| Earth, Wind and Marmots
MOUNTAIN(S): Mt. Wilson (14,246') and Wilson Peak (14,017')
ROUTE(S): North Face Direct and standard Southwest Ridge
CLIMBERS: Bill (wildlobo71), Rob (RJansen77), Jeff (SurfNTurf), Keri (Trainer Keri), Greg (gregory_fischer), Dillon (dillonsarnelli)
BEERS CONSUMED: Modus Hoperandi, Dale's, Old Chub
All photos by Dillon, Rob and Bill.
By the time we left Navajo Basin on Monday afternoon, we’d spent the better part of three days tentbound by wind and cold, lost several items including Bill’s favorite hat to marmots, witnessed two rain flies shred while we were huddled desperately beneath them, and logged hours of delicate routefinding in exposed, mixed terrain.
It was all worth it, because we also left with a pair of summits.
El Diente…we shall return. (From Kilpacker…)
The Crew (top L-R Greg, Rob, Bill, Jeff; bottom L-R Keri, Dillon).
The original plan hatched by Rob and I a few months ago was to spend our long Memorial Day weekend attempting Wilson Peak and the El Diente-Mt. Wilson traverse. We’d hike in to the Rock of Ages saddle on Saturday, drop our overnight packs, climb Wilson Peak, then continue down to Navajo Basin for a Sunday traverse. We signed up a few more willing individuals and whittled away the months.
Winds and snow conditions deemed that itinerary impossible. Given the forecast last week, we flirted with canceling the trip altogether, but decided instead to follow an old adage: you’ll never accomplish anything if you don’t try.
Greg, Rob, Dillon, Keri, Bill and I departed for the Wilsons as planned Friday after lunch. We set up camp a mile or so below the Rock of Ages TH, which is 2WD accessible if you have high-clearance. The only difficult section is a creek crossing that my Mazda 3 couldn’t quite handle, but otherwise it’s one of the better dirt roads out there.
The winds howled in the early evening but died before long, and come morning we were greeted with a spectacular day. Could the forecast be wrong?
No. No it couldn’t.
The fantastic new Rock of Ages Trail is snow-free below treeline, but once the route turns back into Silver Pick Basin there are two or three steep snowfields to cross. Microspikes or crampons were pretty helpful in the morning, though several of us got by without either. Higher in the basin Wilson Peak loomed over us, and the closer to the Rock of Ages Saddle we got the more snow we encountered. Crampons and ice axes were used by all to ascend the final few hundred feet to the saddle.
Rock of Ages Trail and Wilson Peak.
One of a pair of steep snow crossings entering Silver Pick Basin.
Rock of Ages Saddle, which is an easy snow climb. 35 degrees or less.
At the saddle, of course, you guessed it, we started getting slammed by increasing winds. We gazed forlornly up at Wilson Peak and decided to save it until the hike out Monday, when the forecast was much friendlier.
We chose a campsite high in Navajo Basin at about 12,300’ because we (1) are idiots, (2) didn’t want to risk being crushed to death by a wind-felled tree and (3) are lazy and didn’t want to lose/regain hundreds of feet of elevation every day.
The winds had been manageable, but this is about the point when the Wilsons decided to start screwing with us. The gusts increased and increased until finally they were knocking us over – and we still had to set up our tents. It was a wrestling match, but finally we got them pitched and secure. We ate a cold dinner and passed the hours inside our respective shelters until the following morning. The marmots leered at us like fresh meat. The wind was the worst right before sunset, when I’d estimate we were hit with gusts exceeding 75 miles per hour. Rob’s fly ripped in three places, and Dillon’s ripped in two. Bill’s Marmot Titan escaped unscathed.
Windy Camp at 12,300'.
The morning dawned clear and cold. Most of the wind was gone except for a bone-chilling 15- to 20-mile per hour breeze. We waited for the sun to come completely out, then set off for Mt. Wilson’s North Face. Being snow junkies, we aimed to climb the descent line outlined by sstratta in her trip report from last week (her blue line). The wind and cold had resulted in extremely hard snow. We wore crampons beginning right from camp all the way to the summit ridge, and again all the way down. We hardly ever sank past our points.
Starting toward the North Face on Sunday morning.
