Peak(s):  Mt. Wilson  -  14,246 feet
Wilson Peak  -  14,017 feet
Date Posted:  05/29/2012
Modified:  05/30/2012
Date Climbed:   05/27/2012
Author:  SurfNTurf
Additional Members:   dillonsarnelli, RJansen77, Trainer Keri, Fisching, wildlobo71
 Earth, Wind and Marmots  

MOUNTAIN(S): Mt. Wilson (14,246') and Wilson Peak (14,017')
ROUTE(S): North Face Direct and standard Southwest Ridge
CLIMBERS: Bill (wildlobo71), Rob (RJansen77), Jeff (SurfNTurf), Keri (Trainer Keri), Greg (gregory_fischer), Dillon (dillonsarnelli)
BEERS CONSUMED: Modus Hoperandi, Dale's, Old Chub

All photos by Dillon, Rob and Bill.

By the time we left Navajo Basin on Monday afternoon, we’d spent the better part of three days tentbound by wind and cold, lost several items including Bill’s favorite hat to marmots, witnessed two rain flies shred while we were huddled desperately beneath them, and logged hours of delicate routefinding in exposed, mixed terrain.

It was all worth it, because we also left with a pair of summits.

El Diente…we shall return. (From Kilpacker…)

The Crew (top L-R Greg, Rob, Bill, Jeff; bottom L-R Keri, Dillon).

The original plan hatched by Rob and I a few months ago was to spend our long Memorial Day weekend attempting Wilson Peak and the El Diente-Mt. Wilson traverse. We’d hike in to the Rock of Ages saddle on Saturday, drop our overnight packs, climb Wilson Peak, then continue down to Navajo Basin for a Sunday traverse. We signed up a few more willing individuals and whittled away the months.

Winds and snow conditions deemed that itinerary impossible. Given the forecast last week, we flirted with canceling the trip altogether, but decided instead to follow an old adage: you’ll never accomplish anything if you don’t try.

Greg, Rob, Dillon, Keri, Bill and I departed for the Wilsons as planned Friday after lunch. We set up camp a mile or so below the Rock of Ages TH, which is 2WD accessible if you have high-clearance. The only difficult section is a creek crossing that my Mazda 3 couldn’t quite handle, but otherwise it’s one of the better dirt roads out there.

The winds howled in the early evening but died before long, and come morning we were greeted with a spectacular day. Could the forecast be wrong?

No. No it couldn’t.

The fantastic new Rock of Ages Trail is snow-free below treeline, but once the route turns back into Silver Pick Basin there are two or three steep snowfields to cross. Microspikes or crampons were pretty helpful in the morning, though several of us got by without either. Higher in the basin Wilson Peak loomed over us, and the closer to the Rock of Ages Saddle we got the more snow we encountered. Crampons and ice axes were used by all to ascend the final few hundred feet to the saddle.

Rock of Ages Trail and Wilson Peak.

One of a pair of steep snow crossings entering Silver Pick Basin.

Rock of Ages Saddle, which is an easy snow climb. 35 degrees or less.

At the saddle, of course, you guessed it, we started getting slammed by increasing winds. We gazed forlornly up at Wilson Peak and decided to save it until the hike out Monday, when the forecast was much friendlier.

We chose a campsite high in Navajo Basin at about 12,300’ because we (1) are idiots, (2) didn’t want to risk being crushed to death by a wind-felled tree and (3) are lazy and didn’t want to lose/regain hundreds of feet of elevation every day.

The winds had been manageable, but this is about the point when the Wilsons decided to start screwing with us. The gusts increased and increased until finally they were knocking us over – and we still had to set up our tents. It was a wrestling match, but finally we got them pitched and secure. We ate a cold dinner and passed the hours inside our respective shelters until the following morning. The marmots leered at us like fresh meat. The wind was the worst right before sunset, when I’d estimate we were hit with gusts exceeding 75 miles per hour. Rob’s fly ripped in three places, and Dillon’s ripped in two. Bill’s Marmot Titan escaped unscathed.

Windy Camp at 12,300'.

The morning dawned clear and cold. Most of the wind was gone except for a bone-chilling 15- to 20-mile per hour breeze. We waited for the sun to come completely out, then set off for Mt. Wilson’s North Face. Being snow junkies, we aimed to climb the descent line outlined by sstratta in her trip report from last week (her blue line). The wind and cold had resulted in extremely hard snow. We wore crampons beginning right from camp all the way to the summit ridge, and again all the way down. We hardly ever sank past our points.

