| Double bagger from Kilpacker
Summit: El Diente Peak (14,159 ft)
Summit: Mt. Wilson (14,246 ft)
Total hiking time: 5.5 hours from 1st waterfall (El Diente)
Distance: ~6 miles on summit climbfrom 1st waterfall, 12 miles roundtrip from Kilpacker Basin Trailhead
Elevation gain: 4,100 ft (total)
Total hiking time: 6 hours 15 minutes from the lake (Mt. Wilson)
Distance: ~6.5 miles on summit climb from the lake, 18.7 miles roundtrip from Kilpacker Basin Trailhead
Elevation gain: 3,100 ft
Overall impression: While El Diente isn't an official 14er it is a formidable peak. El Diente has a very rugged summit with exposure that made me more than a little bit nervous. Mt. Wilson has a great finish. Awesome views of the ridge to El Diente as well as the cliffs off the shoulder of the mountain.
Description: I drove from Denver with Eudell from 14ers.com to the trailhead. We spent the night at a campground in Gunnison and then strolled into the Kilpacker Trailhead around noon on Friday. I think the total driving time was about 8 hours. The trailhead is a few miles off the highway on a good dirt road, accessible by any passenger car.
We met Trailwerks (from 14ers.com as well) and started the hike into the basin. The trail is very well maintained. The trail doesn't really gain or loose much altitude and you can make pretty good time. After about 2 miles the trail splits to Kilpacker Basin or to Navajo Basin. We went into Kilpacker Basin. Due to the large amount of recent rain the trail was more than soggy, in places it was a full on bog. But it wasn't a problem and we made camp just below the first waterfall; which is about 1 mile after the trail junction. We found a great campsite where the trail jogs left and starts heading up a steep slope. I believe this is about 11,000 ft.
Eudell making a stream crossing
The basin is beautiful but it was socked in when we got there. When we got there the cloud cover was so low we couldn't see El Diente. The first picture was taken the day we hiked in, the second picture was taken the following day from the same spot as you enter Kilpacker Basin. You can see the wildflowers blooming, El Diente towering above the basin and the 2nd waterfall.
Kilpacker Basin socked in on Friday
El Diente in Kilpacker Basin on Saturday with clearer skies
It took us about 1.5 hours to reach the camp site. We quickly setup camp when Trailwerks realized he forgot tent poles. He hoofed off back to his truck at the trailhead where he had a spare tent stashed. While he was gone it rained intermittently. That evening around 8pm the big storm hit. It rained hard and the thunder was incredible, booming through the basin. The flash / bang from the thunderstorm had me awake in my tent from 8pm until 2am when it finally died down. I spent the entire time counting the time between the lightning and thunder hoping it wouldn't get too close.
Since we didn't get much sleep both Trailwerks and I slept through our 4:15 alarm. Eudell woke us up and we got on the trail at 7:00am. We hiked up the basin passing the first waterfall and then the second. It is surprising how such a small stream can create such a beautiful waterfall. The trail starts out pretty steep but then quickly levels out. Then it starts climbing on the left side of the basin. During this climb the trail is mostly talus but not too hard to walk on. It took us approximately 1 hour to reach the first saddle where the 2nd waterfall starts. Eudell had slowed quite a bit so we separated at this point. Trailwerks and I were pressing hard to reach the summit early in hope of doing the traverse to Mt. Wilson.
Trailwerks hiking the trail in the talus slope
The trail up to this point is easy to follow. From here we hiked farther into the basin and the trail gets fainter. There are some cairns that start climbing up through a small gap in the lower cliff band. This is not the route Roach describes but this route eventually hooks up with Roach's route just below the upper cliffs. Trailwerks and I continued up the basin to almost 12,800 feet and then crossed the lower cliff band. We then made an ascending traverse to reach the point between a snowfield and the upper cliffs. This is the upper cliffs that Roach describes at 13,500 ft. From here you hike up a gulley that is cairned until to come close to the ridge. About 50 feet below the ridge on the south side you encounter the traverse route that is well cairned. Trailwerks and I took some time to take mental pictures of this gulley so we could find this gulley on our way down.
Gulley to reach the traverse route just below the ridge
The traverse had some easy class 3 moves. At some point the route reaches the ridge and continues on the north side. The north side had a lot more exposure than the south side. At one point a large section of rock had recently calved off leaving quite a bit of fresh debris along the trail. With all the recent rain it made me more concerned about the dangers of this route. The route then returned to the ridge at a notch and you quickly climb to the summit. We reached the summit at 10:30. The summit is quite small and exposed. With the recent rains, wet rock and exposure this mountain gave me the willies that I haven't had before on previous climbs.
We didn't really consider doing the traverse over to Mt. Wilson. The ridge was still mostly socked in and we suspected it would take us several hours to do the traverse. We spent a few minutes on the summit eating a snack and taking pictures. After our brief rest we headed back down. I got turned around on the return route but Trailwerks knew we were on the right path. We made good time coming down and met Eudell near the snowfield. Eudell was marking the alternate route with cairns for a return trip to the area.
