| Mount Wilson via Slate Creek Basin.
Mount Wilson 14,246 ft.
Date climbed: 8/09/07
Route: Slate Creek Basin / East face
Miles: 6.4 R.T.
Elevation gain: 1,060 ft.+
Miles: 3.5 R.T.
Elevation gain: 3,060 ft.+
I want to open this trip report by saying thank you to all who provided beta for this climb.
Lizard Head Wilderness. One would have to say Mother Nature had something very special in mind when she created this place and the Wilson's are near to her crowning achievement in this creation.
I'm always looking to do something off the beat and path, so when it came to my Wilson's trip this year Slate Creek came to mind. I have wanted to get back in this area to get a feel for the terrain. For a long time now I have wanted to do some spring skiing in this basin (perhaps even bag a peak along the way) so I saw this as an opportunity to gather some beta on the area. At first I wasn't sure if I would do Gladstone, Wilson or both via a ridge traverse so I put the word out here on 14ers and got enough beta to make a decision. Mount Wilson it would be.
Doing Mount Wilson via this route in August was not highly recommended, most beta I got suggested this route is better done as a spring snow climb. Nonetheless I was anxious to get back in there and check things out. I figured that if I set up high base camp near tree line in Slate Creek I could take the time I needed to negotiate any kind of terrain I might encounter on the climb. Also the high camp would allow a quiet over-night in the wilderness and would give me time to do more exploration of the area.
I studied some maps and satellite photos of the area, and concluded that area around the last stand of trees at the foot of Cross Mountain would probably have some nice places to camp. The only question that remained in my mind was if there was going to be easy access to water. I plotted my route on a map, calculated my compass bearings and made a few notes for my trip. The route I came up with took me up the Cross Mountain Trail to just in side of the wilderness area. It would be at this point I would begin my bushwhack into upper Slate Creek Basin by taking a nearly straight line towards the summit point on Mount Wilson. After reading Dawson's description of the bushwhack I was thinking that this would probably be the most difficult part of the whole journey and I was not looking forward to it.
I arrived at the Cross Mountain Trail Head shortly after 1:00pm packed and ready to go. Within a few minutes I was registered and on the trail. It didn't take long to get to the wilderness boundary where I would be leaving the well-maintained trail.
The bushwhacking was not half as bad as I thought it was going to be. Here is a photo showing what I was up against.
Other than a small detour at the east fork of Slate Creek I was able to hit my target with out much problem. Through out most of my bushwhacking I was able to find game trails to follow, they crisscrossed landscape in every direction.
The mountain gods must have been smiling on me.
When I arrived at the last stand of trees I was pleased to find a nice flat tent site near a small clear running stream. There were also several good snags in the area for a bear line. I set up camp, ate and did some exploration of the area. It was pristine up here the only evidence I could find of people having been here was a small weathered and over grown fire ring. I was fairly sure I had the basin to myself.
While exploring that evening I scared up some wild turkey and caught a glimpse of a herd of elk about thirty strong. It seems that every time I come into the Wilson's I am running into elk. One of the biggest herds I have ever seen was in a place called The Meadows just above and to the east of Camp Morgan. There were well over a hundred animals grazing together that evening.
The photo below was taken from my campsite. It is a nice view of Mt. Wilson and Gladstone and shows the first part of route up Mt. Wilson.
I returned to camp, packed my daypack and went to bed early that night; I was planning on a 4:00am start. I fell asleep satisfied that the day had gone well.
I got up at 3:00am and was on the trail by 4:00am. As you can see from the photo above my hike started out real easy. I hiked up and over the lip of this small drainage and then down into the bottom of Slate Creek. Then it was a short walk along side Slate Creek to the bottom an 800 ft. rise that took me into the upped basin. Hiking was a pleasure.
When I topped out the vegetation disappeared and was replaced with rocks. Plies and piles of rock, heaped in rhythm less chaos. The floor of this section of the basin looked like giant wrinkled tablecloth. To get to where I wanted to go I was going to have to maneuver over and around all those wrinkles. Things stopped being easy here. I now understood exactly why this was recommended as a spring snow route. No one mentioned the piles rocks. I don't know whether you call this stuff scree, talus or just s#!t but I was looking at three quarters of a mile of it moving general up hill. Having experienced this kind of terrain before I knew exactly what I was in for and I was not too happy.
This photo shows my route from my camp into the upper basin.
Determined I pressed on. Sooner than expected I was in the amphitheater at the foot of Gladstone. The view to the left was a relief; things were about to change for the better. The terrain became steeper and smoothed out nicely as my route turned west to ascend Mt. Wilson's east face.
It was not long before I was at the foot of the snowfield and had to put on my crampons. As I was doing this I heard the sound of small rocks falling. From where I was sitting I couldn't tell exactly where the noise was coming from or see the falling rocks.
I began my short snow climb. About three quarters of the way up the snowfield narrowed between two rock outcroppings, here I became aware of where the rock fall was happening. As I was funneled into this bottleneck I began to see numerous small rocks whizzing by me to my right. These rocks ranged in size from marble size to golf ball sized, and they kept coming with annoying regularity. A few even tried to take aim at me. I found myself batting the little projectiles away with my alpine axe. It was like something above me was tossing bits of gravel down the snowfield.
I moved on to the rock to my left and climbed high enough to see where all of this was coming from. As my view improved I could see a ribbon of small debris running down the snowfield above me. The ribbon appeared to originate from a notch that cut through the ridge that runs south off of Wilson's summit. I was not at a vantage point to see up into this notch so I still had no idea what was kicking off all this small rock fall. One thing I was fairly sure of was that the notch was Dawson's suggested route and I would need to seek an alternative. I moved back on to the snow above the bottleneck well to the left of the rock fall and worked my way up the reminder of the open snowfield. Eventually the rock formations above funneled me back towards the shooting gallery. I paused long enough to plot me final assent route. I settled for a quick traverse through the shooting gallery and then a climb straight up the upper east face.
Still curious I wanted to see if I could find out what was causing all this rock fall so I climbed a little closer to the mouth of this notch. A zigzag in the notch made it imposable to discern the source of this debris. As I was taking a photo of the notch another hand full of gavel came bouncing around the corner and deposited its self in the debris field.
I was a bit nervous about having to cross this rock fall zone but decided that the rocks were small enough and lacked the momentum at this elevation to do much damage. I found a good belay and quickly stepped through. Safely on the other side I began climbing the only class 4 I would be doing that day. Below is a closer view of the beginning of the climb.
It was a steep broken up face but the rock was surprisingly stable. The only problem I had was that I somehow broke a boot lacer along the way and had to find a niche to retie my boot.
Here is a look back from the niche at my assent route through the upper basin.
This photo is a look up the final pitch.
The tiny summit was all I expected it to be and more. The views were vast and dramatic. The view of the three ridge systems that intersect at this point spoke to the rugged nature of these mountains. El Diente was calling. For a moment I wish I were not alone, I would have loved to attempt the traverse.
I scrambled to the south a short ways to try to see down into the notch and finally find out about the rock fall but was unable to get close enough to do so. I returned to the summit and spent another 30 minutes enjoying my solitude and the views. Wind and building clouds moved me on before I wanted to go.
My down climb to the snowfield was fast. My crossing of the ribbon of debris was uneventful; the rock fall seemed to have subsided a bit. I decided to take a slightly different route down the snowfield in order to try to avoid the rock outcropping that I had climbed over earlier. My plan was to down climb to the bottleneck and traverse to the left side of the debris and continue on down from there.
This was going to prove to be bad idea.
The snow above the bottleneck was in good condition. That combine with my two earlier successful crossings of the ribbon of debris, the angle of the slope and the run out left me with a fool's confidence.
When I reached the bottleneck I was having difficulty getting a deep belay and assumed I was hitting rock. I stepped out on to the debris, pulled the belay I had, shifted my weight as I moved to find another belay and my feet began to go out from under me.
Things happened fast but in slow motion.
Away I was going, glissading for now but going down fast.
Not quite down yet, I twisted to my left repositioning my axe to self-arrest when I caught my first glimpse of what I was about to hit. Ice with a sheet of water running over it. And just to make things a little more exciting a patch of the debris above me was breaking away from the ribbon and beginning to move with me.
I hit and bounced down the ice with my axe under me.
The axe did little to slow me and the rock outcroppings prevented me from being able to roll to the left or right. As I slid through the bottleneck I kept thinking about the debris above me following me down the mountain like a lava flow. Not only was I going to be a little sore but if I did not get out of the way I was going to be drenched in slurry and perhaps pelted with rocks from further up.
I hit the end of the bottleneck looking for a place to go. Finally (though only few seconds had passed) I had an opportunity to my right. I rolled once arresting with pack and pick and slowed a bit (it was still a little icy). I rolled one more time, arrested again and came to a stop.
Like an angry cat recovering from having been flung down a water slide I got up on all fours and began shaking off, howling obscenities at the mountain.
I must have been a sight.
It took a while to calm down and the adrenalin was giving me a headache. I inspected all my parts to make sure I was ok. Other than some road rash on my torso and the aggravation old rotator cuff injury I would be going home in one piece.
It took me a while longer to find the composure to move on.
For some strange reason I decided to photograph the slide area. Here it is.
I worked my way down the rest of the snowfield considering my mistakes and being grateful for my friend Casey who gave me my first self-arrest lessons years ago. Though this was not a serious fall it stayed with me for the rest of the day shading my hike out.
I took loads of photos on the way out of the upper basin. I also paid the foot of Gladstone a visit to look for potential climbs. This side of Gladstone is steep and looks to be fairly solid rock. She is quite a sight from this basin.
I exited the basin trying leaving the days drama behind me. Returning to camp I broke things down, packed up and packed out to the trailhead. I was at my vehicle by 5:00pm.
As I was driving over to Wilson Mesa to visit friends for a few days it crossed my mind that perhaps the notch where all the rock fall was coming from was filled with ice covered with gavel and there was water flowing over that ice and that was causing the rock to move. Perhaps it was all just finally thawing out and letting go. Whatever the case I will not be retuning again in August again to find out.
In hindsight I would have to say other than the heaps of rocks and the unexpected fall I had a fine time. This basin is beautiful and quiet place. I am very much looking forward to a revisit this coming spring snow season.
Until next time,
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):