Peak(s):  El Diente Peak  -  14,159 feet
Mt. Wilson  -  14,246 feet
Date Posted:  07/24/2007
Modified:  05/06/2014
Date Climbed:   07/11/2007
Author:  USAKeller
Additional Members:   cotajames, BillMiddlebrook
 El Diente Peak (North Slopes ) & Mt. Wilson- Navajo Lake TH  

El Diente - Mt. Wilson Traverse With a Twist

Date: July 10-12, 2007
Team: BillMiddlebrook, myself, and Jim (Bill's cousin)
Route: North Slopes Couloir to El Diente, traverse to the saddle right below Mt. Wilson, descent of the "Cat Claw Couloir" on Mt. Wilson (escape route)
Total mileage: ~16.35 miles
Total elevation gain: ~5,350ft.
Total time out (including stop time): ~13hrs. for the climb only

Fur Fun:
My pack weight: 29 lbs.
Bill's pack weight: 57 lbs.
Jim's pack weight: 70 lbs.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 - Backpack to Navajo Lake

Bill, Jim, and I left Monday afternoon for Telluride, with the intention of climbing El Diente and traversing to Mt. Wilson on Wednesday, and hitting Wilson Peak on Thursday. We woke up at 5:30am and drove to the Navajo Lake TH (passable by all vehicles). After packing our gear, we started up the trail towards Navajo Lake (at 8:10am)- this approach is absolutely beautiful.

Looking back at the approach to Navajo Lake:

I made it to the lake in 2hrs. 15min. with Bill and Jim arriving shortly after, and we set up camp on the west side of Navajo Lake. This approach is 4.8 miles from the TH with about 1,800ft. of elevation gain. We hung out at camp (I took several naps!) for the rest of the afternoon and went to watch the sunset over Navajo Lake. We went to bed, wanting sufficient sleep for the traverse the following day.

Gladstone Peak (13,913ft.) and its reflection in Navajo Lake at sunset:

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - El Diente (North Slopes) & most of traverse

From camp to the summit of El Diente: 2.75 miles, 3,100ft. of elevation gain
The alarm went off at 4:00am and we started up a mild talus trail (an old mining trail) at 4:40am towards upper Navajo Basin. Once there, we headed south up the major couloir on El Diente's north side and reached the bottom of the gully at 6:00am. It took another 30 minutes to reach the snow in the gully (12,600ft.), which is where we put on our crampons. We each took turns cutting steps up the couloir towards the headwall below the ridge, reaching the end of the snow around 8:00am. At this point, the snow was getting too soft, so we removed our crampons and climbed west (right) on loose talus/scree until we hit the ridge crest (at 8:45am).

Two photos of the North Slopes Couloir:

Jim and I making our way up the couloir:

The remaining route towards the ridge crest (taken from about of the way up the couloir):

A closer look at the scramble up to the notch (taken just below the headwall):

We left some gear at this "notch" and began the mostly class 2+ cairned scramble on the south side of the ridge to El Diente- we were all quite surprised that this rock was more solid than what we thought it would be.

A look at the south side of the remaining climb to El Diente- Bill is right of center
in the photo. This route leads back up to a notch on the ridge crest, followed by a
class 3 scramble along the north side of El Diente to finish out the climb:


Perhaps the most difficult part of the climb from the notch to El Diente is a small (but steep) class 3 gully leading back up to the ridge crest (which we reached at 9:10am) before the final scramble to the summit. There is loose rock in this gully (see photo below).

From the ridge crest, this photo looks down the crux of the climb to
El Diente via the North Slopes route (when coming back down, head
east (left) towards Mt. Wilson at the bottom of the gully):


Still on the ridge crest, this photo shows the scramble on the north side of El Diente:

Bill, Jim, and I summited 30 minutes later at 9:40am- the skies were looking mostly clear.

USAKeller on the summit of El Diente Peak (they got out of taking a group photo!):

After a very short summit break, we headed back down to the notch on the ridge to pick up our gear and make a decision as to whether we wanted to do the traverse. Bill informed us that there aren't really any bail points along the ridge so once we decide to go, we would be committed to the traverse- we decided to do it.

