Peak(s):  Mt. Wilson  -  14,256 feet
El Diente Peak  -  14,175 feet
Wilson Peak  -  14,021 feet
Date Posted:  07/26/2010
Modified:  07/27/2010
Date Climbed:   07/17/2010
Author:  bergsteigen
 The perfect storm   

Mt Wilson - El Diente Traverse & Wilson Peak

Loose Rock Scramblers: Darrin (kansas), John, KeithK and me

Day 1: El Diente to Mt Wilson via the traverse
Ascent Route: North Buttress (VERY loose rock - potentially dangerous if there is a group above you)
Descent Route: North Slopes (not exactly NE ridge)
Mileage: 6.94
Elevation Gain: 3,444'

Facing a return to the longest day of 14ers I ever experienced... The Wilson - El Diente traverse is a big tough day. The scrambling begins early, and never really ends. Even with a fast group, 12 hours is normal. I've done 18 on a bad weather/conditions day. I hoped for better the second time around. I wanted nothing to do with the standard north gully route from last time. The north buttress route "claimed" to be on more solid rock. I guess if you compare horrendously loose rock to horribly loose rock, then that statement would be true. The north buttress route is marginally more *solid* than the standard gully. Proceed with caution, and bring your A-game. Novices need not apply.

We started early, and had kept our options open for which north route we would take. Not liking the melted out snow, we proceeded over to the Buttress route, loosing a bit of time in this change of plans. There had been some worry over route finding in the dark, but as first light was eeking over the Wilson-Gladstone ridge, we could see the start of the route easily enough. Once over the initial stages, the route proved to be rather solid and almost fun.

Beginning of Buttress - fairly solid rocks (flowers = solid)

Sunrise over Navaho Lake and Dolores Peak

The middle section of the route follows the ridge line more closely, and become loose. Darrin managed to move a gigantic boulder by stepping on an adjacent smaller rock. This got my heart racing, as I was below the boulder's destruction path. But it did serve as a reminder to be careful, and to TRUST NOTHING.

In this area, a group that started a bit after us, passed by on their way up the route. Chatting with a few in the group, I noted a glaring lack of experience in the members. Some only had a few 14ers climbed, and all easy ones. One talked about rafting/kayaking, as being his main sport. This would very soon become an issue, as they passed above us.

Middle Part of Buttress - Rocks are becoming more loose

A peaceful moment - Photo credit: Darrin
The rubble pile continues - no more flowers

The loose rocks abound now - Photo credit: Darrin

Coming around the feature in the next photo - Photo Credit: Darrin

Once over the mini knife edge and around a kind of saddle, the group above us let loose a shower of rocks down the slab region. I say shower, since it wasn't 3 rocks, it was probably a couple hundred or so. Nor was it a one time occurrence, it continued for 15 minutes. This shower fanned out over the entire slab region. If any of our party had been on the slabs, there would have been NO PROTECTION from the falling rocks. It would have been Russian Roulette to see who would be hit. Therefore, we hid under the only protection we had for about 30 minutes, or until we *hoped* that the group above us was off the peak and away from us. The story as I heard it back in camp, was that one in the upper party had stopped to rest on a pile of loose rocks. When he started to move upwards, or off this pile of rocks, it let go, endangering anyone in their group below them.

The slabs - Avoid these if possible!!!

Of course, once we got near the slabs, we realized that the crux for us would be to actually get onto them. This is a class 4 section, if there ever was one. Both Darrin and I utilized climbing skills to cross this section, but neither of us was too comfortable. Neither John nor Keith wanted any part of the sketchy moves we had to perform to get across, and so headed up further. John nearly got cliffed out, but managed a tricky/sketchy traverse over to Darrin and I. Meanwhile Keith remained glued to where he was. He ended up deciding to find a better route to the summit. A small gully feature above him, and to the right of my (uploaded) photo #5. Keith says it didn't get above class 3, and he summitted before us.

