| Finishing the 58 in Telluride!
"We wanted something substantial, something we could get our teeth into. We did not want to overcome a mountain with ease, we needed to struggle, needed to be at the edge of what was possible for us, needed an outcome that was uncertain”
Finishing the 14ers
El Diente Peak 14,159'
Mount Wilson 14,246'
Wilson Peak 14,017'
Day 1 El Diente>Mt. Wilson Traverse (#56,#57)
Day 2 Wilson Peak (#58)
Telluride from Sunnyside
The first time I saw Telluride was July 4, 2000, and I was struck immediately by the majestic peaks that surround the charming old mining town. After finishing college I had taken a year off to live and work in Telluride and my fantasy year was coming to an end in August 2005. I had just met my future wife and was headed off to dental school for four years and wanted to end the summer with a summit of Telluride's most famous mountain, Wilson Peak. The Silver Pick access had just been closed and I called the Forest Service in Norwood to get alternate routes, for some reason I choose Bilk Basin. That morning we set off a with tennis shoes, cotton shirts/shorts, one water bottle, and a light rain jacket. We made it to a small hut and lake at 12,000 ft in upper Bilk Basin between Gladstone and Wilson Peak. Building clouds and a slope covered in snow forced our retreat. For the last nine years, I wondered if I would ever reach that summit
Moving back to Colorado in the summer 2009, climbing fourteeners was not on my radar. But a last minute decision to hike Quandary on our way to a wedding in Steamboat Springs would spark a passion that would continue for the next four years. The night before, we found a campsite and brought everything for a great camp night, food, firewood, the dog, cold beverages, everything except matches. Luckily someone driving down the road saved our night.
Summit of Quandary in 2009. 2008 Masters Hat would summit all 58.
The next day we summited Quandary with perfect weather and on the descent immediately started to plan future 14ers hikes that Summer. We would summit 8 peaks that summer, and that same number the following two years. Training for Kilimanjaro last year and having a dry, clear, winter/spring/summer we were able to get in 18 peaks in 2012. That put us in position to try and finish this year, but with Little Bear, the Bells, Snowmass, Wilson’s, and Chicago Basin, we knew it might not happen. After dodging spring snowstorms, and summer monsoons, we put ourselves in a position where all that remained were the Wilson’s and El Diente. So we debated saving them for next summer but with a decent forecast for the first weekend in September, we thought we would make the haul to Telluride.
We drove down Friday afternoon and had planned on hiking in a few miles from the Kilpacker trailhead to attempt the El Diente/Wilson Traverse on Saturday, and Wilson Peak on Sunday. We didn’t arrive in Mountain Village until 8:30 pm immediately talked ourselves out of hiking in/camping and into sleeping in a normal bed and getting up earlier. We were in bed by 9 with alarms set for 2 am. The only time I have gotten up earlier for a 14er in Colorado was for Longs Peak, at 12:30 am.
The next morning we drove to the trailhead and were hiking by 3 am. Everything was going smooth and it was a great night to hike with clear skies and temperatures in the mid forties. We could even hear elk in the distance and saw a few shooting stars, then all of sudden we heard growling coming from the trees, I flashed my headlamp in the direction expecting to see eyes but nothing. The growling got louder, and then it started getting closer, closer, and then a dog appears right in front of us. We then saw a tent and the campers yelled sorry, my mountain lion and bear fears were put to rest, but the heart rate went up slightly. After a moment to catch our breath, we reached the first talus field and passed El Diente’s Summit to the north. Ascending into the upper Basin, the sun started to rise and revealed prefect blue skies. The traverse option still had hope. We started to ascend the Class 2+ ledges and gullies with an occasional Class III move and quickly ascended the south slopes of El Diente
We passed under the Organ Pipes and reached the ridge crest. At this point the trail meets up with the north slopes route. Up until this point the route had been surprisingly solid, little exposure, and a very enjoyable climb.
Wilson Peak from El Diente
After scrambling around the south side of the ridge we ascended what we thought was the summit but ended up being a false summit. From the false summit, we immediately saw the real summit and scrambled down and up to reach the real summit at 7:45 am. I normally do not like to spend my Saturdays working on a tooth, but this was an exception.
#56 El Diente
Up until this point we had considered the hybrid traverse, which consisted of descending this same route to 13,000 feet, then walking up the talus to upper Kilpacker Basin and ascending the South Slopes of Mt. Wilson, but with clear skies on El Diente’s summit we made the decision to tackle the traverse. One of the 4 classic traverses in Colorado, we had experienced only the Crestone Traverse previously, so we treaded with care.
Starting the traverse
The first goal of the traverse is to back track down the south slopes route to obvious cairns just below the Organ Pipes. After reaching the Organ Pipes, we elected to stay high and traverse midway across the Gendarmes. The climbing here was as difficult as the final coxcomb. The exposure was moderate, and luckily the rock was very solid through this section of Class 3 climbing.
