Peak(s):  Wilson Peak  -  14,017 feet
Date Posted:  11/05/2020
Modified:  11/08/2020
Date Climbed:   10/24/2020
Author:  13erRetriever
 Finding Gold on Wilson Peak  

Wilson Peak
Elevation: 13,241 ft.
Rank: 48
Date Completed: October 24, 2020
Mileage RT: ~8.5
Gain: ~3800

I want to preface by saying that I am not encouraging anyone to bring their dog up Wilson Peak. I'm also not saying don't do it, I'm just saying read my spiel here first over hiking class 3 with your dog, do the research yourself (not just this report), and think LONG and HARD about this decision before you do so and if you still decide to go make sure you and your dog are prepared and experienced and willing to turn around. This is not a decision to be taken lightly and I don't want anyone to misinterpret this report as saying "Wilson Peak is no big deal for dogs." It is. Now that I have that out of the way, I can get to it!

This is my first 14er report, though I have a handful of 13er reports for the 100-something peaks I've done in Colorado. The dog featured in this report is Harper Quinn, an 8-year old golden retriever who has done 98 of those peaks with me, including 38 (now 39) 14ers. I say this in part to brag (she is pretty incredible) but also just to give some context on her experience in the mountains and our experience together hiking in the hopes of maybe avoiding some of the judgment that I'll probably get for posting a report for a dog on Wilson Peak. My other two hiking partners for this report are my parents. My dad and I made a promise in 2013 when we started the 14ers to do them all together, and as of this report we are at 45. My mom was just along for the ride, and as you'll see later only went to about 13,300. She's done about 20 of the 14ers but we don't push her on the harder ones.

We only got three 14ers in this summer with everything going on with COVID. Granted, they were each backpacking trips for us slowpokes (Holy Cross and the Crestones - and yes, Harper did Crestone but not the Needle). So when we saw a weather window open up for Wilson Peak we jumped on it. My dad flew out to Denver and we drove down to meet my mom in Montrose, where she had been staying for the week with my grandparents. Saturday morning turned out to be a lot colder and windier than was predicted at first and we almost turned around more than once. In fact, I was absolutely ready to turn around at nearly every step but my dad wanted to press on "to at least the saddle" so we kept going. We only passed one person in the morning, a girl about my age hiking solo who turned around at the ROA saddle due to the wind. This wasn't very encouraging to me. We kept going though, and the weather ended up cooperating up high. It got much warmer as the sun came out and the wind died down at the most difficult parts of the class 3 above ROA.