El Diente - Mt. Wilson Traverse:

The traverse: 1 mile, 450ft. of elevation gain

This traverse flirts with the south (right) side of the ridge and the ridge proper, mostly staying truer to the ridge itself. The first major obstacle is the "Organ Pipes," which can (and should) be bypassed by dropping lower on the south side. We left the notch at 10:30am and arrived at the "Organ Pipes" 20 minutes later- the skies were still mostly clear. Bill would climb ahead to survey the route (keeping us at a mostly class 3/3+ climb), while Jim stayed with me and helped me across the traverse. For the most part, the exposure isn't terribly bad on this traverse, however, there are a few sections that are quite exposed.

A look at a significant portion of the traverse (the "Organ Pipes" are the tall pillars in the photo):

Jim and I making our way across the traverse:

We regained the ridge at 11:15am and the clouds were beginning to form pretty fast. 15 minutes later, it started to sleet on us, making our concentration on the traverse even more imperative than what we were already giving. We knew we were not going to be up on Mt. Wilson today, but we had to keep going to reach a bail point Bill had in mind for us. At this point, we could hear thunder off in the distance. We reached another notch below the final ridge point at 11:50am and had one more climb up the last pinnacle left to do.

The last pinnacle- we dropped to the south side of it, and regained the top of the ridge again (at 12:30pm):

Jim and I getting ready to climb up the last pinnacle- please excuse my hot pink poncho!

We saw the bail point (and pretty much had already done the traverse) and had a tricky downclimb to the final notch in the El Diente - Mt. Wilson traverse.

Update - August 15, 2007: Finishing Off the Traverse:

Since Bill, Jim, and I were not able to finish off the Mt. Wilson - El Diente traverse, Bill and I went back a month later to snag the summit of Mt. Wilson and finish off the traverse from where we left off (Cat Claw Couloir). We climbed the standard northeast ridge on Mt. Wilson. Once below the summit ridge, we climbed west down the small gully that leads to the notch where we bailed. Thus, this short description and photos shows the remaining part of the traverse.

From the final saddle (notch) on this traverse, we climbed east towards a small gully just below the final summit ridge (as indicated by the blue arrow in the photo below).

This photo shows the remaining scramble up the gully to the summit ridge of Mt. Wilson
(on Aug 15, 2007; right side of the photo, blue arrow), and the place where we bailed indicated by the red arrow:


Bill climbs up the gully to a notch (~14,150ft.) just below the summit ridge:

From the notch, we turned right (south) where we found the crux of the route. Staying to the right and climbing directly up this large set of rocks is the class 4 way to do it (to keep it class 3, stay to the left).

A really cool log fog rolled in while we were climbing the ridge, swallowing the northwest face of Gladstone Peak:

The crux of the route to the summit - a large pile of rather solid rocks. Staying to the right
(the red arrow depicts the class 4 way, the blue arrow shows the class 3 route by staying to the left):

I climb directly over the class 4 pitch to the summit:


On the summit of Mt. Wilson with El Diente behind:

We were fortunate to have much more pleasant weather to hike in to finish off the traverse while still satisfying the 3,000ft.-rule!

Back to our bail-out point on July 11, 2007...

The "Cat Claw Couloir" (escape route):

Descent of the "Cat Claw Couloir" back to camp: 3 miles

We dropped from the ridge at 1:00pm (on loose wet rock and scree), hearing plenty of thunder, and aiming for the snow in the couloir. We all bonked and wanted food, but it was mandatory for us to keep moving down with the present weather conditions. After some difficult class 4 work on wet and icy rock (Bill and Jim really had to help me with this), we reached the snow at 1:30pm, feeling much better being off of the ridge. Bill estimated the initial portion of the snow climb down to be around 50 degrees max.

Jim and I coming down the "Cat Claw Couloir":

The snow was very soft and too steep to glissade; when the slope eased, we plunge-stepped down- Bill picked a great descent route for us (but we wouldn't have expected any less!). Coming down from the notch to the snow was some of the most difficult climbing I've done thus far, but having Bill and Jim there gave me much more relief. We reached Navajo Basin at 4:00pm, ate a snack, and examined what we had just climbed down. The photo below shows our descent route. As seen, we descended the middle couloir of what looks like a giant "cat claw." Bill called this couloir the "Cat Claw" and will post this route as a good snow route up to Mt. Wilson on the site!

Our descent of the "Cat Claw Couloir" - named by BillMiddlebrook:

A closer shot of the "Cat Claw Couloir":

We hiked back down the standard trail, reaching camp at 5:40pm, and ready for a well-deserved dinner (courtesy of Mary Jane Butters! ). The weather still hadn't cleared up- Bill called his wife for a weather report and found out that a storm was moving in quicker than we anticipated. We knew we weren't going to be climbing Wilson Peak on Thursday, so we went to bed planning on a relatively early start to pack up camp and get out of there.

