| The Seduction Line
Peak: Gladstone Peak
Tale of the Tape: 17.7 miles and 6440 vertical (backpack into Navajo via Woods Lake)
Partner in high-altitude crime: wooderson
I was somewhere near Placerville last Friday, my Honda Civic exhaling a slow churn of dirt, dust, and vulcanized growls. I had several things going my way as the Labor Day jailbreak began to unfold - wooderson in shotgun, backpacks at the ready, a trunk full of IPAs, and the sounds of Tattoo You coming through the dashboard jet-engine loud.
We arrived at the large, circular, latently cruisy Woods Lake TH around 5. I don't know what it is about Woods Lake but the place seems like it would be an after-hours magnet for all things that go bump in the night. Windowpane voyeurs and grope artists. Chronic hippies and sophisticated vandals. Washed up sleight-of-handers and full-blown weirdos. There's even a secret-knock bathroom nearby for those on the lascivious nod. In short, it has possibilities.
We made quick work of the approach to Navajo Lake and pitched on a small clearing on the northwest side. The basin was surprising desolate for a holiday weekend, with the exception of a few barking dogs and some illiterati who chose to build a bonfire within pissing distance of the lake. Nice.
Gladstone stood silver-screen majestic in the distance and we felt like patrons at a drive-in theater in some dead-end town. Although we had no popcorn or cozy upholstery, we didn't have any baggage or obligations either - just some Jimmy Johns subs, several cans of big red sticky Gordon, and that magical and unquantifiable freedom that allows one to take a crack at a big San Juan peak seemingly on a whim.
We sat and ate and contemplated in silence.
Papillon: I think we can do it in six hours round.
Wooderson: That ridge looks pretty long. I hope you're right.
Eight hours later and we were on our way, headlamps guiding us through the willows and across the seemingly endless talus. We took the spur to Rock of Ages and made the climb to 13,000 and beyond. I felt more comfortable gaining the Wilson Peak-Gladstone ridge via the class 1 and 2 trail versus rolling the dice with any of the half-dozen pinball gullies that empty into upper Navajo Basin. The last thing I wanted to deal with in the early morning hours was a loose rock and scree orgy. One geologic tilt in any of those gullies and it is game over.
Gladstone Peak checks in at 13,913 feet – 87 feet shy of the seduction line. I figured our chances of encountering anyone along the Gladstone ridge were basically zero. No people, no breezy hostess pie wrappers, no forgotten carhart jackets, minimal cairns…
So we sized up the ridge and pondered our futures. Beta on the route was a mixed bag. Stay on the ridge. The ridge is loose. Watch out for the falling refrigerator-sized rocks. It shouldn't take you more than an hour. Don't even breathe on the wobbly baby grand piano talus near the top. Are you sure you want to do this? Best to stick to the Sawatch, kid…
The ridge got cliffy in sections and the terrain pushed us down toward Bilk Basin. The further we dropped, the looser and more obnoxious the rock became. We side-hilled for what seemed like an eternity and finally reached a notch in the ridge where the real climbing commenced.
We had about 400 feet of vertical left. I thought we could make quick work of it. But there were now patches of snow to contend with. Looseness of hand and foot holds became a reality. I found myself zigging and zagging, trying to keep wooderson out of my fall line, trying to identify a landing zone in case I came off, all the while leery of the piano talus somewhere above ready to play chopsticks on my forehead. It was madness.
Conversation fizzled and this was our last exchange until we topped out:
Papillon: This route blows.
Wooderson: Piss and moan.
Papillon: I just want to get up and down in one piece.
Wooderson: Piss and moan.
Views of both Wilsons and Lizard Head were pretty unreal from the summit. I checked the register and noted the usual suspects. One entry asked "How do I get down?" and I was thinking the same thing. But it all worked out in the end.
It took us eight hours tent to tent. I don't know where the time went. We encountered many people on the way back to Navajo Lake. Have you ever noticed the blank idiot stare you get when you are in the heart of 14er country (Navajo, Willow, South Colony) but your objective is some low hanging fruit? No sooner has the name of the peak left your lips and people are going all bovine on you, drool included.
Can't imagine what it's like for the single guys. The frisky devotchkas are waiting with their patriotic pedicures, coppertone shoulders, and do-me smiles. But you didn't penetrate the seduction line. You might as well have a meatball stain on your polypro tee and a piece of oregano between your teeth.
It's a cruel world.
The Last Picture Show
Pinball gullies (photo taken 2010-08-14)
El Diente and Navajo Basin
She's my little rock n' roll...
I'm worried, yeah I just can't seem to find my way...
Hey sugar, I'll take you to the top...
Wilson Peak and the route back to Rock of Ages
Blank idiot stare
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):