Peak(s):  El Diente Peak  -  14,159 feet
Mt. Wilson  -  14,246 feet
Wilson Peak  -  14,017 feet
Date Posted:  07/16/2020
Modified:  08/12/2020
Date Climbed:   07/13/2020
Author:  claybonnyman
 The Wilsons, from Two Basins   

As I approach the end of my 14er list, I knew it was time to take the long drive down to Telluride country and do the Wilson Group. Having checked on conditions for a few weeks, I finally decided to drive down July 12 from the Front Range and climb the three Wilsons in either two days or three.

Plan A: Hike into Kilpacker Basin the afternoon of July 12, make camp, and get up early the next morning to attempt El Diente-traverse-Mt. Wilson from the south, most likely descending Mt. Wilson's southwest gully/slopes back to camp. Then, hike to my vehicle at Kilpacker TH, eat some real food in Telluride, and drive around to the Rock of Ages TH to tackle Wilson Peak the following day.

Plan B: Do El Diente on Day 1, Mt. Wilson Day 2, then hike out, drive around, do Wilson Peak Day 3.

I left the Kilpacker TH at 4:40 p.m. Sunday, July 12, and walked through spitting rain into the basin. I found a great camp spot at the far edge of the second-to-last group of pines, below the lower falls. The spot can handle two tents for sure, possibly as many as four; it's got nice protection from the trees and is (reasonably) close to the routes to El Diente and Mt. Wilson. That said, if you want to get closer to the routes, there are definitely some nice grassy spots up around the higher falls; no shelter, but flat.

Campsite near lower falls, Kilpacker Basin. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

I woke without an alarm at 3:30 a.m. after a surprisingly warm night. The skies were clear and the temperature, according to the thermometer on my backpack, was mid-60s inside the tent. I was excited for a great day, having decided to try El Diente-traverse-Mt. Wilson solo.

I took Roach a bit too seriously when he said not to leave the basin trail too soon for El Diente, ending up hiking well toward the gully that (eventually) I realized led to Mt. Wilson. So I backtracked and located the (faint) trail leading up toward the saddle between El Diente and the Gendermes. Everything went according to plan after that, and I was up top on El Diente nice and early. But then, to my consternation, it began to look very much like a storm was approaching from the west, even as skies darkened with clouds to the east. Before 8 a.m.? I thought.

Now I had to make a decision: Go ahead and try the traverse, or descend and find a different way to get up Mt. Wilson. A friend had recommended the southwest gully (where I was headed when I missed the El Diente turnoff), so that seemed a viable alternative. Still, the storms were tenuous at that point, and I'd psyched myself up to do the traverse, so in a flash, I popped off the summit after a very brief stay, steeling myself, and began the traverse.

The traverse. In places, it was too loose for my comfort, with the seeming possibility of rocks tumbling down over my head or my feet starting a slide. In other places, my heartbeat definitely increased with the open exposure, for example crossing under the Gendermes. Still, it was going OK, and I was feeling pretty good. But when I got back up to the catwalk on the ridge, the situation was deteriorating. I could hear thunder both to the east and west, and soon, as I danced hurriedly along the top, it began to spit rain. When I reached the saddle about three-quarters the way from El Diente to Mt. Wilson, the rain turned to snow, raising the scent of wet granite to my nostrils. And for the first time, I saw lightning, both ahead and behind.

Honestly, with the exception of Little Bear and fleeing the summit of Eolus in a lightning storm, I've seldom felt more than fleeting moments of nerves on my (so far) 50 of 53 of the "original" summits (I've also done a couple "add ons," but I'm resigned to not going back to catch North Eolus). But I was nervous standing on the final descent to the notch from the catwalk. The rocks were wet ahead of me, where the traverse becomes quite steep, and I couldn't tell what was going on with the storm to the east. Reluctantly, I decided to drop down from the saddle to see if things might change. Meanwhile, I was bummed to realize I dropped my new black bandanna somewhere on top; oh well.

I can see the stress on my face as I snapped this shot on the catwalk, looking back to El Diente. This photo makes the weather seem fine, but shortly
it would devolve into rain, snow and lightning. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.
Stormy skies over Lizard Head. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

But standing a little way down the gully from the saddle, I couldn't bear to not at least attempt Mt. Wilson. It's a long, long drive from Boulder, and I hated the thought of having to come back. I could, of course, have gone to Plan B, and waited until the next day ... but I'm not a patient sort. I remembered my friend, who had climbed Mt. Wilson via the southwest gully. So, descending just a bit, I traversed across the top of two snow fields, using my ice axe, and very quickly reached the gully. Looking up, the summit of Wilson seemed surprisingly close, but the ascent looked loose, muddy and messy. Eyeing the sky, things seemed to have calmed down a bit, and I decided to go for it. Better this, I thought, than finishing the traverse on wet rock.

