El Diente Peak:
For Whom do you Climb?
Day One: Wilson Peak, Mt. Wilson
Day Two: El Diente
Day Three: Maroon Peak
Routes: Standard, except El Diente via Kilpacker
Dates: August 7-9, 2011
Length: 37 miles RT, total
Vertical: 16,100 feet, total
Total time incl camping/driving b/t peaks: 56 hours
Ascent Party: Solo, except El Diente with Oldschool
El Diente Peak is seen high above Kilpacker Basin.
(Note: This report describes Day Two of a three-day round-up in preparation for the finisher. Days One and Three are described in separate reports.)
Sunday night, August 7, 11:15 pm, Kilpacker TH.
I pull into the Kilpacker TH and find Mike’s truck. I’m tired. My day had started at 06:00 in Colorado Springs, and by this hour, I’ve done the drive to Silver Pick, the climb to Wilson Peak, the route over to Mount Wilson, and the drive from Silver Pick to here. Mike and I chat for a while and decide to take a late start tomorrow morning, and a casual pace.
Sundown, Sunday night, August 7, 2011: Rock of Ages saddle.
Mike did a lot of climbing in the Yosemite valley back in the day, and more recently, was one of the few folks to successfully attempt the Snowmass-Capitol traverse – A route about which the Mountainproject entry reports, “It's far and away the hardest 14er-connecting ridge in Colorado…the ridge becomes an absolute nightmare, with car-sized teetering gendarms and huge scalloping flakes on the walls below them…” Besides his climbing prowess, Mike is fast. But beyond all that, he’s humble, courteous, and brews a helluva cup o’ joe.
Early Monday morning at the beautiful Kilpacker trailhead.
Dawn arrives and Mike greets me with the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Mike, how do you do that?
We walk a pleasant wooded trail by morning light as I tell the story of a solo trip taken on this very path only two months earlier...
Looking Back: June 24, 2011:
Kilpacker Trail, June 24, 2011
Lots of critters are out before the snow melts.
Morning’s light, June 24, 2011.
Snow travel is good in the upper basin.
The headwall. Snow is still great.
End of the line on June 24, 2011.
Just past the headwall on June 24, rounding the corner to look up 300 feet to the Organ Pipes, the snow becomes troublesome. Most of the snow is so rotted in the snowfield that I’m falling through to my waist on a 40 degree slope. The scary part is, the weak side of the hole is toward the air, behind me. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize I could be spit out, head first and face up, down the snowfield – not a pleasant position in which to self-arrest. Try as I may, the snow is similar in all directions. I consider an attempt on the rock to the right, but it’s small spires and cliffs, and a little loose. Motivation wanes. I’ve had plenty of post-hole episodes in winter, but never on a 40+ degree slope. This new experience, solo, does not seem like a good one to push through. I throw in the towel and head back.
Looking down from the turn-around point at 13,600 on June 24, 2011.
Britt wants South Wilson. For what, I don’t know. But I get this nice recon of the approach saddle, just for him, since I happen to be in the area... : )
OK, this guy has the power-to-weight ratio. Climb on, little buddy.
A last look back up the route on June 24, 2011. Below 13,600, the snow remains firm and remarkably cramponable.
Monday, August 8, 2011.
Wildflowers grace the upper Kilpacker Basin.
As we hike, Mike tells the story of a climber he knew, who seemed to climb for every reason but his own. We talk about climbing and the difficulties of ego, and how ego can not only ruin a great time, but can be downright dangerous. The lesson of the discussion is embodied in the question, “Who do you climb for?” It’s rarely all-or-none, black-and-white. Within each of us, is a part which climbs for the sheer joy, personal satisfaction, and communion, as well as a part which acts to impress others. The question really asks, which of these is the greater; and more importantly, the question is a starting point to ponder one’s existence, and the reason for one’s activities, goals, and life’s direction.
The Reverend Oldschool, testifyin', ya'll.
On to less philosophical matters, I recognize the up-turn point in the basin, at about 12,600. It’s pretty easy to see with and without snow – just different. With snow, the terrain above is more distinct and recognizable. Without snow, there are solid cairns marking the way, particularly at the turn point. One does not want to miss these in summer, if El Diente is the goal. For Mount Wilson, continue up the basin to the south approach. See Carl’s TR of July 2011 for details.
Mike studies the route ahead.
Looking down on where that nasty snowfield was last June. Nice to get past that point.
The “Organ Pipes” are actually a fairly solid congregation of some fine looking stone.
