El Diente Peak
Jonathan Cavner, Steve Bremner,
and Sam the Wolfdog
Saturday, Sep 2, 2000
Friday after leaving work at the Air Force Academy I swung by to pick up my old standby Jonathan Cavner at his new place in Manitou Springs. After a stop for supplies in Woodland Park we settled into the LONG drive over Monarch Pass, through Gunnison and Montrose then a right at Ridgway (spelling is correct!) finally arriving at the end of the road to Silver Pick Basin after 1 A.M. Unfortunately we trusted to the usually reliable Dawson's Guide for the road directions--he said simply follow the well marked road, etc. Well, it wasn't well marked at the 4.0 mile mark and the correct way is not obvious. After driving the 6.8 miles that should have brought us to road-end and finding ourselves surrounded by private property with little elevation gain we decided to backtrack all the way to the main road before following Roach's explicit mileage marked description. At 4.0 miles you come to a three road intersection and you take the middle road. The problem is you can't even see the road to the right unless you are stopped--so it is not obvious, particularly at 0 dark thirty in the morning.
The "middle" road ascends steeply to where the road is blocked. Here we quickly set up a tent in light rain. I hardly slept as the wind howled overhead, reminded of winter expeditions where I had lain awake listening to the wind scream in constant fear of a tree crashing down on me.
We had coordinated our trip to meet up with Bill Lhotta, who had driven down with some friends from Denver. The plan was for all of us to climb Mt Wilson and El Diente, then while Bill and his party continued on with Gladstone and Wilson Peak, Jonathan and I would jet on down to pick up the Chicago Basin trio.
Didn't quite work out as planned. Jonathan and I were up at 5 A.M. Ready to start at 6 A.M. I went over and finally woke up Bill and group. About the same time Sam the Wolfdog decided to go "freelancing" and took off for two hours, returning with a fresh cow pie smeared across his face and very proud of himself. We asked him for a trip report, but he demurred, modest as he is.
Bill and company had decided to backpack into Navaho Basin, while en route bagging Wilson Peak and Gladstone, so as it turned out we parted ways, with Jonathan and I moving out for a hoped for El Diente to Mt Wilson ridge climb.
The previous night's rain at the trail head translated into 1-3 inches of fresh snow at higher elevations, dusting the Wilson's in a magnificent white sprinkling of sugar. The sight as we ascended in the early morning reminded me of why I so love being in these Colorado Mountains. The crisp air portended the iminent transition from summer to fall. To reach the 12,900' saddle below Wilson Peak that would afford us entry into Navaho Basin we left the mining roads at the earliest opportunity ascending directly up snow covered scree, first through the debris of an old mining camp, including a pair of vintage boots that had seen their better days about 100 years ago. Continuing we climbed steeply up to the trail leading to the saddle, reaching it in one and a half hours from our vehicle.
There we encountered several parties who we had seen departing from the trailhead while we waited on the return of the prodigal Sam the Wolfdog. The consensus there was that the rock was too slippery with new snow to safely ascend. We had no plans to climb Wilson Peak anyway as we had both done it (Sam too), so we rapidly moved down into Navaho Basin, passing an intact miner's shack complete with bunk beds 300 feet below the saddle. Filing it away for a possible future bivy site we continued down the cairned route into the basin. Too far as it turned out.
As we descended into the basin we tried to determine the correct route up to the Mt Wilson-El Diente ridge. Gerry Roach describes a "permanent" snow field in a couloir you can go up. Well, that snow field was essentially gone, with just the sugar snow of the previous night there to make it harder. There was a snow field down and to the right of the couloir, but it looked treacherous without an ice ax so we stayed left going up the steep rocky couloir. When we reached a steep rock face we moved left to gain the ridge. This was off-route and we soon got into some class 4 blocky sharp boulders. Sam the Wolfdog was not liking it at all. I had taken along a short rope for just this contingency and we quickly rigged up a running belay with Sam attached to the rope in between us. This took us through the difficulties and once we were on route again Sam was fine with no protection.
We found three other climbers on the summit. One was quite obsessed with the lack of a pen to sign into the register. "Can you at least look in your packs to see if you might have a pen??". Then, "Look down in the rocks around you to see if you can find one." and so on. Finally as much to escape his whining as to get off the mountain we descended after about 10 minutes up there. The weather didn't look too promising with black clouds all around.
Sam was spooked from the climb so far and would have no more of the ridge to Mt Wilson, so we accommodated him. Jonathan had already climbed it. Now Sam and I would have to return--probably making it a snow climb from the other side next Spring.
On the way up Jonathan had stumbled on a pair of trekking poles slightly buried in the fresh snow. When we came on them again on the way down he picked them up, but quickly grew tired of them as we descended through the steep terrain. I suggested that he just throw them down a ways, then when he reached them again give them another toss, eventually gathering them up at the bottom. He quickly tired of that notion and said that if I wanted them they were mine. I continued tossing them down, but lost one in the process. Fortunately I have a lone pole I found on Crestone Peak last fall so now I have complete set. I will use them for snow shoeing as I don't like trekking poles otherwise...they seem to me to be for heavy backpackers packing heavy loads. I travel light, even when backpacking. The lighter the load the faster you move and the more you enjoy the journey. Speed is the best guarantee of safety in the mountains.
After descending into Navaho Basin we set our sights on the 12,900' saddle alongside Wilson Peak. Soon we met Bill's girlfriend, Betsy. She had climbed Wilson Peak with Bill, and was descending into Navaho Basin to set up a camp site while Bill went up Gladstone. The rest of his party had bagged out due to the snow and cold. Their plan was to climb Mt Wilson and El Diente on Sunday. Now, our plan was to make tracks towards the Chicago Basin trio, Eolus, Windom and Sunlight. How we were going to manage to get all three in the two days remaining of the weekend was hazy. It was 5:30 P.M. when we finally reached my truck, nine and a half hours after we had set out that morning.
This was #47 for me, #46 for Sam the Wolfdog, and #49 for Jonathan.
After the weekend was over it would be 50 for me, 48 for Sam and 52 for Jonathan...