Looking down the "gold" gully from the saddle on the traverse. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

The gully was, as I anticipated, a pain in the rear, and (I'm sorry to say), clearly not a very environmentally sensitive way to ascend. That said, it's also abundantly clear that many, many climbers use the gully, perhaps mostly to descend. So I winced, but tried to comfort myself in the knowledge that I was far from the only person making the slip--slidey journey up (or down) that mucky, slippery gully.

Final pitch, Mt. Wilson. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

It was steep, but the climbing went fast, and I was surprised how soon I was standing in the small notch at the bottom of the final pitch. I'd read, of course, of the Class 4 move/crux, and certainly the rock above looked like it would require some focus and careful hand and foot placement. But here's the thing: I zipped right up, and I'm entirely serious when I say, "What?" with the regard to the crux, which requires you to squirt either around or up and over a largish block. I'm not as smart as the people who decide these things, but to me, that move is no more than Class 3+; it's just not that hard.

I was absolutely elated to be on top, after my scare on the traverse and considering a bailout. But there was thunder and lightning to the east, even though it wasn't bad right over my head, and I believe that is the shortest I've ever stayed on a 14er summit. Some wag had stuffed a pack of American Spirit yellows in the register tube, and even though I don't smoke, I stuffed one in my mouth to chomp on during the descent and quell my nerves.

No, I don't smoke. But I was happy to have this American Spirit cigarette to chew on for much of my descent. Again, weather doesn't look bad,
but lightning was flashing both east and west of Mt. Wilson. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

I scooted quickly off the summit, and again felt that the vaunted Class 4 move may be overrated. If anything, I felt that some of the Class 3 stuff immediately below the block were no less difficult. And certainly, this summit move was (to me) significantly less spooky than the final lunge on Sunlight. I was soon back at the gully, feeling fantastic for having made both summits on a sketchy day, and began my slip-sliding descent of the gully, through mud and scree and, eventually, via some not-so-skillful glissading (been a long time; my self-arrest technique sorta sucks).

Looking back at Mt. Wilson from the lower, snowy reaches of the southwest gully. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

I made my way as quickly as possible back to camp. But man, oh man, El Diente-Mt. Wilson from Kilpacker means a lot of rocks, and my feet felt like they'd been beaten with a meat tenderizing hammer for an hour by the time I stripped off my La Sportiva Ultra Raptors and (ahhhhh....) put on my beloved Xero sandals. I hiked down, feeling beat and resenting the now-hot sun (where were you when I was on the traverse, huh?). I was back at the trailhead at 2 p.m. — plenty of time to go into Telluride and eat a Beyond Burger and drink a margarita at Steamies.

Looking back from near the Kilpacker TH. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

Now, it was time to drive out near the Rock of Ages TH for a morning ascent of Wilson Peak. I got lost on Wilson Mesa (I guess I'm getting old; my directional sense used to be unassailable...) but wound up at my campsite just below the TH by 5:30 p.m. It rained off and on all night and some critter nibbled a hole in my Six Moon Designs Skyscape Trekker. Grrr....

I headed out just before 6 a.m. The air was pleasant, cool but not cold, until I got out into the open where the Rock of Ages trail turns back north across what (is? may be?) an old mine field. Around the other side, I descended slightly into the Silver Pick Basin, then began the surprisingly arduous march up to the Wilson Peak saddle. Although the trail is essentially an old mining road, I found it quite steep in places. Or maybe my body was just protesting after my previous day's adventure.

Sunrise over Wilson Peak from saddle. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

One note: There are several places where it's easy to lose the official trail and head off on steeper, less environmentally sensitive casual "cutoffs." I made the mistake of getting on one of these and climbing a snowfield where people had obviously been going, but above the snow was a horrible, slidey mess. I soon realized I'd gone the wrong way and got back on the actual trail.

It was a quick hop up on decent trail to the saddle looking down into the Bilk Basin. One bit of advice: From here, head more or less straight up the ridge to your left (looking east), rather than dipping down (though it's clear many people go low). The higher route is more solid and there are even occasional cairns. Some mild exposure as you scoot across below the east-facing cliffs.

