OverviewWilson Peak from the north; specifically the 'North Northeast Ridge'. A swooping ridge line sweeps out of the north face of Wilson Peak towards the northeast. The NNE Ridge ascends the eastern of the two ridges leading to the north sub-summit and the long swoop. This is the ridge that forms the northern border of Magpie Gulch.
The rock quality is typical of the area--super choss. I feel a rope or protection would provide little, and could perhaps cause harm if trusted. Most of the climbing is 4th class with occasional short sections of low 5th class, though high consequences exist on many sections throughout the route. Push gingerly down and in on everything you touch. No pulling! Mantles only. Solo or simul-solo with great care and deliberation.
After leaving Trail(505) by the creek at 9,250' the ridge climbs almost 5,000ft in just over 2 miles. It is a relatively quick, though sporty, route. From Wilson Mesa TH-Sunshine it took about six hours to get up and another four back down.
Getting ThereFrom Telluride turn south off Hwy145 onto Ilium Rd(625). You'll pass the Sheriff's office and Telluride Gravel. Turn west at Camp Ilium onto Sunshine Mesa Rd(623) and follow south all the way to the end. The final two miles after you pass the Galloping Goose Trail is called Rd63J, though there are no real intersections. In the winter the approach will be a considerably longer walk or ski up the unmaintained road. In the summer you can drive all the way to the Wilson Mesa TH-Sunshine; early summer may leave you with a longer walk. High clearance is a good idea though may not be necessary; 4x4 if its wet. Park and jump onto Wilson Mesa Trail(421).
Have your map handy to help identify the best spot to head up into the woods of off Lizard Head Trail.
From the trailhead hike west on Wilson Mesa Trail(421) for 2.2mi (past Trail420) to the intersection with Lizard Head Trail(505). Turn south on Lizard Head Trail and hike for about 2/3 mile past one creek but not quite as far as the creek running out of Magpie Gulch.
Pick a good spot in the woods and head straight uphill. Maintain the ridgeline as you ascend through the trees and underbrush. One rock tower requires circumnavigation below treeline.
Route DescriptionAs the route ascends a prominent ridge it is relatively straight-forward; however, route-finding skills are necessary in order to avoid most difficulties.
Once above treeline ascend just to the right of the ridge on red scree in order to avoid steep rock buttresses on the ridge center. At the top of the talus head slightly back left to gain the ridge proper and follow the loose knife-edge right to the small sub-summit. This section presented the technical and psychological cruxes; be prepared for knife-edge choss with maximum exposure. Fantastic positioning.
From the sub-summit stroll across the 'swoop' up to its junction with the main East ridge of Wilson Peak. A ski descent from this junction down Magpie Gulch would be A-mazing! Follow the East ridge up to a vertical notch that can be passed on the left (south) side. From here it gets steep again. Once past the notch cross over to the right (north) side and pick your way up the many gully systems on the ridge to the summit.
Some meandering may be necessary to avoid vertical steps. Beware of all of the rock, as it is all loose. The section between red scree and sub summit is technically the most dificult.
Once above the initial red scree and onto the ridge proper several options for retreat exist. Keep an eye peeled as you climb for emergency descent options should weather move in. There is an old mining shack between Gladstone and Wilson that provides reasonable protection, and perhaps a great bivy, if you're caught out in the elements. It is high in the basin and close to the trail.
DescentThe route is committing, though from many places on the ridge it is possible to bail down scree into Magpie Gulch or Bilk Basin. You will know as you go but downclimbing the route is likely out of one's comfort zone.
There are many descent options from the summit. While you're up there it is logical to visit Gladstone. Burly folks can cross over to Mount Wilson (may require a mountaineering axe to cross a snowfield) and El Diente. The following is how to get back to Wilson Mesa TH-Sunshine and your truck:
Once on top traverse across the summit towards Gladstone Peak on the common 'hiking' route (cairns-it would be beneficial to review beta on the final pitches of the standard route if you're not familiar as it is more vertical than one would anticipate). Once to the low point in the ridge to Gladstone drop east into Bilk Basin (where the mining shack is) and then northeast down Lizard Head Trail(505). An old railroad car marks the river crossing (the bridge is gone) to Trail(420) and Trail(421) and the truck. If you miss the crossing you're going to add a few miles and more vert to your day--bring the map! There is only one railroad car out there, you can't miss it.
Essential GearYou will be hard pressed to find any rock pro--placed or slung. I would not trust anything. This route is similar in dificulty to El Diente's East ridge.
I am curious if a winter ascent would provide more secure climbing; though the approach and knife-edge catwalks could be very daunting under soft snow.
DisclaimerThough the route does present its challenges it contains only a small amount of vertical low-grade technical rock climbing. Most of the route is spectacular adventure scrambling.
This is a beautiful ridge on a beautiful mountain that makes for a grand ascent in solitude from a uniquely close trailhead; go get it! FA is unknown.