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Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Threads related to Colorado mountaineering accidents but please keep it civil and respectful. Friends and relatives of fallen climbers will be reading these posts.
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Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby spiderman » Mon Jul 01, 2013 10:59 am

My son and I did El Diente from Navajo Lake (North Buttress) and the subsequent traverse to Mt. Wilson. We had 4 experienced people in our party and were careful to be out of the fall line of each other. To save time we usually had two people in lock-step near each other so that if the lead climber triggered a rockfall it would not have much momentum before hitting his buddy. The rock overall was reasonable on that route and the difficulty was never challenging even for a non-rock climber. One of the people in our group knocked off a widow-maker boulder that bounced down a few hundred feet before stopping. Fortunately nobody was beneath us.

The last third of the El Diente-Wilson traverse was NASTY in terms of bad rocks. We had considered descending and walking below the last ridge but there was a big snowfield with soft snow covering an ice sheet. It didn't look like a good option. We sent my son and another person up the 50' high staircase that leads to the catwalk. We saw them disappear over the top. We waited a while longer for them to be completely off the climb. We yelled a few times to see if it was safe but could not hear their reply asking us to wait a few more minutes. The two of us started up the staircase that was tough class 3 in my personal reckoning. After about ten feet, the other person asked to lead the pitch since he was a better climber. I had just stepped to the side on a little ledge when my son knocked loose a small pebble from the top of the ridge. The pebble hit a rock which then started tumbling down. The rock hit a boulder and a few thousand pounds of rocks started falling down the staircase. I was very fortunate to be protected on that side-ledge; I took a small blow to the cheek but nothing severe. My brain bucket effectively blocked the small debris that rained down on me. I watched as dozens of boulder whizzed down a couple of feet where I stood with my body pressed against the cliff.

My fellow climber was not so lucky. He was right in the middle of the staircase with no protection and no way to get to the side. I couldn't see what happened since he was slightly below me but apparently he managed to jump off the ten foot cliff and then jump a few more bounds to get himself away from certain death. I kept yelling, " are you alive? Are you alive?" I was shocked when he finally was able to answer back. His athleticism and quick thinking saved his life. He is truly an amazing climber! A small pebble almost killed the two of us. There were at least ten boulders that fell down the staircase, each big enough to have crushed our bodies.

Thanks A. and M. for being up there on the traverse with my son and me. You were great companions and I am glad that none of us got seriously hurt in that massive rockfall.

I would never recommend doing that traverse to anyone. The climbing is not exceeding difficulty but the risk of major rockfall is too great to justify going up that zit on the side of Mt. Wilson and then crossing over so much rotten ridgeline. I am sure that someone else has suggested it, but would it make sense to remove El Diente from the "official" list of 14ers and relegate it to the "unofficial side"? Making it in the same category as North Snowmass would result in fewer people climbing it, and prevent some dead hikers. I understand that mountaineering is dangerous, but that bump on a ridgeline named El Diente is not worth it.

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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby paully » Mon Jul 01, 2013 11:23 am

Glad to hear that everyone was ok, a lot of horror stories from the loose rock on that traverse it seems... having said that, I'm of the opinion that you don't change a peak classification simply because it's inconvenient or even dangerous to climb. I see plenty of warnings on this site regarding that traverse and the looseness of the rock, people need to decide for themselves whether or not it's worth it to them. Taking El Diente off the official list (to me) is not the right answer.

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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby Presto » Mon Jul 01, 2013 11:29 am

Code: Select all
Glad to hear that everyone was ok, a lot of horror stories from the loose rock on that traverse it seems... having said that, I'm of the opinion that you don't change a peak classification simply because it's inconvenient or even dangerous to climb. I see plenty of warnings on this site regarding that traverse and the looseness of the rock, people need to decide for themselves whether or not it's worth it to them. Taking El Diente off the official list (to me) is not the right answer.


+1. I've done that traverse twice. If you climb long enough, you're apt to have a close call at some point in time (I certainly have). Glad you're all okay.
As if none of us have ever come back with a cool, quasi-epic story instead of being victim to tragic rockfall, a fatal stumble, a heart attack, an embolism, a lightning strike, a bear attack, collapsing cornice, some psycho with an axe, a falling tree, carbon monoxide, even falling asleep at the wheel getting to a mountain. If you can't accept the fact that sometimes "s**t happens", then you live with the illusion that your epic genius and profound wilderness intelligence has put you in total and complete control of yourself, your partners, and the mountain. How mystified you'll be when "s**t happens" to you! - FM

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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby spiderman » Mon Jul 01, 2013 1:52 pm

I am not advocating removing peaks with 300+ feet of prominence from lists due to danger (Gladstone, etc). I personally will skip such enormous slag heaps, but that is a personal choice. I am just saying that dangerous bumps with less than 300 feet of prominence should not be on the main peaks page of 14ers.com. An order of magnitude more people climb the "official/promoted" list of peaks compared with the ones that are not listed on the front page. Relegating it to a less prominent place will not inhibit the hard core peakbaggers, but would reduce the number of serious accidents on that "peak"/traverse.

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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby SilverLynx » Mon Jul 01, 2013 2:01 pm

I'm glad you are okay. Did anyone have any injuries? I am so glad I'm reading about a close call and not a fatal accident. That sounds like a scary place! :wft:
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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby MonGoose » Mon Jul 01, 2013 2:18 pm

Spiderman, I'm very glad both of you guys are okay. If I read your description correctly, you summited El Diente, began the traverse over to Mount Wilson and ran into problems about 2/3 of the way over. (Please correct me if I misread that.)

