The official list of Colorado’s Fourteener’s is a highly malleable one. Like the softer metals (gold and silver) that were excavated in the vicinity during the mining boom of the latter half of the 19th century, this list can be construed and made to fit one’s own goals as they see fit. Depending on which list or what website or whose guidebook one visits for the ‘official’ list of ranked and recognized Fourteener’s, this number will always be an ambiguous one. However, between the chief sources of information (14ers.com, Summitpost.org, CFI and the CMC); one can expect that number to fluctuate between 53 and 58. On occasion, I’ve even seen 59 (with the inclusion of North Massive). So that begs the question…since what should be treated as an empirical list, how and under what conditions are people considering unranked Fourteener’s to be included on that ‘list’?
Subjectivity is a slippery word and usually defies objectivism. And in this case, the reasons are quite subjective. If one were to boil down all the reasons that an informative source could give to include peak-A yet exclude peak-B, filter individual opinions from climbers and professionals in the field, skim off the skin (read: the outliers), so to speak, what one would have left is a narrow bell curve of colloquial preferences steeped in tradition and sentimentalism. And this is exactly why peaks like El Diente will often pop up on said lists much to the discredit of others.
El Diente shares one crucial connection with another Fourteener, North Maroon Peak. This one similarity is that both peaks occupy the lower end of their respective “Great 14er Traverses” (Mt. Wilson-El Diente, The Maroon Bells). So the tradition, well-respected and garnered advances to nostalgia to include El Diente on some lists has been around for a long time. Which, like it or not, agree or disagree, two factors about El Diente absolutely cannot be ignored: El Diente is a potentially dangerous climb and reaching its’ small summit block is without doubt one of the most satisfying climbs on any Colorado Fourteener.
At 14,159ft, El Diente has about 259’ of prominence and lies less than a mile (0.75mi.) from its proximate parent, Mt. Wilson. These last two values officially make El Diente an unranked peak. It is located in Dolores County and belongs to the Dolores Peak Quadrangle. El Diente is a steep and dangerously loose mountain. The standard route to the summit is only considered class-3 however, in my opinion, I would give it a solid 3+ or some other caveat of warning. The summit ridge is highly exposed, small and is an extremely bad place to be in inclement weather. This is the kind of mountain that climbing helmets and axes were made for (even in summer).
discovered an ascent of Mt. Wilson in August 1890 that he felt was in fact
the first ascent of El Diente.”
El Diente of all Colorado’s Fourteener’s is the western-most and consequently, the furthest from Denver (Front Range). However, since the peak only lies .75 mile west of Mt. Wilson, it’s a trifle badge of recognizance.
Mt. Wilson and the surrounding wilderness pose massive vertical relief from the thick aspen forests of the low valleys to the almost near vertical cliffs of the alpine. The Lizard Head Wilderness, especially in the autumn is a thing to behold. Because of the sheer area of the aspen coverage, the hills simply explode in every hue of yellow, orange, red and ochre imaginable. In 1932, the National Forest Service recognized the astute beauty of this area and protected it. In 1980, it received (officially) ‘wilderness status’ and has since retained that designation.
The Lizard Head Wilderness area is roughly 41,193 acres (16,670ha). Because of the frequent, heavy winters which, is typical for the San Juan’s (2011/2012 was a bit of an exception), the wildflowers come late spring into summer is astounding! Of all the wilderness area’s and mountains have to offer the climber, this small, secluded corner of Colorado has to be hands down one of the most scenic and rewarding.
There are four viable climbing routes on El Diente, all being as loose as the previous or next route and one main snow route (couloir) located on the North Face. Whether or not one feels compelled to climb El Diente, the mountain is officially named on maps and in terms of the overall experience of climbing a mountain (not necessarily a 14er mind you), El Diente is a challenging mountain that will best most of the Fourteener’s and for the novice or intermediate climber, blur the already confusing line between class-3 and class-4.
Uncompaghre National Forest
1150 Forest Street
Norwood, Colorado 81423
USGS Maps: Mt. Wilson, Dolores Peak, Little Cone
USFS Maps: San Juan National Forest, Uncompaghre National Forest
Trail Illustrated: Map #141 Telluride-Silverton-Ouray-Lake City
Sitting at a respectable 10,060ft, Kilpacker is the trailhead of choice for most El Diente ventures and ascents because of its relative proximity to the mountain. Kilpacker provides access to the southern routes for El Diente and the southwestern slope for Mt. Wilson. Convenience is high for this portal.
Travel south from Lizard Head Pass on Co. 145 for roughly 5.5 miles. Turn right (west) onto FR 535 (Dunton Road). The drive from the trailhead from this point can be a bit convoluted but persist!
The dirt road will slowly climb in a northwestern direction. There will be a bit of a ‘rough intersection’ at mile 4.2. Keep driving straight through this. At 5.0 miles, turn right onto FR 207. The trailhead is only another 0.3 miles. Dunton Road is NOT plowed or maintained in winter but the frequent snowmobilers will make life easier for a short while! Parking can be tight.
From the junction of Co 145 and Co 62, drive east for 2.7-2.8 miles on Co 145 passing through Placerville. Look for a signed road on the right side saying Fall Creek Road (57-F Road). This will be your exit. Turn south crossing the San Miguel River at 0.1 mile and set your odometer. Continue driving south and southwest for roughly 4.0 miles. At mile 4.0, turn right and continue to drive straight ignoring the side roads. Pass a small intersection at mile 6.0 and again at 7.8. At roughly 9.0 miles, there will be a forest service sign indicating Woods Lake Campground. Pull into the campground and look for the separate area used for trailhead parking (it’s quite ample).
This trailhead starts at 9,352ft and provides access to El Diente, Wilson Peak and Mt. Wilson via Navajo Lake/Basin. The trail winds around Woods Lake within a quarter-mile or so of the trailhead then zigzags across a few small streams in its first 3 miles through thick forest. The climbing initially is steep, ample roots and rocks and somewhat steady until the Woods Lake Trail meets the Elk Creek Trail in a beautiful open hillside just above tree line (make sure you have your camera!). The flies and mosquitos on this very green and tranquil approach can be horrendous in late summer but the view of El Diente as one finally crosses the saddle that descends into Navajo Basin is intoxicating!
ROCK OF AGES (Silver Pick)
From Ridgway, drive west on Co 62 towards Telluride. Crest Dallas Divide and down to the town of Placerville. Turn left at a "T" intersection onto Co 145. Drive south for 6.5 miles and then turn right onto Silver Pick Road (CR 60M). Proceed for 4.0 miles to the intersection of County Roads 60M and 59H. Turn right onto CR 59H and proceed south for 2.3 miles. Turn right at the Rock of Ages Trail sign onto FSR 645. Proceed for 2.2 miles to the