Peak(s):  Wilson Peak  -  14,017 feet
El Diente Peak  -  14,159 feet
Mt. Wilson  -  14,246 feet
Mt. Sneffels  -  14,150 feet
"West Wilson" - 14,100 feet
Date Posted:  11/26/2020
Date Climbed:   07/09/2020
Author:  hogantheepic
Additional Members:   gfwarlock
 A Traverse to the San Juans   

A Traverse to the San Juans

Hogan Warlock

31/58 in 2020

1/4 CO Classic 14er Traverses complete

All the trip reports I am writing for the summer is simply a byproduct of my thoughts, reactions, and experiences from my summer mountaineering project of climbing the 58 CO 14ers before I head back to CU in August. I hope that these trip reports help me to learn from mistakes, to document my experiences as beta for others, and to help me to think and become a better person and mountaineer. Thank you for reading and for your support!


^^The dramatic views of Mt Sneffels can't ever disappoint.^^

By now, I was ready to start ticking off the more difficult routes on the 14ers. I had just had success on Snowmass and Capitol, as well as 2 full months of good 14er climbing as buildup for longer days in the mountains. In my days of researching the project I found myself in in early July, I realized that it would actually be easier (from a peakbagging perspective) to just do the 4 CO Classic 14er traverses as part of the project, because it would shave off mileage, elevation gain, and the number of days required to actually climb the peaks included in the 4 traverses. And so, in collaboration with my dad's monthly changing schedule (he is pilot for Southwest Airlines), I planned on completing the 4 traverses throughout the month of July.

We saw one of these fluffy boys.

Those of you who are very familiar with the CO 14ers and know about our yearly famous 'monsoon season' may have just read this and thought, 'wow, this guy really has hope to be able to make that work, right in the front end of Colorado monsoon season.' Well guess what? I (nearly) made it work! I ended up getting 3/4 of the traverses complete in July, and the 4th done in early-mid August. Monsoon season exists, but I was lucky enough to work around it. Flexibility is really what made it possible.

This particular trip report details the first traverse I did: the Wilson Group traverse. It also includes Mt Sneffels.

On July 6, we drove from Denver to the Navajo Lake approach trailhead. This was about 7.5 hours one-way. Inconceivable!

On the dirt road leading to the trailhead, we even saw a porcupine, which was a new thing for me to see in Colorado. It was super neat! Unfortunately, I couldn't get a picture of it before it ran off into the dark woods, so you're stuck with this internet porcupine. Once we got to the trailhead, we slept under the stars in the parking lot, tired from the drive.

A 5 AM wake up call came quickly. We didn't have much to do other than shove our sleeping bags in our packs and eat a small breakfast. We were off pretty soon, doing the ~4.5 mile approach up to Navajo Lake. It took us about 2.5 hours to make it up to the lake. We enjoyed watching the sunrise over the Wilson Group in front of us. The gorgeous meadows we walked through had some strange, almost invasive looking plant growing all over, and though it was a semi-pretty plant, it kinda looked like corn. Wack.


When we got up to the lake, we dropped our gear in the trees and got out our daypacks. We took a small break, and continued on up the basin. We kept up the grind, following the mostly-well defined trail. There was one thin snowfield we had to walk across on this part, but other than that, we climbed an all dry peak. At some point, we began the more inclining section of the trail that switchbacks up the headwall. We were alone on the stretch between the lake and the ridge, but once we crested the ridge, I was surprised to see as many people up there as we did. I thought the Wilson Group was a rather unpopular group of 14ers due to it's class 3 and higher difficulty, and it's isolation from any cities. I guess not. The more you know...

Knowledge is Power

We put on our helmets just before we rounded the corner at the end of the ridge. The rock from here to the summit of Wilson Peak is quite loose, and the helmets were a good idea, especially considering that there were so many people on this peak.

Route-finding was not much of a problem for us on Wilson Peak, partly because there were enough people ahead of us making the route obvious, but also because the trail was rather heavily cairned. This was pretty convenient. Even on the uppermost section, where the crux of the route is, there was still not really any problem with route finding.

And before we knew it, we had summited the peak of inspiration for Coor's!

Wilson Peak is the mountain on the Coors cans.

We headed back on down the mountain. The weather was looking pretty good, except that the wind was starting to pick up. When we rounded the corner to get back onto the Rock of Ages saddle ridge, we were slapped in the face by some gale-force winds. Helmets off (ahh, finally!), jackets on (a real challenge in this wind), we pushed our way into the wind as we descended. This wind was crazy. It was extra strong because it was being funneled into the basin like a wind tunnel, and we had to lean forward in order to not be blown back.

Progress was steady getting down to Navajo Lake, and eventually we made it. We relaxed, napped, made dinner, and went to sleep. We were bored out of our minds, for we had no books, no playing cards, no fishing gear, nothing to entertain ourselves with. From this particular trip, I learned that I need to start bringing something to entertain myself with. Since this trip, I usually bring a book, since I don't mind the weight and it is good for taking my mind off any worries and relaxing nervous energy.

The next day would be tough but amazing: we were to do the El Diente-Mt Wilson Traverse, ascending El Diente via the North Buttress, and descend Mt Wilson via the North slopes.

