(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
From Telluride, drive south on Colorado 145 to Lizard Head Pass. Continue south for 5.2 miles and turn right onto Forest Road (FR) 535. Drive 4.1 miles on the 2WD dirt road to a large meadow and junction. Stay straight on 535, pass the Kilpacker trailhead at 5 miles and continue another 2 miles (7 total from CO 145) to reach the Navajo Lake trailhead entrance on the right.
You can start the traverse (Photo #1 and Photo #2) from either Navajo Basin or Kilpacker Basin. This route description assumes you are climbing El Diente first and traversing to Mt. Wilson. Here are the routes involved for each basin:
Approach: Navajo Approach or Woods Lake Approach
Ascent: El Diente Peak - North Slopes or El Diente Peak - North Buttress
Descent: Mt. Wilson - North Slopes
Total round-trip mileage using Navajo TH = 16.50 miles
Total elevation gain using Navajo TH = 5,500'
Total round-trip mileage using Woods TH = 15.50 miles
Total elevation gain using Woods TH = 5,400'
Approach: Kilpacker Approach
Ascent: El Diente Peak - South Slopes
Descent: Mt. Wilson - Southwest Slopes
Total round-trip mileage = 13.25 miles
Total elevation gain = 4,800'
From the summit of El Diente - Photo #3. Descend back down the short gully (Photo #4) to the notch and retrace your ascent route (assuming you climbed either the north or south slopes route) back along the north side of the ridge - Photo #5. Locate the top of the small gully that drops down the south side and descend the gully - Photo #6. Without dropping too far, angle left out of the gully and begin the traverse back under the Organ Pipes - Photo #7. Cross some minor ups and downs (Photo #8) as you pass under the Pipes and return to the loose, gray rock - Photo #9. Begin your ascent back to the ridge crest by angling up and around a corner on this gray rock. After crossing the gray rock, return almost to the small saddle where El Diente's north slope route reaches the ridge crest - Photo #10.
Just below the saddle, stay on the south side of the ridge and hike toward a group of gendarmes that block the ridge - Photo #11. If you want to keep the difficulty at Class 3, do not climb directly over the gendarmes. Slightly below the ridge crest, cross stacked rock to reach the lower portion of the gendarmes - Photo #12. Reach the lower portion of the gendarmes and look for cairns that cross the steep rock - Photo #13. An alternative is to drop all the way below the rocks seen in these photos. This is slightly easier, but you will lose an additional 100' of elevation. Climb onto the more-stable, larger rocks and begin the traverse around the gendarmes - Photo #14 and Photo #15. After passing over the larger rocks, the difficulty eases and you will soon be able to the see the ridge crest beyond the gendarmes - Photo #16. On loose rock, carefully climb about 200' back up to the ridge crest - Photo #17 and Photo #18.
As seen in the center of Photo #1, you now get to follow a long stretch of ridge that doesn't pose too many difficulties. Turn right and follow the ridge crest - Photo #19. Climb above 14,000' and the view opens up so you can see much of the remaining route - Photo #20. Continue along the ridge to a small bump with more difficult rock - Photo #21. From this area, the next challenge comes into view - you must descend to a saddle and climb a steep section of rock to reach the last major obstacle along the ridge - Photo #22. Scramble to the end of the current section of rock and begin the steep downclimb to the saddle - Photo #23. Carefully, weave through the rocks to reach the low point. As you descend this area, take the time to preview the steep section beyond the saddle - Photo #24. Photo #25 looks back on the descent to the saddle.
Ok, here comes the crux of the traverse - A section of rock that's steep on the west end, very narrow on top and steep on the east end. Drop down the right side of the ridge slightly and look for the easiest way to start up onto the rocks - Photo #26. Look for any section which allows you to climb up to the left, closer to the ridge. Continue this process until you reach the ridge crest. Note: After some exploration, I found that there are several ways to reach the top without going around too far to the right. If the climbing suddenly becomes much more difficult and exposed, try climbing back up to the left. Regain the ridge crest near 14,100', on the west end of this steep section of ridge - Photo #27 and Photo #28. To see your current location along the ridge, it is labeled as "Narrow Section" on Photo #1. Scramble east (Photo #29) to the end of this section where you'll get a view of the remaining route - Photo #30. Next, descend steep rock (Photo #31) on or left of the ridge crest. Near the base of the pitch, stay left of a rugged, yellow section of rock - Photo #32. Continue to the final saddle on the ridge - Photo #33.
Your next task is to climb a small gully leading to Mt. Wilson's summit ridge. Cross the saddle, turn right below steep rock and enter the Class 2 gully - Photo #34. Hike up through loose rock to reach a 14,150-foot notch (Photo #35) where the route intersects Mt. Wilson's standard route. Turn right, climb onto the rocks, and follow the narrow ridge toward the summit - Photo #36. Just prior to the summit, you will reach the crux of Mt. Wilson's summit ridge - a set of rocks which block easy passage to the summit - Photo #37 and Photo #38. Climbing to the left is the easiest way around the difficult rock and climbing to the right requires an exposed, Class 4 move which may be uncomfortable for some climbers. After passing the crux, scramble a bit more (Photo #39) to reach the top - Photo #40.
This route description describes the traverse from El Diente to Mt. Wilson, but provides enough detail where you could use it to climb it in the reverse direction. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Lizard Head Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.