Thursday, July 12, 2007 - Hike Back to Car From Navajo Lake

It rained periodically throughout the night- we woke up at 6:00am, packed up a wet camp, and made the 4.8-mile trek out of Navajo Lake back to the truck in about 1.5 hours. We were lucky it wasn't raining during this time. As we left camp, we looked back towards the Wilson Group and saw that all of the peaks were greatly socked in, verifying a good decision not to climb that day. Although we all left with one peak climbed, El Diente was a new peak for all of us, and we're looking to return to finish off that last little part of the traverse up to Mt. Wilson. It was, however, a very enjoyable road trip!

Update - August 15, 2007: Finishing Off the Traverse:

Since Bill, Jim, and I were not able to finish off the Mt. Wilson - El Diente traverse, Bill and I went back a month later to snag the summit of Mt. Wilson and finish off the traverse from where we left off (Cat Claw Couloir). Thus, this short description and photos shows the remaining part of the traverse.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
Excellent report USAkeller! Sounds like you guys had a fun trip. I can relate particularly to your experience as I have also hiked out of Navajo basin with only El Diente under my belt, I was a little disappointed at first and then I realized (as it sounds like you have also) that it just meant I would get to go back! Anyway nice job breaking down the traverse and providing solid info, that sounds like a sweet escape you guys made too. Happy trails! (or couloirs or whatever ) P.s. Don't ever let anyone tell you that poncho is anything short of freaking awesome!


Great TR
07/25/2007 01:53
Thanks USKeller I enjoyed your trip report. I love Navaho Basin and the surrounding peaks, it was nice to visit them again through your TR. By the way how did you get the extra pictures in to the report?


Navajo Lake
11/30/2010 17:28
Staying in Navajo Basin was a treat and I can't wait to get back there and pace around the campsite!


Great Job!
07/25/2007 03:51
Awesome climb and report guys. You made a great decision and had a super climb, what could be better than that?


07/25/2007 16:13
Sweet poncho Caroline !! Hopefully you had matching shoes to go with it !!

Good call on bailing out - never ANY shame in that. Great job guys, looks spectacular up there.


11/30/2010 17:28
That Cat Claw couloir looks like a fun route up Wilson! Nice job up there, sorry you had to bail so close to Mt Wilson, but doesn't sound like you all had much of a choice. Great route description, I'm sure it will come in handy when September rolls around.


The photos are worth a 1000 words!
07/25/2007 17:45
What a great climb! I hope to be there in September so the route pics really help me to get my mind into the climb. Thanks!


Love the pink poncho
11/30/2010 17:28
USAKeller -- great trip report! How come you didn't break out the pink poncho at Lake Como?


Thanks everyone!
11/30/2010 17:28
benners, mtgirl, and comin2getcha: Glad you liked my hot pink poncho! Vicki- girl, you know I've got a hot pink pair of heels to match it ! I was a little nervous what Bill and Jim would think when I took it out of my pack- I think we all had a good laugh. Hey, it serves as a great secondary piece of rain protection as well as a pack cover -- only for $0.99!! Lance- the poncho didn't come out at Lake Como because it tore over my ice axe on El Diente! Plus, we spent the entire night sleeping in the tent protected from the hail so there was no need for it, remember?!!

PKR: I use an image hosting website (Photobucket) to add extra images. It uploads them as bigger pictures if I want to show better shots of a route.

Bill: I was worried you wouldn't have any energy left over for the climb that day after pacing around camp so much!
Staying in Navajo was really cool!

Everyone else: I'm glad these pictures can help you with the traverse -- I know I am late posting it, but it was my goal to provide those interested with some insight into the traverse and a good bail point in case you get into trouble (like the weather caused us to).


Pretty in pink
07/26/2007 13:50
Caroline, I think the hot pink poncho brings out a nice rosy hue in your cheeks or is that from the exertion in the climb? Holy cat claws! It really looks like a great big kitty stepped in the couloir and left only his prints behind.
Just spectacular!


very nice...
07/26/2007 22:21
poncho . Extremely informative report Caroline. Thanks for posting. I hope to get this traverse some time this month and your report will come in handy.


Great Report
11/30/2010 17:28
as always! I probably won't ever get to this one, but I can live through you!

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