(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
From Telluride, drive south on Colorado 145 to Lizard Head Pass. Continue south for 5.2 miles and turn right onto Forest Road (FR) 535. Drive 4.1 miles on the 2WD dirt road to a large meadow and junction. Stay straight on 535, pass the Kilpacker trailhead at 5 miles and continue another 2 miles (7 total from CO 145) to reach the Navajo Lake trailhead entrance on the right.
Proposed by 14ers.com member jwproulx, the North Buttress is a good alternative to the standard North Slopes route on El Diente after the snow has melted, because it contains more solid rock.
The route begins as class 2 boulder hopping and gets steadily more difficult and exposed as it climbs the mountain. Almost all of the route is class 2-3, with one class 4 move on the final pitch near the summit. The buttress can easily be divided into six sections which are separated by natural benches in the terrain (see below).
Use the Navajo Lake Approach. Above Navajo Lake, the trail contours with the talus slopes well above the creek, until eventually moving back toward the flowing water at a grassy shoulder around 11,800 feet. Leave the trail here, angling right (south) toward the North Buttress. There is some mining debris to the left (east) of the buttress, and the bottom of the buttress ends in gray rock above the boulder field on the shoulder.
1. The Boulder Field (Photo #1)
After leaving the trail at 11,800 feet, hike through the boulders to the base of the buttress (class 2). Angle up onto the ridge above the steepest of the gray rock at the base of the ridge.
2. The Slabs (Photo #2)
Cross the crest of the ridge and hike up solid gray rock slabs to the right of the ridge crest, until progress is blocked by an obvious boulder. Turn left here and scramble up over some boulders and onto the first wide bench (Photo #4).
3. The Jumble (Photo #3)
From the first saddle, a large inclined boulder field makes up part of the buttress. This section requires some route-finding and a few 3rd class moves over boulders. When in doubt, easy passage around obstacles is most often found to the right (west), but not always. This section ends at the second bench (Photo #6).
4. The Hump (Photo #5)
From the second bench, The Hump above is seen as a steeper section of the boulder-strewn buttress, but it is surprisingly easy to overcome. Simply hike upward on class 2 ledges along the highest point or just to the left (east) of the highest point along the buttress. Arriving at a third, narrower bench, the "V" shaped snow field will be visible immediately ahead.
5. The "V" (Photo #7)
Here the route begins to get interesting. From the third bench, follow an obvious ledge straight ahead, then to the right (Photo #9) toward more difficult terrain. Look left and find a 3rd class passage up solid rock which involves just two or three quick moves (Photo #8). After this, the climber is next to the base of the "V" snow-field, on its left (east) side.
Hike left (east) and uphill over talus to regain the ridge crest (Photo #10). Continue straight up the spine of the ridge (class 3), which quickly narrows to nearly a knife edge or more of an inclined catwalk, with increasing exposure(Photo #11 and Photo #12).
Eventually this inclined catwalk ends at the summit of a tower. Before reaching the summit, look left (east) to find a ledge leading around the tower, which allows easy passage to the 4th bench (more of a saddle here) (Photo #13).
6. The Summit Pitch (Photo #19)
From the saddle, hike straight ahead over gravelly ledges, then scramble up across narrower ledges on gray slabs (class 3) (Photo #15). Or...
Per 14ers.com member KeithK, a better alternative is to stay to the right of the gray slabs and climb more solid rock directly to the summit ridge, as seen here (Photo #19) (photo provided by KeithK).
This avoids the following, which involves more loose rock:
(Photo #14) There are cliffs to the right (west) and a drop-off toward a steep couloir on the left (east). Straight above, there may or may not be a small patch of snow depending on the season. There are several steep 10-foot high chimneys leading to the base of this snow patch. All of these options involve one or two class 4 moves, though these chimneys consist of mostly solid rock (Photo #16).
Above the crux, angle steeply uphill and to the right (west) for 50 feet over gravel, mud and looser rock (class 3) (Photo #17). This is the loosest section of the climb, but it is short-lived.
The climber arrives abruptly atop the West Ridge, less than 100 yards from the summit. From here it is an easy scramble along solid blocks on the West Ridge to reach the highest point of El Diente (Photo #18).
This is a serious and committing route, especially the upper half, which is exposed and may contain some loose rock. A climbing helmet is highly recommended. This route may contain snow and muddy conditions in the early climbing season (through June). IMPORTANT: This route enters the Lizard Head Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.