| Late season bonus: El Diente to Mt Wilson traverse
Who: Amy (Nice Axe) & Scott (scotthsu)
Itinerary: hike/climb from Kilpacker TH (10080') to El Diente (14159'); traverse to Mt. Wilson (14246'); descend via SW slopes of Mt. Wilson back to Kilpacker TH
Elevation climbed: ~4500'
RT mileage: ~14 miles (estimate)
Car-to-car time: 11 hrs 50 min
Climbing equipment: helmet, ice axe, crampons
We had wanted to do this traverse all summer long, but work and/or poor weather forecasts kept getting in the way. After seeing Furthermore's Lizard Head TR from a few days ago (and some photos he was kind enough to email me) and how dry everything looked in the area, I realized that the traverse seemed very doable. With the continued good weather forecast for the weekend, it was a no-brainer to go for it!
We pulled into an empty Kilpacker TH parking area on Friday evening (saw a bear bookin‘ along the dirt road), watched a few downloaded episodes of the new Ski Patrol TV series, and then crashed in the back of the car. We were up around 4:30am, got packed up, heated up some ramen-style noodles to get warmed up, and hit the trail at 5:30am. It was slightly below freezing judging by my Camelbak tube freezing up.
The trail was easy to follow with headlamps. We reached Kilpacker Creek after about 1 hour of hiking. All the maps/beta we had showed only the trail dropping down to Kilpacker Creek at 10200', and not the El Diente trail (that splits off) and crosses the Creek at 10400'. Anyway, we managed to stumble onto the El Diente trail despite not seeing the fork in the dark. Not knowing that there was a trail split, we were a bit confused when we reached the creek at 10400', but after crossing the creek and emerging from the trees, we could see El Diente looming in the distance just as it was getting bright enough to see, and we knew we were on the right path.
We kept hiking and gaining in elevation. Roach is right. This is an enchanting place. Even after reaching talus, the trail remained surprisingly good and easy to follow all the way to ~13200' when the scrambling and rock-hopping began.
Amy hiking the trail below El Diente (on the left of the picture):
We reached the ridge and saw that the north side still held quite a bit of snow. There were good footprints in the snow since El Diente has still been seeing a good amount of traffic (judging by the summit register). We got our axes out just for security.
Amy on the snow-filled north slopes just below El Diente's summit:
Scott traversing the snow:
There were a few spicy spots just below the summit, but we made it up w/o needing to don our crampons. El Diente has a sweet summit! We enjoyed the sunshine for 30 minutes and had a snack. We decided to put on our crampons for the descent, which I think would have been a bit scary in bare boots.
Amy starting the descent just a few feet below El Diente's summit:
A look at the way down from El Diente (footprints visible heading to the notch):
We quickly made it back to the ridge and crossed over to the sunny and snow-free south side. We packed away the snow gear and started the traverse.
Looking at the towers along the traverse:
Amy walking the ridgeline past the towers:
We both thought this section of the traverse was great fun with solid rock. Soon we dropped down along the ridge to a 13980' saddle. Looking back at the downclimb to the 13980' saddle:
From the saddle, we climbed up fun class 4 rock (which apparently can be avoided by going right). This is the part shown in Photo #28 of Bill Middlebrook's route description. Amy enjoying the exposed class 4 climbing:
After the fun exposed climbing and a short section of the ridgeline, we went to the left (north) of the ridgeline (Photo #36 in Bill's route description). There was snow here, so we put on our crampons again and got out the axes. This was probably the scariest part of the day, with a mixture of firm and unconsolidated snow and loose rock. Amy crossing the snow just to the west of the 14060' saddle:
Looking down the north slope:
Amy heading up the final gully toward the high saddle (just before the final ridgeline push to Mt. Wilson):
Due to snow on the left and high exposure on the right, we stayed on the ridge proper the entire way to the summit from the high saddle, and we both felt this was some exciting and difficult climbing (especially with wet boots).
Amy on the summit of Mt. Wilson with Lizard Head on the left:
Scott on the summit with El Diente on the left:
View of Gladstone and the Sneffels Range:
View of Lizard Head and the Vermillion group:
The last person to sign the Mt. Wilson register was on 9/30/08. Despite the amazing summit and views, we did not stay long on the summit due to the gathering clouds and the challenging descent still ahead. We made it back to the high saddle safely and then descended the gully before stopping in the sun to have a snack. We then descended some more scree before getting the axes out to descend a stretch of snow (much more pleasant than scree!):
Looking down the rest of our daunting descent over loose talus (SW slope of Mt. Wilson):
After a tedious descent and some time wasted searching for the trail, we finally found the trail (and our stashed bottle of Gatorade around 12200'). It started snowing on us pretty good for awhile:
Looking back on El Diente just before reaching Kilpacker Creek:
An amazing day, my finisher of the "four great 14er traverses," and Amy's 3rd (with Little Bear-Blanca her only remaining one).
depart TH: 5:30am
El Diente summit: 10:00am
start traverse: 10:30am
Mt. Wilson summit: 12:50pm
start descent: 1:00pm
reached TH: 5:20pm
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):