| The Price of Alacrity - 2 Wilsons in a Day
As I walked into the Conifer, Colorado fast food joint to meet the buddies I would be spending the next four days with, my head was filled with the plans we had spent weeks formulating. I decided to violate one of my long held cardinal rules: "never eat any fast food that I cannot watch being made" and gave in to eating something that resembled chicken on a bun. I figured it was a long drive to Telluride, and there was little chance I would find anything better between this place and our final destination.
The plan had several permutations and contingencies built in, but the general outline was for the 3 of us to backpack into Navajo Lake Basin the next morning. We would give the El Diente-Mt. Wilson traverse a try with Wilson Peak the next day. We all wanted to give Sneffles a try from the Blue Lakes, but I had not yet committed to camping. I was hoping to part ways after Sneffles so I could attempt Redcloud and Sunshine before heading back to Denver to meet Cliff and Jesse for a trip to Lake Como where we would attempt Little Bear, Blanca and Ellingwood.
We made good time to Telluride and crashed in our cars. After breakfast at a Cafe in town, we hit the road. We left my little Honda Fit just off 145, figuring it would be one fewer car on the road. The three of us were on the trail to Navajo Lake by 10:30 am.
Mike and Wiz backpacking into Navajo Basin with El Deinte in the distance
It was an amazing backpack in, with the profile of El Diente's south side beckoning us onward. The lake and the basin were equally amazing sights to see as you descend into the basin. Gladstone Peak stands sentinel to the East, while Doloras Peak is in the distance to the West. We had been sure we would be able to easily see the 14ers that dominate the reasons for peoples trek to this spot, but the graceful and rugged ridge lines to the North and South block easy view of the summits themselves.
Navajo Lake from the Willows on the Southeast shore
Dolores Creek flowing into Navajo Lake with Dolores Peak in the background
Our little trio spent the evening fishing, eating and talking excitedly about the traverse the next day. We even threw around the idea of attempting Wilson Peak if all went well and the weather held.
On the trail at 5:30am, high hopes filled our heads, despite the fuzziness that came with a bit more Jack then was probably called for the night before. After finding our way through the pile of loose rubble that leads up to the gully on the North Slopes route, I decided that now would be the perfect time to try out the new crampons.
Wiz taking a break below the North Slopes route... the snow looks ok from here
Looking back at Wilson Peak
I had picked up a pair of strap on style crampons in the hopes of being able to use my lighter footwear, but after several steps up the snow they pulled right off. I had thought this was a possibility, but after putting them on the same footwear I would be wearing in the store thought I might get away with this horrible conceived set up. Mike and Wiz wanted to wait to put theirs on as long as possible. I caught up with them quickly and explained the situation. Mike had already started to make his way up the far left wall of the gully. The work "loose" does not come anywhere near describing the rock on the far outside edge of this gully. Phenomenally loose class 3 moves were the order of the day. We were stopped at 13,250 by ice covered rock.
We all had ice axes, however with the sturdy layer of ice on the snow, a glissade would have been absurdly unsafe. We decided to try and find an alternate route up the gully ridge, but only found steeper, rotten rock. Clear that there was really no safe way up this without dully functional crampons, we decided taking a day to enjoy the lake would be a better option then continuing that exercise in futility.
Me downclimbing a tricky section avoiding the ice on El Diente
Mike coming down the North Slopes route avoiding snow
Looking back at Gladstone and the clouds that were coming and going
hang your food! I found this marmot hanging out below our bear bags
At camp, we decided that if the weather held we would give the Wilson's a shot. In order to place ourselves in front of any storms, we were on the trail by 3:30am. We head lamped it to the Gladstone saddle to be greeted by the dark orange of the sun preparing to make it's daily appearance.
Gladstone Peak and Mt. Wilson in first light
Wilson Peak in first light and the start of sunrise
We spent a moment debating the route ahead, with loose rock being the biggest item to avoid, even the previous days experience. The three of us agreed to try the route down the steep dirt trail from the saddle. This time consuming decision forced us lower then 100 ft so that we could get the narrowest portion of the snow. From there we found the easiest path would be to head straight back up to the path that should be somewhat obvious from below. Once we were again level with the Gladstone saddle the cairns resumed and it was a straightforward shot to the false summit.
the trail approaches the false summit as the sun is trying to look past it at us
Gazing at the route ahead was a bit daunting, only because I could not shake the memory of the horrible rock the day before. Wiz opted to hang back while Mike and I made our way across. The rock was nothing like El Diente, and the climb to the summit was quick and pumped me full of confidence that took the place of the previous days failure. We looked at the clock, 7:09am, exactly on time.