Starting toward the North Face on Sunday morning.

Mt. Wilson North Face. We made an "S" through the rock bands and ascended the direct couloir between Mt. Wilson and West Wilson.

Snow, snow, snow, snow and more snow. Heaven.

Group nearing the steepest section. Looks like Everest?

The climbing was straightforward on snow ranging from 30 to 45 degrees. The final pitch to the ridge crest was steeper, entering the 50- to 55- degree range. Sstratta said she plunge-stepped it, but I’m guessing she was on softer snow. And, as we were about to find out, she has balls of steel. Or whatever the female equivalent is.

Based on her TR, we figured the remaining route would be fairly easy. It turns out the snow crossing on the opposite side of the ridge was nearly as steep as the North Face and hard as rock. The final summit ridge, which also never gave her pause, took us nearly 45 minutes to unlock. Staying on the ridge crest requires a super-exposed straddling move, and then the crux still contains a good amount of snow and ice. We even debated turning around before Greg and Dillon pieced together a feasible line.

Ms. Stratta, my hat is off to you.

Greg nearing the top-out on the ridge between Wilson and West Wilson, boosted by the Gladpack.

Steep snow crossing that awaited on the other side. Summit ridge in the background.

Dillon and Greg seek a path on the ridge crest.

Rob pulls through the crux, which reveals the summit immediately.

Group shot on the summit (L-R Greg, Jeff, Rob, Dillon)

Rob descending thorugh the crux -- a good shot of the required climbing.

Lizard Head and the San Juans.

We descended basically the standard route, and then back down the North Face to camp. One short section was steep enough to require face-in downclimbing, but the rest of the way was an easy crampon walk down moderate (and still not soft) snow.

Though the wind had abated, the temperatures remained cold. We stayed outside long enough to cook a hot meal and filter water before diving once again into our tents. Marmots had wreaked havoc during our climb, eating, among other things, one of my Ramen packets (which was buried under a mound of rocks) and Rob’s sandals. We had to wake up a few times throughout the day and night to scare them away. Little bastards.

A look up at El Diente from camp.

Another view of Mt. Wilson's North Face.

Mt. Wilson and El Diente.

The next morning, Memorial Day, finally granted us spring-like weather. We broke camp and hauled our overnight packs back to the Rock of Ages Saddle, where we gratefully traded them in for minimalist summit packs.

The Wilson Peak standard route is mostly free of snow, except for a couple extremely brief traverses, until about the notch high on the ridge. The scrambling is easy, but slightly exposed and, of course, loose. From the notch we were on equal parts snow and rock. The false summit looked daunting from afar, but it yielded without much of a fight. The remaining route was a different story.

Scrambling along low on Wilson Peak's standard ridge.

Rob threatens a fearless marmot blocking our path. (Staged photo, don't run to call PETA).

Walking along the ridge crest.

After mentally preparing for weeks for Mt. Wilson and El Diente, and actually climbing Mt. Wilson, we treated Wilson Peak like somewhat of an afterthought. We figured it would be an easy day for a lady. The final few hundred feet to the summit was anything but.

It again took us close to an hour to figure out a workable line. We fanned out and tried different ways, only to each be turned back. The standard summer route was fairly obvious but clogged with ice. Finally, after again nearing the decision to turn around, I scooted down a snow-and-ice gully and found a way to weave back up to the standard Class 3 finish. Sadly, none of our pictures really captured much of this route. The crux moves in these mixed conditions were every bit as difficult as Mt. Wilson, if not moreso.

Rob following the route we found around the rock he's on and up snow on the other side.

Snow pitch to regain the standard route.

Another group summit photo (L-R Rob, Greg, Jeff, Dillon)

The pristine San Juans.

A solitary moment between me and my future finisher.

Back the way we came, down the snow, around the ribs and back up.

El Diente, mocking us.

Only when we returned to the false summit could we breath easily. We jaunted back down to the saddle, recovered our gear (minus what the marmots had once again taken), and were rewarded with a blissful glissade into Silver Pick Basin. The walk out was quick and uneventful. We dined at True Grit in Ridgway, which has a cheeseburger with FOUR STRIPS OF BACON. I can't wait to go back.

Thanks to Bill, Keri, Rob, Dillon and Greg for yet another amazing weekend. Nothing ever goes as planned with you guys, but we always seem to find a way.