The route up to this point was very well cairned after the gendarmes, the cairns disappeared. After the gendarmes, we ascended loose talus to regain the ridge crest. Walking along the ridge here puts the traverse in perspective as the views 360 degrees are stunning with El Diente at your back, Mt. Wilson in front of you, and Wilson Peak to the North all while you are at 14,000 ft elevation on the ridge.
The only "easy" segment of the traverse
This is the easiest part of the traverse and mostly Class II until you reach the first of two vertical fins, the first is just a small bump on the ridge that require a Class II down climb and then a Class III up climb. Once on the top of this bump, the remaining route comes back into the view the last major obstacle on the traverse lies ahead. This second fin is very steep on each end, long on top, and very narrow and exposed. The climbing to gain the coxcombs ridge on the west end was Class 4 and I thought would be the most difficult part. I was wrong, once on the coxcomb’s crest, it takes patience to keep the climbing at Class 3, but it is doable. Gerry Roach describer’s the exposure on both sides as “sensational” and that best sums it up. The ridge narrows to a knife-edge in several spots and it seems to go on forever. Finally after 20-30 minutes on the coxcomb we made the down climb to the north side of the ridge and the yellow rock.
Climbing on the coxcomb
After descending the east side of the coxcomb, we met up with the standard route of Mt. Wilson. Here we saw two gentlemen paused before the summit block on Mt. Wilson. After the yellow rock, we crossed back over to the south side of the ridge and ascended the gully that led right to the final stretch of Mt. Wilson. There are actually two cruxes on this part; the first is a knife-edge, which we climbed directly on the crest to then reach the summit block. We each climbed directly over the block, and with great handholds reached the opposite side and took the last few steps to the summit of Mt. Wilson, #57. The exposure on both the ridge and block are very “airy” and the finish on Mt. Wilson is unlike any other 14er.
Summit block on Mt. Wilson
Immediately after the summit block move, we arrived at the summit. Here we guided one of the other climbers over the summit block and he also summited. This summit was special as it was the toughest 14er we had left and also left only one peak to complete our list of 58. We hung out on the summit for 15 minutes and with clouds building began the descent off of the south slopes.
Wilson Peak and Gladstone from Mt. Wilson
We down climbed over east side of the summit to reach a gully that led us half way down the steep Wilson south face. Halfway down the gully it cliffs out and traverse right or west to another gully that leads to the bottom of the basin. Trip reports by highpilgrim and vorticity really helped with navigation as Roach only describes this climb during the winter.
#57 Mt. Wilson
These gullies were very loose and steep scree and care must be taken not to dislodge anything on climbers below. Near the top of Kilpacker Basin, we followed the stream bed or fall line to some large cairns that then led us out of the upper basin. The rocks leading up to the gullies are very large, and similar to Snowmass move with each step, so care must be taken to avoid a rockslide. Eventually we talus hopped to the El Diente south slopes trail completing the loop.
Descending the loose gullies
Cairns marking El Diente south slopes. Descending pass the waterfall and back to tree line was a welcome sign with clouds darkening overhead. The views back toward El Diente, with the meadows, streams, and waterfalls remind you are back in the San Juan’s.
The remaining 4 miles back to the Kilpacker trailhead had surprisingly more uphill than I remembered, but the large aspen grooves made the hike out very pleasant. We reached the trailhead at 2:30 pm where it just began to rain. We drove back to Mountain Village for showers, then had a great dinner at La Cocino de Luz in Telluride for some of the freshest, best Mexican food and margaritas I have had in Colorado. We went to bed early that evening with alarms set for 4 am for Wilson Peak and potential finisher the next day.
Alarm went off at 4 am, and walking outside I noticed the ground was very wet. A rainstorm had just moved through minutes before, my worries of loose wet rock and potential snow on Wilson Peak immediately set in. We began driving towards Silver Pick, and arrived at the new trailhead just after 5 am. We donned our head lamps and packs and began the walk up the rain soaked road.
The walk up the road was pleasant and fairly soon we reached the first scree field this peak is known for, other than Colorado Kool-Aid. We continued along the old mining road and eventually reached the private property segment where we made sure to follow all the rules, as there have been some issues in the past. The sun began to rise revealing cloudy skies, and moderate wind. Just past the stone house we began the ascent towards Rock of Ages saddle on a nicely cairned trail.
"Sun came out the other day, through those dusty clouds"
We reached the Rock of Ages saddle and saw that the traverse was completely covered in clouds at 7:30 am. Glad we did the traverse yesterday, or would the clouds help eliminate the exposure?
