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Under Dark Skies: El Diente, Mount Wilson & Wilson Peak: El Diente's North Buttress

July 29, 2009

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On July 22, member jwproulx posted a suggestion about climbing the North Buttress of El Diente, a relatively unrecorded and unknown route, as opposed to the mountain’s standard North Slopes route. According to jwproulx, the buttress contained more solid rock, more fun, and no more overall difficulty than the route up the North Slopes. The idea of skipping out on a loose slog up sketchy rock in exchange for a little-known ridge / buttress climb was appealing to me, so as soon as it was light enough to see on the morning of July 29th I was working my way through the boulder field at the base of this North Buttress.

The ridge and buttress were divided into sections, split at intervals by four flat “benches.” I first crossed over to the right (west) side of the ridge, following class 2 slabs overlooking a deepening gully to the right. Before long a huge boulder halted easy progress so I scrambled up to the ridge-line, where I came to the first bench.

Starting up The Slabs

Starting up The Slabs toward the North Buttress.

The next two sections made up the bulk of the actual buttress. I called the first inclined boulder field “The Jumble.” This section actually required some route-finding around huge boulders, and some class 3 scrambling. Above the next bench, “The Hump” consisted of easy class 2 ledges despite the steepening angle.

V Snow Field

Approaching the "V" snow field.

From the third bench, I stopped to try to pick out the route ahead. An obvious “V”-shaped snow-filled couloir had been visible from the base of the mountain, and I was now face-to-face with this obstacle. From the bench, I followed a wide ledge to the right and beneath the snow patch, then I found a short third-class passage up gray rock to get me beside and to the left of the snow. From there I continued uphill and to the left until eventually the ridge I was on narrowed almost to a knife-edge. The exposure became more and more apparent to both sides, but the rock was solid and the scrambling was great fun. This was my favorite section of the whole climb.

This narrowing ridge-line ended at the summit of a tower. Before reaching this summit, I contoured left and found a ledge that bypassed the tower and led me to the fourth and final “bench” (in this case, more of a saddle between the tower and the summit ridge).

Looking back

Looking back to the knife edge and tower.

Ahead lay the final summit pitch, and also some of the most difficult and loosest climbing on the route. I started out climbing to the left along narrow ledges across slabs. There was exposure here but the holds were solid. After this there was a choice of chimneys up to a final small patch of snow. As far as I could tell, all of these gullies involved class 4 moves. After testing them, I went with the left gully, pulling myself up to the gravelly area beneath the final snow patch. The rock from here upward was loose stuff, but I only had about 20 feet to go to reach the summit ridge. I climbed to the right to find the easiest passage, and suddenly I was atop El Diente’s West Ridge, less than 100 yards across from the summit. After a final short scramble, I had accomplished my goal of reaching the summit by 9:30.

Overall I was impressed by the North Buttress of El Diente. The route consisted mostly of solid rock, and involved some fun route-finding challenges. Much of it was class 2, but the ridge got harder and more complex, and the exposure more apparent, the higher I climbed. In retrospect, there are few routes on fourteeners in Colorado that I have enjoyed more.

The Summit

Climbers on the summit of El Diente.

For more information on this route, read my route descriptions on (here) and (here).