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Under Dark Skies: El Diente, Mount Wilson & Wilson Peak: Wilson Peak

July 30, 2009

Index | Approach | El Diente's North Buttress | Traverse to Mount Wilson | The Descent | *Wilson Peak*

I was feeling better about myself by the next morning. I had now been reintroduced to the mountain world, and I was feeling re-energized. I would talk myself up Wilson Peak, one step at a time: “Re-test that hold.” “Take it slow.” “Make sure you’re on-route.” I’m sure it was a funny spectacle, and I probably looked like a crazy person, but it worked. The entire hike to 13,200 feet was trail-walking, so I made good time to that point.


El Diente in the morning alpenglow.

However, despite my renewed enthusiasm, it seemed as if the sun would never shine over this dark place. The sky was thick with clouds already when I left my tent at 5 a.m., and the wind was chilling and ominous as I reached the Rock of Ages Saddle. As I began contouring with the cliffs up Wilson Peak’s southeast face, I noticed yesterday’s hail sticking to shadowed crevices. The higher I went, the more ice was visible on the ledges, and the more I had to step on top of it.

Wilson Peak

Wilson Peak

From the 13,900-foot false summit, the route to the summit was intimidating, and of course filled with ice. I hesitated, looked it over again, and then began the 50-foot descent repeating my mantra of one-step-at-a-time. This initial descent from the false summit was undoubtedly the crux of the route on this particular day. Icy ledges, loose holds, and plenty of exposure forced me to focus even more intently on what I was doing.

View from summit

Mount Wilson and El Diente from summit.

The gully back to the ridge looked loose and sketchy as promised, so I decided to stick more to the right ridge-line. This involved a 4th class move, but the rock was mostly solid and, unlike the gully option, there was no ice here. So, after the initial descent, the climb back to the ridge was not hard at all.


Climbing from the notch.

A trail led the rest of the way to the summit. I arrived at 8:30, an hour ahead of my goal. It was a perfect moment, as the clouds and wind suddenly cleared to reveal the warm sun which had been so elusive for most of my trip. Sitting there at that moment, basking in the sun atop Wilson Peak, was without a doubt my highlight of the past few days.


Marmot at camp.

It had been 23 hours since I had last seen a human (atop El Diente), so as I sat there signing the summit register I was surprised to see someone cresting the summit ridge. He too was a native of Pennsylvania though a much more experienced mountaineer and rock climber, none other than member “Spider.” He had hiked all the way from the trailhead in 4 ½ hours, and had just two mountains left to complete the 58 14ers, those being El Diente and Mount Wilson, which he would be climbing over the next couple of days.



We hiked at the same pace, so on the way out of the mountain we talked and I enjoyed the most human interaction I’d had in the past few days. He continued to the trailhead as I stopped to take an hour to eat lunch and pack up my tent. I had originally planned to climb Gladstone Peak as well on this trip, but was glad I changed my mind as thunderstorms were moving into the valley extra early this day.

Storm clouds over El Diente

Storm clouds over El Diente.

As I hiked through the lush flowering meadows, thunder boomed all around me and hail started stinging my neck and shoulders as if pebbles were being thrown at me from thousands of feet above. I found shelter under a pine tree overlooking a waterfall; I was already soaked but at least the stinging abated. Meanwhile the ground all around me turned white with hail, and the mountains were consumed by black clouds. Same old story.

Wilson Peak

Wilson Peak from the north.

As I arrived back at the trailhead, a steady rain was falling. I changed into some dry clothes and joined Spider for a cup of coffee before bidding him farewell and good luck. Hopefully he would meet his goals and avoid the worst of the weather in this place where the sun rarely shines. I had made my peace with the mountains here; it was time for me to go somewhere more… inviting.