El Diente Peak - 14,159 feet
Mt. Wilson - 14,246 feet
Wilson Peak - 14,017 feet
Gladstone Pk - 13,913 feet
El Diente Peak - 14,159 feet
Mt. Wilson - 14,246 feet
Wilson Peak - 14,017 feet
Gladstone Pk - 13,913 feet
|Wilson Group GRAND SLAM in a day from Kilpacker TH|
WILSON GROUP GRAND SLAM!
El Diente (14,159ft), Mt Wilson (14,246ft), Wilson Peak(14,017ft) and Centennial 13er Gladstone Peak (13,913ft) in ONE day from Kilpacker trailhead. 22 miles, 18 hours, 8600 ft vertical.
Another epic day in the books with Preston Dennis (illusion7il)! He keeps cooking up these unreal, amazing, long, hard days in the mountains for us. (Like our Chicago Basin 5 in a day from Purgatory TH.) I am getting close to finishing all 58 14ers this season and am taking a crack at the Centennial 13ers as well. So, it made perfect sense that we HAD to get the whole Wilson group and Gladstone. Definitely a day to remember! It was a challenging day in the mountains from sunrise to sunset. Do not underestimate these peaks! It was *high alert* hiking and climbing with so much loose rock, careful route finding and talus hopping. I hardly trusted a rock all day.
First, the trip started by getting to the Kilpacker Trailhead at 1:30 AM! A new record for us. : ) Per usual, my job prevents us from leaving early, despite my constant claims that "I swear it will be a short day!" haha. We decided that getting as much sleep as possible was needed and that we didnt have to have a stupid early start. We had a timeline in mind and we already knew we would be finishing in the dark. Preston has already done this circuit of all 4 peaks in a day, and for some reason is willing to put up with the torture again for me. I thought we should be starting earlier, but it was decided that we just had to hit the trail by 5:30 am. A late start when it comes to big days, but we figured we would still be back down into Navajo Basin by the time it got dark. And we built in some extra time. 17 hours seemed like 'plenty' of time. Famous last words right? haha.
It was a little chilly getting started, but as soon as we got into the trees the temperature picked up. It was also foretasted to be an excellent day and no chance of storms. Again, one of the reasons this was the perfect weekend to get this done, and why we were comfortable hiking into the night. It's always fun hiking in the dark and then finally getting to see the peaks and ridges when the sun rises.
As soon as you get into the basin the nice dirt trail gives way to rocks....and rocks and nothing but rocks....a never ending sea of talus. Awesome. This part of the trail was annoying because the slates of rocks just slid with every step. Even though there is a trail, it was just a big rock field. And also indicative of how loose these mountains are and that the rocks just fall off the slopes. Tread lightly and carefully!
We filled up with water before heading up to El Diente. It was going to be a LONG day above tree line and no real known water sources for awhile. Luckily, snow on the north slopes provided opportunity for water. We took the South slope up to El Diente. There is a trail for most of the way and then carins when you get into the boulder fields. AND, does anyone know why THIS is not the standard route? This seems SO much better than everything I've read (and seen) about the north slopes to the summit. My 2 cents. This is unequivocally the best way up El Diente.
I don't remember having any route finding issues. The trail does get a little loose up towards the top. But just your regular 14er hiking up a trail of kitty litter and golf balls. We got up to the ridge around 9:15am and to the summit at 9:40am.
The view is AMAZING from here! I got my first look of the traverse to Mt Wilson, Navajo Basin, Gladstone, and then finally Wilson Peak. It's a little daunting when things seem so far away, but "It's gotta be possible" is what we always say!
After leaving El Diente we encountered our first bits of snow on the shaded north slopes of the traverse. At the time I didn't realize it was an indication of what we were going to be facing heading off Mt Wilson into Navajo Basin
For the most part I thought that the rock on the traverse was some of the better stuff we climbed/hiked that day.
I think it was Preston's third time on the traverse so it's nice having a guy that knows the gist of the route.
There were not too many cairns or trail markers along the traverse. Do route research so you are familiar with the ridge and when/if you drop low over certain sections. Ridge proper was a solid good time. A little bit of exposure, and just careful steps on the blocks of rock. (Having done the Maroon Bells Traverse and the Little Bear Blanca traverse, this one was the least exciting. Still need to get the Crestones traverse before we get another early snow storm this year!) The crux of the route is just below the summit. Preston pointed out the true "Class 4" move to pull to the top. I thought about it, but didn't find the holds awesome enough to justify the risk over an exposed move, especially when there was a nice class 3 alternative to the left of it. A little reachy, but I just jammed my leg in a gap and pushed up over the rock to the top.
