wheeler Mountain offers a nice Class 2+ to Class 3 scramble in the Tenmile/Mosquito Range. The trailhead is accessible to higher clearance and crossover type vehicles. A 4WD road leads to Wheeler Lake, but many stock 4WD owners will likely elect to not attempt driving this road. Wheeler can be combined with Clinton and even McNamee and Traver for a longer day hike among some splendid scenery.
If coming from Breckenridge on State Highway 9, drive to the summit of Hoosier Pass, then continue south just over 1.0 mile and turn right (west) onto CR 4.
If coming north from Fairplay on SH 9, drive north to Alma and just over 5 miles from the center of town, turn left (west) onto CR 4.
Follow CR 4 as it heads downhill toward the scenic Montgomery Reservoir. Avoid making any turnoffs either left or right and continue down to the north side of the reservoir. Just before the dam, veer right when the road forks. The left fork goes down to the lake. There is parking available there if you're in a passenger vehicle that you do not want to take farther. The right fork will take you around to the west end of the lake. Stock 4WD and many crossovers should be able to continue. Continue to a trailhead parking area at roads' end. If in a passenger vehicle, do not attempt to take the 4WD drive road that turns off to the right and heads up to the Magnolia Mill. Continuing up the 4WD road brings one immediately to a difficult, rock-slab climb with a difficult 2 -3 foot step. If you're driving a stock 4WD of some type and don't feel comfortable making it up this first section, you should probably not try to go any farther, though stock vehicles with better than average clearance may be able to continue over another 2 miles, west along the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. Overgrown willows will likely scratch up your beautiful paint job. On one of the regional four-wheeling sites, the road is rated a 5 to 7 with warnings about rocks and holes larger than 12 inches, 8" deep mud, stream crossings to 18", slopes to 25 degrees, and side hills to 30 degrees. Roach suggests stock vehicles not drive beyond 11,680 ft. where the road begins to gain serious elevation up to Wheeler Lake.
There is little to consider as viable camping at the trailhead though you might be able to "car-camp" overnight. The reservoir itself is surrounded by private property and cabins. The closest National Forest campgrounds are back up Four Mile Creek south of Fairplay. For most Front Range hikers, camping is not an issue since this TH is a relatively short drive of less than 2 hours for many. If you need to camp, try the few primitive sites at the top of Hoosier Pass (see North Star Mtn.) or head up Beaver Creek out of Fairplay (see Mt. Silverheels). If you have a capable 4WD that can navigate FR 408 toward Wheeler Lake, there are a couple of possible campsites right off the road, but generally, camping options are poor because of all the willows.
Our route description will assume a start from the trailhead parking at the western end of Montgomery Reservoir. We do this in part because many hikers with stock 4WD vehicles, may not want to test their trusty steed on the rigors of the 4WD, single track road up to Wheeler Lake. Roach proposes driving in stock vehicles as far as 11,680 feet. This is approximately where the road turns NW and begins a steeper climb up to Wheeler Lake. That's where conditions become much worse. Many drivers will find themselves questioning whether or not to proceed on this road back at the Magnolia Mine area, so we offer the route description as beginning from there. This route description will also include information about Traver and McNamee.
Walk west up the road along the middle fork of the South Platte. The road stays on the north side of the drainage. During summer months you can expect to encounter some large potholes of water and mud that may force you over into the willows, which are quite numerous. Just before the road begins the climb up to Wheeler Lake, there is a fork that heads off to the left and goes down to cross the creek. That old fork will not gain you any advantage. Where the main road does make a sharp right turn toward Wheeler Lake, if you wish to avoid the lake, you can head west up a couloir to the flatter, basin area above the rock outcrops and cliffs which sits at the foot of Traver, McNamee and Clinton. Otherwise, continue to the lake. It is possible to find some tent sites here if you want to backpack into this lovely location.
