After 6 peaks in 3 days, we took made the long three hour drive from Lake City all the way around to Telluride just to get back to the Wilson Group which we could see the day before from Wetterhoen/Uncompahgre. My Chevy Captiva rental car would have never made the 4WD roads over Cinnamon or Engineer Pass. After lunch at Baked in Telluride, we headed out to Navajo Lake. The road to the TH was the easiest so far and we got our packs together for the hike to Navajo Lake. Mark made the mistake of carrying his pillow and sleeping bag instead of tieing it to his pack which made for some funny looks from other hikers on the way up. The hike to Navajo Lake was actually pretty steep for the last mile but we made it and set up camp in a cool spot overlooking the lake and basin.
I did a scouting mission to the El Diente couloir since I was concerned about the amount of snow left and because we didn't have ice axes or crampons. There was always the option of hiking around to Kilpacker for the south slopes route. This picture is what I found when I got there.
North Couloir El Diente
Still some snow but with options to go around it. I put a few pieces of reflective tape on a few rocks to help mark the path to the couloir and got back to camp at sunset. We got moving a little after 3AM and hit the trail at 3:45AM the next morning. I retrieved my reflective tape and we entered the couloir at dawn. Soon enough, we were wishing we were climbing snow with crampons. The rock was all loose and wet in the middle of the couloir from the melting snow. We climbed some class 3 rock on the right rib above the couloir most of the way before rentering the couloir in the narrow section just above the snow and then exiting below the headwall to the right per the route description. The climb from the headwall to the top of the ridge was pretty easy and the views back to the Coors logo, aka Wilson Peak were pretty cool.
Mark at the top of the couloir
Once around the organ pipes we were able to see the rest of our route where we found some other climbers who had come up the route from Kilpacker. You can see them in the picture below if you look closely.
Final Approach on El Diente
We continued up the standard route to the summit with a few class 3 moves and exposure but nothing too crazy. The summit block on El Diente is pretty cool.
Worthless Which Wich summit pic on El Diente
Unfortunately, we later realized that Which Wich doesn't count El Diente as a 14er...dang! After talking shop with an older Navy veteran who was also at the top of El Diente, we pushed on for the traverse. Mark moved quickly back to the top of the El Diente north couloir, and soon we met our first challenge of getting around the Gendarmes. A few hairy or should I say airy moves were required but for the most part it looks worse than it is.
The next section was actually some pretty fun bouldering. If I'm taking a lot of pictures, it's probably not a tough section of the route...
Halfway across the traverse, Mt Wilson is close but so far
We did have to wait below the crux of the traverse while another group went up. This is a very dangerous spot for rockfall. I didn't know at the time, but this is where a man was fatally injured in 2010.
Crux of the traverse
Of the groups ahead of us, two climbers went halfway up and climbed around the right side while the other three climbed around to the left. We chose the option to the left per the trail description. It probably stayed class 3 but was very exposed with big drops on either side. At one point I pushed up onto the next rock on my stomach. Not sure what going around to the right was like. This was probably the part of the traverse that took the most out of us mentally. After the steep climb out of the saddle, we entered the "Narrows" section which was a lot more narrow than it looks in this picture. And I thought I would have to wait until Capitol to do a knife ridge..
The downclimb from the narrows didn't let up as far as exposure but we found the notch and started up the summit block of Mt Wilson. This part really wasn't bad until the Class 4 move and by that point there's no turning back, especially with climbers at the summit watching you come up.
Top of Mt Wilson with El Diente in background
The picture below shows some of the other climbers descending off the summit.
Climbers dropping off Mt Wilson summit
The downclimb off Mt Wilson down the standard route seemed to take forever and I didn't take a picture. It was pretty difficult finding the trail, but even when we found cairns there wasn't much of a trail anyway. It was just boulder hopping, carefully, all the way down. At the bottom of the basin we refilled water and made the decision to press for Wilson Peak. Neither of us wanted to get up early the next morning to climb it before making the long trip back to Denver and Florida for me. There were some cloud build ups and it was 1PM, but we had heard that Wilson Peak was pretty easy. We had just done this ridge so Wilson would be a piece of cake, right?
Mt Wilson - El Diente
The climb to the Rock of Ages saddle was uneventful.
Rock of the Ages Saddle
From there I don't have any pictures until the summit. Why? Because it was some of the steepest, nastiest scree and talus that I've ever climbed in 50 14ers. We both really hated Wilson and it was by far the most uncomfortable I had felt all day. The section from the Rock of Ages saddle to the Wilson/Gladstone saddle was awful and the section from that saddle to the summit ridge was even worse. We did choose to downclimb from the saddle and traverse down where it was supposed to be Class 2. This was after looking at the class 3 section which included some downward slanting slabs that I would only feel comfortable crossing in rock climbing shoes. With the clouds getting darker I was about ready to turn back as we reached the summit ridge. The last quarter mile had taken well over an hour as every movement had to be carefully tested to avoid having a Wile E. Coyote moment of pulling a boulder on top of yourself. However, at the summit rige, things got easy and we quickly made our way to the Summit block and after a little route finding the class 3 summit pitch was pretty fun.
Summit of Wilson Peak
Summit pics, number 9 in five days!
Last Which Wich Pic
We still weren't comfortable until making it back to the Rock of Ages Saddle. The downclimb across the saddles was as bad as going up. Finally at the Rock of Ages we celebrated and realized how awesome the past five days had been. We camped again at Navajo Lake and hiked out the next morning for the long trip back to Denver for Mark and Florida for me where I finally arrived off the redeye flight at 8AM the next day. Wow, what a trip!