Peak(s):  El Diente Peak  -  14,159 feet
Mt. Sneffels  -  14,150 feet
Wilson Peak  -  14,017 feet
Date Posted:  07/07/2008
Modified:  07/08/2008
Date Climbed:   07/07/2008
Author:  lordhelmut
 San Juans 4th of July - what would Frank Drebbin do?  

"Like a midget at a urinal, we had to keep on our toes."

This would be the quote of the weekend for Kiefer, Scott, Carl and I as we fought the weather in Navajo Basin over 4th of July weekend.

We had been planning a long drive down to the San Juans for quite some time and the group size and composition was ever changing. First, it was supposed to be me and Vince (rockymtn69). Then it turned into me, Vince and Kiefer, then Scott, then finally Carl and maybe Matt (delsur). With the weekend approaching, Vince had to bail at the last minute, which was very unfortunate and Matt veered towards other pastures, coming off a bout with pneumonia, he wanted to get some more peaks in before commiting to anything. So the group was set, with Carl, Scott and I driving down on thursday night and climbing Sneffels in the morning and then meeting Kiefer in Telluride to get some grub and head into Navajo Basin.

The drive down went quite well, since we one, decided to miss the traffic on 70 in addition to the major accident and two, Carl had a DVD player. We watched "Cloverfield" on the way down and got a huge kick out of seeing yuppies getting eaten by aliens, thats pretty much the only way I can sum up that flick. After a 15$ meal at the Gunnison McDonald's, we made quick time into Ouray, drove up till 11,600 feet into Yankee Boy Basin and were stopped just a few miles short of the 4wd TH due to a chained fence blocking access. There are still a couple snowdrifts that would be problematic for any vehicle. We found a parking spot and camped there for the night.

Day 1 - Sneffels and Telluride

Alarm went off around 4:45 and we hit the trail about 30 minutes later. It was no slog whatsoever to the base of Sneffels and we were greeted with an amazing view of Yankee Boy :


Having done the Lavender Col standard route 4 years ago with my dad, i suggested the SW Ridge route. Carl and Scott definately liked the idea and even more so liked the idea of a snow climb to mix things up. We found both these as we neared the mountain

Our route to meet the ridge is the obvious wide couloir on the left side of the pic, this was a very quick, 400 foot climb, with perfect cramponing snow

We made our way up the gulley to the small notch in no time, and after some exposed, loose scrambling, we looked West and had a great view of Dallas Pk and the Wilson Group

And here is a shot looking down the semi-exposed ridge with Scott making his way upwards

The SW Ridge certainly did not disapoint, it was a "friendly" class 3 route with surprisingly solid rock and a dramatic feel to it. There was a constant drop off to the left, which we flirted with, but never crossed over to, it was a pretty straightfoward route, we simply hugged the crest of the ridge all the way to the summit. 2 hours and 10 minutes later, we topped out on the summit and enjoyed views of our next endeavor, the Wilsons, along with a bunch of the tougher Centenniels in Colorado, Telluride ski area, Utah and beyond. To be honest, at this time of year, the toughest part of the climb was the gully above where Lavender Col tops out. It was filled with snow and made for a methodical downclimb into a pile of boulders. After we got over that small hump, we made for the car and was presented with numerous photogenic scenics including this one :

Carl and Scott along the road, looking South into the heart of Yankee Boy Basin :

We got back to the now crowded parking lot, cracked open Scott's growler of Rock Bottom Pale Ale, got a nice buzz goin and enjoyed the views in the day time of the basin, its waterfalls and the C section of overhanging rock along the road, very exciting and dramatic place, possibly the most behind the Lone Eagle Cirque.

We met up with Kiefer in Telluride, there was already a lot going on all day for the 4th of July parade.


After getting some beers and buffalo wings, we made our way towards the Woods Lake Trailhead, which is located just outside the town of Sawpit along rt.145. It was a mellow drive to the popular day use area, we packed our stuff for the next 3 days and were on the trail soon after. This approach has its ups and downs, I'll start with the downs. The first 2.5 miles are done under treeline, its a fine forest hike, but not so much with all the mosquitos, which are plentiful. We literally could not take a break cause everytime we stopped, we were swarmed by bugs. I will say though, once out of treeline, the bugs ceased and the views picked up, big time. Here are some shots of us just before we headed into Navajo Basin.