We got up early, around 3 am, and started making breakfast. I was very excited for the day ahead, because it would be my dad's first class 4 climb as well as our first traverse. We packed up our daypacks and set off around 4. It was a cold morning, but pretty soon the sun was coming up and we were stripping off layers. We reached the spot where you split off from the trail and begin heading up towards El-Diente. Looking up at the enormous buttress we were about to climb, we were slightly intimidated but mostly eager to begin the climbing.

I was constantly checking the app, looking at the pictures and description of this route, trying to figure out where exactly we were relative to the top. While the pictures are likely very clear to whoever took them, in reality the entire buttress from bottom to top (save the crux section in the description) was pretty much all identical, so the pictures that say 'turn left before this rock' and such aren't super helpful since I was never sure which rock the picture was talking about. It was basically clear that all we had to do was stay on the spine and keep ascending.

There was a small snowfield with a cornice we had to cross just under the crux wall at the top of the buttress, and we didn't have crampons or axes, so this proved to be a challenge as well due to the steep slope angle of the snow. Luckily, there were already footsteps along a relatively flat part of the snowfield at the top, so we were able to cross and get up to the crux section.


After the crux section, you are almost literally at the summit. It is a very short stretch to the ridgeline and then a quick walk to the summit of El Diente. The wind was quite strong and chilly, so we took refuge for about 15 minutes behind a boulder and ate a snack.

The route finding on this traverse is tricky. Make sure you understand it before you set off. In the start of the traverse, if you end up getting to some towers that are very obviously not climbable, you've gone a bit too far past the gully you are supposed to descend.

I did my best to build cairns whenever I thought I was properly on route, but the mountain is so loose I doubt cairns last that long up there.

It's difficult at the beginning, easy in the middle, and then the hardest part of the traverse is near the end and then again at the very end after you rejoin with the Mt Wilson standard route. There comes a headwall while you're still on the traverse that is not obvious at all which way to climb. Refer to the pictures and it will most likely keep you on the easiest way up for the first half of this crux wall. The description for the 2nd half was not helpful. It is probably best to either climb straight up the spine on the left of the chimney, or to go slightly on the left side of this spine, though the exposure on this side of the spine is extreme. I couldn't find any easier way up this part.

Warning: Exposure will KILL YOU

Once you link back up with the standard route, you only have a small section left to reach the summit of Mt Wilson. Unfortunately, this section is difficult. Massive EXPOSURE, a few hard moves, and the final hard move requires you to be very trusting of the rubber on your boots. Not suggested for the average newbie, for sure.

The summit was awesome! The Wilson massif and our first traverse was complete.

We headed down the north slopes of Mt Wilson, and route finding was still a pain in the butt. Everything was loose, cairns were difficult to see (though it seemed like there were plenty and easy to see looking back up the slope) and the mountain was quite steep. What a slog! We made it down, though, and the wind was ripping just as strong as yesterday afternoon. Yet another grind back to camp.

But that's not all. We also had to backpack out of there that evening. So when we got back to our tent, we broke camp down and packed our bags quite quickly, ready to get back to the car. We got a move on and were back at the car around dusk. It was a good day.

On to the next trailhead! We stopped in Telluride for some food (which gave me some hardcore Aspen vibes) and continued driving. We drove as far up the Yankee Boy Basin road as possible with my Ford Escape, and actually made it surprisingly high up the road. We slept under the stars.

We got up around 5, ate a tiny bit of food, and set off by 5:30. While this would be a short day, we were also coming off of 2 difficult days of hiking and backpacking, so this kinda hurt (but only a little, we were in decent shape). We made it to the upper trailhead, and continued on. I decided that I wanted to climb Mt Sneffels via the Southwest Ridge route, partly cause it was less loose, partly cause it had a harder scramble, partly cause there would be way less people on it. The southwest ridge was awesome. The kissing camel was iconic, the views were stunning, and the climbing was welcoming. Before long, we were on top of Mt Sneffels, a Fred Beckey classic.

We descended quickly via the standard gulley route and were back at the car by like 10:30. Now for a 7 hour drive home!


^^Left: reaching Navajo Lake. Right: headed up to the Rock of Ages Saddle.^^


^^Left: looking back at the Rock of Ages Saddle. Right: Wilson peak is the point in the left part of the picture. The trail goes right and behind the point in the center of the picture.^^


^^Left: pk 13520 from Rock of Ages saddle. Right: the trail from Navajo lake.^^


^^Tomorrows' traverse.^^


^^Coor's peak summit photo. (don't worry internet police(you know who you are), we packed the beer can out with us, along with all of our trash)^^


^^The gorgeous San Juans from Wilson Peak.^^


^^Navajo Lake with Dolores Peak rising behind it.^^


^^Wiped out at camp.^^


^^Left: the magnificent 1st traverse. Right: El Diente's North Buttress.^^


^^Left: on the buttress. Right: About to cross a snow field near the top of the buttress.^^


^^El Diente summit picture.^^


^^The Loose Traverse.^^


^^Mt Wilson summit picture.^^


^^Near the summit of Sneffels.^^


^^Kissing Camels formation.^^


^^Yankee Boy Basin.^^

As always,

Risk is for managing, not for chance.

~Hogan Warlock~

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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