So, this is the fourth class section?
At least third class.
Yeah, that looks like a trail.
OK, Just checking to see if you're really reading! : )
We’re having some fun on the Organ Pipes; there's nothing this technical on the route. But it’s great rock; we can't resist! Mike and I muse about how many great lines there are in the alpine that probably never get done. We talk about maybe hitting a few spots in the Crestones some time...
Meanwhile, the actual route is pretty easy. It follows left along the base of the Organ Pipes. Just left (west) of the Pipes, the terrain can look a little confusing, at the top of the notch. Look for a leaning block. The route traverses just above the block. The photo below is not a good representation of this, but it’s not difficult here – it’s just a little difficult to see where the route goes when emerging from the notch just past the Organ Pipes.
Steve (“Ricesnob”) and his wife, Tiffany, are the only other ones we see on the route.
We bump into Steve and Tiffany below the headwall, and call out our presence below. They are very polite and completely understand the hazards of rockfall on parties below. We catch up to them and chat a bit before continuing on. It’s heartening to work together the rest of the way up and back, to make sure that no one is exposed in the line of fire.
In general, the pitch and loose rock seem much better than the north side of the massif, though some danger still exists on this route.
The El Diente – Mt. Wilson traverse. The Organ Pipes are seen at right center.
Sneffels at top left, Potosi is right of center at top. The town of Telluride is seen at center.
Wilson Peak and Gladstone Peak, with Sneffels, Potosi, Wetterhorn, and Uncompahgre on skyline, left to right.
Beautiful Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre grace the skyline at upper right.
Terry's Titty. AKA Mount Sneffels.
Steve was kind enough to take this summit shot.
Steve and Tiffany soon join us for a warm afternoon’s summit luncheon on El Diente.
Mount Wilson. The route back into Kilpacker is well-described in Carl’s July 2010 report. It takes the prominent west-facing ridge seen in the photo directly below the summit,
then continues into the gully at right. A climber is seen on the summit.
The original plan is to do the traverse and descend Mt. Wilson back into Kilpacker. In the interest of moving things up a bit to get Maroon the next day, I had decided to get Mt. Wilson from the standard approach (north side,) the day before. I’m a little disappointed in doing it this way, as the traverse looks fun, very reasonable, and the south side of the massif is much safer in dry conditions, in my opinion. Were I to do it over again, I’d chose to get El Diente from Kilpacker as we did, then do the traverse to Mount Wilson, descend Mt. Wilson back into Kilpacker, and leave only Wilson Peak for the approach from Silver Pick – Rock of Ages. At least in dry conditions. In good snow conditions, the north side of the massif is probably fine, and most certainly safer, given appropriate technique, than when dry.
I want to do the traverse, but it's a long drive to Aspen tonight for Maroon tomorrow, so I choose to descend, but honor Mike's wishes to part ways so that he can do the traverse, and wish him well. He could even beat me back to the car, as he is very fast. Back at the Organ Pipes, Mike decides to stick with an old rule - don't break up the ascent party. Selfishly, I appreciate his decision, because I'm really enjoying his company.
Mt. Wilson and South Wilson. What a gorgeous day!
Mike surveys the traverse from the notch.
Wilson Peak presides over upper Navajo Basin.
On the way back, we play on the rocks a little, take some photos, and encounter Mike's favorite Castleton replica.
It's been a great trip. I'm only thinking about what an incredible journey it's been, and feeling extreme gratitude for having 56 unique 14ers under my belt. It's an impossibility, something that could never happen, a dream. I get home, and to my surprise, find that El Diente is the 100th 14er summit so far. This includes 27 calendar winter summits, 25 ranked. Is this important? To me, it's unfathomable. I thank God to simply be walking and talking - and know in my heart that it is only by His Grace that this skinny ghost sees these incredible places, where earth meets heaven. Given what happened in 2002, this is simply not possible. For Whom do I climb? Someone (with a capital "S") is clearly calling the shots, and it's not me.
Back at the trailhead, Mike and I tip a few beers and chat with Jodi and Joey, and wish them well on their journey to El Diente tomorrow. Mike heads home. If I can get Maroon, it will be #57. I've got a sleeping bag, the time off, and the weather is perfect. I decide to drive over to Aspen and attempt Maroon Peak in the morning.
Congrats to Steve and Tiffany on the summit today! You guys are awesome.
Mike, it was great hiking with you. Hope we do some alpine climbs together soon.
Thanks for reading.
("Now where the heck is that cairn..." : )