Early morning with the School Bus Basin peaks behind my mom. This is where I applied paw wax for the first time on Harper's feet and the preemptive strike seemed to do really well.
I think we were supposed to turn off the road here, but we kept going. It doesn't really matter where you turn because you catch up with the route on the .com anyways just above the stone house. Some thoughts on the "class 1" ROA trail above this point: I absolutely disagree that this is class 1. In fact, several portions felt like "dangerous class 2" when crossing the washed-out gullies that have loose dirt filled with various sized boulders that just crumble away when you try to cross. You'd be walking on a rocky trail one minute, then it would just completely end in a washout but you could see it pick up on the other side so you know the trail doesn't turn at these points. There's about three of these you have to cross on the standard route. Looking at the conditions reports I'm not the only one who thinks this. I don't say this to complain, just to warn. For seasoned 13er and 14er hikers this is no big deal but for someone expecting a class 1 trail to the top of the saddle this trail is very dangerous. This trail need some major work to get it to where I'd call it class 1, and also needs some major signage above the stone house. My mom felt like turning around about halfway up this slope but there was no way I was going to let her descend this on her own. It's loose, dangerous, unmarked, and confusing. We convinced her to keep going with us instead and it was definitely the right decision.
Mom just leaving the road, above the stone house now and about to turn up the crappy part of the ROA approach. You can see a big cairn in the foreground.
And finally the saddle! This is looking over at UN 13540. When we got here there were about 5 people conversing, a group of three and a group of two. One was on their way up and one on their way down. The two nice gentleman on their way down heard us talking about where my mom should wait while we did the summit and made the excellent suggestion that she follow us up to the next saddle at 13,300. They said there was a nice spot in the sun shielded from the wind that looked up at almost the entirety of the remainder of route so she could watch us. If you see this, thank you!
Looking at the rest of the route up to Wilson Peak from the "perfect spot" where my mom waited on us. This is where the class 3 begins. The worst parts are the slabby rocks right after this spot and the crux that is almost at the top. Everything else really is just class 2, and not difficult at all. I was still torn at this point as to whether I wanted to bring Harper to the summit. I almost left her behind with my mom, but just as we were about to start heading up two more men came down and I decided to ask them their opinion on this route for a dog since it was absolutely fresh in their minds. After hearing Harper's climbing resume for reference, they decided it was doable for a dog so long as we would be willing to leave her at the crux and take turns summitting if necessary. One of the guys said he regretted not bringing his dog, as the majority of the route was actually pretty easy. That's what I needed to hear, so up she went with us!
Harper senses something spicy coming up!
As I said, the vast majority of the "class 3" hike to this point was actually really easy. That all changes at the crux. It's something of a "V" notch that you first descend, then reascend as you summit Wilson Peak. The whole thing probably took us about 15-20 minutes to do with Harper, who did great the whole time. I've taught her to follow directly on my heels so she doesn't kick down rocks and so I catch them if she does before they gain any momentum. My dad let us go first, and we waited at the bottom of the crux for him to catch up. This is where we crossed paths with the only other group on the mountain at the time - the group of three ahead of us who all turned out to be siblings which I thought was really cool. The girl was an ER nurse which made me feel much safer! Those are nice to have on the mountain with you! They accidentally kicked down a big microwave sized rock on their descent from the summit while we were coming down the first part of the crux, which put us on alert as to the best path once we reached that point. Harper balked when we crossed paths and wanted to return with them, but I think she'd jump at any chance to follow a stranger and get more attention. Once we had crossed at the low point and were out of each others way, we started our ascent of the other side of the crux with Harper. I didn't need to physically help her with anything to this point, just verbal encouragement and patience as she found what way worked best for her. The wind thankfully died down here for us at the hardest part, but the rock was freezing cold to grasp in the shadow of the mountain.
Approaching the low point on the crux. Doesn't look bad at all from here! The exposure on the crux is actually pretty minimal, and so is the rockfall if you are being careful. It's also pretty solid rock so in all it's not bad class 3 at all. On the other side of the crux, heading up to the summit, we did have to help Harper at two or three spots. She just needed a leg up and a safety net to stop her from potentially falling back when making some big jumps up. We stayed close to the wall (the right) where is was more solid. There was a less steep gully that we could have walked up but that is where the group of three had inadvertently kicked down the big rock so we stayed away from that part.
Victory dog!
FYI: There is no privacy in the mountains anymore. My mom has a monocular she brings with her to creep on the surrounding summits wherever she goes. In this case, she got to watch us summit Wilson Peak and even got a shot with her camera through the lens!
Looking down at Silver Pick Basin and the Rock of Ages trail and saddle. You can see some of those washed-out gullies I was talking about.
Victory humans! Can you believe he'll be 60 next year? Don't tell him I shared that.
Looking back at the crux before we started the descent.
There wasn't anyone coming up behind us, so I let Harper choose more of her own path on the way back. Here she is walking down the rocky gully while I still decided to stay on the wall. This is where we had to help her on the way over, but she didn't need any help at all on the return trip. She stayed close but was confident enough to follow above or below or behind me and pick her own line where she felt most comfortable. I was always within arm's reach to help her though if she lost balance or needed guidance. She was crying and wagging her tail the whole time with a mixture of nervousness and excitement.
Dad coming down one of the harder parts of the crux. We helped Harper here on the way up but she made it down on her own just fine. I stood in a solid space to spot her but she came down with very little encouragement needed.
Dad at the bottom of the crux. Hard part almost over!
Looking down to where my mom waited for us at the saddle at about 13,300 ft.
Ridge to Gladstone, and view of Mount Wilson. My mom said as she was sitting here waiting for us to summit Wilson that there was a group that came off Gladstone that day and looked VERY glad to be done with that stone!
Reunited! My mom's favorite peak in Colorado is Lizard head, over my shoulder on the right.
ALWAYS a happy dog even after a long day on the mountain! I just wish I had her endless energy and joy!
Looking back at the upper portion of the ROA trail to the ROA saddle. This part of the trail is narrow but fine. It's the middle sections that are concerning.
The remains of the stone house
Happy happy dog and a bundled up mamma coming off Wilson Peak!
Golden sunset approaching Wilson Peak
The victory crew!
"But WHY do we have to go?"

In all, it was a very successful trip that marked 14er #45 for both me and my dad and 14er #39 for Harper Quinn! The wind was our constant enemy, but the sunset at the end of the day made it all worth it and having a happy little dog tag alongside all day tends to help with mood too. It was a great introduction to the San Miguels, and I can't wait to return hopefully next year for Mount Wilson and El Diente (where I promise Harper will NOT be joining us). Thanks for reading!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

What’s next
11/07/2020 02:10

Nice report
11/08/2020 00:22
That was a great report with wonderful photographs, especially the detailed pictures of the crux section.
Thanks for posting this.


Great pics!
11/09/2020 21:13
Very cool, love the dog helmet shot.

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