Kilpacker basin to the South Slopes route up El Diente
Traverse to Mt Wilson
Southwest slope descent off Mt Wilson back to Kilpacker
Chris (cbauer10) and I attempted Mt Wilson and El Diente a few weeks ago via Navajo but turned around at the base of El Diente when a storm hit us at 5 am (not the most fun moment in our climbing history). We ended up climbing Wilson Peak on that trip but decided to leave Mt Wilson and El Diente for another time (when hopefully the mountains were a little more dry and stable). Luckily, we managed to find a 36 hour window in our crazy schedules to try again.
This attempt, Chris and I decided to climb via Kilpacker. We had heard that the South Slopes route up El Diente is much more stable than the north side of the mountain. After a little research, we decided to try to come down Mt Wilson via the southwest slope rather than climbing down Mt Wilson on the north side to Navajo and hiking back around to Kilpacker to reach our car (as most people do, I think). We used this trip report for information on this route.
Ascent up El Diente:
After driving down from the Denver area the evening before and getting a little sleep in the trailhead parking lot, we hit the trail at 3:30am. The approach to Kilpacker basin was straightforward and went quickly (not a whole lot of up, and even a good amount of down) and we found ourselves passing the waterfall around 5:30. A little while later, we made the left turn to start up El Diente. Based on the nightmare stories I had heard about these mountains, I was expecting the route up El Diente to be much, much harder. I kept waiting for things to get crazy but it never happened. Chris and I both thought that this route up El Diente was incredibly straight forward and safe - at least compared to what we were expecting. We followed a group ahead of us (a tour guide and his client) up the last 2,000 feet and summited about 9am. The tour guide did mention that he thought El Diente was the easiest of the three peaks if you do it by this route.
Success on El Diente!
Traverse to Mt Wilson:
The weather was absolutely perfect so we went ahead with plans to do the traverse. We found that doing the traverse from El Diente to Mt Wilson the route pretty much got increasingly difficult. The first half was very well cairned and was strictly class 3. The second half had many more difficult class 3-4 moves. However, there was always solid rock where we needed it. In fact, we were expecting it to be a lot more difficult with loose rock. Again, this might be a matter of expectations and opinion. I think we did get off route about twice but it wasn't a big deal. There is one section that Chris says is a little like the knife edge on Capitol, but shorter. Definitely a lot of exposure but the rock is solid and it was actually pretty fun. The traverse took us 3 hours 20 minutes - slightly slower than some, but we were taking our time as there wasn't a cloud in the sky for miles.
The Narrows on the traverse
Finally we reached the crux of the climb to Mt Wilson. For me this was the hardest part of the whole day. After the traverse, I was getting tired so the last few moves up Mt Wilson were a little interesting. I think Chris (who has a lot more experience) thought it was a bit challenging too. We passed one group coming down and met up with one hiker, Mike, who was heading up. Alas, we reached Mt Wilson just before 1pm. Big congratulations to Mike - this was his finisher!!
Made it to Mt Wilson!
Descent off Mt Wilson:
We hung out and fueled up for the trip down Mt Wilson. Mike decided to come with us. Due to changes in plans he found himself without a partner for this climb and he wasn't excited about climbing down Mt Wilson on the standard Northeast Ridge trail. He thought it was pretty hairy. So instead Mike came down the South slopes with us and planned to hike around back to Navajo. We left the summit about 1:30.
The southwest slopes route off of Mt Wilson was absolutely do-able and really not bad at all. Mike said he thought it was easier than the standard trail which he had just climbed up. The first benefit was that we didn't have to downclimb the crux - something that made me very excited. We climbed down the gully which is just to the southwest of the summit. Basically, we headed off the summit exactly opposite of the way we came from the standard route and the gully is right there. The gully starts off somewhat solid but it does get more loose and steep as you climb down. We gave each other lots of space and took our time. At one point about 2/3rds of the way down we did decide to switch gullys as Chris thought our gully was about to get much more steep. Switching gullies required a short class 3 move (the only move on the whole route over class 2). We got back to the basin where the trail turns to El Diente in less than 2 hours. We reached our car at 6:15 - less than 15 hours later! Okay, not exactly super speedy but we had an awesome day weather-wise.
Chris and I highly recommend this route. To us, Kilpacker just makes more sense than Navajo. Just bring your helmet and take your time. If we did it again, we may consider going up Mt Wilson and down El Diente. That way the traverse gets easier as you go, not harder, and because the south slopes route on El Diente is so much more solid than Wilson getting down it would probably be pretty easy. However, one reason we did it the way we did was because if it had been a busier day, descending El Diente would have put us under a portion of the traverse and we would have risked groups above us kicking rocks down.
A look to Mt Wilson from the traverse. We descended via the gully just to the right of the summit (as shown in this picture).
Near the top of the gully
Chris, the human Cairn, marks the spot where we jumped gullys.
Mike on the few class 3 moves to get between gullys
The bottom portion of the gully
Looking up at the bottom portion of the gully
A look back at our route down (somewhere in the center of the photo!)
Again, congratulations to Mike for finishing! And good luck to Chris who now just has to Chicago Basin to go.
Click here to see all of our pictures
Or here for our video with expert commentary