The game-plan was to climb El Diente (14,159) first via the long West ridge and then continuing along this ridge (El Diente - Wilson Traverse) all the way to Mt. Wilson (14,246). We would then descend down the North Ridge of Mount Wilson and meet up with the trail to Navajo Lake and our campsite.
To the left is a map of our intended (and roughly followed) line of ascent and descent. Approximately 16 miles roundtrip.
The drive in was as described on this website to the Navajo Lake Trailhead. 145, 7 miles on the gravel on FSR, and then the sharp right to parking.
The hike in was great. This climb really starts at the parking lot as you gain about 2,000 feet of elevation over the 5 mile trail into Navajo Lake. We did this hike in 2:10. Set up camp on the East end of the beautiful Navajo Lake. Dinner, some minor scouting, and bed fairly early.
El Diente West Ridge
Awoke at 3:45am to heat up some water for tea and oatmeal. Beautiful clear skies and a nearly full moon!!! We left camp at 4:35 under the moon, almost no need for headlamps. Gaining the ridge in the dark would prove to be one of the cruxes.
The climbing right off the ground was very loose - a two steps forward one step back sort of thing through big scree. Routefinding before daybreak was quite difficult, so we just sort of guessed based on the scouting from yesterday, climbing up and to the right (southwest) until we hit the ridge. This section included some class 3 and 4 for us, and I don't think it was supposed to. Quite difficult, especially in the dark.
After struggling through loads of steep scree, we finally gained the ridge (not knowing it until we were on top of it) at 5:15am. Once on the ridge, the climbing was very enjoyable and much more solid than the North slope we had just climbed. In no time we had reached the 13,082 ft. unnamed peak.
We continued up this ridge for longer than we expected, it's really a long ways to El Diente's summit! The scenery was perfect as the sun rose and we had views to the North, West, and South (not to mention Diente looming to the East). This ridge also turned out to be more technical than we expected, and comparable to the Diente/Wilson ridge. At times this ridge is very exposed - only a foot wide in one section. Exciting!
The ridge itself becomes very rugged with many gendarmes that would require very exposed 5th class climbing for sure - not what we expected. To avoid this, we descended down to the South of the ridge and ended up climbing down a pretty big chute of very loose rock. After a fair amount of 3rd class traversing below the gendarmes, we regained the ridge. We waisted probably 1/2 an hour being lost down in this loose rock below the ridge.
Once back on the ridge, we ran into another set of gendarmes that looked less than attractive, so we, again, went South off the radar into 2nd and 3rd class loose rock - not very fun. Again, we regained the ridge scrambling up more loose stuff and saw a clean line to El Diente's summit that held the ridge.
Up this class 3 and we were on the summit! 14,159 at 8:30am.
El Diente - Wilson Ridge Traverse
After a snack and some water, we left the summit of El Diente at 8:50am. The ridge to Mount Wilson looked intimidating! Many gendarmes!
We had an abbreviated guide from Charlie Fowler and Damon Johnston's book Telluride Rocks which proved to be quite helpful.
The beginning of the ridge is a huge descent (class 3) down a very well cairned gully to the South, some loose rock but nothing to write home about. There were bountiful cairns here, so turn off your routefinding superpowers for the next few hundred feet and enjoy the brainless cairn following across Class 1 and 2.
The cairns lead us back to the ridge where they came to an abrupt halt. Here we easily identified the "Organ Pipes." The organ pipes are the largest and most intimidating gendarmes on the ridge. Parties coming from the other direction often rappel them, climbing up them is class 5.
We stayed down to the left of the Organ Pipes as our page-long guide told us, and then ended up climbing straight up through them. In hindsight, we were off route because we ended up doing 5.7-5.8 climbing and it is supposed to be low class 5. Some time was invested trying to find the "right" route through this section - and also to make sure we didn't fall. ;) Once on top of the organ pipes, however, we were rewarded with 360 exposure and the crux of the climb under our belts.
