Mt Wilson and El Diente

27-29 Jul 2002 - by Karla Pifer

Better luck the second time. In September 2001, my goal was to climb the Wilsons and El Diente from Navajo Basin. Unfortunately, a string of mishaps culminating in a grapel storm halted the trip at about 11,800 feet on Mt Wilson. I vowed to try again next year.

This year I traveled to the area with the goal of climbing Mt Wilson and El Diente. I had successfully reached the summit of Wilson Peak two weeks prior. I planned the trip with recent BMS graduate Bob Dawson ( whom I met on a solo trip to Kit Carson in June) and we left for Telluride at about 10:00am on Saturday, July 27. Roughly 7 hours later, we reached Telluride. Bob was meeting his good friend Eric who now resides in California. (Both were engineering buddies at Lockheed) We were to meet Eric at the New Sheridan as he had arrived a day earlier and was to climb El Diente on Saturday. Eric managed to struggle in at about 6:00pm having successfully completed the climb albeit as he called it, a trip where he had "6 mile legs on a 12 mile climb." He had traveled to the peak from the Kilpacker side. Bob and I were to complete El Diente on Monday via the Kilpacker route, so we gleamed as much information about the route as we could. However, the next day's goal was Mt Wilson from Silver Pick.

We all traveled to the Silver Pick Trailhead on Saturday evening. Not too many vehicles at the trailhead and Eric was able to make it in his rented passenger car. Bob and I were in a 4 wheel drive vehicle. I awoke at about 4:00am on Sunday and was greeted by clear skies, warm temperatures and a full moon. I had informed Bob that I would get a 'head start" as I have been stuggling this past year to control severe reflux. It now takes my body awhile to get going in the mornings. We agreed to meet at the Rock of Ages saddle. My feet were moving at 4:40am up the 4x4 road. Most of the time I did not use a headlamp as the moonlight was sufficient. I took my time and reached the saddle at about 7:20am. The old road is pretty straightforward. Not too far from the old mining building at about 12,140' a small rockslide impedes your progress, I skirted to the west or right, climbed about 300 feet of loose rock and scree, and then was able to intersect a well worn trail that traversed over to the Rock of Ages saddle. On a previous trip, I followed the 4x4 road well into the basin below the saddle and had to struggle with a vertical ascent of loose scree and rock. Not much fun.

I was to met Bob and Eric at the saddle at 13,020 feet but the sun had not found its way to comfort me and Bob and Eric were not in sight. I descended into the Navajo basin and waited about 1/2 down informing a party on their way to Wilson Peak of my location and to advise my climbing partner of my change in plans. During my wait, I noticed lots of people on their way from Navajo lake to climb Wilson Peak. At about 8:15am, Bob caught up with me. Eric decided that Wilson Peak would be his goal for the day and not Mt Wilson. (Eric did have a successful summit) After a refueling, we marched toward our goal. We were able to follow Roach's description and thus were able to make it to the 13,800 ridgeline following a well cairned route which kept the difficulty to 2 plus. We found the rock fairly solid. We reached the notch just north of the summit block. What a view to look down into the Kilpacker basin and El Diente to the west and Lizard Head spire to the east. Now Roach and other friends indicated that one then proceeds on or near the ridge crest south to the summit which involves the two class 4 moves. We started this way and for some reason became stymied by drop offs. I decided that there was too much air rushing up my shorts and we agreed to descend to the notch. I liked the look of the vertical rock on the east side of the ridge. Thus, we put on our harnesses (just in case) and proceeded up. We figured we would climb this until we reached a safe passage on the ridge direct. Bob was about 10 feet in front of me when he proudly pronounced he had reached the summit. I didn't believe him, therefore raced up the last few feet and realized indeed we had reached our goal. Note, that there is no register or survey marker on the summit. It was time for the obligatory photos. We then pondered our next move. Our original plan was then to descend and return the way we came. We thought long and hard about the traverse as the weather was spectarcular with a descent of El Diente down the Kilpacker route. We had no way to contact Eric to see if he would pick us up at the other trailhead and there was no way we were going to descend El Diente down the north slopes. While ascending Mt. Wilson, we were constantly transfixed by the barrage of rockfall screaming down the north side of the mountain. Bob had recently spoken with two of his BMS friends who had climbed the north route of El Diente a week before and claimed it the most miserable of all their 14ers. Thus, we agreed to descend the way we came. I found the downclimbing of the vertical rock not too difficult. It was pretty loose but if careful, not bad. Bob and I disagreed on the difficulty. He rated it class 3, I rated class 4 as there were a few cautious moves. I never did figure out how to summit via the ridgeline.

We made it into the basin without incident. Marched our way up the 700 feet to the Rock of Ages saddle and then strode back to the trailhead missing the hordes of people that climbed Wilson Peak that day. We never saw anyone on El Diente or Mt Wilson.

The next day Bob and I slept in and started our climb of El Diente from the Kilpacker trailhead. We enjoyed the first 3 miles of relatively flat trail thru the dense woods until we reached the Dunton Meadows and saw El Diente looming before us. We followed the well defined trail past the upper waterfall and over the endless talus. We continued well into the Kilpacker Basin near 13,000 feet. At that point, we traveled to the left/west following the cairns, to near the Mt Wilson - El Diente Ridge. We found this portion of the climb to be on very loose rock and scree and were careful not to knock the rocks down onto one another. Helmets recommended. We then traversed to the west towards the summit. We remained on the south side of the peak below the organ pipes. The route remains well marked. About 200 feet from the summit, we crossed over to the north side of the peak (very small notch) and scrambled to the top. The majority of the climb was class 2 punctuated by some class 3. The rock near the summit was pretty solid. Again the weather was remarkable, and therefore provided an unevenful return to the vehicle. This is a roundtrip climb of 12 miles with a gain of 4,100 feet.

El Diente was #49 for me and #51 for Bob. A great trip (thank you Bob) and one that beckons a return for Gladstone.


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