Wilsons Traverse

Classic El Diente to Mt Wilson Traverse


San Juan Range

We arrived just around dawn, much later than usual alpine 14er start times, and put boots on the trail from Rock of Ages trailhead. It’s a slog in when you’re not breaking it into two days with a camp prior, something you quickly overlook on the way in but certainly feel each step back on the way down. The valley and majestic San Juan mountains were beautiful, the trail well established and maintained and we had beautiful weather.


September 8, 2018












Wilsons Traverse

Classic El Diente to Mt Wilson Traverse




Ricardo, Ari, Jon L

I have a tendency to latch onto some crazy aggressive objectives and personal goals that push limits at times. Conjuring illustrative alpine adventures, otherwise known as type 2, maybe 3, fun and long slog sufferfest routes. Naturally, getting people to buy in can be a challenge. Being a weekend warrior, sometimes I pack a little too much into one trip.

I invited a few friends to join one of these crazy adventures in our attempt at the Wilsons traverse. One of the classic 4 grand traverses in Colorado. I wanted to hike it as a car-to-car, but not only that, we were basically driving down to Telluride from Denver the morning before leaving at midnight. 

Having convinced our friends to join this madness alongside my partner and I, we set the plan to action! We all met at the park-and-ride to carpool to the trailhead. Ricky and I traded driving so we could each get a couple hours of sleep. The drive itself was a challenge being extra tired on a winding narrow road in pitch dark trying to spot numerous wildlife crossings.

We arrived around dawn, put on our boots and left the Rock of Ages trailhead. The approach was rocky, hence the name of the trailhead, but the views in the San Juans never disappoint.

Once we topped the saddle near Wilson Peak and dropped into the basin we crossed over toward the slopes of El Diente. We would climb this peak first to start the traverse. Route finding was a challenge and we all agreed last minute to take the North Buttress over the standard gully. We slowly made our way up this shoulder hopping over large boulders and talus making slow progress with no end in sight.

At one point we had a group discussion about weather and turning around. We didn’t particularly like the idea of descending the talus that took us so long to ascend and secretly hoped we had a window for the traverse. We pushed on for El Diente and decided we would make the call there.

Part way up the route we detoured and made some spicier low class 5 moves taking a direct line up the rock. Just before this section one of my partners and I half joked about definitely pushing for the traverse rather than the downclimb. I say half joking but I think we were nearly 100% serious at that point. 

After topping out on the ridge we walked over to the summit block and enjoyed a water and snack break. We had a healthy discussion on visibility on the summit, our weather window and our options in terms of the traverse or the downclimb. The weather was holding and we decided to make a run for it knowing we would most likely be descending in the dark. We had our essentials so we decided to go for it! 

We mushed on and enjoyed the scrambling on this classic traverse. Just the right amount of spice mixed with exposure and the views were stupendous. There were a couple large microwave and refrigerator sized blocks that moved when weighted and got the blood pumping, but otherwise solid rock. 

The last crux climbing up the gully to gain the ridge to access Mount Wilson’s summit block was an enjoyable scramble. We didn’t have long before we would lose light so we enjoyed the sunset and a few pics before we prepared to descend back to the basin. 

With light quickly fading I led the way down basically spider monkey down climbing the ridge back to the saddle. Now off the class 3 terrain we still had to descend the loose gully in the dark. Tons of loose rock as we staggered our path down the gully. It was slow going and we lost light before we were even halfway down the drainage.

After what seemed like hours we finally reached the basin floor to enjoy grassy semi-flat terrain to cruise over for a while. Some of us were hangry, grumpy, sleepwalking — you name it, things got weird.

We took a couple short breaks for snacks and water but otherwise continued the zombie walk back toward the saddle we had to regain. It was a grueling slog and one of my longest days in the mountains. Regaining the saddle was soul-sucking and painful but we still had a long way back to the trailhead.

The group split some at this point and thinned out keeping our own paces. We just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. One partner opting to speed walk to stay awake, another basically sleep walking, my blistered feet just trying to make it down the rock road — it was brutal.

Hours later, literally at 21+ hours moving time, we arrived back at the trailhead. That’s longer than my 19 hour day on Mount Adams Glacier in Washington, a much more technical climb! We all crashed at the trailhead for a few hours to get some sleep before the long drive back to Denver the next morning. We had to stop for brunch first, of course, priorities! 

Ridgway: Gnar Tacos, Kate's Place, Crumb Bakery, True Grit Cafe, Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery, Eatery 66.


My name is Makayla and I'm usually wandering, not lost, in the mountains. Learn More


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