Mt. Wilson North Face. We made an "S" through the rock bands and ascended the direct couloir between Mt. Wilson and West Wilson.
Snow, snow, snow, snow and more snow. Heaven.
Group nearing the steepest section. Looks like Everest?
The climbing was straightforward on snow ranging from 30 to 45 degrees. The final pitch to the ridge crest was steeper, entering the 50- to 55- degree range. Sstratta said she plunge-stepped it, but I’m guessing she was on softer snow. And, as we were about to find out, she has balls of steel. Or whatever the female equivalent is.
Based on her TR, we figured the remaining route would be fairly easy. It turns out the snow crossing on the opposite side of the ridge was nearly as steep as the North Face and hard as rock. The final summit ridge, which also never gave her pause, took us nearly 45 minutes to unlock. Staying on the ridge crest requires a super-exposed straddling move, and then the crux still contains a good amount of snow and ice. We even debated turning around before Greg and Dillon pieced together a feasible line.
Ms. Stratta, my hat is off to you.
Greg nearing the top-out on the ridge between Wilson and West Wilson, boosted by the Gladpack.
Steep snow crossing that awaited on the other side. Summit ridge in the background.
Dillon and Greg seek a path on the ridge crest.
Rob pulls through the crux, which reveals the summit immediately.
Group shot on the summit (L-R Greg, Jeff, Rob, Dillon)
Rob descending thorugh the crux -- a good shot of the required climbing.
Lizard Head and the San Juans.
We descended basically the standard route, and then back down the North Face to camp. One short section was steep enough to require face-in downclimbing, but the rest of the way was an easy crampon walk down moderate (and still not soft) snow.
Though the wind had abated, the temperatures remained cold. We stayed outside long enough to cook a hot meal and filter water before diving once again into our tents. Marmots had wreaked havoc during our climb, eating, among other things, one of my Ramen packets (which was buried under a mound of rocks) and Rob’s sandals. We had to wake up a few times throughout the day and night to scare them away. Little bastards.
A look up at El Diente from camp.
Another view of Mt. Wilson's North Face.
Mt. Wilson and El Diente.
The next morning, Memorial Day, finally granted us spring-like weather. We broke camp and hauled our overnight packs back to the Rock of Ages Saddle, where we gratefully traded them in for minimalist summit packs.
The Wilson Peak standard route is mostly free of snow, except for a couple extremely brief traverses, until about the notch high on the ridge. The scrambling is easy, but slightly exposed and, of course, loose. From the notch we were on equal parts snow and rock. The false summit looked daunting from afar, but it yielded without much of a fight. The remaining route was a different story.
Scrambling along low on Wilson Peak's standard ridge.
Rob threatens a fearless marmot blocking our path. (Staged photo, don't run to call PETA).
Walking along the ridge crest.
After mentally preparing for weeks for Mt. Wilson and El Diente, and actually climbing Mt. Wilson, we treated Wilson Peak like somewhat of an afterthought. We figured it would be an easy day for a lady. The final few hundred feet to the summit was anything but.
It again took us close to an hour to figure out a workable line. We fanned out and tried different ways, only to each be turned back. The standard summer route was fairly obvious but clogged with ice. Finally, after again nearing the decision to turn around, I scooted down a snow-and-ice gully and found a way to weave back up to the standard Class 3 finish. Sadly, none of our pictures really captured much of this route. The crux moves in these mixed conditions were every bit as difficult as Mt. Wilson, if not moreso.
Rob following the route we found around the rock he's on and up snow on the other side.
Snow pitch to regain the standard route.
Another group summit photo (L-R Rob, Greg, Jeff, Dillon)
The pristine San Juans.
A solitary moment between me and my future finisher.
Back the way we came, down the snow, around the ribs and back up.
El Diente, mocking us.
Only when we returned to the false summit could we breath easily. We jaunted back down to the saddle, recovered our gear (minus what the marmots had once again taken), and were rewarded with a blissful glissade into Silver Pick Basin. The walk out was quick and uneventful. We dined at True Grit in Ridgway, which has a cheeseburger with FOUR STRIPS OF BACON. I can't wait to go back.
Thanks to Bill, Keri, Rob, Dillon and Greg for yet another amazing weekend. Nothing ever goes as planned with you guys, but we always seem to find a way.
Group shot back at the car, victory brews in hand.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):