El Diente Peak
From Kilpacker Basin via Kilpacker TH
Monday July 05, 2010
A good friend and his extended family gathered for the wedding of their eldest daughter; my wife and I were graciously invited and made the 6 plus hour drive to Durango on Thursday night after having worked all day. Friday evening in Hesperus was a gala affair and all attending enjoyed a wonderful celebration with young and old alike partying to the wee hours of Saturday. Uncle of the bride Andrew and I then planned for a Monday accent of El Diente…………
I consider Andrew as an old friend and confidant and after rafting the Animas River and attending the Bar D Chuckwagon dinner/show on Saturday and a BBQ at the newly-weds on Sunday we bid our a dues and loaded-up Andrews Exterra with all our gear and hit the road about 8:00PM for the two hour drive to Kilpacker Trail Head.
The traffic was minor and the drive on Route 160 West to Mancos where we stopped briefly for a slice of pizza and North on Route 184 to Dolores was a breeze; then North on Route 145 to the little town of Rico. Here we found the firehouse on one end of town and a State Trooper parked at the other and in between the citizens of this fair city blew-off every form of fireworks right on the Main Street………..Mortars, M-80-100’s, Sky Rockets and Bottle Rockets filled the darkening skies as Andrew found a back alley and progressed parallel this 4th of July spectacle. The last thing we saw exiting town was a 9 year old tossing a full 500 round load of Black Cats into the middle of the street about 40 yards from the parked State Trooper as they popped & crackled we made our way slowly past the trooper and out of this wild and wonderful little burg and 6.5 miles to FR 535 where we turned left and proceeded the 5-6 miles to the TH along a good/solid dirt road.
The night was clear and calm and there were about 6 or 7 vehicles but no one around as we found a parking spot and prepared to bed-down for the night in the back of the Exterra. Since we had already spread our sleeping bags out before we left, finding our way into our bags and a deep sleep wasn’t a problem at about 10:00PM………We were way beat.
My watch alarm sounded at 2:56AM and we wasted little time getting up and preparing a quick cold breakfast of oatmeal bars, bananas and a quart of Gatorade. A cool chill ensued with the stars above; glorious in the inky skies and a half moon added some soft shadows as we readied our packs and I donned my headlamp as we hit the trail right at 3:59AM.
Andrew did a great job staying-in-step with me as I was the only one wearing a headlamp and our progress was good and steady as we found our way through a large meadow and into the black forest. Following the trail wasn’t too bad but my night vision being so poor caused me to stray a bit and we managed to completely miss the right turn for the Kilpacker Basin approach. We could now hear the rushing/gushing sound of Kilpacker Creek directly ahead and stopped to check my Summitpost print-out. I knew that we should have turned right prior to the creek and after 150 yard backtracks we came to the posted signs and corrected our wrong.
Daylight was breaking and finding the right trail gave us a boost of sorts as we made quick work of finding the fallen tree creek crossing and on into a huge meadow with some tents pitched in the trees to the right and an awesome waterfall directly ahead in the distance.
Ahead and above loomed El Diente standing tall above all else and a visible trail could now be seen traversing above the falls and heading to the right into Kilpacker Basin.
Proceeding through the lush/huge meadow and back into the forest brought the first of many tests this day would bring; a steep ascent and elevation gain and then onto another steep/scree climb through a bushy section and then to a loose/rocky traversing ascent up and out above tree line. This quick secession caught us a bit off guard and we paused to catch our breath. The weather was clear but very cool and a westerly wind pressed with hard gusts and nearly knocked us down. We were glad to have our long clothes on and gloves as well to protect against the biting chill of the unsuspecting gale force gusts as we proceeded higher up over and beyond the waterfall and out into Kilpacker Basin.
Staying on the well-cairned/rocky-stumbly trail wasn’t a problem and although the wind gusts were unpleasant, they were indeed pushing us up into the basin with Mt Wilson now directly in front and El Diente on the left. We remained in the shadows of these enormous mountains with dawns early light showing bright in the west at our backs as we climbed ever higher and deeper into the basin along this seemingly endless rocky traverse. Stopping often but briefly to rest worked well and we made good progress up and across a couple of hardened snow fields and then turned left following the cairns up through a nasty dirt/scree/rocky approach under and then around a short rock outcropping and up to a narrow short gulley leading left of a large snow field. Across this field we spotted a pair of climbing poles standing erect- a sure sign that another person was above/ahead of us.
Gaining the top of the gully brought us our first direct sunshine of the day and the winds seemed to taper-off almost immediately. Brightness was somewhat blinding at times and trying to find the cairns became the next task at hand in hopes of finding the correct trail. We soon found it better to simply find a line and scramble up the bigger more stable rocks as we advanced upwards just left of a large rock rib line on our right. Here we paused for a longer rest to take in some food, drink and apply sun screen as we knew we were at a critical juncture and needed to make the best possible ascent to reach the alleged “organ pipes” above (the entire ridge looks like organ pipes) and then find the traverse left and to the summit.
