| Four Climbers on one of the Four Great Traverses
El Diente (14,159') - Unranked
"West Wilson" (14,100') - Unranked
Mount Wilson (14,246') – 16th Highest
South Slopes (El Diente) Ascent
El Diente – Mt Wilson Traverse
Southwest Face (Mt Wilson) Descent
14 1/4 miles Round Trip, and appx. 5000' vertical via Kilpacker Basin
Shanahan96 (Jamie Princo), Jamie Nellis, Barry Raven and Chicago Transplant (Mike Rodenak)
Finally, Labor Day weekend had arrived. Perhaps the best holiday for mountain climbers, there is none of that lingering spring snow of Memorial Day, nor mid-week calendar of Independence Day that prevents long trips. A perfect weekend for traveling long distances to spend your days high above the trees on exposed ridges. Sounds like a perfect set up for one of the four great fourteener traverses, say El Diente-Mount Wilson, perhaps?
Jamie, Jamie and I had been talking about this one for a while, and started to overhear from many other 14ers.com members that they were planning on heading that way as well. Backpacking in to Navajo Lake somehow didn't hold much appeal to us, however, and through posts on the forum we soon were joined by Barry Raven, who also was looking to do these from Kilpacker as a day climb. The team was set, we would meet at the trailhead at 3.30am on Sunday and head up this classic traverse.
After spending the evening relaxing in Smuggler's in Telluride, we got to the trailhead at close to Midnight and started setting up our car camp. The 3am wake up call came too soon and after a few snoozes I realized that there were no headlamps on in Jamie's car, so I went over and knocked on the window. I got a groggy groan I interpreted to mean "Good Morning" and told my partners it was 3.20am, time to get going! Soon Barry found our cars and we finished packing up and eating breakfast to hit the trail.
Part I: El Diente
Lucky for us the first several miles are relatively flat and we were able to make up some of the time from oversleeping. We stopped at the creek crossing for a break and headed up into Kilpacker towards the shadow of El Diente. As we ascended the sun started to rise behind us, painting the sky with brilliant color:
After another short break at treeline we continued into the scree, where would spend most of our time the rest of the day. The initial slopes are surprisingly solid if you stay on trail, but still uncomfortable on the feet. Soon we were above the waterfall and nearing the base of the South Slopes. The sun was now starting to provide enough light to trade headlamps for helmets and head up the steepening scree towards the ridge above.
We climbed on following cairns and climbers trail towards the cliff strewn face. From above we could have sworn we heard the word "Jamie!" from some climbers on the ridge, Jamie called back "Aubrey!" and sure enough, Aubrey and his climbing party responded. We reached the base of the cliff and traversed around into an even steeper scree gully. The ridge crest was so close, just some easy 3rd class moves and we would be there.
From here we saw cairns heading towards Mt Wilson, and thought the ridge crest was the way to El Diente. Oops! A very sketchy exposed move between two rocks had us looking for another way, and we quickly retreated. Here we found some cairns that led to El Diente that we had missed on the way up and started to traverse below the Organ Pipes that we accidentally tried to climb. We soon found ourselves climbing a semi-loose gully back to the ridge crest where we traversed a tower and began the final ascent to the summit of El Diente
There was a short downclimb to get into a steep loose looking gully (which we later determined to be the standard route), but we were more intrigued by the class 3 face above us and climbed that instead
This deposited us on a false summit just to the east of El Diente, a short few class 3 moves later we were on the true summit and had a group picture. This was Barry's San Juan finisher! No time for a big celebration though, as the ridge traverse awaited us. We quickly descended the way we came and were traversing below the Organ Pipes when it happened again: "Jamie?"
This time it was Steve Knapp, who the day before made 99/100 on Gladstone – just Jagged to go! We chatted for a little bit, but as weather waits for no climber, we all decided it was best to keep moving and try and meet up later. Soon we found ourselves back at the top of the South Slopes where the cairns we saw earlier were now our beacons leading us east towards the local monarch – Mount Wilson.
