| Hybrid Traverse: El Diente to Mount Wilson
** El Diente - Mount Wilson, Hybrid Traverse from the South Side via Kilpacker **
You take the High Road and We'll take the Low Road
We had been planning to do these climbs for a while and all the stars were finally aligned and things came together on the weekend of Sept 1/2.
Our team consisted of Jason (Jasayrevt), Jim (semitrueskerm), Zach (zxbraves) and myself.
In short, climbing with these guys was great, everyone worked well with each other and I look forward to climbing more mountains together. The moral support of Jason, Jim and Zach helped my New York lungs push me to the summits of these rugged and unforgiving peaks!
Several other 14ers members were on the peaks today and we ran into a few folks, though didn't get a chance to actually speak to everyone... These included (as per Emma's TR): Emma (EmmaM), Bill (WildLobo71), Dave (Lemurtech), Boyd (Fortmeyers_b), Brian (Sky).
Arriving in from New York on Friday night, I stayed in Ouray and our plan was to meet up Saturday afternoon to hike in and set up camp.
As usual for me, getting to the trailhead was an adventure in itself and proved to be half the battle. After a wrong turn or two and testing my tame Crossover rental car, I made it to the Kilpacker Trailhead (It's the little things ya know...)!
We met up and left the parking lot, starting up the verdant meadow to be greeted with an aspen forest and postcard like views along the way.
A little further in and after surmounting a small hill were met with grand views of the ridgeline and El Diente staring back down at us.
We hiked in about 3.75 miles to a placed that looked like a good campsite at about 10,700ft at the edge of the woods. We picked a site located about 100 feet off the trail just (to the right on the ascent) above a waterfall with a stream nearby that appeared to be somewhat of an established site. Having the rushing stream nearby was a bit nicer than listening to my “rain and ocean sounds” CD back home. Skies seemed clear but that would soon change. We set our tents up, filtered water, fired up our stoves and cooked dinner and hung out a
bit before turning in early, agreeing on a start time of 3:30AM.
An hour or so into our attempted slumber, the skies opened up and it came down like cats and dogs for ~4 hours. I was testing a new tent, and of course, it developed
a leak in the middle of the back wall, resulting in a steady drip on my head throughout the night. Coupled with the usual pre-climb anticipation, I didn't get much sleep.
Before I knew it, I was looking at my alarm and it was 2:45AM and we were all pretty much up and ready to go. At 3:30 we were off.
Moving like a team of alpine ninjas, we quietly worked our way up across the landscape into the talus that defines the flanks of the El Diente-Mount Wilson Massif.
The plan was to climb to El Diente then once on top, assess how we collectively felt, the route conditions and weather and then make the decision
as to whether we wanted to go for Mount Wilson at that time. Let's get one done and focus on that first.
Jason, Zach and Jim make progress up the steep, rocky terrain of the south slopes.
The waning gibbous moon lit up the south slopes of the mountain such that if the route was a flat class 1 hike we wouldn't have needed headlamps.
As we climbed higher, the rough terrain became evident and the steepness of the remaining route was clearly visible.
Jim with the summit looming in the background, still a long ways off. Zach off to the right making his way up.
We all continued to climb pretty closely together as we slowly worked our way to the summit. The route up El Diente was initially fairly straightforward and followed a trail coming out of the basin, then some loose trail segments higher up in the more complicated terrain where rockfall became more of a pressing concern. In the distance, we’d hear occasional rocks tumbling down and took care to watch above and below us. Nobody appeared to be ahead of us. There was another team a few hundred yards below us climbing up, so we were careful not to dislodge anything onto them.
Jason (L) and me negoitiating the terrain below.
The terrain was a mixture of gulleys, short loose chutes and steep Class 3 sections all mixed together. There was some moderate exposure, but nothing
that made us pause too much, though this mountain is very loose and rugged and not a walk up. People will argue with me but I’d advise against taking a dog on this route, for the
sake of the pooch.
Zach (R) and Jason moving higher...
As we climbed above 13,500, then a bit higher and came to a notch where a left turn is needed, there was fresh snow on the route from the storm the night before.
At first it made us nervous that the route might be snow covered higher up, resulting in dangerous icy sections, but it proved to be fairly easy to move over taking each step one at a time.
A little extra care was needed on the exposed portions of the route especially on the last section immediately before the summit where there is some
exposure and ever-present loose rock with long steep gulleys below which would have some bad consequences for a fall.
A shot taken by Jim of Zach and myself climbing up one of the remaining portions under the summit. Almost there!
A climber makes his way up the delicate terrain on fresh fallen snow just under the summit.
Almost without warning, the summit appears!
Below, a photo taken by Jim with (Right to Left) Jason, Zach and myself on the summit of El Diente.
Summit shot with the morning sun peeking through with the Wilsons and mighty San Juans in the background.
Oddly, most all folks climbing the mountain that day all summited within 15-20 minutes of each other and soon we were all on top at once. We all seemed to have similar timing.
