I’d met Jared on a Capitol Peak climb back in 2004. He met up with this stranger (me), whom he’d never met. To his surprise, I came to Capitol Peak with massive experience (insert sarcasm here): I’d climb about 20 fourteeners, including Longs Peak solo. And, I’d been gym rock climbing for about 3 years. On top of all that, I’d come to Capitol Peak ill prepared for the peak. I didn’t have a helmet, and I wielded my trusty Leatherman needle nose pliers as my substitute for an ice axe. Needless to say, when it was all said and done, I think that I actually did impress Jared a bit; enough that we kept in touch, and he decided that he’d climb another tough peak with me. We still joke about that first visit.
Nine years, and 30 fourteeners later, I was very much a different mountaineer. Jared and I had touched base before my trip, and he agreed to join me on the Wilsons group, with a possible shot at the El Diente, Mount Wilson traverse. We met at the Kilpacker trailhead, the night before the climb. It was good to see my old buddy, after so many years. Of course, much of our talk that night was about our first climb together. We also caught up on the time in between. For me it was three kids, a bunch of marathons, and clearly a bunch of mountains. For Jared, it was a whole lot of mountains, rock walls, canyons, new house, new cities, and new jobs. Nine years is a long time…
We finally checked into our tents around 10 pm. The skies looked horrible, and threatened to rain on us. There were storms in the distance, but we never ally got wet. I slept much better than I did the first night (Wilson Peak night). We woke up just after 4 am, with intent on a 4:30 am start. We started hiking right around 4:30. The skies in the morning still looked horrible. The cloud cover was solid, and the clouds looked nasty. From the beginning of our hike, we were already talking about alternatives, and possibly dumping the idea of a traverse.
We continued to trudge forward. The beginning of the hike was open fields and through the woods. Eventually, about 3 miles into the hike, it opens up into the basin. At this point, the sun high enough that we could see our various goals. Our first goal was to get above the waterfall, and up into the basin. After that, we would work our way up the side of El Diente Peak. The trail was amazingly easy to follow, with very good cairns almost the whole way. In fact, I’d say that if you are on this trail, and you don’t see cairns, look harder, and find them. Because, the cairned route is much more pleasurable than being off route. Jared and I both noticed how, even walking through the boulder fields – while following the cairns – the trail was moderately easy on the feet and legs. Anything off of the trail was miserable travel.
We got above the waterfall, and started working our way up the side of El Diente. The route goes more or less straight up (just to the east of the summit), the takes a pretty hard left, and follows, just under the ridge to the summit. At one point, we lost our cairns, and started heading too close to the base of Mount Wilson. The travel was difficult, and I desperately tried to find a cairned route to get back on. Eventually, in the distance I saw a cairn and we corrected our mistake. Sure enough, once we got back on the cairns, things were pleasant again.
As the route starts to traverse left – the last couple of hundred feet or so – the climbing finally jumps up to some pretty solid class 3. At this point, there are multiple potential routes. We climbed up multiple small gullies, traversed, and continued to work our way towards the summit. The travel was very loose, and kind of nasty at this point. The fact that we had been hiking for 4 hours at this point was also starting to wear on our legs. Eventually, the route moved over to the north side of the ridge for the last moves to the summit. Jared and I took multiple paths to the various small summit blocks. I was lucky to spot the true summit on my first investigation onto a block. Jared worked his way across three blocks before he finally caught up with me. When it was all said and done it took us about 5 hours 10 minutes to summit El Diente. The time was reasonable, both of us still felt pretty strong, and the skies were only mildly threatening, but for various reasons, Jared and I had already decided to forfeit the traverse. Forfeiting the traverse would all but guarantee that I wasn’t going to finish the fourtneers completely on this trip. I was probably going to be leaving Mount Wilson behind, for sure.
Just for records sake, here are several of the reasons why I personally chose to forfeit the traverse:
- I had on my schedule to do the Chicago Basin group (four peaks) in two days. I really needed to be at 100% full strength to get that one done. And, it was much more important for me to finish the four in the Chicago Basin, and not have to go back to the Basin, than it was to do the traverse.
- Jared had off handedly mentioned that doing Mount Wilson as a “snow climb” in May or June would be a much neater climb. That stuck in my head as a very cool way to finish the fourteeners. Plus, I could use some quality snow climb experience, and my partner Jared would be a great lead on something like that.
- I’m not usually superstitious, but the previous night, a baby bird fell, seemingly from out of nowhere, and landed right near my tent. He survived the fall, but things did not look good for him. I put him up off of the ground, in a hollow stump, to give him the best chance. But, he did not survive the night.
- The weather looked ok, but it wasn’t exactly stellar for committing to a 2 hour ridge traverse. And, the weather report was not promising good things to come.
- And, the most critical reason in my mind, was because I did not want to finish the fourteeners alone. If my initial plan carried through, it looked like I would be finishing all of the fourteeners, in the Chicago Basin, all alone. It was worth it to delay my finish, if I had any shot of a planned finish with friends.
Okay, back on track. Time to descend El Diente. Jared and I spent a measly 5 minutes on El Diente, then started down. The descent was much easier than the ascent. It was easier to follow the route, since we’d already been on it. We seemed to clear the most difficult stuff very quickly. We made it down the face of El Diente, and to the top of the boulder field. We took a nice long break to eat, drink and enjoy the mountain. After our break, we hiked down the boulder field, and eventually back down into the woods. It seemed like a really long hike to finally get off of the rocks and boulders. I did not remember it seeming that long on the ascent, but it did take us over 5 hours to get to the top. Jared and I continued to chat and catch up. By the time we reached the bottom, I had gotten myself an invite to his house the night after my last hike. I was already looking forward to a nice meal, clean shower, and a roof over my head.
We eventually hiked out of the woods, and across the fields. We could see the parking lot for what seemed like forever. At this point, the flies and bugs were really starting to annoy. We finally got back to the trailhead in about 4 hours from the summit (9 hours 15 minutes round trip). After packing up, and making some final plans to visit Jared’s house, I left the parking lot. My next goal was Lake City, CO, where I would target Uncompahgre Peak. Six more to go…
To the Summit 5:10
On the Summit 5:15
To the Trailhead 9:15
ROUND TRIP DISTANCE: