Mount Wilson – the 16th highest peak in Colorado at 14,256 feet.
Just one of the three Wilson Group 14ers that we had planned on summiting this weekend, Mount Wilson was the only peak bagged due to inclement weather.
We hiked in from the Navajo Basin trailhead in the Lizard Head Wilderness, and knew we were probably in for crap weather from the start.
Seeing clouds building on the horizon, we kept pushing up and up to our potential camping spot at Navajo Lake. Just short of the lake, the hail starts. Luckily we found a stand of trees to take some of the impact, but hail at altitude is never much fun.
I love hiking in hail!
With a lull in the weather, time to scout camping sites – and we found a nice seemingly flat spot with enough space for two tents.
Unfortunately – that "flat" was in a bowl, and after falling asleep at 4pm listening to the hail bouncing off the tents we noticed that we were submerged in 4" of ice water. Not good.
Lovely Weather Outside
Peeking out at the hail
After 15 minutes of amateur earthworks designed to rid the space of water, we gave up and scouted additional locations. Lucky us – an excellent spot with a view over Navajo Lake, only requiring a balancing act with heavy packs across a wide stream. Piece of cake.
Luckily for us, mountaineering bedtime comes early because we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.
The original idea was to climb El Diente’s north slope, traverse over to Mount Wilson, descend, then hit Wilson Peak tomorrow.
Except El Diente’s north slope is only usable when there’s hard snow in the gully, or you’re probably going to be killed by rockfall. Not sure how both of us missed that little tidbit.
Plan B – ascend Mount Wilson’s north slope, traverse to El Diente, traverse back, then descend from Wilson. Ambitious, doable for 20-somethings who move fast and have no fear, but unfortunately not a reality for us old geezers with Colorado mountain weather moving in.
Mount Wilson is ranked among the top ten hardest of the Colorado fourteeners to climb. The standard climbing route ascends the North Face from Navajo Basin. Some permanent snowfields exist high in the basin (sometimes termed “Navajo Glacier”) and the climb usually involves snow travel, with ice axe and crampons recommended. Scrambling on rock then leads to the summit.
A popular, though long, outing for expert climbers is the mile-long ridge connecting Mount Wilson to El Diente Peak. The ridge is sharp and rocky, and requires difficult scrambling and often a small amount of rappelling.
The 14ers.com beta for the climb up Mount Wilson kinda sucks, with the route varying greatly from the reality on the ground.
Up Up Up
Greg follows another climber we met who was headed up after coming from the Rock of Ages trailhead. This guy bailed at the final Class IV summit pitch, a little too spicy for his tastes.
Greg spent quite a bit of time skinny-stepping across a stupid-steep and loose gully that was easily avoided by crossing at the top only 100 feet vertically above us. Lesson for both of us – read the beta, trust your eyes. We had both looked up and questioned whether that would be easier, but relied on what we read instead of what we felt. Good learning experience.
The final push to the summit of Mount Wilson isn’t for those scared of exposure. We met a guy who had hiked over the Rock of Ages trailhead, and had attempted Wilson before. He watched us at the crux and tapped out, hoping to return another day.
I opted for the spicy side, since I knew the rock was solid and I’m good with exposure – a few moves laterally across a solid wall with a thousand feet below your boots, just don’t look down.
Greg opted for the up-and-over, a different Class IV spicy move but no less puckering if you look to either side instead of focusing on the rock in front of you.
On the summit, we analyzed the incoming weather, looked at the El Diente Traverse, and realized today was a one-peak day.
This was a good call, as the hail started within 10 minutes of our return to our campsite. Hanging out on an alpine traverse with serious mountain weather is a quick way to get dead. I’d rather be sitting in camp playing cards under a tarp.
We decided to call tomorrow at our wakeup time, and at 0400 I stuck my head out of the tent, listened to the rain falling all around, and decided that we’d skip the wet rock on Wilson Peak today.
The downside – we have to return to the farthest reaches of Southwest Colorado to bag El Diente and Wilson Peak.
The upside – we’re not dead and we can make that return trip anytime that we can fit into our busy schedule.
I’m getting tired of these kick-your-ass hardcore-backpack-in-then-climb peaks, looking forward to Sneffels, Wetterhorn, and Uncompaghre in a couple weeks.
This is why you buy a good tent!
Not Looking Good
Lizard Head Wilderness
Mount Wilson Google Earth
Mount Wilson Summit 360
A quick 360 from the summit of Mount Wilson