Wilson Peak

22 Sep 2001 - by Doug Cook

Under a forecast of warm Indian summer days with clear skies and a stable high pressure system over Colorado, Kevin and Diana Craig and I headed for Ouray Friday afternoon, September 21. The aspens' annual color change was at its peak and provided some terrific views along the six-hour drive. Generally, we found the colors to be best in the San Juans - a lot of the leaves were already off the trees on both sides of Vail Pass. Road construction and closure of one lane just before the Eisenhower tunnel delayed us at Bakerville and added an hour to the drive to Ouray. On the return trip, traffic backed up from Georgetown to past Idaho Springs delayed us again. It's hard to imagine how much worse the traffic problems will eventually be if they continue to get worse, as they have the last 10-15 years.

Saturday morning we left the Silver Pick trailhead at 7:40 and began the 2600 foot uphill pilgrimage to Rock of Ages Saddle. Kevin has made several trips into this basin, and the fastest and most solid route seems to be to generally stay on the road (with one minor cairned shortcut up a steep slope where the road turns to red rock and makes a LONG switchback to the NW) up to the old stone, partially-intact mining building. At this point you can either ascend an obvious gully/snowfield/steep slope to the road on the right side of the basin or traverse a rockfall more directly ahead to get back on the road for a short time until an obvious and steep trail appears that also takes you up to the road. Finding this road high on the right side of the basin is much easier than climbing directly up over steep and loose scree to the Rock of Ages saddle at the head of the cirque.

Although the morning started out sunny, calm, and cool, a strong breeze came up out of nowhere just before we arrived at the saddle and reminded us we were up high with several minutes of very light snow. The weekend before, also early in the morning, Kevin and his companions had been "jumped" by a severe winter-like storm that forced them to retreat - a difficult decision when you're closing in on the Rock of Ages saddle. Fortunately this squall only lasted a few minutes, and the weather remained pleasant for the rest of the day. Looking from the Saddle across Navajo Basin at the steep, partially snow-covered slopes of Mount Wilson and El Diente, you can't help but be humbled by the majestic, intimidating mountains. Kevin and I had done a snow climb July 1 up the steep slopes and summited Mount Wilson. Revisiting the basin reminded me of the sense of real accomplishment one feels when you summon all your energy, experience, and determination to reach a difficult goal.

We began the obvious and long traverse below the ridge and ascended toward the Wilson Peak/Gladstone saddle - this section is well-worn trail. The trickiest part on the "lower mountain" was just after the Wilson Peak/Gladstone saddle where some Class 2+ to 3 moves are required to traverse and climb around some slabs. It's possible to avoid these moves by dropping further down on the slope, but the lower trail (with the elevation loss) appeared much looser. After the traverse, it's pretty much standard somewhat loose Class 2 hiking up to the final Class 4 crux.

After about 4.5 hours, we arrived at the false summit with a deep notch just before the true summit. With dry conditions, the notch crux is a 40-50 foot steep 3rd to 4th class downclimb to a small saddle and climb to the summit on solid, very angular shale. The downclimb is on the north side of the mountain and, as a consequence, was beginning to hold snow. With 2-3 inches of snow on this down-sloping rock, we carefully picked our way down to the saddle trying to find hand and foot holds on semi-dry rock. Considering the possibility of a fall funneling down to the saddle followed by a runout down a talus-filled gully, a rope would have been welcome security. Under these conditions, the notch seemed like 4th to lower 5th class climbing - solid handholds were sparse and "real" rockclimbing techniques like hand-jams and back-steps were needed. After carefully considering the difficulty and potential risks in light of her recent back surgery, Diana decided to remain on the 13,900+ sub-summit (a wise decision in our estimation).

Climbing up the steeper but drier far side of the notch felt more secure. We breathed a sigh of relief on the summit. After a brief presentation to Kevin of gift-wrapped Gatorade and a medallion celebrating climbing all the Fourteeners (open to public access), we began the second half of our climb. A few storm clouds off to the north prompted us to cut our summit time short as wet rock on the return traverse would considerably complicate the descent. As it turned out, our concerns were unfounded as the storm never materialized and a number of people safely summited after us. The return trip across the notch was easier as most of the down-climbing was on the drier side of the notch and ascending the snow-covered rocks was much more secure than on the initial descent.

Our trip back to the Saddle was a fun downhill hike and the weather blessed us with a warm afternoon with lightly overcast skies. Back at the Saddle, we talked with a climber from Texas that had just soloed the steep rock and snow covered face on El Diente. He was in awe of the beautiful views with the aspen at their brilliant best and expressed how he loves to climb and comes to Colorado once or twice a year to climb Fourteeners. I felt a bit humbled considering how we complain about the "long" drive to the San Juans from Denver! We congratulated him on successfully completing his 40th Fourteener and wished him luck on his next trips. Not being a member of the CMC and with the logistical impracticality of trying to get on the annual Culebra trip, it's unlikely he will ever be able to climb Culebra. But, his obvious pleasure in climbing and enjoyment of the experience - the entire "journey" - reminded me of the most important aspects of climbing and pursuit of the Fourteeners and other summit goals.

A strong, chilling wind picked up briefly and encouraged us to leave the saddle and head down. We took a slight detour to examine the slopes below the ruins of another mining building where we found the remains of bottles, tin cans, shoes, fabrics, tools, and lots of cattle bones (those miners sure must have been hungry folks!).

On the 4 WD drive out, we were treated to the amazing view of the east side of Mount Wilson with the aspens ablaze (metaphorically speaking) on its lower slopes; truly one of the more spectacular views in the State. The return drive over the Dallas Divide provided us with our second "classic" vista of the day, and the roadside was crowded with photographers trying to capture the splendor. We arrived back in Ouray at about 5PM and had a long wait to get into a restaurant for dinner - Ouray lodging was booked up and the restaurants were packed with "Leaf Peepers." We stayed at the Cascade Falls (formerly Circle M) motel which we found to be very clean, recently renovated, and run by a very nice and personable young couple from Poland. Sunday we spent a few hours wandering around wonderful Ouray. The owner of Ouray Mountain Sports enthusiastically told us about all the fund raising and expansion planned for the Ice Park. We hiked along the edge of the Gorge and checked out the extensive improvements in new water lines and sprinklers added just this Summer. It was exciting to learn that not only will the Ice Park be open this Winter (there had been rumors since last year that it would be closed), but that the total terrain will be nearly doubled with much of it WI 3-4. The School Room will be nearly tripled in length with additional ice routes that will be formed in the new "South Park" area, the area of the Gorge south ("up river" from) of the current School Room. We were also told of hopes and plans to develop routes on the opposite side of the Gorge which will provide more challenging terrain including some free-hanging ice and additional pillars. Thanks and good wishes go out to the Access Fund (a $7,000 grant), various private contributors (who provided $5,000), and most especially to an anonymous donor ($20,000!) who together are making it possible to continue operating the Ice Park. To keep access to the Ice Park free, the Ice Park Association just instituted fund raising annual $35 memberships which will entitle each member to 20% discounts on food and lodging at participating establishments as well as substantial discounts at many other stores in town (including Mountain Sports) and other benefits. Details will be posted to their informative web site (www.ourayicepark.com <http://www.ourayicepark.com> ) in the near future. Visit the website and become a supporting member. They have also instituted a policy to limit formal guiding in the Park to try to keep the routes as uncrowded as possible.

Although Jeff Lowe will apparently no longer be the main sponsor of the event (the Ice Park Association has purchased rights to the event), the annual January Ice Festival (January 18-20 this year) will again be one of the best Winter celebrations in Colorado.

Congratulations to Kevin Craig on successfully completing the "ABC" Fourteeners!! ("All But Culebra" as he puts it.) It seems unfair to folks like the stalwart Texas climber we met to include a peak on highly controlled private property in an "Official List" of 53-55 Fourteeners. It's also counter-productive in that it encourages violations of private property rights to climb Culebra, which could lead to complete closure of Culebra. Since the new ownership of the ranch which includes Culebra and imposition of the once a year access only to CMC members who qualify (and win having their name being drawn in a lottery), only a few people per year are able to complete the Fourteeners if their "List" includes Culebra. There are many more mountaineering goals to pursue like Keiners, Notchtop, Dream Weaver, Chimney Rock, Dallas Peak, Wham Ridge, Ellingwood Arete, etc, etc, etc!

Are ya ready Commander John?!!

So many peaks - so little time!

Doug Cook, with Prodigious, Accurate Editing by Kevin Craig

Steve Bremner adds:

That's cool, Doug. Did we almost cross paths? I left on the Silver Pick Trailhead at 0734 (you 0740?) on Saturday, 22 Sep. Laila and I climbed Mt Wilson on Saturday, camped in Navajo Basin, then went up Gladstone on Sunday. Gladstone is harder than Mt Wilson--steep exposed and loose rock. Sam the Wolfdog got within 10 feet of the summit of Mt Wilson. I then spent two hours trying to get him over the last class 4 move with rope protection. I now am a total expert on that last move. I did every way possible about ten times.

Mt Wilson was my 53rd. This weekend I'll be trying nine fourteeners in 24 hours (no vehicle--cross country). I did eight in 23 hours (including 3,000 foot drop on the final) two weeks ago with Mike Tilden--La Plata to Yale.

> It seems unfair to folks like the stalwart Texas climber we met to include
> a peak on highly controlled private property in an "Official List" of 53-55
> Fourteeners.

I will intercede with an extremely controversial remark. Do it!! Plan your route whatever way you deem feasible and pirate the forbidden fourteener.

The Spanish land grants granted in the 17th century are UNAMERICAN.


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