What Darrin saw, having crossed onto the slabs - Photo credit: Darrin

Me making my way across - Photo credit: Darrin
Keith not liking his options - found a better route to the summit

Once beyond this section, we ascended quickly, and I even missed the crux (as defined by the route author) at the chimneys. I was at the exit chimney at the summit ridge when I asked where the crux was.

"The crux" - I didn't even realize it was the crux

Once on the summit, it was a giant relief. The traverse would be easy as compared to that sketchy loose ascent! Or at least that is what I remembered from my last trip across the traverse. We took a long break, to try and repair the frayed nerves. Since while the traverse is the easiest part of the day, it is also loose and very exposed in places.

A happy Keith! - Photo credit: Keith's camera

Wilson Peak, Gladstone, Mt Wilson

The first section of the traverse went quickly enough, and we circumvented the organ pipes and the gendarmes. Ascending to the ridge afterwards proved to be more loose than I remember. But the upper ridge was wide enough to make quick work over the the ridge crux.

The ridge to Mt Wilson

Organ Pipes from above

Traversing the first part

A look back to El Diente

Just hangin' - Photo credit: Darrin
The first ridge walk over to the crux section

Photo Credit: Darrin

We took a quick break at the crux to examine our options. Last time I went directly up the center gully feature. But this time, we found the rock to the right of it, to be more solid and easier to get up.

The crux - We went up the center, but finished on the more solid right section

From there, the narrow section was a bit of a surprise. The last time I had done the traverse, I didn't really remember this section, I just plowed through it. This time, I noted the exposure and so did everyone in our group (Note no photos!). We passed through it quickly, as the clouds to our south looked wet, while those to the north of the ridge were barely there. We stopped at the saddle before Mt Wilson to consider the weather and wait for everyone to catch up. We had to decide to make a run for it, or to bail, depending on what the cloud above Mt Wilson did. Thankfully it held off any rain for our summit bid.

Mt Wilson summit ridge, looking scarier than it was

El Diente and the traverse


A not so happy Keith - Photo credit: Keith's camera

Happy to be descending Mt Wilson - Photo credit: Darrin

The descent off the peak was less than ideal. Snow/ice blocked the path to the ridge proper descent, so we slid down the loose gully back down to the nice trail below.

Snow hampered our best descent options, so we just went down

14 hours later, we made it back to camp. Warning all those in our path about the loose nature of the North Buttress. It is also important to point out that my viewpoint on these peaks has changed from the first time I climbed them. I experienced different things, saw a different traverse. The first time I did these peaks, these were the hardest I had done, and I did them in very challenging conditions. Because of this, the traverse was easier. So I feel it is important to point this out, as you read TR's, gleaning information for your own trips. Some people will find certain routes easier (or harder) than others, depending on their own experiences and weather conditions.

Day 2: Wilson Peak
Route: SW Ridge
Mileage: 6.6
Elevation Gain: 2,813'

By comparison, Wilson Peak is a fairly easy day. We strolled up to the Rock of Ages Saddle to take a nice break and watch the sun rise.


Alpenglow El Diente

Wilson Peak - Rock of Ages saddle


El Diente shadows


Once past the first saddle, the rocks get looser and helmets were donned by some. Around the corner of the second saddle, we were faced with some exciting traversing scrambling. But after the initial difficulties, the trail is pretty good to the false summit.

The first part of the traverse over to the peak

Viewing the final summit crux pitch is fairly intimidating, until you get closer. Once upon it, the angle is much more relaxed, and fairly solid scrambling to the summit ensues. The second pitch up on the south side is more loose, and exposed, so we all tread carefully here.

The peak crux

Keith coming up the crux

Darrin going up (Must be solid - there's flowers) - Photo Credit: Keith

We take some time on the summit to enjoy the views. Once down, it will be a slog backpacking out. So here is our enjoyment for the day.
Darrin approaching the summit

Happy to be on the summit!

Descending the summit - Photo Credit: Keith
Going Down

A happy stream

My Photo Album from the weekend

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes: Chicago Basin July 20-23: TR to come soon

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 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions
07/27/2010 01:43
Outstanding photo quality! What kind of camera did you use?


