Peak(s):  El Diente Peak  -  14,159 feet
Date Posted:  08/15/2011
Date Climbed:   08/09/2011
Author:  Tornadoman
 El Diente South Slopes Challenge  

Climbers: Me-Andrew (tornadoman); my wife Jessica (trailrunner); Joey (JoeyJ); Jodi (JLOHARA)

I have heard a lot of things about El Diente Peak and it's South Slopes Route. I had heard from some people that the route is very basic class 3 and is quite solid. Other people claimed that it was highly treacherous, loose and very difficult to follow. I thought that the route was fairly easy to follow, however the rock was somewhat loose overall (not horribly loose though). There were a couple small loose gullies where a fall would have been a bad idea. This is a route that deserves respect, and I believe it to be a definite step up from a Wetterhorn or Kelso Ridge on Torreys.

The day started with a 3 a.m. alarm clock for Jessica and I at our hotel in Telluride. After gathering our gear, we had to walk 3 blocks to our car due to the interesting parking situation that exists in Telluride. It takes pretty close to an hour to get to the Kilpacker Trailhead for the South Slopes Route on El Diente; and a bit after 4 a.m. we met Jodi at the trailhead. After further organizing our gear the 3 of us took off. The terrain is very gradual over the first 3 miles and we made good time; and soon we met up with Joey who was camping out. After exchanging pleasantries our now party of 4 continued onward as daylight gradually broke.

El Diente at first light

Waterfall on El Diente

The trail grinds to the right for a long time, putting you between El Diente Peak and Mt. Wilson. Gradually it steepens and becomes much more rockier, and eventually you will zigzag up through the rocks on broken trail segments for several hundred vertical feet and eventually start to turn toward the left more toward El Diente's summit. We crossed one small snowfield in this area, but on the way back it was obvious that it had been avoidable and we crossed back under it.

Jodi and Joey on steepening terrain

Finally you will come to the base of the gray gulley mentioned in the route description.

Jessica approaching Gray Gulley

At the top of the gray gulley we turned right and begin a traverse under the organ pipes. There was a small loose gulley to cross in this area that gave us pause. Jessica froze up for several minutes here but was eventually able to make it across. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to not take pictures at the most intense spots, so I have no pictures of this gulley but this part was soon after we turned left under the organ pipes. After pushing through this tough spot, we traversed left and met back up with Joey and Jodi who had patiently waited for us at a fun little notch.

Above the Gulley

In the Notch

In The Notch

After the notch there is another gulley to climb.

Another Gulley above the Notch

Shortly after this you will reach the ridge and be able to view the traverse to Mt. Wilson.

The Ridge with Traverse to Mt. Wilson in view!

Head left toward another notch as you approach El Diente's summit.

Not far to the summit now!

Head toward the notch seen here


After passing through this notch the summit is a short skip away although there was one more little loose gulley crossing here which could be slightly unnerving. Again, focusing on the moves ahead I didn't photograph this. After crossing the little gulley, climb a few rocks and the summit is yours!

Final Summit push

Jodi resting near summit

Jessica and I on summit, with Jodi behind

Joey clinging to the summit rock!

Quite a crowd gathered on El Diente's summit as a total of 12 people were up there. After a couple quick pictures we headed down to get out of the way. This is truly a mountain where the summit is NOT the finish line, and we had to keep our heads in the game to negotiate the terrain below.

The ladies carefully negotiate steep terrain

Decent exposure in this area

After crossing back to the south side of the mountain we were greeted with more difficult terrain.



Eventually we crossed back to the gray gulley. Parts of the gulley were solid and other parts were not.

This solid part reminded me of Wetterhorn

Looser Junk!

At this point Jodi moved ahead as she had a long drive ahead of her and was anxious to get going. The terrain below the gray gulley was less dangerous, but the rocks moved frequently, and it would be an easy place to sprain or break a bone. Jessica and I were mentally and physically tired and we kept a slow pace. We skirted under this snow that we had crossed during our ascent.

Snowfield we crossed in the morning

Fortunately the weather held, with only a couple minor cumulus clouds.


Finally we moved through the end of the rocky terrain and Joey headed toward his camp to relax and pack up. Jessica and I continued on the summit, and were treated to some outstanding views that we had missed in the morning darkness!



Beautiful place on trail

Looky what we climbed!

Reaching the stream crossing we knew we still had more than 2 miles to go. How do you cross a stream when your legs are very tired and shaky from all the rock climbing? This is how!

Jessica with the sit and shimmy stream crossing

From there it is a straightforward trek to the car. Here is the sign marking the turnoff for El Diente that we never even noticed ascending in the dark.


Thanks for Jodi and Joey for the company. It was great to climb this peak with both of you and hopefully we can get together for some more 14ers in the future!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
James Scott

Good pictures
08/16/2011 01:09
I did this route last summer, and like you, I had heard very different things- treacherous loose rock, very straightforward class three climb. I ended up really enjoying myself, like you. Your pictures reminded me of a very fun day!


Good TR
08/16/2011 02:10
Nice TR! Great hiking with you guys! Although a fun climb, not an easy 14er.



Thanks for posting!
08/16/2011 04:40
Nice report and thanks for posting. We will be doing this peak next week, so your beta is much appreciated! I totally understand about not taking pictures in the most difficult places, I have the same problem!


Great Trip Report!
08/17/2011 01:05
We run into( Joel) on the way out and we talk to you (Jodi) when you try go the bed at the trail head. We the same way come to take a picture while you focus which rock is not loose.


Man, I want to climb this mountain!!!
08/18/2011 01:55
Just climbed Sneffels last weekend, and got my first look at the San Juans (up on top of them, that is)! Sat up top gazing at the Wilson group. Wanted to go climb Diente on Sunday, but had to get a bit closer to home, so we opted on Shavano instead.

Thanks for the report and great pics!!!


08/18/2011 05:18
Good to see you guys and gals all made it in style!

Me and Mike also had a great time. Fun route.

Thanks for a good report.

PS - there's an easier, lower log at that crossing. It's to the right a bit going in - to the left going back out.


08/18/2011 17:36
GREAT job Andrew! I'll put up a report with some of the days lighter moments next week! I can't look at your Heisman pose at 13k without cracking up!! Nice pics and fun day 4 sure It was really good to have other oxygen deprived Kansans there

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