We did the traverse in a little over 2 hours. Not super fast, but at that point we were still enjoying a safe/moderate pace and some photo ops.
The descent down the north slopes of Mt Wilson changed the vibe of the day....there was still a good amount of snow on this side of the mountain. Good feelings gone. Also, whatever few carins there were on this "trail" were very few and far between. It was pretty much a choose your own adventure way down
The snow was super light and like piles of sugar covering the rocks. It was not supportive enough to walk on, so microspikes wouldn't have been any help. It was just enough snow to make things slippery and risk stepping into gaps between the sharp rocks. Which I did end up doing and giving myself a good scratch and bang my ankle.
This was the low point of my day. I wasn't having it. My thoughts for the next hour were as follows: All the ways you could misstep down this and snap an ankle, break a leg, and take a face plant into a rock. I did end up getting a good scratch stepping onto snow in between sharp rocks. But we made it down to some divine tundra grasses and large "solid" boulders. It was a time consuming descent.
Also need to mention that during our descent we saw a Search and Rescue Helicoptor flying around Wilson Peak. It circled around like it was looking for someone and then flew off. I kept coming back a half dozen times, and we knew that something must have happened over there...
It was a mentally and physically tiring way down, and I needed water. Luckily the snow provided our much needed water source and I scooped some into my Ospray pack to melt. Sooooooo....... All that snow shenanigans made our descent take almost twice as long as we planned....Preston did the math and we were now racing the sunset to make all four peaks. "We gotta move." I adjusted my shoes, ate a Clif Bar...and then the secret weapon...a whole bunch of chocolate covered espresso beans. When we got up and started to make our ascent up to the ridge of Gladstone I was a new woman!
And now we go up! We aimed for the lowest point on the ridge to the right of the dark rocks. A loose dirty couloir! Yeah! Bring it on! I was just happy to be out of the garbage snow rocks and to have coffee beans coursing through my veins. Preston came up with the times we had to hit on the ridge and getting to the summit.
Taking a look back at our route up and Navajo Basin.
ALL SMILES AGAIN!
We made good time up to the ridge and got a look at our next summit quest: Gladstone Peak at 13,913 ft. This would be #11 into my Centennial 13er list. The route description says to stay on the ridge and slightly below to the left. We did come across fairly consistent cairns, but on that side of the ridge the "trail" was filled in with snow. Also, whenever I saw a cairn and moved below the ridge I immediately regretted it. The rock above looked precarious and not anything I wanted to be under. My advice would be to stick to ridge proper as much as possible! If you are OK with a little exposure and pulling a few climbing moves it was much more enjoyable.
We made it to the summit at 3:45pm. A few minutes behind our revised time goal. It was a VERY quick stop on the summit. The deteriorating happiness in our summit photos is quite drastic as this point. There is a reason that Roach dubs this peak "SADSTONE." haha. I get it know.
This picture is crazy to see all the snow that we came down on Mt Wilson. This is insane!
According to the 14ers.com route information on Gladstone the entire north ridge of Gladstone to Mt Wilson goes at Class 4, and in Roach's 13er book the ridge is Class 3. We didn't have much route knowledge of the second half of the ridge, beyond what we ascended from Navajo Basin. When Preston did this route he dropped down into the basin a little, traversed the boulder field and then caught the trail up to the Rock of Ages Saddle. We thought it might be slower dealing with route finding along a semi-technical ridge and just the mental fatigue of navigating more loose ridge line. The additional vertical feet we would have to regain was not really a big deal. And we HAD TO MOVE!
I think we reached the saddle around 5:45 pm. Alright, 1 hour and we had to be at the summit. Sunset was right around 7:15 pm, so it didnt leave much time to spare. At first I was stoked that we had a TRAIL! This was short lived as you round the corner below the SW ridge and its just a loose slope of rocks again.
It was at this time that we crossed paths with a couple that were coming down. We asked if they knew anything about the Search and Rescue helicoptor we saw flying around that afternoon. They said a guy was up closer to the ridge, well above the route that we were on, and a rock hold must have popped and this guy came falling over this edge and tumbled down the slope. WOAH. S&R flew in a dozen personal to hike up and perform a low angle technical rescue off the scree field and airlifted the man off the mountain. The guy we were talking to said he found the injured man's wallet, hiking poles and various other debris that came out of his pack when he fell down the mountain. He wasn't sure if the man intentionally went high on the ridge or if he accidentally got off route and ended up on the ridge and decided to go for it. He said that they almost made that mistake and started going up, instead of crossing over to the east side (right) of the ridge when you reach the saddle where the ridge from Gladstone runs into Wilson Peak's side.