Part II – Traverse to Wilson
The cairns led us to the top of the ridge crest where the North Slopes route on El Diente dropped back to Navajo Basin. We instead continued to traverse below the ridge on the south side and towards some large gendarmes we had seen a group rapel off of earlier. As we neared the base of these the route dropped to traverse underneath on the south. In looking at Bill's new route description we descended farther than he did, but were able to find easy class 2 terrain to traverse across. This route was cairned, but lost us precious elevation.
As we neared a steep gully cairns began to lead us up a slabby inclined ledge on the side of this gully. Some places were steep enough to need hands, but a good portion of it could be walked up as if it was a steep rocky ramp. Soon the ramp started to end and I saw climbers above. From below me our group was encouraged to know that we were indeed on track.
As we neared the crest the climbers above us started to descend. I think they had been milling about trying to find the right descent and our voices led them down. Unfortunately the timing could not have been worse, this was the loosest and steepest part of this reclimb and we were crossing 4 up and 4 down right at the worst possible spot. It was mentally taxing to ensure each hold would not careen down, but all 8 of us managed to carefully pass and we regrouped on the ridge crest with a snack break.
We were now about halfway across, and the next section provided some easy class 2 ridge running on good rock and a wide ridge. The views of both El Diente and Wilson are inspiring as the most difficult climbing lay ahead.
We soon found ourselves at the top of what we believed to be "West Wilson", seeing as it seemed taller and had a cairn on top. The exposed ridge to get here was a nice appetizer for the scrambling that lay ahead and we quickly downclimbed to a high saddle at the base of the "Coxcomb" from Gerry Roach's book.
Barry started up just to the right of the ridge crest on a nice looking 3rd/4th class face. I later followed and found this to be some of the most delightful scrambling of the entire route. There are many ways to climb it and with a little zigzagging on the way up I was able to find good holds and fun moves to regain the ridge crest. The image below is Barry as he works out the puzzle of this face.
Now on the ridge crest we found the most exposed climbing of the day so far (aside from our wrong turn into the Organ Pipes). The rock here though is good, just where it needs to be the most. There were a few tricky moves with lots of air underneath, but this is where the traverse gets its reputation as one of the "Four Great".
The downclimb off the back of this section was interesting, but again had good rock where it was needed the most and soon we were traversing up a class 2 gully to bypass the final tower below the summit ridge. This is a view back to the downclimb with the Jamies climbing, taken from the summit.
We reached the notch at the base of the summit pitch where the traverse gains the standard route on Mt Wilson. I was surprised at how narrow this section was, the summit actually sticks off to the side of the main ridge on its own little jagged outcropping and the summit pitch is like a rickety old bridge leading there. It was fun to climb, the most difficult and exposed climbing of the entire day.
From the summit the views were grand, all of the San Juan splendor was on display on all four sides of us, and the La Sals of Utah were there too. The weather was getting a little cloudy and there seemed to be some rain starting to fall down in the La Platas so we packed it up and downclimbed the summit pitch to the top of the gully.
Part III - Downclimb
From here we descended straight down the steep, loose gully that in spring provides a nice snow climb. This is the Southwest Face route on Mt Wilson.
The gully was loose and tedious, but before too long we were back in the sea of scree that is upper Kipacker Basin. The loose blocks continued and I think we all had our hardships with them. I know I stepped on a block that rolled backwards and knocked me over. Jamie and Jamie were starting to feel the effects of three non-stop days, and Barry was anxious to get to safety before any of those storms off towards the La Platas got any ideas of heading our way.
We all made out way on our own, stopping occasionally to regroup. Soon we were nearing the trail that lead to El Diente earlier in the morning. Can you find Barry in the sea of scree?
The remaining hike out was uneventful, and we were all back at the trailhead before too long. It was then off to Smuggler's for a celebratory dinner and then on to San Juaneer's "Hiker Hostel" for the evening. It was nice to sleep in and have a leisurely drive back home on Monday.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):