After taking a short break to have a snack, we discussed options, all felt good and the weather seemed to be holding out just fine, though there were some clouds building. The decision was made to head to Mount Wilson.
Jason, Zach and I would drop down lower to about 13,000ft and work our way back up, while most others doing the traverse took the higher route proper for the duration to the summit of Mount Wilson.
The lower option was the route we studied and planned on doing. However, rather than continuing all the way around Wilson’s east/southeast flanks where there apparently is a class 2+/3 gulley to get to the top, we would climb up earlier and meet up with the high ridge before the exposed Crux preceding the summit and make our way up to the top that way.
We dropped down quickly off El Diente, doing a descending traverse in a general southeast direction to a spot where we’d leave the ED route and then moved laterally across the boulders and talus enroute towards Mount Wilson. As Vorticity, Highpilgrim and others have discovered in this "route", these boulders are LOOSE and move around a lot due to their lack of use as a proper route among other things and their general instability. They are a sprained ankle waiting to happen, so take care moving across them.
As we would discover later while coming down, there was somewhat of a trail to pick up initially lower down, though ascending we didn't quite use this route and
forged our own path, much to the dismay of our ankles and knees. There are some cliff bands along this area to take care to watch for on the descent.
Poles also would help here, particularly going down.
A sweeping shot of the terrain in the basin looking back up towards (though not showing) the summit of El Diente.
The shots below (taken on the descent) shows Jason moving through the typical terrain here.
The traveling towards the upper slopes of Mount Wilson was slow and methodical, with care needed on every step once we started climbing on an ascending traverse towards the gulleys that would lead up to the High Traverse towards the Mount Wilson summit.
At this point, we met up with several climbers who took the upper traverse. There is more than one way up here, some harder than others.
Before going up the last pitch, I rested my pack down to take a drink and snap a photo. I was distracted by someone commenting on another climber and took my arm off my pack; the terrain was so steep, my pack (luckily still closed) slipped and tumbled about a 150ft down the slope with nothing I could do to stop it. Luckily, there was nobody coming up. I was glad it actually stopped as I thought it was going to drop a thousand feet and be torn apart, destroying my DSLR in the process. I downclimbed to go retrieve my pack and found my camera still in good shape. Kudos to Nikon for making a bomber camera.
This photo shows Zach underneath one of the final pitches up towards the summit ridge.
Moving up from higher in the basin, we first angled towards the left briefly (northwest) from the ED "trail" breakoff then traversed to the right (east/northeast) until we were a few hundred feet under the summit and moved to get positioned under the final gulley that would lead up to the summit ridge. The terrain here is rough and rugged and there is no quick escape into the valley, so double check the weather on the ascent.
There are several gulleys as you come out of the basin, which can get confusing to determine if you are in the "correct" one (left or right) at the appropriate spot to ascend. There is more than one way to get up.
Regarding the “upper” gulley options (for lack of a better term) we took the right gulley immediately before the summit ridge, but didn't continue all the way around to the
east/southeast side of the mountain to the gulley located there. The left upper gulley reached a wall which was hard to get over without gear and at least one person we saw got turned back here.
And, some of the terrain above:
On the summit ridge, spitting distance to the summit where great views of Wilson Peak and Rock of Ages Basin can be had; a stunning image in the morning light showing the ruggedly beautiful mountains. Gladstone peak is off to the right (east).
El Diente From the summit ridge of Mount Wilson, showing the rough terrain in between the two mountains. As others are aware, these mountains guard their summits well.
A shot showing the final crux up to Mount Wilson's summit; note the three climbers here. This is the slightly less exposed option. The right side has a more exposed section with a tall summit block to surmout.
Zach coming off the summit - he's saying, "hey, let's do that again!"
Mount Wilson Summit shot!
Left to Right: Jason, Zach, Rob. (Jim opted for the High traverse and summited with another group).
After *carefully* coming off the summit blocks, we downclimbed the steep gulley that lead us up to the final summit pitch
The talus slopes underneath Wilson and El Diente; do not run here.
Below is a shot of what you'll be hiking and traversing over as you go down, up and across between peaks while lower down. Makes me have a new found respect for the agility of marmots and pika.
As we descended, clouds soon moved in an enveloped the summit and ridge behind us (shot taken from the Kilpacker Basin).
Jason and Zach with the massive high wall of El Diente behind them.
Seems like a nice smooth descent, but the gentle slopes of the south face of El Diente are misleading. It does get better as a more established trail becomes evident
further down. On the hike coming down, I was thinking that this would make a nice snow climb up to the ridgeline and would be easier on the ankles!
A high waterfall spills down into the valley and meanders into the forest, alongside several nice campsites enroute. Although I was expecting to see some bighorn sheep, we saw no large wildlife this day.
All in all, this was a successful trip with a great bunch of guys. It was also a pretty long day getting both peaks done over the tricky terrain that characterizes the area.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):