| The Wilsons
For personal reasons a retrospective on hiking all the Colorado fourteeners would be tough and anyway my ambition was lost in the journey. I just love climbing mountains. This is a brief story about the Wilson group.
Mount Wilson and El Diente Peak, 5 May 2011
In early May, John, Jeff and I established a camp to the north. Late starts, poor snow conditions, and slow going hampered our efforts to climb the peaks. The first day we reached the saddle at 13400' on Wilson Peak but turned around due to avalanche danger on the southeast face. The second day we ascended El Diente's north slopes to the ridge at 14000' but were too late for a summit bid and had to downclimb the route. We departed empty-handed the next morning.
Attempting Wilson Peak
Climbing El Diente's north slopes
El Diente Peak from the ridge
El Diente at dawn, 25 June 2011
Last week John and I returned with a plan to climb the three peaks in one day. We would climb the Luttrell route on El Diente's north face, traverse the ridge to Mount Wilson, drop back down into the basin and climb Wilson Peak via the southwest ridge. We had a great start--apart from deep-late morning slush on the Fox snowfield, the Luttrell route was in excellent condition and felt like a classic, one continuous line of snow from the basin to the summit. Then we made good progress on the traverse to Mount Wilson, but as the terrain started to get uncomfortable, we ran out of time and eventually bailed down the north face from the big notch just west of the summit. We discussed returning the next day but my boots were soaking wet, and that ended my trip.
Looking up the Luttrell route
Halfway up the main couloir
Looking down from the exit couloir
John gets on the Fox snowfield
Crossing the Fox
Finishing up the Fox exit couloir
Climbing to the summit
The ridge to Mount Wilson
El Diente Peak from the ridge
Descending the north face
This was discouraging for me. I felt defeated. I didn't care as much about finishing the fourteeners as finishing the Wilson group. John convinced me to return the next weekend. Now set on doing them all in a day from the car, I would start early, climb the Luttrell route again, and complete the traverse to Mount Wilson. John would meet me there and we'd climb Wilson Peak together for the finish. Unfortunately something came up and John had to cancel early in the week. I believed the route was not going to be in for much longer, so I decided to go alone.
Dusk over the San Juans
Friday evening I drove to the trailhead, arriving around 10:30 pm, and hopped in the back to get some sleep. I woke up at two o'clock and started at 2:40. A few hours later I was surveying the north face of El Diente from the Rock of Ages saddle. The Fox snowfield was clearly still in good condition, and I felt this boded well for the rest of the line, which sees less direct sunlight. Crossing the basin it seemed there was just as much snow as the week before.
I reached the base of the route at 5:45, took a short break and started up. I was surprised and disappointed to find the bottom half of the main couloir melted out. After picking my way up through the mess of loose, wet rock and punchy snow, I arrived at the halfway point of the main couloir. Here there is a tall drift, which, once climbed, offers a great spot to rest below the steep upper section. Above me the snow appeared continuous. Wanting to get on the hanging snowfield early, I continued upward. The exit couloir went and at 7:30 I was looking at the Fox. Now both its beady eyes were exposed, but the snow was continuous and I was early. On crossing the steep drift at the entrance to the snowfield, I found it firm, if not a bit icy, and was glad for my second tool. The exit couloir was in great shape and I climbed on snow to reach the summit of El Diente Peak at 7:50. Then I descended over the "Davenport ramp" and put away my crampons and second tool for the traverse.
Looking down the melted-out section
The Fox still in great shape
The south aspect of the ridge held much less snow than the week before, but there were still a few slushy snowfields to navigate when traversing below the ridge crest. Now familiar with the route, I moved quickly and reached "West Wilson" shortly after nine o'clock. I descended to the big notch, climbed the opposing wall, and then dropped down the other side, where I met two climbers finishing up a nice gully on the north face. We chatted for awhile and then I continued on to Mount Wilson. Staying on the ridge proper from the notch, I made a few airy moves to reach the summit at 10:15. After some minutes enjoying the sunshine and views I started the descent.
Approaching Mount Wilson
Looking back over the ridge. Note the two climbers on the snowfield at center
Wilson Peak from Mount Wilson
Looking out Kilpacker Basin
"South Wilson" from Mount Wilson
Originally I'd planned to glissade down the north face, but my first attempt discovered big patches of ice just under the surface, making it impossible to control speed. It was too early in the day. So I picked my way down the standard route to glissade a more east-facing snowfield between Mount Wilson and Gladstone Peak. It took over an hour to reach the basin and I started to worry about time; so far it had been a gorgeous day, but the forecast called for late-afternoon storms. I set a goal to reach the summit of Wilson Peak by two o'clock.
In the basin I stayed on snow where possible but was forced to scramble up some loose rock to reach the saddle at 13400'. Working my way up the standard route I met a group returning to the basin and was grateful to refill one of my water bottles--I'd forgotten half a liter in the car and knew I would come up short. I continued along the standard route, taking care not to dislodge the extremely unstable rock. Soon I realized I'd saved the worst for last; the rock on Wilson Peak is just terrible, and several sections of the route have eroded to the point that making a few fourth-class moves is unavoidable. Past these areas I scrambled up a rare solid dihedral to top out at 1:40 pm. It had been eleven hours since I'd left the car, and I was exhausted, though elated to have finally completed the Wilson group. The weather was still holding, and I lounged around for forty minutes just enjoying the spot and chatting with some folks who'd come up behind me.
Looking at the SW ridge route up Wilson Peak
On the summit looking at some climbers below
Views from Wilson Peak
After taking my fill of scenery I descended to a notch in the ridge, glissaded down a gully to the northwest, and then hiked back to the car, reaching the trailhead at 4:15.
Overview of the day's adventure from Wilson Peak
Round-trip mileage: 12.5
Total elevation gain: ~7100'
Time including stops: 13 hrs, 36 min
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