Peak(s):  Mt. Wilson  -  14,246 feet
El Diente Peak  -  14,159 feet
Date Posted:  07/06/2010
Date Climbed:   07/03/2010
Author:  wesley_j
 Buttress Route on The Tooth & Traverse to Mt. Wilson  

Mt. Wilson: 14,246 Route: Traverse from El Diente; descent North Slopes (Standard)
El Diente: 14,159 Route: North Buttress; Traverse to Mt. Wilson
Crew: Aaron (Smitty), Wes (wesley_j) , and picked up Richard and Rodney (aka Altidude) for the traverse
Climb date: Sunday, July 3, 2010
Start Time: 4:30am
End Time: ~2:00pm
Time: 9.5 hours (hiking/climbing/negotiating/contemplating/resting/recovering)
Mileage: ~7.5 miles (from Navajo Lake to El Diente, Traverse, and Mt. Wilson descent)
Elevation Gain: ~3,700 feet (From Navajo Lake to El Diente and Traverse)

After extensive planning and anticipation for another adventure, Smitty and I headed off to Telluride for an abbreviated 4th of July in the San Juans. This time, climb "The Tooth" and hopefully knock off the traverse to the mighty Mt. Wilson.

We showed up at the Navajo Basin trailhead around 5:00pm on Friday July, 2nd and shortly thereafter, the pack-in had commenced. We were greeted with our first views of El Diente in one of the many meadows you cross.

First view of "The Tooth"

Upon arrival at Navajo Lake around 7:30, we were welcomed to overcast skies, rain, and a bit of skepticism for the weather holding out for us on climbing day.

Navajo Lake/Camp

Climbing Day - July 3rd 2010

The alarm went off at 4:00 AM and we slowly got ourselves together after a tough night of sleeping. By 4:30, we were trudging up the talus/rock trail that leads you to the high basin. Not a fun trail, especially after descending Mt. Wilson.

Once you reach the higher basin, you are greeted to the evident, Buttress route on El Diente.

Buttress Route

The route description proposed on (by jwproulx) does a nice job of leading you the way. There are a series of "benches" you must climb and for the most part, the rock is very solid and doesn't exceed Class 3. Look for this large cairn as you pass the boulder field.
NOTE: there are carins on this route and even though they are limited in number, they do exist.


Once past the boulder field just off the standard trail, there are three "benches" to climb. Here is a look from the 2nd bench back towards the valley floor.

2nd Bench

Typical terrain on the Buttress

For 3/4 of this climb, the terrain is fairly solid and straightforward. However, after you pass the 3rd bench of large boulders, it gets A LOT more interesting and challenging. Reach the "V" snowfield past the 3rd bench and take some time to evaluate the remaining route as it gets increasingly narrow.

"V" snowfield past the 3rd bench

Wilson Peak

As the ridge narrows and you have crossed some slabs, you are welcomed to some pretty airy moves along a couple "catwalks." We weren't sure if these two moves could be avoided as we didn't see a way around them. Anyway, here is a shot of Smitty climbing the slabs and the "catwalk(s)."

Smitty slab climbing

Catwalk(s) on the Buttress

Here is a look back down the route and the traverse to Mt. Wilson

Looking back at the route

Looking towards the traverse

The final summit push has a mixture of solid rock as well as some very loose rock. Everything past the "catwalk" requires a lot of attention. The rock, the technicality, and the exposure all are elevated. Loacte a very prominent notch after the chimney to get to the summit ridge.

Remaining route; locate notch above chimney

El Diente summit looking towards Mt. Wilson

Summit of El Diente

Traverse to Mt. Wilson:

The weather turned out to be incredible so after spending a very short time on El Diente, we passed through the notch and were off to tackle the traverse.
The traverse to Mt. Wilson is well cairned and the route gives you just about everything, from a mountaineering perspective.

We reached the Organ Pipes and met up with Richard and Rodney (they climbed the North Slopes). After some conversation we all joined forces and headed towards Mt. Wilson. Here is a look back at El Diente from the Organ Pipes.