The clouds around Wilson Peak were also building, but with blue skies West over Dallas Divide and Hastings Mesa. We continued the march to the saddle between Gladstone and Wilson Peak, once at the saddle you have two options. Traverse a steep Class 3 slope to take a direct line to the ridge, or descend 100 ft and keep the climbing at Class 2. We elected to take the more direct line, and the climbing through this section was the crux this day. Slick, wet, exposure, and loose hand holds made this the most difficult part of the climb, we wouldn't want #58 to be easy, right? The overnight rains had made this area very slick, and that combined with the loose rock made this slightlystressful. My first two handholds, with my feet on wet ledges, 4 inches wide, pulled out.
Toughest part of the climb
After carefully traversing the slope that was nicely cairned we met back up with the main trail and followed it all the way to the false summit, which we reached at 8:30 am. The clouds were getting worse, darkening by the minute and winds were also picking up, so we continued on towards the summit without pause. The sight of the true summit was rather daunting at first, but after carefully descending the false summit we began the fun Class 3 climbing towards the summit.
Two climbers on false summit
The last segments of climbing were very fun and the rock was surprisingly solid and before we knew it, and after sweating out the weather for the past 3 hours, we were there. #58!
Climbing the final feet of a 4 year endeavor
Spending the last four years driving all over the State after long work weeks, camping, waking before dawn on a Saturday, hiking in all types of weather condition such as lightening strikes in the willows on Bierstadt, steep firm ice on Little Bear, dodging rocks in the Red Gulley on Crestone Peak, 60 mph winds on San Luis, and many other perfect warm sunny clear days on other 14ers, we had reached #58.
I must admit I was little emotional reaching this summit. I had focused so much on completing the list the last two year; I never realized that the journey along the way would be what I enjoyed the most. It was bittersweet to say the least. We met another climber on the summit enjoying a Tall Boy of Coors Light who congratulated us as we had met him the previous day on the traverse. Because of the building clouds, I never even took my pack off on the summit and after 10 minutes we began the descent down. The descent down was smooth until the steep traverse section, where we traversed again instead of descending 100 feet and bypassing this section. The rock hadn’t dried much and was still very slick. After this section, I let my nervous energy go and began to daydream about previous summits and sense a little accomplishment.
Starting the descent
Our lake reached in August 2005.
We saw other climbers turning around at the Rock of Ages saddle due to weather and began the descent down to Silver Pick basin. We reached upper Silver Pick basin and continued the descent down the trail until we reached the stone house. There were two Sheriffs vehicles here investigating something, not sure, I heard that bones were found in the area with a hiking boot. I know there was a plane crash a few years ago on Wilson Peak and one passenger was never found. The Telluride airport is notorious for tricky landings requiring a 360-degree turn over Wilson mesa and the box canyon.
Two sheriffs vehicles right by the stone house
The descent down the road back through the private property and entering the trees again was refreshing with all the rain the area has received. There is also lots of mining debris with carts, cables, and mine tailings that scatter the area. Always find myself amazed at how these workers managed in this harsh environment.
Dallas Divide and Lost Dollar Road
We reached the last segment of the road and the successful summit was starting to set in a little deeper, usually on 14er descents, my wife and I are planning our next climb. But here, we discussed our favorites and most memorable. The Wilson Traverse, combined with the finish over the summit block on Mt. Wilson stands out as the most exhilarating climbing, so that tops my list. I think overall, Little Bear was by far the most difficult; partly based on the snow conditions that day, and the most scenic range for us were the San Juan’s. The Elks and Sangre De Cristo's take a very close second, the Elks are beautiful both from afar and up close, and the Sangre’s presented the biggest surprise with the glomerate rock and Willow Lake as our favorite lake on the 14er circuit.
Willow Lake in 2012.
The San Juans stand out not only for Wilson Mesa, Lizard Head, and Wilson Peak, but also the view west of Sneffels’s overlooking Ralph Lauren’s ranch and Dallas Divide, and the high alpine mesa between Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn are all areas I will return.
13,000 basin between Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre
The entire journey was one we will always cherish we feel fortunate to live in a state where we can drive a few hours and reach trails and peaks with such majestic scenery. We eventually reach the Silver Pick trailhead and the journey had come to an end. We drove out Silver Pick road and celebrated with pizza and beer at Brown Dog Pizza on Main Street.
As far as what is next, I am done with lists, some centennials I would like to attempt, but also other routes on 14ers, trail running, fishing, canyoneering, and more International climbs. I would like to thank my family for putting up with four years of disappearing on weekends, Bill Middlebrook for this website, Gerry Roach for the most impressive guide book ever written, and especially my wife for joining me on this amazing journey. I am so lucky to have a wife that was willing to sacrifice sleep, weekends, and social events to spend 4 years climbing mountains. I truly believe when I look back on life, I’ll think of family, friends, and these 58 mountains.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):