We wished the them well and needed to continue our push to the summit. We came to the broken cliffs and started traversing across. There were very few carins or much of a "trail." I then noticed some trash on the rocks above me. I picked it up and looked around....oh my gosh...the guy's pack must have exploded as he fell and I found Kind bars busted out of their packaging, a pair of headphone, a camel back hose nozzle, and then even a credit card and the guy's Telluride employee ski pass with his name and picture. Above are the pictures looking up and looking back at the area where the man fell. I just couldn't stop thinking about how FAR he must have fallen for EVERYTHING including cards from his wallet to get scattered down the mountain. Very scary and sobering. Below is a link to the accident that was published a few days later. I still don't know what condition he is in. I sincerely hope that he recovers.
It was 6:30 pm and we were approaching the home stretch to the top. The final move has considerable exposure. We followed the route and dropped slightly to the left. This area was snow covered and maybe would have been easier earlier in the day, but at this time it was in the shade and starting to ice over. We needed to cross over these rocks above an exposed rocky steep couloir. Preston went first. I was getting nervous about the traction, loose rock holds and the VERY REAL possibility of slipping and falling down the mountain. There was a pretty committing move around a rock outcropping. Preston was looking back at me from the other side and said "That rock you're standing on looks super scary." I almost lost it...and by that I mean that I burst out in tears. It was so much more of a mental trip at that point. I had JUST had picked up pieces of this guy's stuff strewn across the mountain and the last thing I wanted was for Preston to have to do the same to me. I don't know if the move was really as hard as I made it, but my mind was preoccupied with the accident that had happened hours earlier on this mountain. As soon as I made it across the snow covered crux the rest of the climbing was not a problem. We reached the summit at 6:58pm.
My only regret is that we didn't have enough time to savor the view from the top, the setting sun, and what we had accomplished together. His enthusiasm in our summit photo says its all. lol! And we are looking tired! We took pictures, got out our headlamps and just needed to make it through the crux move before it got dark...which was very soon.
I've been on peaks close to sunset and in the dark before, but there was something super surreal about standing on this summit as the sun was going down. The view of all these massive peaks, endless ridge lines, snow sprinkled on the slopes, Navajo Basin, the sense that we were still a long ways away from our trail head, and the pumping adrenaline that we had to be super safe and smart to make it back down.
We left the summit around 7:08 pm and had just enough time to make in through the 50ft down climb section, skirt across the couloir on snowy "super scary" rocks, and through the crux before we lost the light. It was easier on the way back down, or I was just in a better and more focused mindset.
We took these pictures at 7:25 pm. It was hard to not just stop and stare at the beauty that we were witnessing.
It was alllllll headlamps from here on out. The rugged slope before the saddle with Gladstone was a patient traverse. I thought we might recognize the way back more than we did, or that a trail would be more apparent on the decent (as it normally is coming down). We used the gpx file from 14ers.com and our own tracks on Backcountry navigator. Our headlamps were fully charged (and had a backup), our phones still had plenty of battery, I had a little charger and cords if either of them went out, I have a Garmin InReach and Preson has a Spot tracker. Even though we were behind our projected timeline the decision to proceed to the summit of Wilson Peak, knowing that we would have a dark descent, did not seem like it was reckless mountaineering. It was within our ability and comfort level and we trust each other on the mountain. If we were not prepared or mountain savvy enough to proceed with our plan then we would have called it after coming off Gladstone. I hope to NEVER have to spend an unplanned night in the mountains from a trip-gone-wrong, but I always have things like extra food, a space blanket, lighter, knife, parachord, etc. I don't want to use that as a false sense of security that I could handle anything that happens out there, but I like knowing that I was as prepared as possible for the challenge. I always tell myself, "Don't be a headline!"
It was nice to be back on a trail from the Rock of Ages saddle. We'd been without water sources for the better half of the day, except for the snow fields off of Mt Wilson. We were thirsty and filled water in the basin. It was 9:40 pm when we left Navajo Lake and hiked around to meet back up with the Kilpacker Trail. Besides getting a good scare from some deer, and walking in and out of cold pockets, it was a cruise back to the car. We wrapped up our day right at Midnight.
Stats: Three 14ers, one Centennial 13er, hiked through 2 basins, 18 hours, 22 miles, 8600 vertical ft gain. 14er #50, 51 and 52 for me! The end is in sight!
Thanks to Preston for always being the best hiking and climbing partner, and coming with me on all these adventures. No matter what trip, or route, or how many miles or insane vertical, or if it means hiking for 24 hours, there is nothing I can't do with this guy. (xo)
And he is going to hate me for posting this picture....
Thanks for reading! If I figure out how to share gpx files I am more than happy to! Hit me up! : ) -redheadontherocks
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