Kiefer and Carl (Scott's pic)

And an angle of El Diente none of us had really seen before, pretty crazy looking mountain from this vantage point

We arrived to the lake on a very pleasant evening, perfusely sweating our gonads off and ready for some grub and some rest for the long two days ahead of us. Before the sun called it a night, Scott was able to capture a beautiful surreal shot of Navajo Lake with Gladstone in the backdrop.


We all had a good nights rest and planned on climbing Wilson Pk, with Kiefer and I highly aniticipating making it a combo with the Centenniel 13er Gladstone (13,913ft).

Day 2 - Wilson Peak and Gladstone Peak (attempt)

We hit the trail around 6am, a later start than we'd like, but since the morning was clear and sunny, we had no worries (for the moment). We were really taking our time, checking out the mine's ruins, taking a lot of breaks and basically just dicking around and reached the ridge connecting Wilson to Gladstone around 8:30am. We left the crampons, axe and poles at the saddle and made our way towards the summit, with blue skies to boot. Here is a look at our route in addition to the mines ruins in the basin :


Checking out the region (Kiefer)

Kiefer and Scott

Carl along the class 3/4 section just below the summit

We topped out around 10am and saw the wreckage from the plane on the summit, which was scattered about. As we sat there, we noticed a good amount of dark clouds gradually forming, but not quite threatening. We figured if we'd leave now, Kiefer and I would have enough time to do Gladstone while Carl and Scott could keep the beer cold and safe back at camp.

Descending off Wilson's summit with clouds in the distance

By the time we neared our dropped off gear, the thunder had already started and we soon realized Gladstone was out of the question. We realized a second later that a fast descent was a must too since lightning was seen closing in on the basin. To make a short story short, we made it back to camp from the saddle in 45 minutes, literally running most of the way. Now to make a long story short, there was rain and thunder for the rest of the day, making life pretty miserable. We were fortunate enough to find shelter from the storm under a group of trees at our camp and even managed to make a fire, we certainly had some time to kill since we arrived back at the tents before noon. Knowing the next day would be a long one, we hibernated to our sleeping quarters and konked out for the night.

Day 3 - El Diente to Mt.Wilson traverse

The final day we focused on the ED-Wilson traverse and began with an earlier start, but we couldn't start too early for we needed some sun to hit our route since it was frozen solid from all the rain the day before. We reached the base of our route soon enough :

Kiefer approaching the gulley

The angle never got too steep (43 steepest reading), but was just long, it was around 2000 feet from the base to the ridge.

Kiefer and Carl ascending

Once at the ridge, someone we met at camp mentioned it would take 20 minutes to reach the summit. Thats nearly impossible, especially with concern for the already forming dark clouds and the veriglass rock on the southern end of the ridge. There was a lot of ice and frost that still clung to the rocks, making footholds very sketchy and progress slowed considerably. We topped out around 9am and didn't spend too much time on the summit

Looking over at Mt.Wilson from the summit of El Diente

The traverse, all of a sudden, looked a long ways away, given the amount of elevation gain we had done in the last 72 hours, the amount of miles we hiked and the dark forming clouds. We had already learned an important lesson the day before, we didn't want to be taught it again. Much to our dismay, we opted to downclimb off El Diente's dangerous north slopes back in the basin

As we were reaching 13,900 feet, Carl and I were downclimbing and about 10 feet below Kiefer and Scott, who were waiting on a ledge above us. Carl is scouting out a safe passage below us when I hear a loud shout above. I look up and see a boulder the size of a small fridge headed right for me. I instinctively move to the left and barely move my leg out of the way as the behemoth rock tumbles down the slope, if it had been a couple inches over and a second later that I realized what was happening, that boulder would have snapped my fibula right in half. Luckily, I walked away with a significant bruise and still don't know how I was able to evade that tragedy. This was no one's fault at all, more just a shitty descent and a lot of teetering huge boulders all around us. Needless to say, we were methodical in our foot placements for the rest of the downclimb or as Frank Drebbin would say "Like a blind man in an orgy, we had to feel our way around". This was the god damn truth, with glissading out of the question near the top, we had to kick step for a couple hundred feet and it was very time consuming.

