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Combo) Mt. Wilson and El Diente Traverse

Difficulty:  Class 4 
Exposure: More serious exposure that could result in serious injury or death if you fell. Moving past the area will require some scrambling or short technical moves.
Summit Elevation: 14,246 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 9,350 feet
Elevation Gain:500' while climbing up and down on the ridge
Round-trip Length: 1 mile (one-way across the ridge)
From Navajo Basin TH: Approx. 16 miles
Trailhead: Navajo Lake
USGS Quad.: Mount Wilson
County Sheriff: Dolores: 970-677-2257
County Sheriff: San Miguel: 970-728-4442
National Forest:  San Juan
Wilderness Area:  Lizard Head
Author: BillMiddlebrook
Last Updated: 11/2014
TH:  From Telluride, drive south on Colorado 145 to Lizard Head Pass. Continue south for 5.1 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 and pass the Kilpacker road intersection at 5 miles. Drive another 2 miles (7 total from CO 145) to reach the Navajo Lake trailhead entrance on the right. Turn right and continue for 0.1 mile into trailhead parking area.

Route: First, follow the El Diente Peak - North Slope Route or El Diente Peak - North Buttress Route to 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 the north slope 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 down the slope, 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. The terrain is steep here and care must be taken to keep the difficulty at Class 3. 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. The angle eases but now you must contend with more loose rock as you climb back to the ridge. Carefully climb about 200‘ back up to the ridge crest - Photo #17 and Photo #18. Back on easier terrain, but more difficulties are ahead.

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. Drop slightly and gain the top of the bump. 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 (some are loose) to reach the low point. As you descend this area, take the time to preview the steep rock beyond the saddle - Photo #24. It can be helpful to look for lines now while you can see the entire pitch ahead. 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. After climbing onto the rocks, look for any section which allows you to climb up to the left, closer to the ridge crest. 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. After some exciting climbing, reach the ridge crest near 14,100‘, on the west end of this steep section of ridge - Photo #27. Photo #28 looks back along the traverse.

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, slowly descend steep rock (Photo #31) toward a saddle before the final pitch to Mt. Wilson. Descend on or left of the ridge crest and near the base of the pitch, stay left of a rugged, yellow section of rock. Taken from the base of the yellow rocks, Photo #32 looks back at this descent. Continue east to the final saddle on the ridge - Photo #33.

Your next goal is to climb a small gully that leads 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 notch near 14,150‘ - Photo #35. This is where the route intersects Mt. Wilson‘s standard, northeast ridge route. From the notch, 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 along the summit ridge (Photo #39) to reach the top - Photo #40.

Notes:    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 Lizard Head Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.

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Route Photos: (Did you know?)
Photo #1 Photo #2 Photo #3 Photo #4 Photo #5 Photo #6 Photo #7 Photo #8 Photo #9 Photo #10 Photo #11 Photo #12 Photo #13 Photo #14 Photo #15 Photo #16 Photo #17 Photo #18 Photo #19 Photo #20 Photo #21 Photo #22 Photo #23 Photo #24 Photo #25 Photo #26 Photo #27 Photo #28 Photo #29 Photo #30 Photo #31 Photo #32 Photo #33 Photo #34 Photo #35 Photo #36 Photo #37 Photo #38 Photo #39 Photo #40

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