Memorial Day Weekend Mission: climb El Diente and Mt Wilson
The game plan was to get to Navajo Lake Friday night and have a few days to attempt these peaks. Our intended approach was parking at the Kilpacker Trailhead and joining up with the Navajo Lake Trail for a 6 mile or so backpack (which I wrongly thought was only 4.5 miles). The trailhead is dry but we had the pleasure of hiking in an additional 2ish miles due to an suv blocking the road. The trail is probably half dry and half covered in snow drifts. Due to a number of factors (most notably the two just mentioned) the hike in was both longer and harder than we thought and we camped roughly 1.5 miles from the lake Friday night.
Arriving at the TH - EL D in view
Snow drifts on the hike in
On Saturday morning we got a pretty late start and leisurely made our way to the lake. We arrived at 11am. I dumped my pack and grabbed my climbing gear and decided to head on up into the upper basin to scout out conditions and if comfortable and safe get high on a mountain. I was not expecting much departing at this hour and I did not have any illusions of a summit. That changed when I got into the upper basin and saw that the North Buttress on El Diente was dry. I decided to climb up and have a look around. It was fun climbing on the buttress and I made quick work of it. I got to a point roughly 100ft below the summit and had to decide if crossing a sun exposed snow section with some dropoffs was worth the risk of getting the summit. I chuckled to myself (as this was not the first time El Diente denied my access this close to the summit) and made the relatively easy decision to head down. At my high point on the buttress I noticed and followed some boot tracks to discover (in the new to me sense) a route up the mountain that linked a few couloirs. It seemed like an easy, quick, and safe way to ascend El D in the early morning hours. I named the gullies 1,2 and 3 (yea creative) - Gully 1 was the lowest and accessed from the basin. You ascend that and cut right into gully 2. Gully 3 (not visible from the upper basin) angles left toward the summit. It was a full on snow climb from the upper basin to the summit (skiable from the summit for those interested). This was to be the route of attack on Sunday. I high tailed it back to camp and counted the hours until my 3am wake up. I was very anxious to get some climbing in.
Some pics from Saturday:
Looking back at the lake
From the upper basin - it shows El Diente and the 2 routes I tried on it. The rock buttress left of center and 2 of the gullies
A better look at the gullies (center - Gully 1 lower and Gully 2 connects off to the right)
The terrain on the buttress - large relatively solid blocks
High on the buttress looking down
more buttress fun
First glimpse at the ridge leading over to Mt Wilson
Last 100 ft of El Diente - summit can be accessed via that gully on the left (with boot prints) or across snow and up rocks
Sunday the alarm went off and I was chomping at the bit to get high quickly so I wouldn't have to worry about the sun making the snow unstable as the traverse was now my only realistic option of getting both peaks this trip and I was concerned about descending Mt Wilson later in the day. As I was charging in an attempt to gain as much time high with solid snow my partner wasn't feeling it. He demonstrated quite a bit of drive making it to roughly 13,900ft on El D before calling it quits. I made pretty steady (but rather tedious) progress up the gullies and made it to my high point from Saturday a little after sun up. I followed the boot track up a gully and was at the summit. Nolan was in sight for most of the climb up and I waited for him on the summit for 20 minutes or so with a view where I could see the last few hundred ft. When he didn't show or respond to my calls I correctly guessed he turned back.
I enjoyed the traverse. I kept my crampons on the whole way (they were needed roughly 60% of the time). I'll let my pictures do the talking here.
Wake up Wilson Peak
The snow gully that turned me around on Sat - The last few feet before El Diente's summit
The Shadow Traverse
Looking down at my high point on the butress
deep breath - ridge traverse time - with the prize - Mt Wilson on the end
traversing below the organ pipes
Looking back at El Diente - gotcha
another fun obstacle to traverse around
some ridge running
The last bit involves a sharp dowclimb and then upclimb (the crux?) before traversing over to the left snow gully - hitting the summit ridge
The upclimb (crux?) - my first thought was left but that failed miserably so I went up to the right - success
Some summit shots from Mt Wilson:
Atop Mt Wilson!!
My finisher off yonder
Fortunately I was not alone on Mt Wilson and was able to get a decent summit shot (and assurance that the snow should be good for at least another hour or 2). It was the same couple who had put in the footsteps on El D the previous day - thanks guys for tipping me off to that route. I hung out for a few minutes and began my descent. My camera died here and I wasn't able to get any shots of Gladstone or Mt Wilson but I enjoyed the views nonetheless. I made it back to camp (after a detour in the upper basin) by 12 and was more than ready for a nap. We opted to hike out on Monday in order to enjoy one more night in Navajo Basin. The hike out was a lot more pleasant than the hike in even though I was exhausted. Thanks to the 2 guys who gave us a ride back to our car.