| North Buttress on El Diente w/Traverse to Mt Wilson
September 4-6, 2009
El Diente Peak (14,159')
Mount Wilson (14,246')
Wilson Peak (14,017')
San Juan Range
Climbers: Mike & Dani Silvestro, Calvin Eisenach, and Darin Baker
Trailhead: Woods Lake (used by Calvin and Darin)
Day 1: Woods Lake Trail to connect with Navajo Lake Trail
Day 2: North Buttress of El Diente then traversed to Mount Wilson
Day 3: Southwest Ridge of Wilson Peak
Day 1: ~4.5mi (Backpack to Navajo Basin…one way)
Day 2: ~5mi RT (roundtrip)
Day 3: ~6mi RT
Day 1: ~2300' (from TH to Navajo Lake)
Day 2: ~3200' (combined elevation from camp to El Diente & Mt Wilson)
Day 3: ~3000' (from camp to Wilson Peak)
Gear: pack w/Essentials, helmet, and overnight equipment (e.g., tents, sleeping systems, stove, water filtration, etc.)
Resources Used for Trip Planning: Trails Illustrated map (#141), SummitPost.org for (Woods Lake) trailhead directions and 14ers.com for route descriptions.
(Note: This trip report is not an attempt at recreating an already great route description (for N Buttress route on El Diente) that can be found here:
Instead, this is a report with a few pictures of our climb. In addition to another recommendation for this route if you're a scrambler that prefers less traveled routes.)
Earlier in the summer, Mike and I exchanged emails trying to plan some climbs together. With his work schedule, free weekends are hard to come by.
However, he (and his wife Dani) miraculously were able to schedule two climbs with me; one weekend we climbed Capitol Peak together, and for the other weekend (Labor Day weekend) we planned this trip.
Mike first threw out the idea of going to Chicago Basin, but I countered with the thought of going to the Wilson group instead. They both were in agreement for this alternative.
Calvin entered into the scheme of things when he and I did a trip in mid-August to climb Wetterhorn. He had been trying to schedule climbs of the Wilson group for the past two years, but nothing came to fruition. Finally, this opportunity came up and he procured a "kitchen pass" from his wife.
Mike and Dani climbed Mount Sneffels on Friday, so Calvin and I planned to meet them in Navajo Basin later on Friday afternoon.
We left Manitou Springs at 8:30am on Friday for the 6 hour drive to the trailhead; this drive to the San Juan's will likely mark the end of my 2009 summer climbing foray's to this part of the state.
After all, this was my fifth time to the San Juan's this summer! (That's a lot of miles.)
Backpack into Base Camp
Calvin and I got to the Woods Lake trailhead by 2:30 or so, and were on the trail by 3pm, with cloudy skies overhead. Within the first ˝ mile, a light steady rain started, so we stopped to put on our rain gear. Hmm…the last time we did a trip together it started the same way!
Also within the first ˝ mile is a sign that can be slightly confusing. The sign doesn't mention the Woods Lake Trail, so a quick look at our map to confirm we were going in the right direction was in order.
My Trails Illustrated map is marked as Woods Lake Trail at this junction, and it would connect with the Elk Creek Trail ~2.5 miles beyond this point, as the sign says. Onward we go in the direction of the Elk Creek Trail.
The Woods Lake Trail is a well maintained dirt trail that meanders through a healthy dense forest of mostly pine. It's also a steady uphill climb for the first 2.5 to 3 miles, which with heavy packs and wearing rain gear, it makes for a sweat fest approach!
At the junction for the Elk Creek Trail, the trail becomes mellower as it contours around the western slopes of Pt 13,123.
As we contoured around, we got our first views into Navajo Basin, along with Gladstone, Mount Wilson, El Diente and its west ridge.
Eventually, we dropped into Navajo Basin (loosing about ~500' in the process) and connected with the Navajo Lake trail. We met up with Mike and Dani in their camp beyond Navajo Lake around 5:40pm, making for a 2hr40min approach to camp.
Climb of North Buttress on El Diente & Traverse to Mount Wilson
We left camp at 5:30am on Saturday morning, with clear skies and a full moon overhead. Now that's how to start a climb!
The approach to the start of the climb uses the Navajo Lake Trail, which from our camp was about .75 miles to the turn off.
The grassy slabby approach to the start of the buttress route. (Picture taken on Sunday)
With headlamps, and a full moon, navigating to the start of the climb wasn't a problem.
We were at the base of the climb by 6:05am.
Mike was out on lead, as he would be for the entire climb, and led us beautifully up the start of the buttress.
Mike leading the way through some of the boulders lower on the route.
Both Mike and Calvin had the route description print outs of the route, and it was obvious they had read it over because they rarely (if at all) looked at the print out.
I on the other hand, barely looked at the description before the trip because, 1.) I knew they had print outs we could all use, and 2.) I figured once on the route, it would reveal itself as we went along.
And that is how this route is, once on it, it generally becomes obvious in which direction to go.
It's getting lighter out and the climbing is starting to get steeper (i.e., fun)!
Mike and Dani taking in some early morning sun!
The picture above was taken on one of the benches along the route, and the remaining "V" snowfield mentioned in the route description is above to the right.
(Note: Once above the "V" area, it actually does look like a stamped V impression in the rock. IMO.)
Calvin approaching one of the ledge systems on the route.
A look at one of the ledges used; and a cairn can be seen in the bottom right.
The views were cool too! Wilson Peak with some other San Juan greats to the northeast.
Mike and Dani getting on some fun slab climbing on the crest line of the ridge.
Calvin getting into a steeper move!
Calvin appears to be "on route."
Higher on the route, we chose to do a variation to the route description.
