| Mt. Wilson - El Diente Winter Traverse
Trailhead: Cross Mountain at 10,050'
Route: Slate Creek to Mt. Wilson's NE Face to El Diente via the Traverse (return over the same route)
Approach: 4.5 miles, 1400 feet to camp at 11,000'
Climb: 5 miles, 4100 feet
Hike Out: 4.5 miles, 400 feet
There isn't much information out there about a Wilson to El Diente winter traverse and I wanted to share my experience and some pictures. I tried to do this as a day trip in March last year http://14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=13369&parmuser=Mad+Mike&cpgm=tripuser, but underestimated the effort it would take to climb Mt. Wilson. I also wasn't confident with the time it would take me to do the traverse in winter conditions. I worried that it could take me as long as 3 - 4 hours in each direction and didn't want to get stuck out there in the dark. So I made the difficult decision to overnight it. Being cooped up in a cold tent for 12 hours isn't my idea of fun and I try to avoid it at all costs.
After a comfortable night in Montrose with Terri and Darin (thanks again for the pizza and movie) I loaded up the sled and headed out on the Cross Mtn Trail around 10am on Sunday. *see previous report for a description of this trail
This was my second trip with the sled and I was still working out the kinks. Here I tried to walk across the log...obviously that wasn't going to work.
Descended down into this open meadow to get to Slate Creek. This view is hard to beat...South Wilson, Mt. Wilson and Gladstone.
I set up my camp right at 11,000', next to some running water. I decided not to use because of how strong the smell of sulfur was. I don't know enough about that smell to know if the water was safe to drink so I didn't risk it.
The sun on my tent didn't last long. It was shady and cool at 3pm and dark at 5pm. I spent about an hour melting snow and then commenced my mental battle with the long, dark night. Here the sun is setting on Sheep Mtn to the south.
After a restless night, I was itching to get moving. I was out of the tent and heading up at 5:45am. The moon was pretty full and the first hour was awesome. Didn't even need my headlamp.
I love the mystery of this route on Mt. Wilson. You can't see the NE Face until you get all the way up the basin...almost directly under Gladstone's South Face. I got to this point just in time to have the aplenglow light it on fire.
Turning around, I could see the sun just starting to peak out over the Gladstone, Cross Mtn ridge
A little higher up...now I could see the whole slope and Mt. Wilson's summit.
The snow conditions on this face were very similar to what I found in March last year. This face receives a lot of wind. The bottom half of the slope was nice and firm, even ice hard in spots. As you get higher, the snow gets more variable and I was constantly changing course to find the best snow. Last year I decided to get off the snow and take a rock route to the left of the summit. This time I stayed on snow all the way up to the saddle. Here is my line from the summit of Mt. Wilson.
I set a goal of 10a for Mt. Wilson. If I could summit before then, that would leave me plenty of daylight for the traverse. I summited at 9:30a and set my eyes on El Diente.
The traverse gets your attention right away with a steep climb down the top of the west couloir and then up and over the most exposed section of ridge. I decided not to take any pictures on the way out. I wanted to concentrate on the climbing and save the photo breaks for the way back. I stuck to the same route you would take in summer...down the couloir, up and over the exposed ridge, up and over the mellow ridge, down and around the gendarmes, back to the ridge, down and around the organ pipes, back to the ridge, through the notch, quick traverse across ED's north face, up to the ridge, summit! I was on top of El Diente at 11:35a...1hr and 50 minutes after leaving the summit of Mt. Wilson.
As you can see, the weather was pretty incredible. Temps were probably in the upper teens and there was a decent wind on top of and and the north side of the ridge. But you spend most of your time on the south side of the ridge, sheltered from the wind. The temperature difference felt like 30 degrees.
On my hike in on Sunday, I ran into Abe (fireonthemountain) and Kay (goingup). There were coming back from an attempt on Wilson Peak and told me they were going to try again the next day. I thought about them a lot and was constantly looking for them 2 valleys over. On the summit of ED I saw them for the first time. Here they are climbing up Wilson Peak's SE Face. It made me feel good to know that they were over there, getting after it, struggling up the peak, going for it. Amazing job you two. Can't believe we missed each other by 15 minutes on the way out. Would have been great to catch up and share stories.
Here are my pictures of the traverse from ED to MW:
Overview of the whole route. You can see the notch, the 2 areas you have to traverse and the 2 sections of ridge.
Climbing down a snow ramp on the south side of the ridge
Traversing under the organ pipes
Back on the ridge, looking at the traverse around the gendarmes
A closer look at the gendarmes, definitely the coolest feature on the ridge
The mellow section of ridge, your best chance to relax and enjoy the ride
Looking back at El Diente and Lone Cone from about the half way point
The rest of the mellow ridge
Here is the exposed ridge and climb back up to the Mt. Wilson saddle. The yellow line is the crux of the route. If there is a easier way up and down this part of the ridge, I couldn't find it. I would say it was 4th class, but felt 5th class with the ice and snow. If I had a rope, I would have put a fixed line in here for some additional help.
At the end of the exposed ridge looking at the last obstacle, a traverse across that snow slope and up the top of the west couloir. I don't think I could have found better snow conditions on the ridge. Given unstable conditions, the difficulty of the traverse would elevate quickly. Otherwise, I found the traverse to be pretty straight forward. The route finding was the easiest of the 3 I've done so far.
I didn't take many pictures on the way back to camp. I was exhausted and I started to feel a little muscle pull thing in my right leg. I got back to camp around 3pm. I was worried that my leg might get worse over night and didn't want to take any chances. I also had no interest in spending another night in that tent. So I packed up and started the long hike up and out of Slate Creek.
Warning...the hike back to the Cross Mtn TH from Slate Creek sucks. There is way more uphill then you remember and it seems to never end.
Here is the sunset from the trees. Not nearly as cool as the sunset that Kay and Abe were seeing from Lizard Head Pass. I'm jealous.
Got back to the car at 6:30pm and this is how I felt.
Thanks for reading. Mike
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):