Another view of El Diente and 2nd waterfall
Close up of El Diente
Okay, last shot of El Diente
We all made it back to camp around 1:30. Trailwerks and I decided to head over to Navajo Basin so we could tackle Mt. Wilson the next day. Eudell decided to hang out in Kilpacker Basin and meet us at the Kilpacker Trailhead on Sunday. Trailwerks and I packed our wet tents and made our way to Navajo Basin. On the Kilpacker Trail to Navajo Basin we encountered a stream crossing. We thought this was the West Delores and became confused with the trail. We lost about an hour screwing around with other trails and waiting for some light rain to pass. We decided the main trail on the far side of the stream must be the right path so we blindly went on. After 30 minutes or so we came across the West Delores and soon thereafter the junction with the Navajo Basin Trial. The Navajo Basin Trail has a steady climb until you reach a headwall with a large waterfall. We were pretty beat by this time as we grunted up the steep switchbacks to the entrance of Navajo Basin. We searched and searched for the first available camp site but didn't see anything possible until we were near the lake. Trailwerks spotted to small spots of dirt up on a ridge we could setup our tents. We setup camp at 7:30, ate dinner and immediately went to sleep.
Camping in Navajo Basin
We woke around 4am to get an early start on Mt. Wilson. I led the way via headlamp. The trail was fairly easy to follow across the broken talus. We were both worried we wouldn't have any energy today to tackle Mt. Wilson so we took our time heading up the basin. We reached the end of the basin right as the sun was coming up. Before climbing up the shoulder we studied Bill Middlebrook's photos for the ascent. Bill accurately points to the spot on the ridge where you can reach the summit. We made note of this spot prior to moving up the shoulder.
View of Mt. Wilson's Shoulder below the butress
Closer view of the ridge
In climbing the shoulder of Mt. Wilson we skirted the right side of a snowfield and climbed the boulder field. There were no cairns until we finished the boulder field and climbed a little higher. From here there were small trail segments and cairns to follow. You approach the buttress Bill Middlebrook's describes being covered in green lichen. The rocks were dry today so it was fairly easy to climb. After the buttress you end up in a gulley. The gulley eventually opens up to the open shoulder which holds the upper snowfield. Cairns mark an ascending traverse to the ridge. The route is not hard to follow as long as you focus on the gulley you need to target on the ridge. We reached the ridge and noticed the sheer cliffs on the other side of the ridge. Most of the other climbers had reached the ridge too early, had to down climb, and the climb up the correct gulley.
Back side of Mt. Wilson's Ridge
Upon reaching the ridge we were quickly confronted with the choice of following the ridge to the summit, or down climbing 10 ft, make a short traverse before making a class 4 climb to the summit. We chose the down climb because it looked pretty straight forward. There are many routes to the summit on this section of the climb. We took severe caution at this point to make sure we had good hand holds and foot holds because one bad move would be your last.
Class 4 pitch to the summit
We both made the summit around 8:15 after 3.5 hours of climbing. I was pretty happy with our progress after the long hike yesterday. The ridge was much clearer today and you could occasionally see El Diente as the clouds raced across the ridge line.
The last move to reach the summit
Again, we snacked, took pictures and then quickly started down knowing we had to hike out and drive back home today. We followed a few cairns on the down climb but lost them after a little while. I then realized we had stayed too high on the ridge and needed to loose some altitude to target the bottom end of the snowfield. We entered the gulley just below the snowfield and followed the cairns down into the basin. I was still surprised with how good I felt. We made our way back down the basin and took a few pictures. We hadn't any idea what the basin looked like since we hiked up in the dark. We took a few pictures of the basin and Navajo Lake. We made it back to camp by 11:15.
We broke camp and headed down by 12:00. The descent back to the trailhead was tough with our full packs on. My legs were talking to me on the steep switchbacks and I had to slow my pace. After the switchbacks we could quicken our pace considerably. After only 1 hour we reached the trail junction to Kilpacker Basin. Trailwerks and I parted ways. He decided to head out to Navajo Basin Trailhead to avoid two stream crossings and some uphill.
Summit shot with the ridge to El Diente in the background
I continued down the Kilpacker Trailhead, made the two stream crossings and reached the trail junction to Kilpacker Basin after 30 minutes. At this point I started loosing steam. The air was getting warmer and humid from all the recent rains. Flies were buzzing all around me as I slowed my pace. Some sections of the trail are fairly overgrown and you wade through hip or chest high plants that resemble a corn field. Well, at least they look like corn stalks to a suburban kid.
View of Navajo Lake from the upper basin
Eudell greeted me a few hundred yards from the trailhead. We talked about the climb as I reached the trailhead at 2:30. I was bushed. We packed up and headed back to Denver.
It was a great time and I'm glad that I got in the two summits and was able to see both basins.
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