Climbing left of the rock rib and scrambling up the larger rocks brought us to a cairned section leading pretty much straight up the way we were going. Above we now heard voices and eyed two guys in red helmets apparently heading back from the summit. They couldn’t see us and we soon lost sight of them as we continued our climb through the cairned gulley just left of the rock rib line. As we neared the top I spotted another guy above and gave him a shout. He didn’t see me right away but I got his attention and he informed us that we were getting close and that the traverse offered a few up-and-down sections along a well cairned summit approach. This guy had made a daring icy “way bad” ascent of El Diente from the North side and was now traversing the ridge to Mt Wilson. He had left at 2:30AM from Navajo TH……….it was now about 9:50AM as we wished each other luck & safe passage as we went our separate ways.
Blue skies, and comfortable temperatures made our climb a pleasant endeavor as we gained the ridge traverse and as the guy had stated followed a well cairned advance across to where another short narrow gulley greeted us and the cairns ran out. I didn’t hesitate but to lead us up through this gulley and upon reaching the top found the North side of the mountain. The view from this vantage was breath-taking and I turned to take a photo of Andrew nearing the top of this South-to-North gulley passage………cool.
Now on the North side we proceeded along another couple of narrow ups-and-downs as this approach was becoming somewhat anti-climactic until we each eyed a wooden stick slightly above and knew this to be the summit proper. Another short rather dangerous “clamber” and up and then abruptly onto a tiny, empty summit right at 10:25AM
……………..we’d made it!!
A large wooden stick had been planted upright in the rocks right at the summit where we found the registry tube to be empty and missing the screw-on end cap……vandalized perhaps. Weather couldn’t have been better with a slight cooling breeze and visibility seemingly endless; the views were sensational with many discernable 14’ers and countless other peaks. Photo opportunities abounded and I wasted little time snapping-off several in quick secession
Gladstone Pk & Mt Wilson
Wilson & Gladstone Peaks
before Andrew and I took each others summit portraits from a distance of about 3 feet.
With this summit being as tiny as it is we barely had enough room to remove our packs and sit down facing each other; good thing no one else was there as this tiny perch offered seating for two only.
We stayed about 25 mins enjoying the day and taking-in more food & drink, I also took two aspirin for the down climb and we each filled a pocket with Skittles.
Starting the down-climb right from the summit brought a couple of steep, rocky negotiations where a fall here would be fatal down the North slope as we retraced our steps and back over to the South side. Cautiously we descended from whence we came earlier and decided to down-climb a closer gulley rather than finding the farther one we had used coming up. Steep, loose, smaller rock here and finding a line became somewhat of a challenge as we made our way back over to the base of the rock rib line on our left. We had made many mental notes on the ascent and made certain to get back over left once we cleared the rib line as we proceeded back to the large snow field and the short, stumbly gulley.
The climbing poles we’d seen earlier were gone and avoiding the softening snow was necessary as we found it to be way slick and Andrew biffed-it once as the descent through this section was very unpleasant with the loose little rocks and snow fields making it a slow go. It was a welcome relief to get back down to the long, rocky, cairned traverse where we stopped and peeled-down into short clothes as the day was getting quite warm and the sun pretty intense as we applied another layer of sun screen. The descent along the traverse went uneventfully and getting back to tree line brought the steep, dirt/scree passage back through the bushes and down to where I turned to take some good shots of the mountain and waterfall in the bright midday sun.
Back down along the creek and onto the long trek across the vast meadow area before getting back into the forest and the last of the steepest descent section where we met the two guys we had seen earlier as they had broken camp and were now also heading back down.
Crossing through more meadow and back over the downed tree creek crossing and into the shade of
the forest brought a welcome relief from the sun and fatigue was now becoming quite apparent as I paused to get a photo of the “El Diente Route” trail sign we had missed in the dark.
"El Diente Route" (undiscernable)
Plodding back to the trail head was a definite grind as we were both way tired at this point and when we cleared the last forest section out into the last meadow where we could see the cars parked we perked-up some and soon reached the TH right at 2:59PM.
We shook hands and opened a cold beer to celebrate and I took one last photo of El Diente.
Driving back along the Dolores River on this gorgeous day was most beautiful as I had never been down this way before and I nodded-off several times along the way. We stopped in Dolores to switch drivers as Andrew then slept as getting back to Durango West would bring more cold beer and a hot tub plunge……………nice!
My 49th 14’er this fine day and Andrews third; our first climbs of 2010. Tomorrow, trout fishing on the Animas River………………sweet!!