Congrats and Thank You
07/27/2010 02:54
Great job on what sounds like a very rough challenge. We are planning to attempt the Wilson Group this coming weekend, so your TR is of great interest and value. I had just read doggler's account of his traverse starting from Kilpacker and the extended rock hopping involved there, but it sounds better than the loose and dangerous conditions you described. I'd like to do the traverse, but all variables will have to be analyzed, especially in light of the events of today. I hope the survivors are not seriously injured.
Thanks again!

Good work
07/27/2010 03:28
Glad to see you guys did this one safely, especially after the recent accident there. Fantastic TR as always, Otina!

07/27/2010 13:40
on getting this group ”out of the way”. With all the loose rock and such up there, it's hard not to feel that way about the Wilsons.

With a camp at Navajo Lake, your group never really had the opportunity to do the Kilpacker/South Slopes, did you? I found the rock on that side to be not great but at least OK.

The Perspective on Repeats ...
07/27/2010 14:49
I hear you on your comments, Otina, of repeating climbs and traverses that you have not returned to for many years (or decades as has been the case for some of mine). I think my sense of awareness is more heightened on the repeats as I know I've already climbed the darned peak(s) before so ”what's the big dealio”. But, the dangers of loose rock, exposure, bad weather, route finding, still exist and challenge even the most experienced mountaineer. Guess that's part of the allure of it all. Congrats to all on the summits. Happy trails!

Kevin Baker
07/27/2010 15:22
Awesome report as always, Otina. That buttress route looks worse than the north couloir! I think the rock is looser in the couloir, but way less exposed. So it looks like you guys are lined up to finish this year, maybe on Longs? That would be a great one to finish on!

To the point...
07/27/2010 18:38
Thanks for this trip, it really was a major accomplishment to find the summits of those peaks, and I can't be more thankful for the group that I was priveleged to be a part of. You guys really kept me alive, and I don't think that's an overstatement. El Diente's N. Buttress should really be taken seriously; I think the standard route should be from Kilpacker, including the traverse and descent of Mt. Wilson. If you do climb the buttress route, it's the opposite of Maroon Peak. Don't go left, go RIGHT at the slabs!

Jon Frohlich
Glad we didn't do that...
07/27/2010 19:05
After seeing this I think that the route we did sticking to the rocks on the right side of the normal gully is better than this. It was loose and not something I'd want to descend but nothing compared to what those slabs look like. My opinion might have changed had we not been the only two on the route that morning though.

07/27/2010 20:35
Nelson - It's a Canon S90 with a polarizing filter attachment. The camera allows me easy manual control, and so I can do much better than the standard P&S

Keith - You very well may have saved our lives as well. The couple minute delay on entering the slabs was key! Quite glad you stuck to it on Sunday and got Wilson as well.

britdog, doggler, Jon - That buttress route held so much promise that morning! I bet if there wasn't the group above, ”trying” to kill us, then my perspective would be different. Loose but tolerable with a competent group. The route from Kilpacker should be the only way to do those two. But as we needed Wilson P, and we couldn't pull off the trifecta, Navaho lake seemed logical. Maybe a basecamp move mid trip, would be the best option.

Kevin - I am seeing a finisher on Longs in the near future, should everything go well the next couple weeks

it's all relative sometimes
07/27/2010 22:37
Interesting take on the N Buttress route. Our trip last fall was uneventful and mostly solid rock. In fact, I recommended this route in my TR!
We went to the right like Keith did near the top, but were probably on class 4/exposed ledges. Rock was good though.
Nice report and pictures team!

North Buttress
08/04/2010 20:33
Wish I had taken a closer look at this TR before last weekend. I got to the top of the Arete, saw it go from solid to skinny & exposed, and decided to back off and down. Of course, the monsoon weather already moving in at 9:30am helped with the decision, as did memories of a previous Wilson-El Diente traverse in 2001 and getting pretty rattled by the exposure. Nice TR!

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