| Two is better than one
Wilson PK/El Diente/Mt. Wilson
I am ambitious, full of energy and often have lofty goals. I figure my death march characteristics make it difficult to find climbing buddies but…while minding my own business as usual with a plan to summit Wilson Peak via Rock of Ages (ROA), descend into the Navajo Basin, ascend the North Buttress of El Diente, traverse to Mt. Wilson and climb back up and out of Rock of Ages; I met my perfect match.
Three climbers started ahead of me on the morning of June 27th; two teenage boys at 5am and a solo climber at 0525. I took off on the ROA trail at 0545 with five hours of sleep. Ouch. Soon I could see the second climber had caught up to the teenage boys at the saddle and together they pressed onward towards the summit of Wilson Peak. I decided instead of descending the saddle from Gladstone to sneak straight up this sleeping giant’s sharp ridge. Despite the macabre loose rock, I actually found a good line and scrambled my way along the entire ridge to the false summit. When you look at this mountain from afar, your gut feels like a cement mixer; churning and a burning. The final push appears much worse on 14ers.com than when you’re actually battling the beast. Don’t be scared…
While on the false summit I started my short descent down the connecting ridge for the final push to the top. The three climbers were about halfway down the final pitch. One of the teenage boys was clearly petrified and the third solo climber that caught up to these boys was coaching him down. I sat patiently and watched to make sure everyone got down okay so I could start my final ascent. I figure down climbing technical has the right-of-way and besides, I welcome the rest. We started chatting and the two boys were only climbing Wilson Peak. The third gentleman was eager to climb all three but was concerned about timing and weather. We discussed my plan; I told him we had a 20-30% chance of storms after 3pm, which means nothing in the tempestuous Colorado Mountains. Mountains create their own weather and Mother Nature is temperamental. He asked to join and would wait while I tackled the top, which took 10 minutes or so. By 0830 we trekked our way down the Navajo basin.
Joe is a 14ers.com member from Chicago who climbed Quandary last year and got hooked. Just like me. This year he’s packed for the summer, fit and strong and eager to complete his checklist. I wonder how a flatlander will do and keep an eye on him as we descend towards Navajo Basin. We chat like two high school girls about our Colorado 14ers Mountain adventures while looking at maps and going over our plan and time frame. We make good time down the valley and soon are staring up at the North Buttress of ol’ El D. The initial route is solid and we found all kinds of good boulder hopping to the natural benches where we would rest when needed. Occasionally we might have missed a bench or two and made the proposed class 2-3 a class 4 but nonetheless we safely got over the hump and made our way toward the “V”. We continued up the spine of the ridge and felt queasy with the increased exposure and loose rock where helmets are required. I could see another climber up and well East of us at this point. We opted for the final push over the gray slabs. Super fun. The final crux requires good biceps and solid heel hook and then…SUMMIT, Yippie!!! We were welcomed on top by two climbers and absolutely beautiful perfect weather. The sun danced through the happy puffy clouds and the wind was nil. At last, a summit with sheer and utter enjoyment, which we partook as long as we could. But, oh time, why do you tease me? Summer days are long but time is fleeting and the weather fickle so there’s no messing around. Get what you can get and keep moving so we did.
The great traverse is a roller coaster of suspense and surprise. We question every move. Two pairs of eyes, a convenience I was not used to. “You go left, I’ll go right...what do you see?” I led up El Diente, together we confronted the traverse and slowly Joe gained confidence to lead the traverse to Mt. Wilson. After descending a short gully, pass the Organ pipes, some fancy foot working through the loose rock we came face-to-face with the gendarmes. There is an interesting route around the South base with an occasional comfortable ledge here and there but at this point we are still not half way across. Ugh. We find the breakneck rock to the ridge crest the most terrifying of the day with talus breaking, tumbling, slipping and sliding beneath causing our adrenal glands to work overtime. We slither our way up the bump, down the bump, up to the saddle then down the saddle with the final stretch always in view; we gain a second wind feeding off each other’s positive vibes. On the narrow section now, we see the final descent up the arduous loose gully. He went right; I left to avoid a potential deadly rock slide. Alas we are at the final Northeast ridge and the rock here is smooth and slick. The time now is 1545 and we are pushing our weather window. The happy cotton ball clouds are now virga with the sun hidden behind. We push our way up to the final class 4 crux and I find this move much more challenging than El Diente’s final crux perhaps because I’m bone -weary tired. Joe is climbing strong and he attempts the crux first with no mishaps. I tell myself that I can do this, c’mon let’s go and with all my might pull myself up, around and over the final rock block. Phew! Our third summit of the day and we are greeted by THOUSANDS of tiny annoying, biting black bugs. We swat violently at the air and brush them off our necks, packs and chest. Ewe. We quickly snap a summit photo and then hightail it off Mt. Wilsons infested slick rock summit. What the heck do these nasty bugs eat up there? Apparently us.
The descent off Mt. Wilson was the biggest challenge of the day. The slope is rugged and loose., our legs enervated. We descended too soon on the larger gully nearest the notch on the ridge and we’re stuck on a scree spree. Not fun. We decided to stay out of each other’s way in case one of us started a rock slide. We checked in with each other periodically and thankfully nothing too dramatic happened. We crossed the snow and ice filled gully, which was the only time we needed and ice axe for the day but hey, I carry all my gear all the time just in case there is that one obstacle. CYA. Eventually we made it to the large boulders then the green tundra with cairns littered here and there. I saw one lightning bolt out of the corner of my eye but we were making good time down the cirque. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped a good 15 degrees. Could we be lucky enough to avoid getting soaked? I filled up with water from some nearby melting and readied my rain gear. We make it to the West stream, hopped over and started heading up the ROA saddle, which was brutal on the old quads. C’mon legs! The approaching localized weather is creeping upon us and letting us know we’ve worn our welcome. We stay upbeat and keep motivating each other up our final 1200’ ascent. Spurts of rain hit us and we find our third wind of the day. We crest the saddle and boogie on down. We are just above the Silver Pick Mine and all of a sudden Joe screams at me, “RUN, Rocks!!!” Out of nowhere boulders are gaining speed while tumbling right at us from the left steep slope above. How he heard and/or saw this while we were yakking up a storm is like a Kung Fu Ninja sixth sense. Wicked. We find two fun glissades just because we can and then the old rock house. The remaining trail down lives up to its name with rock for ages, and ages… The rest is pretty uneventful and basically a slog back to the trailhead. Joe wants to climb Wetterhorn tomorrow and says his legs are wet noodles. I tell him often times the best medicine is the original poison so just keep climbing! We revel in our successful day. A serendipitous meeting. Did we really just do that? Together? Three peaks all notorious for being unforgiving, borderline extreme. So much vertical gained and lost and gained again all in a 13 hour day with Mother Nature in a good mood. And Joe from Chicago climbed these with me. My new friend.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):