I think most people know that doing the traverse is going to be much more challenging than climbing each peak separately. Especially since the lower traverse from the Kilpacker side is a much safer option. I'd like to think the majority of people take the traverse for the challenge, not because both peaks are on the checklist.

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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby spiderman » Mon Jul 01, 2013 2:53 pm

Photo 28 of the El Diente/Wilson traverse route description shows the spot of the rockfall. We were fortunately only a third of the way up this scramble when the rocks started pouring down. No major injuries but we both would have been killed if we were a few feet higher when all hell broke loose.

We were up for the challenge and didn't mind the class 3/4 climbing, but think that the danger is quite extreme. I have never seen that big of a rockfall triggered by a mere pebble falling on the wrong path.

Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby bergsteigen » Mon Jul 01, 2013 3:03 pm

#1 I'm glad you and your party are OK. That is most important!

spiderman wrote: We were up for the challenge and didn't mind the class 3/4 climbing, but think that the danger is quite extreme.


Danger is relative.

spiderman wrote:I have never seen that big of a rockfall triggered by a mere pebble falling on the wrong path.


Then don't climb these 14ers, since the same is quite possible. I've seen it happen (with a pebble), multiple times. Anything "steep" (past the angle of repose - sorry, I'm a geologist) and rocks will slide...

1. N Maroon
2. Maroon
3. Pyramid
4. Snowmass
5. Capitol
6. Crestone Peak
7. Crestone Needle
8. Little Bear

9. ETC
.......I could go on with an exhaustive list of 13ers too, you get the point
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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby JEyez » Mon Jul 01, 2013 3:33 pm

spiderman wrote:I am sure that someone else has suggested it, but would it make sense to remove El Diente from the "official" list of 14ers and relegate it to the "unofficial side"? Making it in the same category as North Snowmass would result in fewer people climbing it, and prevent some dead hikers. I understand that mountaineering is dangerous, but that bump on a ridgeline named El Diente is not worth it.


El Diente is not on the "official" list and is already relegated to the "unofficial" side. Conundrum, North Maroon, as well as El Diente are all found on the main page yet are unranked. I want to say that this is because they are part of the "4 Great Colorado Traverses" and thus enjoy great significance in Colorado climbing history.

I agree with Mongoose when he says that the majority of those that choose the traverse do so for the challenge knowing full well what lies ahead of them. With all due respect, rock fall, or any other number of dangerous events can occur on even the most docile of peaks. Taking that peak off the main page, or any page, due to one groups experience is never a good idea. Especially when the peak in question plays such a huge role in mountaineering.

I'm glad you and your group are OK. Here's to many more awesome (and less epic) days in the mountains...
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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby BillMiddlebrook » Mon Jul 01, 2013 3:45 pm

I'm glad everyone made it out OK! That's obviously what is important here.

spiderman wrote:I am just saying that dangerous bumps with less than 300 feet of prominence should not be on the main peaks page of 14ers.com. An order of magnitude more people climb the "official/promoted" list of peaks compared with the ones that are not listed on the front page. Relegating it to a less prominent place will not inhibit the hard core peakbaggers, but would reduce the number of serious accidents on that "peak"/traverse.

Honestly, I doubt that El Diente Peak being listed on the 14ers.com home page makes much difference, nor should it. Don't forget that El Diente has been on the official CMC 14er list for many years and is listed as a fourteener in many guidebooks, including ones published by the CMC. It's also a named, 14,000-foot peak with some fun, challenging routes that have been climbed for decades. Yes, the peak has some dangerous rock, including the area where you encountered rock fall, which is probably more a part of Mt. Wilson than El Diente, but part of a traverse which can be a challenging and rewarding climb. It's a named peak; People will climb it and not necessarily via the traverse, since that's not the easiest (or standard) route.

There are plenty of 14er routes that hold dangerous rock and if you climb enough of them (especially alternate routes), you'll find some ugly stuff. The Elk Mountains come to mind and not just 14ers...
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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby Doctor No » Mon Jul 01, 2013 3:45 pm

spiderman wrote:I am not advocating removing peaks with 300+ feet of prominence from lists due to danger (Gladstone, etc). I personally will skip such enormous slag heaps, but that is a personal choice. I am just saying that dangerous bumps with less than 300 feet of prominence should not be on the main peaks page of 14ers.com. An order of magnitude more people climb the "official/promoted" list of peaks compared with the ones that are not listed on the front page. Relegating it to a less prominent place will not inhibit the hard core peakbaggers, but would reduce the number of serious accidents on that "peak"/traverse.


First, I'm glad that you're alright.

Second, no one should be (or should not be) climbing mountains based upon what's on (or not on) the front page of a website.

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Re: Near fatal rockfall on El Diente-Wilson Traverse

Postby jbchalk » Mon Jul 01, 2013 5:07 pm

Yep, glad everyone is ok, spiderman. Danger is always relative. Of the many traverses and climbs I've been on, the El Diente - Mt. Wilson traverse is about average in my book in terms of difficulty and danger. I loved it. I usually do like to go ED to MW because I like upclimbing difficult terrain more than downclimbing and the few times I've done it this way, we've always climbed the solid 4th class (maybe low 5th) arete just to the left of the gully you mention. Perhaps a little more exposed and airy than the gully, but definitely safer IMO and quite honestly much more fun & exciting (see below).

IMG_9382.JPG
IMG_9382.JPG (254.79 KiB) Viewed 1075 times

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