Likewise, there is a fairly obvious cairned route heading up toward the ridgeline, though I lost track of it a couple of times and had to scramble straight up a few feet. In my opinion, the false summit has a mini-false summit that I mistook for the false summit. When approaching the actual false summit, don't go straight over the top, but keep slightly left.

The final pitches to the top are, in my opinion, borderline Class 4 in places, certainly Class 3+. I may be in the minority, but this was just slightly less of a challenge than the "Class 4" summit move on Mt. Wilson.

Mt. Wilson, traverse and El Diente from summit of Wilson Peak. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo

The weather was fine atop Wilson Peak, and I felt somewhat winded. The last bit is fun climbing, but a bit (just a bit) of a workout, and I was thrilled to have accomplished my goal of getting "the Wilsons." Alas, no cigarettes in the empty and open-ended register tube, but I didn't feel the need for something to chomp on the way I had the day before.

Three young guys who had hiked up from Navajo Basin arrived on the summit 10 or 15 minutes after me and we talked. The first guy told me they'd found my maroon bandanna below and put it beneath a rock. I hadn't even noticed I'd dropped it.

"Jeez. I have to start tying those things on," I said. "Yesterday on the traverse I lost my favorite black bandanna."

"No way," the kid said. "My friend (just arriving) found it on the catwalk yesterday! He saw a marmot running away with it. It dropped the bandanna and he picked it up."

Three lads atop Wilson Peak. The guy on the left rescued my black bandanna from a marmot on the El Diente-Mt. Wilson catwalk the day before.
Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

I thought I'd been the only one up there the day before. But apparently, I'd gotten off the El Diente summit and started along the traverse before this group hit the saddle at the top of the northern slopes route. When the third guy arrived, his friend told him about my black bandanna.

"Sorry, man," he said. "I've been using it."

"No worries. Now you've got a black bandanna," I said. But I was amazed to even be seeing it again.

I skipped off the top pretty quickly, downclimbing faster (and with fewer nerves) than I'd imagined, and just after the Bilk Basin saddle stopped to talk to a mother and daughter working on their 18th 14er. Rather than start with the easy ones, they were tackling some tougher ones. Having just done the Chicago Basin peaks, they were working on the Wilson Group, and planned to wrap up their week with Uncompaghre-Wetterhorn — eight (official) solid peaks in a week's time.

"When my daughter said she wanted to do this, I told her I'm not getting any younger," the mother said. "So we decided not to wait on some of the harder ones."

Looking down into the Silver Pick Basin. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

My legs were pretty beat after an unexpectedly longer, tougher ascent of Wilson Peak, but I felt happy and made pretty good time coming down (despite yet another ugly attempt at glissading ... time to work on my self-arrest skills). Once back in the Elk Creek basin, I ran into two tanned, white-teethed young women working as crew for the U.S. Forest Service. Sporting chaps and helmets, they were packing a chainsaw, big nippers and a pry bar, to remove three trees that had fallen across the trail just around the bend into the Silver Pick Basin. Not a bad life! We chatted for awhile and I thanked them for their work.

Gorgeous, iconic Wilson Peak is a tough Class 3 effort. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

I was back at the car at 11:20 a.m., feeling tired and super satisfied at my choices, which resulted in this important fact: I don't have to drive all the way down to Telluride again. Now, just three (four if you count North Maroon) in the Elks, and my list is complete (by my stringent, 1970s standards).

Bummer for me, I got a flat while bumping down the Rock of Ages trail road, which meant I had to hang around Telluride for several hours. On the other hand, that sent me to a great hostel in Gunnison (see recommendation below).

Near-empty streets in Telluride. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

Some thoughts:

1) Although the southwest gully is a somewhat inelegant way to summit Mt. Wilson, it's a viable option for anyone who doesn't want to, or can't, do the traverse.

2) I did about 75% of the traverse. It was exposed and disturbingly loose in places, but not terrifying. I can't speak for that last 25% (or so).

3) The Class 4 move to summit Mt. Wilson is not at all difficult; easier, or at least, less exposed, than the infamous Sunlight block, I'd personally put it at Class 3+, at most.

4) Don't go too far past El Diente when approaching from Kilpacker Basin.

5) Wilson Peak is one of the more challenging Class 3 peaks out there, IMO.

6) I worked really hard to get the Wilsons. In my opinion, the El Diente-Mt. Wilson combo is my toughest multi-peak effort overall.

