| Mt. Wilson - El Diente from Navajo Lake
Mountains: El Diente Peak (14,159') and Mt. Wilson (14,246')
Route: Packed up to Navajo Lake from Navajo Basin TH. Climbed the North Slopes route to El Diente and traversed to Mt. Wilson.
Elevation Gain from Navajo Lake - 3700'
Roundtrip Mileage - 8.25 miles
Roundtrip Time - 9 hours
I finally managed to acquire most of the gear I needed for a back-packing trip and decided to hit the Wilsons from Navajo Lake. The plan was to meet Greg (gdthomas) and Rich up at their campsite by the Lake on Friday night. I left Boulder at 1:30, Friday afternoon and reached Telluride at 9:30PM after missing the turn off to Lizard Head Pass in the dark (I have it from good authority that I am rather dense). I asked a shaggy dude who was one of the few people walking around and he said "You're going to pack up to the lake now? You're shtooopid maaaan… there's like bears up there 'n $heeeaat". I did end up driving up the graded dirt road to Dunton however. It's pretty easy to miss the switchback into the Navajo Basin TH parking lot in the dark and I duly did so… Anyway I got to the TH at 11:05PM. Several people had pitched tents or were sleeping out in the open right there at the parking lot. I packed up quickly and was hiking by 11:15PM. The trail is pretty easy to follow under headlamps. The entire approach to the lake is not very steep at all (1900 feet over 4.5 miles). I saw several pairs of eyes gleaming out at me in the dark… mostly deer except for one jackal or similar furry creature with bushy tail… no bears though. I got up to the campsite at 1:45AM and found Greg's tent. I pitched my tent, packed my climbing pack for the following morning and went to bed by 3AM. It was a wet night and we woke up at 5AM when the rain stopped. We started hiking by 5:45AM. It started drizzling in a little bit and this soon turned into moderate rainfall. Wet and miserable, we reached the base of the North Slopes route on El Diente. You basically follow the trail all the way up to Navajo basin and then turn right abruptly and boot up the steep scree slope (picture from later in the day after all thunderstorms had cleared out).
Here Greg and Rich, his buddy from CAIC took off at an insane pace while I played Wily E. and wallowed wretchedly in the dust cloud they left behind. The scree slope is very loose and slippery when wet. There are several easy Class 3 sections here. I headed straight up for a notch in the ridge and followed cairns to El Diente's summit at 9:05AM. The final summit pitch was fun and difficulty stayed at easy Class 3 with pretty good hand holds. I met a couple others from NM who were doing just El Diente. Rain clouds were in and out all day and it stayed pretty cold until around 10AM. Here's looking at Wilson Peak from El Diente's summit.
I started the traverse over to Wilson at 9:35AM after some food and water. I quickly made it back to the Notch where the North Slopes top out. Here I checked my pack for maps/route descriptions which I usually print out, but I had shamelessly left them all in the Jeep. A quick inspection of the cliffs on the North side of the ridge however put an end to the idea of traversing on that side. At this point I found a cairn on the South side and headed for it. A sparsely distributed cairn system lead me to the ridge crest slightly past the Notch. The ridge crest was very wide here. Here's looking back at El Diente from this part of the ridge. A group of four climbers from Telluride (the first one is visible here) approach me from behind.
The clouds concerned me throughout my ridge traverse. My sweet plan was to dash for a North Face couloir or simply jump off a cliff at the first sign of thunder. Route finding was very interesting as it always is when you're solo… The occasional cairn seemed to suggest that I stay low on the South side but I climbed up to the ridge crest and followed it for as far as I could before climbing back down to a ledge system. The following picture shows this ledge system as seen from the ridge crest.
The ledges on the ridge are difficult class 2. The exposure is not bad at all. At spots where you regain the ridge from these ledges, the difficulty goes up to Class 3 and 4 in some spots. You will have to watch very carefully for cairns. It is not totally straight forward. I did not get a lot of pictures on the ridge since the clouds were a little un-nerving and called for haste. I was soon at the notch below Wilson's summit. There are two options from here. You can either stick to the ridge (this is the route that the solitary cairn in the area seems to suggest), or you can head down left from the Notch and then climb up the Class 4 wall direct to the summit. Here's a shot of the ridge I got later from the summit. The exposure is similar to the initial sections coming off of LB on the LB-Blanca traverse, but the down climbing looked a little easier.
I greatly enjoyed the entire traverse and topped out at 11:40AM, for a total traverse time of 2:05. Here's looking down the final pitch on Wilson's NE Face. It is short and sweet. It is loose and holds pull out. Test each hold before dedicating your body weight to it.
Here's looking at the notch in the ridge that you climb over before approaching the final summit pitch. Navajo Basin is off in the background.
Here's looking over the ridge towards El Diente. The exposure on that last dorsal fin-like section of the ridge is terrific.
This summit definitely warrants an entry in the register and I quickly did so.
The weather was going haywire at this point and I decided to waste no more time. I quickly ate some chocolate, drank some powerade and hustled.
I decided to descend portions of Wilsons' NE Ridge route but started off by heading down a North Facing slope reminiscent of our brutal bail off route from the LB-Blanca traverse not too long ago. Large, loose junk was everywhere and the going was very slow. I was dislodging rocks occasionally whenever I decided to move fast, and was going hoarse from yelling 'ROCK'. Here are some pictures of the descent route.
Lower down I traversed across the scree slope and found the lower parts of the NE ridge. Here was a cairned route that I was able to follow down to the basin. I got to 12,500' when thunder started cracking all around the ridge and I was getting hit up by pea sized hail. I saw someone on El Diente's summit at this point and hope he/she made it off safely. I made it back to just below Navajo basin when the clouds cleared up and birds started chirping. Mountains' sense of humor, I am slowly starting to realize is rather sick and twisted. Here's a look at Navajo lake from the basin.
I was poorly hydrated all day and perhaps hurting a little bit from the previous night's hiking with a 65lb pack and limped back to camp at 2:45PM. Hopefully it would be a quicker day up on Wilson Peak tomorrow. Greg/Rich it was a pleasure meeting up with you guys.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):