From the lake, follow the old road along the west shore, then turn west up a fairly large gully that will grant access to the same flatter basin area below Traver, McNamee and Clinton. From here if you wish to avoid the tour de basin by hiking over Traver and McNamee, you could head WSW up the basin to its head, then head NW up to the summit of Clinton over mostly Class 2 talus. The lower section of this basin has tundra, rock outcrops and talus.
For the full tour, head SW up the basin to about 12,900 feet. Make a turn to the south and gain a minor, broad ridge that comes off the ENE ridge of Traver. Walk up that minor ridge, gain the ENE ridge and follow it to the summit of Traver over mostly Class 2 rubble. It's 1.6 miles from the lake to the Traver summit. From the summit of Traver, head NW along another ridge that connects over to McNamee. The easy ridge is Class 2 with some rubble, tundra and embedded rock. You'll only need to regain about 160 feet from the connecting saddle. It's about .4 mile.
From McNamee, follow a similar ridge NNE to the Clinton summit. Still Class 2 with limited tundra, embedded rocks and rubble. You'll only need to regain about 120 feet in elevation. The distance is a little under a half mile. From Clinton, you'll be able to look down upon the Climax Mine operation. There is also a ridge from the summit of Clinton that heads in a NW direction and connects over to the remnants of Bartlett. If only climbing Clinton, you can drop from the summit SE back into the basin below and rejoin your route that came up from Wheeler Lake for a descent. Otherwise, continue on east, then NE on a high ridge to reach Wheeler.
Wheeler Mountain is sequenced with Clinton Peak and McNamee and Traver are also included in the Clinton description. One way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of Clinton. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the entire circuit. It should be noted that the elevation gain to reach Wheeler does not include the multiple times you go up and down through several gullies.
From the summit of Clinton Peak, follow the ridge line east to a 13,820 ft. point where the ridge turns NE. Continue on the ridge over another bump toward the Clinton-Wheeler saddle at 13,340 ft. Most of the ridge is rubbly with a little interspersed tundra, embedded rock, etc. Descending to the saddle will become a little rougher. The real fun comes just after the saddle. For the descent, note that there is a cairn-marked trail that descends to the east from the saddle. It may be faint. Keep an eye out for it. It heads down on steep grass/tundra.
From the saddle, the 3rd class work begins, but most of the ridge is really sketchy Class 2+. Wrong decisions can get you onto more difficult terrain than 3rd class. Currently, cairns mark much of the way. When we first did this in 1988, there was no trail or cairns to speak of. As you work north up the ridge, generally, the west side is the best, as it was dropping down to the saddle from Clinton. However, strong winds typical of this range may force you onto the east side. That's where things can become more difficult. Working up the ridge, you will need to cross several rock "ribs" followed by steep gullies. At each, you will need to climb over the rib and likely descend the gully, then regain the ridge for the next obstacle.
The summit is identifiable by a sideways "Y'" formation of lighter-colored rock. There's another gully just south of the summit with steep, Class 2+ boulder rubble, that's both narrow and loose. Good choices route finding can keep this as an enjoyable 3rd class workout. Rope is not needed. Exposure is not great.
From the summit of Wheeler, it is possible to work over to the summit of North Star, which we have written up as a separate climb. For the descent, the following are some useful details that we provide in part because some may wish to do this route in reverse. From the summit, work back down the south ridge again to the 13,340 ft. saddle. Look for the faint trail that heads down to the east on steep grass and tundra. The trail will lead back down to the upper, unnamed lake at 12,500 ft. If you get off the trail or miss it, while there are some rock outcrops to work through-across-around, it's still no worse than Class 2+ route finding to reach the upper lake. The trail goes along the east shore, then crosses the outlet to descend the west side of a drainage with a small stream that leads down to Wheeler Lake. If you've found the trail, it will lead along the west shore of Wheeler Lake and reconnect with the 4WD road. From there, make the long trudge back out to Montgomery Reservoir. We mention again that you can find some open tundra flat areas to pitch a tent at Wheeler Lake.