Me on the summit of Wilson Peak
Looking back to the False summit, you can see Mikes pack sitting on the false summit, Mike took this photo
Mike heading back to the false summit
The trip back to the Saddle was much faster then the trip up due in large part to our decision to use the class 3 route that goes directly to the saddle. The rock on the shortcut was at least as solid as the rock we encountered by dropping lower, if you followed the cairns closely. There were only a small handful of class 3 moves, and it trimmed at least half an hour off of our descent.
Mike and Wiz on the class 3 shortcut that avoids loosing 100ft of elevation on Wilson Peak
There were clouds in the sky as we quickly made our way from the Rock of the Ages Saddle to the base of the ridge of Mt. Wilson, but they did not look like clouds that were primed for lighting. The route was well cairned, but given this was our second mountain of the day we really slowed down. We were hit by a couple of bouts of light graupel as we made our way up the headwall, but were greeted by sun.
Wiz heading up the last major gully area with Mike standing on top. The rock here is not all that stable but its not El Diente bad
Me near the last notch area on Mt. Wilson with Wiz climbing behind me - photo by Mike
Luckily the snow was melted out of all the gullies at the points where the route crossed them. We reached the ridge alongside another group, and took a shot at the ridge. Perhaps an omen of the remainder of the day was provided by a pile of human feces that had been left in the rocks with toilet paper at the start of the difficult moves on the ridge. Mike and I made our way to the final class 4 move, where we paused. The exposure on this move was incredible… and being tired from the long day presented too much risk without a rope for me to accept. One of the climbers in the other group decided to give the alternate route a shot, and was quickly followed by his partners, Mike and I. We had left our packs at the base of the summit ridge so we didn't stay long.
Mike and I at Mt. Wilson's summit
We started back down the mountain at a reasonable pace, until one of the clouds across the valley produced a wicked lightening bolt. This got us moving in high gear. We made it from the summit to the base of the headwall in a short time. This is the point where I had stashed my trekking poles on the way up, but on the descent decided not to pull them out. This was a mistake I will have a lot of time to learn from. I wear low cut hiking shoes that are great for scrambling, and use my poles on uneven terrain. This technique has saved my ankles many times from rolling more then a little bit. I do not know if that would have been the case this time, but as my foot rolled the wrong way the pain completely consumed me. I heard something as it happened, and could not help screaming. The next couple of minutes are a blur of pain. I have rolled my ankle before, but nothing like this.
Mike and Wiz heard me yell and came to check on me. As soon as I knew I could at least put weight on it, we decided to get moving. I hoped that like every other injury I had ever had in the mountains, this would be something I could walk off. I was very wrong. With my trekking poles, I slowly, and painfully made it from 13,000ft to our camp at Navajo Lake over 2 hours. By then, my ankle had swollen substantially and we knew I had to get out while I could still walk. Mike and Wiz offered to take some of my gear down, so I loaded up about 30 pounds, took the pain meds we all kept in our first aid kits for situations like this and headed down.
The first mile of rocky and uneven trail was the worst, but the pain became a horrible numb throb after it flattened out and it became easier to keep my foot flat with each step. The photographer in me forced me to take a few photos of the valley around me on the way out, but other then short photo breaks I forced myself to keep moving until I reached the trailhead at about 6pm.
These are photos I took on the way out to the trailhead
I was back at my car at 730, and on my way back to Denver. By the time I got to Denver, I could barely walk on my ankle that had swollen an enormous amount.
a bad photo I took of my foot, this does not show how bad it got at all, but guess which foot is the one that was hurt!
When the Doctor looked at it his first words were "that's impressive, how did you do that?" and "boy did you really screw yourself up". After 3 hour of x-rays and exams, they decided that I tore my ligaments and have at least a second degree, possibly 3rd degree sprain. I have to be in a moon boot for 6-8 weeks, effectively ending my season. I guess the moral of the story is there are consequences for not listening to your instincts. 5 minutes before I injured myself I thought to myself that I needed to get my poles out, but didn't. I was worried about the clouds that were coming and going more then the potential fall that would triple my descent time and end my summer. The climb itself was amazing, and I look forward to visiting again to attempt El Diente from the West Ridge!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):