Group shot back at the car, victory brews in hand.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Well Done Everyone
09/24/2012 15:44
For all I care anyone can call PETA regarding our ”retaliatory” treatment of the marmots. If the organization is stupid enough to defend the animal, then they clearly have never experienced their wrath.


Great job!
05/30/2012 03:27
I like your pic looking at Sneffels as your finisher. That is my planned finisher as well! Great report.


Ahh the Wilsons
05/30/2012 03:33
Makes me appreciate the dry(er) conditions I had on those peaks so much. Man, that place is freaking cool. Great, great work on some tough peaks in some even tougher conditions. Very ”ladylike”

So, when are you going back to pull ”The Tooth”?


More scary - marmots or glissading?
05/30/2012 04:01
I don't know about the rest of you, but my afternoon nap from 2 to 5 today was great. I even set up my tent in the living room and turned on the ceiling fan to relive the excellent weekend. It was great sleeping 16 hours a day with you all for 3 days, oh, and climbing 2 of colorado's most bad ass mountains. Seriously though, thanks for another great trip. This one was one of the best and most memorable. I learned a lot as well. See ya'll soon. Great TR Jeff.


Congrats! Looks like a good trip overall
04/02/2015 19:45
inspite of marmots Impressive work on route finding... snow tends to obscure the most obvious lines.


Don't Tell Anyone....
05/30/2012 04:47
OK, I didn't tear up, but WOW! Great TR! Strong work, be proud, and Death to Marmots! Great job, that's part 2 of my Grand Reunion tour, I loved the pic of you looking at my Long Road Back peak, Sneffels. Absolutely frickin awesome. Well played. Peace.


Marmot mating season
05/30/2012 04:52
This is around the time those furry little foreigners are bumpin uglies throughout the state. Read Cooper's 50 Classic Scrambles book and the account of his return from Pigeon/Turret, watching a pack of marmots pull his tent down basin. Their ruthlessness knows no bounds.

Good outing, despite the fierce winds and missing the elusive ED. All except for Old Chub. That stuff is regurgitated Dales.


I can't imagine those peaks in dry conditions.
05/30/2012 12:59
You got it right, Jeff, things don't always go according to plan (I'm looking at you, Little Bear), but we manage to find a way. It was great getting out with you guys, I couldn't have pulled the Mount Wilson crux without you. Let's do it again soon.


Scouting trip
05/30/2012 13:13
Thanks to all of you for leading me on, what will be now known in my mind as, my scouting trip for the Wilsons that I intend to do later this season with less wind, snow traverses, and only more loose rock to navigate (which was where the snow wasn't.) Sad I missed the summits with you gents but expelling 90% of the effort to spend the weekend in a windstorm for the ages was beyond my reach for what makes a great weekend! I am sad, however, that I lost my hat; I hope that ROA Saddle marmot chokes on the squatcho.


solid work!
05/30/2012 13:58
Congrats and thanks for the beta.. heading in there in a couple of weeks

Brian Thomas

Marmot season is August 10 to October 15
05/30/2012 15:54
Daily bag limit is two:


What a great crew!
05/30/2012 17:10
Nice TR Jeff!


05/30/2012 17:15
I swear Jeff I was going to text you this weekend asking if you were doing the Wilsons.

I saw 2 people heading up Mt Wilson on Sunday morning at around 6:30. We were coming down Rock of Ages Saddle headed towards the base of Diente. I was so close to yelling out JEFF lol but I didn't.

Great job on the climb to everyone involved!


05/30/2012 19:22
...Marmot tent's surviving the wind was obviously due to a namesake appeasement of the punk marmot gods. Nice work, fellas!


05/30/2012 20:22
Great looking trip! jealous.


Solid Work!
05/30/2012 20:53
Great job, and nice TR! We were up there Thur night with the same plans when the winds started. We camped at 12,300 on the near side of the RoA saddle and had absolutely zero sleep. We relented to the wind and bummed around the Telluride Film Festival on Sat instead. Wish we were a couple days later with you guys! Great work again!


05/30/2012 20:55
I wish I lived in Colorado...

Craig Cook

05/31/2012 06:43
As always, another great trip report, Jeff. Made me feel like I was there (although it's a good thing I wasn't - that's out of my league, for now).


I'll be there July 1st
05/31/2012 21:28
Great report! Any hints on fending off the marmots? I was thinking of packing in some chicken wire.


I saw you
06/17/2012 01:43
I was the skier returning from El Diente that you talked to after your descent.

I remember scaring off a marmot from your camp as I was walking past. He had a look on his face like he was up to no good.

Great photos!

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