The ridge past the organ pipes was very exposed but easy (class 2). Some of the best climbing on the route is found here. After this exposed section, the climbing let up into much more relaxed and less exposed ridge walking, a welcomed change as we were now quite tired and ready to be on the summit.
Another descent (class 3) lead to another technical section (class 4) lead to another descent (class 3) which gave way to the final section of the traverse. Here one can either finish the ridge with style by climbing the very exposed 4th class ridge, or finish with his/her tail between his/her legs by taking the class 1 dirt path to the South of the ridge. Naturally, we chose the latter, which brought us to the notch that intersects the North Ridge route of Mt. Wilson.
The final 100 feet of Mount Wilson's North Ridge is classic, one of the coolest summit pitches around. Very exposed 4th class climbing on the best rock of the day lead us straight to the summit! 11:30am. From the summit one can see Lizard Head, Mt. Sneffels, Wilson Peak, Gladstone, Lone Cone, El Diente, Sheep Mountain, you name it! Ridiculous views lead us to stay up there for a while.
DescentAfter a sufficient patting of our own backs, we decided to begin the un-welcomed task of going down. After downclimbing the awesome last pitch of Mt. Wilson, things went rapidly downhill (pun - hehe).
We followed some cairns down into some talus. We knew that the descent route was to follow the North Ridge of Mount Wilson, which was to our Right, but these cairns and the direct line down was too good to pass up. I thought it was maybe just a loose descent trail which would be steep and fast.
We continued down and soon the cairns disappeared. Tons and tons of loose rock everywhere, this was not where we wanted to be. We attempted to regain the North Ridge but encountered a snowfield that was hard ice, impassable for us without crampons and axes. From this juncture our options were to 1.) climb back up 500 feet to try to gain the North Ridge, or 2.) continue down the remaining 1,500 feet of steep scree, talus, loose rock, and all around nastiness. A terrible, terrible decision to make, but "let's just get the hell down" syndrome took over and we continued down the slope. The scree finally gave way to larger and more stable talus about 3/4 of the way down, which still sucked, but sucked less.
After starting several minor rockslides, falling numerous times, and cursing an infinite amount, we were finally back on the grass and found the North Ridge trail. The bottom section of this climber's trail was well cairned. We followed this back to the main trail back to Navajo Lake.
I have no idea how long the descent took, but I promise it was too long. We were back at camp by 3:00pm. We debated staying another night eating Powerbars and graham crackers in lieu of any real meals, but again, "get the hell down" syndrome lead us to pack up camp and basically run the 5 miles back to the car (1:35 for 5 miles! Yikes!). This 5 mile backpack jaunt on top of the 10 or so hour climb made for a very big day. Pain, soreness, and moderate bitching ensued.
All in all this was an excellent and very long ridge! We were taken aback at the sunrise while high on the ridge. Nothing beats an alpine start.
Do not expect a "hike" as you are rarely in class 1-2. Prepare for a physical day out with lots and lots of scrambling (3rd, 4th, and some 5th), at 14,000 feet! Some rock competency is required.
If you do not feel comfortable with exposure, either don't do this climb, or start very, very, very early. Sure footedness and comfort with exposure are required to move through this climb at a decent pace (unless you can crawl 4 miles really fast).
WEAR A HELMET!!! Tons of loose rock all over this route. And besides, helmets look cool.
Test every hold on the ridge before committing to it. Many of them are loose, even in well trafficked areas. Don't bet the farm on any one of these holds without first testing it or you could very well lose the farm.
Take the time to find the North Ridge route of Mount Wilson for descent. Going straight down the scree/talus field is a miserable time.
Bring food for an extra night if you don't think you will feel like hiking out 5 miles after a full day of climbing (please note: you will not feel like hiking out, and Navajo Lake is an awesome place).
We had unusually good weather for this climb, not the norm in SW Colorado. Expect thunderstorms in the early afternoon.