One of the final views of Navajo before we packed up camp and headed out


The hike back over the pass towards Woods Lake was actually not too bad at all, we were so determined to get some beers, snickes bars and Taco Bell in us, we took a mind over matter approach to the pack out and made it to treeline on the other end of the pass in about 45 minutes and finally cracked the last beers of the trip

Some Coors and ESBs to make the long trip back to the car manageable

About 8 hours later, Taco Bell, and watching John Rambo obliterate some Burmese militia, we reached our cars at the Morrison lot and parted ways. This was a really fun San Juan trip, just like to say thanks to Scott, Carl and Kiefer for making it happen and also to Carl for driving, that DVD player was huge.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

El Diente
07/08/2008 04:10
While not officially ranked, it has my respect. That is not an easy mountain to get off of. Great report.


Any time spent in the San Juans is worth it
07/08/2008 14:14
Brain- thanks for posting up the TR, you are too funny with your quotes. It looks like even though things may not have gone according to plan, you still had a good time. Scary encounter with that boulder!! But you just can‘t beat time spent in the San Juans...


Nice report
08/28/2008 00:37
Nice job getting the peaks you did, sounds like you made sound decisions when bailing before that storm. Looking forward to climbing with you guys again!


Sounds like a fun trip
07/08/2008 17:03
Bummer that the weather didn‘t hold for Gladstone or the traverse. Brian, I‘m beginning to wonder if by some strange science you are a human rock magnet! I‘m glad it was just another close call


Best Approach
07/08/2008 18:22
Woods Lake is a real treat. We took that route last fall. Nice trip report.


07/08/2008 19:11
Scott - El Diente is a beast, goodluck on Rainier

alanb - have fun up there when you go, cool place, can‘t beat time up there indeed

Mark - let me know when you want to climb again, July is open for me as of right now

Sarah - I‘ve been a lot more cautious than last year and still have had more close encounters with rocks, don‘t know what else to say other than my luck has never been good.

Floyd - we chose Woods based on you and Colin‘s trip, feels like a thru hike region, not just your everyday standard approach. Loved the views of ED from pass and the solitude that came with it.

Chicago Transplant

Thats a lot of cheeseburgers!
07/08/2008 19:29
$15 at McDonalds? I hope that was total for everyone, or else you really ate a lot of cheeseburgers
Sounds like it was a good trip, even if you didn‘t get all of the summits you had hoped for. Looks like a nice approach for the Wilsons! That is a great shot of Navajo Lake and Gladstone!


$15 at McDonalds
05/02/2011 14:23
Nice write up Brian. Great time getting out with you guys. For clarification, $15 did include a generous dinner and a summit burger, which I have a nice pic of Brian enjoying on top of Sneffels the following morning.

Good luck on Rainer Scott.


Marmot cronies stay on their toes
01/19/2011 03:38
At least, when there‘s pole to eat... Can anyone photoshop a marmot behind the wheel of a Jeep Liberty?
That was a fun read. Thanks especially for the beta on Sneffels‘ SW ridge.
After the ”other pastures,” I‘m good to go for the rest of the summer.


Amen to the SJ!
10/22/2008 10:35
Anytime spent down there is a good time! Despite the weather, getting 2/4 is still a good achievment though it‘s still a bit frustrating. It‘s so hard sometimes making sound deceisions when you have your heart set on something. But cold beer does help make that deceision easier!
Good report Brian. I think I‘ll start calling you RM (rock magnet). Great name there, Sarah.
El Diente definately has my respect.
Scott, Carl- Crestones anytime!
Gratutious Marmot pics:
Taking it easy
Nice pose
Navajo Lake Reflection
Topping out on EL Diente‘s North Couloir


07/17/2008 05:31
Amazing guys! I was so bummed that I couldnt make it. Looks as though it was a fantastic weekend! I am glad you guys had an awesome time climbing.. See you guys soon for a climb!


Cool Looking Trip - Great TR and Potos!
09/04/2008 20:20
So much so, that we are considering the Wood Lake approach to snag just Wilson Peak this weekend. A question for you: Hike hours from Wood Lake/TH to Lake Navajo? Trying to gauge to see if we have time to do some 13‘ers same day in.


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