6) I dawdled on the way back home, so I could do some running/hiking on the Colorado Trail. Three recommendations for Front Rangers on the way back from Telluride: The Wanderlust Hostel in Gunnison and Inn the Clouds hostel and Leadville are excellent. And I always love soaking at Cottonwood Hot Springs, which is a hippier, dippier and less expensive alternative to Princeton Hot Springs (which is also great, just more regimented). All three places are highly recommended.

Three Six Moon Designs tents/tarps (including mine, in the middle) at Inn the Clouds hostel in Leadville. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.

I may get my last three in August, or perhaps two, and save Snowmass for my "grand finally" in summer 2021. If I'm still around, that is.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Comments or Questions

Fun read
07/17/2020 06:35
This was timely as I'm on the final stretch as well and have to make that drive from Louisville to Telluride and would sure like to knock out all three in one trip in the same sequence as you, though I'm thinking I'll shoot for the "low" traverse. We're the same age, but I think you are much faster than I. Also, that Wanderlust Hostel has been my go to in Gunny in recent years for Ride-the-Rockies - but only when I could grab the single room. I'm too old for five roommates. But it was a great place to get a shower, wind down, and chat it up with a few folks on the cheap before the next day's ride. Good luck w/ your Elks finishers! I went back and read your Cap report too for more good info. Thanks.


07/17/2020 07:29
Thanks for your reply; the Wilsons are definitely worth the trip!

I'm glad I tried the traverse, and I'll have to be eternally curious about the last "narrow section" that I skipped out on due to weather. It's so odd to me, but none of my photos shows spooky weather at all (except maybe the storm clouds over Lizard Head), but I was not enjoying hustling along the catwalk with lightning in front of and behind me.

Have you done Capitol? I loved it; was my favorite until I did Crestone Needle a couple of summers ago.



not yet ...
07/17/2020 08:59
...on Capitol. Hard to do - but hard not to do! It's kind of a bummer because of the 9 mostly difficult ones I have left, four backpacks (Cap, LB, Wilson's/Diente, Snowmass) are required (for me) to do and the knees aren't getting any better. And unlike you, I'm fearful of doing on my own, and harder to get partners for these esp now w/ viruses about! Maybe time to consider a guide for Cap and LB. It was so tempting to head out for the Wilson's last weekend w/ the great weather forecast but I just couldn't pull it together in time. Nothing wrong w/ a trip to the San Juans and Telluride but I do hope I can knock them all out in a single trip. But def sketchy to be up there w/ the weather coming in like you had. Needle was very cool a few years back.



07/17/2020 16:41
I didn't find Capitol spooky in the least. I was by myself, and I started from the TH far west of the summit, so it was a long, long day. I spent 20 minutes on top by myself and didn't encounter anyone else until I was back at the Knife Edge. Honestly, the Knife Edge was a breeze for me; rather than "scoot" as so many do, I just grabbed the super-solid edge and worked my feet along the (is it west? I think so) side below me. Fast, easy, secure. Yes, some exposure, but I find when my hands are solid, I feel comfortable (probably a sign of a bad rock climber, which I am).

Above the Knife Edge there is some sloppy/loose stuff, and the final pitches are a tad exposed. But â sorry if this is sacrilege! â I just didn't find Capitol to be that crazy challenging. I loved it.

Little Bear .... brrrr. I was the only person who summitted the day I climbed, which is exactly the way you want it to avoid the "shooting gallery." But the exposure in the Hourglass, which was very wet in the center, definitely psyched me out. For my money, LB is the toughest 14er of all. But I know opinions vary.

I may finish up my last three in the Elks in August, or perhaps do Maroon and Pyramid and save Snowmass for next summer (presuming I don't keel from COVID or whatever). If you'd be interested in doing the hike/climb of Snowmass sometime, give me a holler!



Nice work!
07/23/2020 11:06
Great report and congrats on a successful trip! I get some serious Clint Eastwood vibes from the cigarette pic. Badass.

We got caught in a freak electrical storm on the summit of Mt. Wilson that seemed to come out of nowhere. Summit block was snapping and buzzing... very eerie place to be in bad weather. Great idea to bail off the ridge and head up the gulley. Glad you were able to get it and get back down safely!

I found the last 25% of the traverse to be the hairiest. It gets substantially narrower and looser as you get close to Mt. Wilson. For me personally, much higher pucker factor than Capitol due to the fact that the narrowest part of the ridge is composed of delicately balanced, teetering microwave-sized rocks. Nothing resembling solid rock there.

Looking forward to a report on your last few. Here's to a strong finish!


07/23/2020 13:27
Thanks, JacerJack. I remember reading about your electrical adventure on Mt. Wilson; your trip report was very helpful to me, so thank you.

I'd read that the last bit of the traverse was the sketchiest. I really did intend to do the whole thing, but with lightning in the air and wet rock, I just didn't want to do it alone (not like anyone could have helped me, I guess, but still....)

Capitol, interestingly, had almost zero pucker factor for me, no idea why. If anything, the somewhat slushy final gully, beyond the Knife Edge, was the only place where I paused even momentarily to think about it.



Looks like fun!
08/06/2020 08:52
Great report! My wife & I are headed out there very soon with the same plan in mind. Any other details you can share on your campsite? Sounds like it was a little further up the trail than the sites @ 10,600' Thanks! Jeff


Maroon campsites
08/06/2020 14:13
Hi, Jeff. Thanks for the kind words.

There are 11 designated campsites in the Crater Lake area, and all are signed with wooden posts. The first 1-5 (I think?) are to your right just as you come down toward the lake. Nos. 6, 7-8, and 9 are not far along the West Maroon Trail, between perhaps .1 and .2 miles from the first group. Nos. 10 and 11 are a little bit further up, but still not far, in the trees to the left as you leave the lake basin.

Keep in mind that once you get out of the protected lake-basin area, you can camp anywhere (following Leave No Trace rules, of course), and I definitely heard people camping very close to the turnoff to Maroon Peak from the West Maroon Trail. So if your goal is to get close to Maroon, you can do that (on the other hand, if you do the traverse, then you have to backtrack farther!) Given how easy the walking is along the lake, if you plan to do the traverse I'd advise trying to get one of the 1-5 campsites, which will reduce your post-peak commute back to your tent. But as I say, 6-9 really aren't that far away.

Have fun! My single favorite day on 14ers with just one to go.


Little Advice, please
08/06/2020 20:20
Thank you for the report, great writing.
This should be an easy question. I have day-hiked many peaks but have yet to do an overnight. I am experienced in class 3 climbing and understand the respect level it requires.
I am concerned about the amount of weight you are carrying when you do a overnight. Certainly don't want to get on class 3/4 terrain with a bunch of weight on your back.
So really basic question, do most people just leave their gear down at the campsite? Did you pack it down and kind of "hide" it? Or just left it up and trusted our community.
Thanks in advance.


08/06/2020 20:33
Hi, Darron. Thanks for commenting.

I, personally, do not haul my full pack up 14ers. I (and most people, I believe) simply leave their camp intact, with their gear inside their tent, do the climbing, and return at the end of the day. On occasion, I have packed up camp, stashed my full pack (hang it on a tree, and definitely keep your food in an odor/bear-proof container; I use an Ursack/LOKsack combo;, and climbed, then hiked out.

I've hiked 2,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail, 500 miles on the Colorado Trail, and 1,000 miles on other long trails, and I've camped prior to climbing numerous 14ers. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but I've had no problems, and in general, I find that people who are out there with you understand the consequences of taking your stuff â possibly death, right? Close to trailheads, maybe a different story, but in general, "out there," I find humanity refreshingly trustworthy!

Hope that's useful.



08/06/2020 20:34
Sorry for the grammatical errors. Trying to type too fast!


08/06/2020 20:46
Always something I wondered about. Appreciate the insight.
Looking forward to reading about your grandfather.
Good luck to you.


I know you smoked it!
08/08/2020 16:03
Hey you're not tricking me; I know you smoked that American Spirit on the way down! Great write-up. Headed out there with the same plan to do Kilpacker route > El Diente > traverse to Mt Wilson > Southwest gully/slopes on the way down. This was very helpful and enjoyable to read. Interesting that you were able to safely scramble off the ridge when you felt like you needed to.


Notches and butts
08/12/2020 12:11
Ha, no. I (unfortunately) chewed tobacco for years, however, so gnawing on that thing was kind of fun. Once the filter got a little wet, I believe I probably was getting some nicotine.

Re the traverse bailout, I've attached a photo looking back at El D>traverse>Mt W from Wilson Peak, with arrows pointing to the bailout notch (I've heard it described as "gold colored," and there is indeed a sort of goldish hue to the soil there). It's about 3/4 the way across, it looks to me. I've also included an arrow showing where the SW gully tops out, which is where you would head back into the Kilpacker Basin.


Thanks again
09/14/2020 19:28
Just saw your response and image. Super helpful. Thank you very much. Headed out there on Thursday, looks like most of the snow has melted from that recent weather system (We've been checking some webcams from the Telluride resort).

   Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.