In the route description (see "The Summit Pitch"), it talks about some slabs that leads to the crux 4th class chimney, but we chose to go straight up from (or to the right) of the ledges.
We stayed to the right of this, and climbed steeper class 4 terrain.
Calvin climbing his way up our alternative route.
Dani working her way through the difficulties of our variation.
We climbed stiff class 3 to class 4 terrain for about 30-40 vertical feet, before coming into a mellower gully leading to an easy class 4 chimney.
At the top of this chimney and to the left of our exit, we came upon a cairn that we believe is probably the exit of the described route (see picture #17 in the route description).
Calvin exiting the top of the chimney, which had some loose rock and dirt at the top.
From our exit of the chimney, we were just west of the summit, and it was a quick scramble to the top of El Diente.
What a sweet climb!
It was 8:20am when we hit the summit, a climb that took (from the base of the buttress) a little over two hours.
We took a few pictures, and headed off for the traverse to Mount Wilson at 8:35.
(Note: I only took a few pictures, so I'll try to keep this brief with text.)
Shortly into our traverse and before the "organ pipes", Mike asked me if I was ok with them (Mike and Dani) going on ahead because they had the high ambitions of going for Wilson Peak the same day.
I was perfectly ok with it, so they went ahead with their lightning fast pace!
As mentioned, Mike did a great job leading us all morning, but not without some occasional input or suggestion by a fellow team member. So to this point, I was playing "follow the leader" for the most part.
Now, with Mike and Dani going on ahead of us, I got to "play leader!" ;-)
I'm fine with either role, but leading adds to the appeal of a climb, so this was a welcomed change to our day for me.
I didn't have a route description printed out, but I don't think one is really needed. The route is cairned, but some of it is common sense of which way to go (safely).
Plus, if one has done enough scrambling in the mountains, I think route finding becomes less intimidating.
We stayed high under the south side of the "organ pipes" on the traverse, which made for fun airy moves or in some cases big steps.
Calvin on one of the airy big steps along the "organ pipes."
There're some occasional airy class 4 moves, but with methodical and deliberate steps, we managed them safely.
The traverse, my third of the "great 14er traverses," was a fun time. Calvin and I would confer with one another from time to time as to which direction we should go in, and overall it went pretty well.
Soon enough, we were at the saddle where the Kilpacker route (from the south) comes up to join the ridge.
Here, there were four people that had come up from Kilpacker and they were en route to Mount Wilson.
We shot ahead and got back up on the ridge for the final push to the summit, where we ran into Mike and Dani descending from the top.
The summit pitch was wet (from snow the previous day), so it made it a little spicy for sure!
It wasn't difficult, but I made sure both hands were bomber because I didn't entirely trust my feet on some of the steps I had to make.
We were on the summit by 10:45, making for a 2hr 10 min traverse.
Me with El Diente and the connecting ridge/traverse in the background.
It's a little cloudy…
We descended the class 4 summit crux with great care, and once that was behind us, it was to be a slog down the north slopes of Mount Wilson.
Umm…not sure where the hell we were on the face, but we were definitely not on route! It was slow going, but we got down ok and made our way back to camp, but not before getting rained on for the final 15 minutes before getting to our tents.
It was a 7hr 50min day for Calvin and me.
(Note: Mike and Dani went on to summit Wilson Peak, making for a 3-peak day! Then they got back into camp around 3:30, packed up, and hiked out! Animals.)
Wilson Peak Climb
(Note: we followed the "standard" route for Wilson Peak out of Navajo Lake, so nothing new or different here.)
It rained most of Saturday night and into the morning, so prospects of what would await us in the morning were a concern, but we had to find out for ourselves what the conditions were to be.
We headed out from camp at 6:05am with high clouds but no rain.
We could see snow on Mount Wilson, so we knew we would have some snow on our route as well.
We caught up with some other climbers near the Rock of Ages saddle, and from there we were out in front for the rest of the climb.
Wilson Peak in the clouds from the Rock of Ages saddle.
The views were to be spectacular!
Luckily, the overnight temp's didn't drop too low, so the snow was wet instead of frozen on the rocks.
Sugar and spice climbing to get to the summit!
The snow from the previous night made things a little interesting, but nothing too difficult with a little extra care on the climbing moves.
We reached the summit at 8:40am.
Summit plaque in honor of the victims of an airplane that crashed on the summit in 2006.
We left the summit at 9am and carefully retraced out steps down the crux pitch.
The descent went smoothly, talking with a couple of the other climbers that joined us as we went down.
Back in camp by 11:30am, we packed up and hiked out to make the long drive back to Manitou/Colorado Springs.
Hindsight & Personal Notes
I already said it, but I'll say it again. The north buttress route on El Diente is a great fun climb and I recommend it to anyone that likes to scramble!
The rock is good, with very little problems managing loose rock, and the route finding is fairly straight forward.
The top of the climb is the hardest with the airiest moves. I'm not sure I would want to descend from the top part of the climb, unless I had to.
The lower parts of the climb would be easy enough to descend if weather became too much of a concern.
Thanks to 14er.com members Brad Snider and jwproulx for bringing some attention to this route.
The descent off of Mount Wilson I would have preferred to go smoother, but we never found the "trail" if there is one. But I've been on worse descents.
I was also fortunate enough to have great partners on this one! Thanks Mike, Dani, and Calvin for coming together on this one! I look forward to more.
Thanks for reading,
The map above is our approximate routes.
Purple: backpack into and out of camp
Red: ascent line out of camp en route to El Diente and Mount Wilson
Blue: descent line off of Mount Wilson
(Note: did not include route for Wilson Peak, as we did nothing new/different on that route.)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):