| The perfect storm
Loose Rock Scramblers: Darrin (kansas), John, KeithK and me
Day 1: El Diente to Mt Wilson via the traverse
Ascent Route: North Buttress (VERY loose rock - potentially dangerous if there is a group above you)
Descent Route: North Slopes (not exactly NE ridge)
Elevation Gain: 3,444'
Facing a return to the longest day of 14ers I ever experienced... The Wilson - El Diente traverse is a big tough day. The scrambling begins early, and never really ends. Even with a fast group, 12 hours is normal. I've done 18 on a bad weather/conditions day. I hoped for better the second time around. I wanted nothing to do with the standard north gully route from last time. The north buttress route "claimed" to be on more solid rock. I guess if you compare horrendously loose rock to horribly loose rock, then that statement would be true. The north buttress route is marginally more *solid* than the standard gully. Proceed with caution, and bring your A-game. Novices need not apply.
We started early, and had kept our options open for which north route we would take. Not liking the melted out snow, we proceeded over to the Buttress route, loosing a bit of time in this change of plans. There had been some worry over route finding in the dark, but as first light was eeking over the Wilson-Gladstone ridge, we could see the start of the route easily enough. Once over the initial stages, the route proved to be rather solid and almost fun.
Beginning of Buttress - fairly solid rocks (flowers = solid)
Sunrise over Navaho Lake and Dolores Peak
The middle section of the route follows the ridge line more closely, and become loose. Darrin managed to move a gigantic boulder by stepping on an adjacent smaller rock. This got my heart racing, as I was below the boulder's destruction path. But it did serve as a reminder to be careful, and to TRUST NOTHING.
In this area, a group that started a bit after us, passed by on their way up the route. Chatting with a few in the group, I noted a glaring lack of experience in the members. Some only had a few 14ers climbed, and all easy ones. One talked about rafting/kayaking, as being his main sport. This would very soon become an issue, as they passed above us.
Middle Part of Buttress - Rocks are becoming more loose
A peaceful moment - Photo credit: Darrin
The rubble pile continues - no more flowers
The loose rocks abound now - Photo credit: Darrin
Coming around the feature in the next photo - Photo Credit: Darrin
Once over the mini knife edge and around a kind of saddle, the group above us let loose a shower of rocks down the slab region. I say shower, since it wasn't 3 rocks, it was probably a couple hundred or so. Nor was it a one time occurrence, it continued for 15 minutes. This shower fanned out over the entire slab region. If any of our party had been on the slabs, there would have been NO PROTECTION from the falling rocks. It would have been Russian Roulette to see who would be hit. Therefore, we hid under the only protection we had for about 30 minutes, or until we *hoped* that the group above us was off the peak and away from us. The story as I heard it back in camp, was that one in the upper party had stopped to rest on a pile of loose rocks. When he started to move upwards, or off this pile of rocks, it let go, endangering anyone in their group below them.
The slabs - Avoid these if possible!!!
Of course, once we got near the slabs, we realized that the crux for us would be to actually get onto them. This is a class 4 section, if there ever was one. Both Darrin and I utilized climbing skills to cross this section, but neither of us was too comfortable. Neither John nor Keith wanted any part of the sketchy moves we had to perform to get across, and so headed up further. John nearly got cliffed out, but managed a tricky/sketchy traverse over to Darrin and I. Meanwhile Keith remained glued to where he was. He ended up deciding to find a better route to the summit. A small gully feature above him, and to the right of my (uploaded) photo #5. Keith says it didn't get above class 3, and he summitted before us.
What Darrin saw, having crossed onto the slabs - Photo credit: Darrin
Me making my way across - Photo credit: Darrin
Keith not liking his options - found a better route to the summit
Once beyond this section, we ascended quickly, and I even missed the crux (as defined by the route author) at the chimneys. I was at the exit chimney at the summit ridge when I asked where the crux was.
"The crux" - I didn't even realize it was the crux
Once on the summit, it was a giant relief. The traverse would be easy as compared to that sketchy loose ascent! Or at least that is what I remembered from my last trip across the traverse. We took a long break, to try and repair the frayed nerves. Since while the traverse is the easiest part of the day, it is also loose and very exposed in places.
A happy Keith! - Photo credit: Keith's camera
Wilson Peak, Gladstone, Mt Wilson
The first section of the traverse went quickly enough, and we circumvented the organ pipes and the gendarmes. Ascending to the ridge afterwards proved to be more loose than I remember. But the upper ridge was wide enough to make quick work over the the ridge crux.
The ridge to Mt Wilson
Organ Pipes from above
Traversing the first part
A look back to El Diente
Just hangin' - Photo credit: Darrin
The first ridge walk over to the crux section
Photo Credit: Darrin
We took a quick break at the crux to examine our options. Last time I went directly up the center gully feature. But this time, we found the rock to the right of it, to be more solid and easier to get up.
The crux - We went up the center, but finished on the more solid right section
From there, the narrow section was a bit of a surprise. The last time I had done the traverse, I didn't really remember this section, I just plowed through it. This time, I noted the exposure and so did everyone in our group (Note no photos!). We passed through it quickly, as the clouds to our south looked wet, while those to the north of the ridge were barely there. We stopped at the saddle before Mt Wilson to consider the weather and wait for everyone to catch up. We had to decide to make a run for it, or to bail, depending on what the cloud above Mt Wilson did. Thankfully it held off any rain for our summit bid.
Mt Wilson summit ridge, looking scarier than it was
El Diente and the traverse
A not so happy Keith - Photo credit: Keith's camera
Happy to be descending Mt Wilson - Photo credit: Darrin
The descent off the peak was less than ideal. Snow/ice blocked the path to the ridge proper descent, so we slid down the loose gully back down to the nice trail below.
Snow hampered our best descent options, so we just went down
14 hours later, we made it back to camp. Warning all those in our path about the loose nature of the North Buttress. It is also important to point out that my viewpoint on these peaks has changed from the first time I climbed them. I experienced different things, saw a different traverse. The first time I did these peaks, these were the hardest I had done, and I did them in very challenging conditions. Because of this, the traverse was easier. So I feel it is important to point this out, as you read TR's, gleaning information for your own trips. Some people will find certain routes easier (or harder) than others, depending on their own experiences and weather conditions.
Day 2: Wilson Peak
Route: SW Ridge
Elevation Gain: 2,813'
By comparison, Wilson Peak is a fairly easy day. We strolled up to the Rock of Ages Saddle to take a nice break and watch the sun rise.
Alpenglow El Diente
Wilson Peak - Rock of Ages saddle
El Diente shadows
Once past the first saddle, the rocks get looser and helmets were donned by some. Around the corner of the second saddle, we were faced with some exciting traversing scrambling. But after the initial difficulties, the trail is pretty good to the false summit.
The first part of the traverse over to the peak
Viewing the final summit crux pitch is fairly intimidating, until you get closer. Once upon it, the angle is much more relaxed, and fairly solid scrambling to the summit ensues. The second pitch up on the south side is more loose, and exposed, so we all tread carefully here.
The peak crux
Keith coming up the crux
Darrin going up (Must be solid - there's flowers) - Photo Credit: Keith
We take some time on the summit to enjoy the views. Once down, it will be a slog backpacking out. So here is our enjoyment for the day.
Darrin approaching the summit
Happy to be on the summit!
Descending the summit - Photo Credit: Keith
A happy stream
My Photo Album from the weekend
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes: Chicago Basin July 20-23: TR to come soon
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):