After 11 years of doing Colorado fourteeners, I was finally coming close to the finish line. My final eight peaks were in the San Juans. I decided to start off the final eight with Wilson Peak. Wilson Peak is a moderate class 3 climb; nothing too crazy or difficult. And, since the “Rock of Ages Trailhead” had been opened back up, the distance required was not to crazy either.
As always, I arrived at the airport in Colorado late. I actually flew into Montrose, Colorado this time in order to save myself a lot of extra hours of driving. By the time I grabbed my bags, got the rental car (Jeep 4×4), stopped at Wal-Mart for supplies, and drove to the trailhead, it was around 11 pm at night. The dirt road up to the trailhead parking lot was not too bad. I actually noticed a 2WD Toyota that had also made the drive up the road, to the parking lot. Coincidentally, I had a couple of hiking partners that I knew were in the area. They also happened to be driving a Toyota. So, I had a strong suspicion that this might be their car. I parked just short of the parking lot, and camped in the car for the night. Since I had just gotten back from a work trip to India, my sleep schedule was way out of whack. I lay in the back of the SUV, and could not sleep much at all. In 5 hours, I maybe slept an hour. When I finally got moving around 4:30 am, I was shocked that the crew in the Toyota had somehow gotten passed me in the night, drove to the parking lot, and were already on the trail. I made it my goal to try and catch them. I mostly wanted to catch them, because I was upset with myself for having such a late start on such a crappy looking day. I could just envision myself looking at the summit from a distance – lightening pounding everywhere – and the Toyota crew walking down, passing me, and saying, “we got the summit.” It should be noted that early starts are important in the mountains, if you want to get down before the afternoon thunderstorms. And, the weather report for the next few days was horrible.
I started cruising up the trail around 4:30 am. I munched my pop tart breakfast while I walked. The initial trail is very easy to follow, dirt trail. A few times, signage would indicate that you were on the “Rock of Ages Trail.” Just make sure to follow those RoA signs. The trail stays under tree line for most of the early miles. Eventually, the trail pops out just short of the Silver Pick Basin, then traverses until you are fully into the Basin. Once you get into the basin, you can clearly see Wilson Peak, and the Rock of Ages saddle. This makes targeting your goals pretty easy.
It seems that there are multiple ways to reach the saddle, from down in the basin, but here is the method that I took. I basically followed the RoA trail/mining road until I was about 0.5 mile short of the saddle. I was still well below the saddle; maybe 800 ft. At that point, I found a gully that was loose, but climbable. It was moderately miserable, but I gained elevation very quickly. My goal was a trail that I could see above me. After 500-800 feet of gully climbing, I eventually reached the trail. The remaining trail to the saddle was a mild traverse, with very little additional elevation gain. From a frustration standpoint, the gully climb was probably the worst part of this route for me. It wasn’t technically difficult at all, but it was grueling, and slow. After I got up to the traverse trail, I made the last 0.25-0.5 mile to the saddle. I made the top of the saddle in just under 2 hours from the trailhead. My next goal was to traverse to the saddle that comes off Gladstone Peak. I made it to that saddle in about 15 minutes. From the saddle off of Gladstone, I could pretty clearly see the rest of my route up to Wilson Peak. I should mention at this point that the weather was holding, but it was not looking very good. The skies were dry, and there were no major storm clouds, but it looked like mother nature could be planning a wet afternoon for me.
As I was pondering my final pitch, I finally got glimpse of the folks that were in front of me. They were very close to the summit at this point. I could only assume that they were the people in the Toyota. I left the Gladstone saddle, and started pushing for the summit. The route at this point gives both a class 2 option and a class 3 option. I opted for the class 3 option, and maintained most of my elevation, rather than dropping down a couple hundred feet. The class 3 travel was solid, and actually pretty easy. After 10 minutes of class 3 travel, the route returns to class 2 hiking. I followed the trail, just below the ridge, along the right (south) side. In about 30-40 minutes, I made the final false summit before the final pitch. At this point, my leading party was coming down. So, I decided to wait for them, and say, “hi!” As they came down, they finally noticed me, and said, “hi, you wouldn’t happen to be Rob?” I said, “Yup!” I introduced myself to Jennifer and Xan, and we chatted for just a few minutes. I would actually be doing Uncompahgre Peak with them in two days. These were my buddies from the Toyota. Since the weather was starting to come to a boil, we held off our extended chat, and I started up, they continued down.
I finished the final class 3 pitch and made the summit. Time from the Gladstone saddle to the summit was around 50 minutes (from the trailhead right around 3 hours). I did not stay long on the summit. Finally the skies were starting to break loose. After minutes on the summit, I started back down. At this point, it actually started to rain a bit. The class 3 rock was now wet, so I had to be a bit more careful on the descent. Luckily, the rain was only intermittent, and gave me some small breaks as I descended. I made it back down to the Gladstone saddle in about 30-40 minutes. At this point, I was beyond all of the technical terrain, so I was much less worried about the rain, and the associate wet/slippery rock. I cruised over to the RoA saddle in 10 minutes, then started my long wet slog down into the basin, and toward the trailhead. I pretty much took the same route that I had taken up. I traversed from the RoA saddle, then I dropped down the loose gully. The gully was much easier going down, than it was going up. Once I got to the bottom of the gully, it was just a matter of following the trail/mining road all the way out to the parking lot. At the bottom of the gully, I met up with a group of five people from Oklahoma that were just heading up. It was raining pretty consistently, and I did not envy the work that they had remaining, if they wanted to summit. They still had the nasty gully, and some wet class 3 to contend with. I did not dissuade them from going up, but I was glad that I was going the opposite direction. As I continued down the trail, the skies continued with a moderate, but consistent drizzle. I never noticed any thunder, but I was very wet, and since it did not stop, I was going to stay wet.
I finally made it back to the trailhead in about 5 ½ hours from the time that I initially left. Roundtrip miles (according to my GPS) were around 9.7 miles. I met up with Jennifer and Xan in the parking lot, and we chatted a bit, as we all tried to get dried off. Ironically, it stopped raining once we got to the parking lot. After drying off a bit, I headed back into Telluride for some rest and food. I ended up meeting up with the girls, and we talked about our hike in two days.
Overall, this was a pretty good hike. I could have lived without the rain, but at least mother nature was being reasonable about it. I’m glad that I got a pretty early start. I think that this gave me a much better chance at success. Thanks to my friends for giving me something to motivate me faster. That also helped to make sure that I was successful on Wilson Peak. I think that this is one that I’d like to do again someday, hopefully with sun in the skies. Seven more to go…
To Rock of Ages Saddle 1:55
To Gladstone saddle 2:10
To summit 3:00
On summit 3:05
To Gladstone saddle 3:40
To Rock of Ages saddle 3:50
To Trailhead 5:20
DISTANCE ROUND TRIP