Looking back at El Diente

Traversing below the Organ Pipes, there are some fun chimneys and exposed ribs that need to be navigated.



It was during one of these exposed ribs that my ice ax got dis-lodged from my pack and off it went sailing...down into Kilpacker! Finders keepers...

Richard traversing past the Pipes


Once you conquer the climbing in and around the Organ Pipes, regain the ridge. This offers some easy-going ridge walking. A nice break...for now.

Ridge Walking

We reached the "crux" of the traverse and the line for us, pretty much stood out. I am sure there are multiple ways to climb this rock wall but we went straight up and navigated right, about 2/3 up. I thought this was fun climbing and definitely was not the hardest part of the traverse (IMO).

Route up "crux"

Once you reach the top of the rock wall, regain the ridge. Here are the "narrows" and this portion of the ridge is the most exposed. Huge air on both sides...

"The Narrows"

Terrain you will encounter on "The Narrows"

We made it past the narrows and located the notch leading towards Mt. Wilson. The summit push to Mt. Wilson is pretty wild with multiple options. We chose to stay left and towards the crest of the rock. The exposure on the right is large.

Here is me attempting to understand what just happened, with the traverse in the background.


Altidude enjoying a well earned summit with a cold one. Nice climbing with you guys!

Rodney, aka Altidude enjoying some Rocky Mountain juice

We eventually made it down the standard route of Mt. Wilson. Not a fun descent! Look very carefully for cairns as they get lost amongst all the talus/boulders!

A look at the entire traverse from the valley floor.

A look at the traverse from the descent

This was an incredible day and some of the toughest climbing Smitty or I have ever done. There are a lot of fun moves on these moutains but there are many hairy spots as well. There is a reason why this is known as one of the four great CO traverses.
My final thought is that the Buttress route is no joke and provides a great challenge. The traverse is immensely wild but totally doable with complete attention.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Keep climbing!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

07/06/2010 19:48
Great trip report! We are headed up tomorrow and appreciate the update!


07/06/2010 20:46
This weekend was a grand slam! Sure was great climbing with you guys, the extra pairs of eyes makes a big difference on climbs such as these. The traverse had a few areas that had the pucker effect, but it sure made for an amazing day. The buttress is VERY downplayed especially in the final sections, I‘m glad that I wasn‘t alone in how difficult/scary that route is. Climb on!


07/06/2010 20:52
It was great climbing with you man. Hope you guys had a nice, safe climb on Wilson Peak! Shoot me a PM or an email when you come up to the Front Range or Sawatch. Would love to climb with you again.

Thanks for the shout and I hope you have fun up there!


07/06/2010 21:51
WJ -

Excellent write up man! I have a some more great shots from up there... is there any way to add them to the T/R, I wonder?

Your positive attitude at 5am was MUCH appreciated! This ‘ol mule‘ named Smitty takes a while to get going in the morning!


Good climbing with you all! Good luck with the long drives up to the Sawatch/Front Range.

I was feeling the ‘PUCKER‘ for sure!

To those reading this for beta - This route was by far the most challenging I have done (I do have Capitol, LB and N Maroon left though). The Buttress gets progressively tougher and would be a nightmare to downclimb in its entirety.



Was that you we saw?
05/02/2011 14:23
Nice climb and TR. Benners and I were descending Mt. Wilson into Kilpacker when we saw a group nearing the fun part of the traverse around 9:45am. I assume that was you guys? I think Ben got a pic or two. Sure glad that weather cooperated for us!


07/07/2010 03:47
Good work fellas on a challenging circuit. Pretty sure we saw you on the traverse, here are a few shots we took in case you‘re interested:


07/07/2010 04:27
That was us! Thanks for the pix!


Good job!
07/07/2010 04:17
Looks like it was a great make the North Buttress route look tempting.


Nice Pix!
07/07/2010 13:53
Benners, Wesley- Yes, that was us. Thanks for sharing the pix!



07/09/2010 19:16
Nice work. I‘m going to attempt this route on Sunday with some friends. Would you recommend bringing an ice axe/crampons?

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