Intro/StatsAug 24-27, 2006
Wilson Pk (14017')- CO Rank 48
Mt Wilson (14246')- CO Rank 16
El Diente Pk (14159')- unranked but on CMC list
From Navajo Basin
~21 miles RT, 9400' gain
Participants: David Pneuman and Kevin Baker
I have been looking forward to climbing the Wilson Group as part of my 14er quest for quite some time. I sent out a few invites and David Pneuman was the only one left standing as the last weekend in Aug worked well. I was worried about summitting all three on one trip as I have heard horror stories about the weather in the area. The weather indeed lived up to its' reputation, but we found a way overcome it.
David drove down Wed night and had a leisurely backpack into the Navajo Lakes on Thurs, while I arrived fairly late in the afternoon as there was a detour on CO-145. This was the longest drive to a 14er trailhead from C. Springs for me, taking me over 7.5 hrs! It rained off and on during the drive, but conveniently let up just before I set out at 4:40pm. The pleasant 5 mile hike in was a little more tedious than expected as the trail was a mud bog in many stretches.
I was able to contact David by radio a couple miles below our site and told me where to find him as he picked out a nice spot on the n.w. side of Navajo Lake at 11200'. I arrived at camp just a few minutes before 7pm, happy to get 42 pounds off my back.
Wilson Peak/Mt Wilson-FridayThe original plan for the weekend was to do El Diente first via the solid class 4North Buttress, then traverse over to Mt Wilson. If weather/stamina held, we would head over to Wilson Peak. 13er Gladstone would be a bonus, but we didn't have enough time with the limited windows we were given.
The skies were not looking all that great as we set out on the talus strewn trail at 5am. By the time we got to the hanging basin at 12K' where we needed to leave the trail for El Diente, there still wasn't enough light to see the route. Low clouds enshrouded the El Diente/Wilson ridge, so we decided to just head for the easiest peak (Wilson Pk) first and see how the weather played out.
Instead of skirting eastward below the tower that blocks easy passage to Wilson Pk's s.w. ridge, we took a sportier route around the north side of it as we lost the trail. This cost us some time as we could see a climber below the ridge on the correct route. We rejoined the trail and were soon on the false summit, staring at the fun class 3 gully to the summit.
The gully was fairly solid for San Juan rock and in short order we topped out around 8:13am. The views were minimal as the clouds enveloped the summit.
So far the weather was holding, but reaching El Diente was looking to be a tall order. After a nice break on Wilson Pk, we headed down at 8:38 as the downclimb of the gully was not a problem.
We correctly followed the trail this time down to the Gladstone/Wilson Pk saddle and headed over to Mt Wilson by doing a tedious, seemingly never ending boulder hop at the head of the basin. David took a higher line at around 13K', while I stayed around 12800'. In hindsight I think we should have dropped lower to avoid some of these annoying boulders. We finally made it over to the Navajo Glacier and traversed across the low angle bottom of it to join the standard route on the north shoulder. This was surprisingly well cairned and we followed it up eventually up to the notch on Wilson's n.e. ridge.
The guy who we met on Wilson Pk was now descending while his partner was behind us. He told us about an easier route along the backside that avoided the narrow, exposed ridge to the summit. I started going across but retreated as wet trail runners on wet rock was not a good combo. The gully on the backside presented no problems with a couple class 4 moves and we topped out at 10:38am. We could see no more than 100 ft off the summit, so I pretty much decided to bail on the traverse to El Diente. No sooner than I said that and a close rumble of thunder lit a fire under our butts.
We were out of there in five minutes, although the clouds somewhat lifted to partly sunny skies for the descent. The descent of Mt Wilson was tedious, but not as bad as El Diente. We took our time, skirting the cliffs below and arrived back at camp around 3:20, happy to enjoy an early night's rest.
Clash with El Diente-SaturdayOvernight the weather continued to get worse as our tents were lashed with heavy rain and hail for about 5 or 6 hours. The prospects for summitting El Diente were looking grim, but the rain let up around 6am or so. The cloud ceiling was still fairly low, but we decided to give it a shot, heading out a little after 8am. After about 1/2 mile of hiking, we heard a rumble of thunder higher up in the basin. This stopped us in our tracks and it rained for awhile as we donned rain gear and watched the clouds before deciding to head back to camp. We decided to make 2pm our cutoff for a start time, not exactly following the noon summit rule.
At around 1, David awakened me and said the clouds had broke! We were off at 1:20 under clear skies with renewed hopes of summitting. We thought we could get down by dark if the weather held. Yeah right! We made good time up the now familiar trail and decided to go with the north slopes route as it would not be fun climbing a class 4 buttress with hail on the rocks. I was not looking forward to this climb as the north slopes is basically a one step forward, two steps backward climb. This route now subplants Potosi Peak as the loosest, most dangerous rock I have climbed on. The prominent gully was easy to find on the face as there was still a remnant snowfield in the middle of it.
At around 12500', the weather again closed in and it began hail. We sat on our packs and waited it out as the thunder rumbles were distant. By being in the gully, we figured our risk of a close lightning strike were lower. This became the norm as I think we ended up enduring 4 weather delays on the climb of about 5-20 minutes each. The clouds were blowing over the ridge south to north, meaning we couldn't see what was coming.
To avoid the snowfield, we climbed some steep rock on climber's right. The going was slow as the loose rock kept your attention and zapped your strength. It was inevitable that a few would get away from us and David knocked one loose that was heading straight for me. I had a split second to decide what to do and it bounced, heading for my right leg. I quickly moved my leg out of the way just as it wizzed by. We could hear the rock tumble for at least 30 seconds, probably all the way to the bottom of the gully. Thanks to the big guy in the sky for looking out for me on that one!
At just about 300' below the ridge, another quick storm blasted through, but we could see things getting lighter above the ridge. Soon we could see blue skies and we had our shot, although an approaching storm to the s.w. had us moving as quick as we could.
We followed the cairns as it skirted the towers on the ridge. Some low clouds blew over the ridge and we waited again before becoming the highest object, then finally crested the summit at 6:20pm. The register was obliterated but we had no time to sign it regardless. After a 1 minute stay, it was a race to beat the next storm off the ridge.
After we bolted through a keyhole to the Kilpacker side of the ridge, the storm arrived with lightning and a barrage of graupel. This was the only time I thought the lightning was too close as we assumed the squatting position on our packs, although we were fortunant to not feel static electricity. The storm passed in about 10 min, but left a coating of 2-3 inches of slick graupel pellets. This would seriously impede our descent down the gully as it became a slick, loose mess. We went down climbers left this time as it was not as steep on that side, but progress was slow. About halfway down we donned headlamps for the rest of the way, seeing only a few feet in front of us in the fading light. A final boulder hop at the bottom added to the misery and we finally reached the trail, staggering back to camp like zombies at 10:10pm. The thought of having to reclimb this loose gully the next day ended up pushing the envelope of safety on this climb, but we paid attention to the weather and it all worked out.
The hike out Sunday morning was an uneventful but welcome 2 hr mud bog walk, and we were thrilled to get back to civilization. Thanks to David for putting up with my slow down climbing on another thrilling 14er outing! One more CO 14er to go!