San Miguel County High Point Trip Report

Wilson Peak

Date: October 25, 2003
Author: Layne Bracy

At midnight I left Brighton. At 6:45 AM, I started hiking up the Silver Pick basin (10,420 feet) with a few bright stars still visible. The trail winds up a nice dirt road. After a mile or two, some higher terrain was visible, including a healthy crust of snow on north slopes above 12,000 feet. This was somewhat concerning, and I wondered whether my long drive would be futile.

Snow confronted me on the slopes above the old mine building at 12,140 feet. Initially I walked up without difficulty, then pulled out my axe for extra stability. The snow was somewhat hard, so I finally decided to put on my new Black Diamond strap-on crampons. I am a crampon novice, having only used them on three Cascade volcanos, so I was pleased when they instantly gave solid purchase and made the hike carefree. I arrived at the Rock of Ages Saddle (13,020 ft) at 9:07 AM.

Despite my success to this point I was still only cautiously optimistic. I would not want to do more than an easy snow climb at this point in my experience. Happy I was when the south side of the saddle was completely snow-free! Across Navajo Basin the north slopes of Mount Wilson and El Diente were 90% white down to the valley floor and I was glad that I could possibly do El Diente the following week from the south. I walked over to the Wilson Peak - Gladstone Peak saddle and was again very happy to see no snow on the southeast face of Wilson Peak! I now knew that I would make it to at least 13,900 feet.

At this point Gerry Roach mentions the options of a class 3 scramble across broken cliffs or a class 2 hike under the cliffs. After about 2 minutes of scrambling I threw my pride under the bus and took the easy trail underneath. The route is clear to follow, first touching the ridge at 13,500 feet but generally staying below it until the false summit at 13,900 feet. I knew this would be the moment of truth, as the route now moves to the north side due to extremely sheer walls on the south.

As I peered down the north side I didn't like what I saw. I needed to descend 50 feet, and then contour east 50 feet before scrambling up again. The scramble is somewhat steep with snow patches all along the route. Still, it looked doable and the thought of turning back now was very hard. I tried to maintain 3 points of contact at all times and surely made my way down and across. The final scramble was dry and enjoyable, and I made the summit at 10:19 AM.

Summit temperature was 25 degF on a sunny windless day. I enjoyed the views, including impressive Lizard Head to the southeast, and eventually started down. Back down at the Rock of Ages Saddle a few more hikers had arrived, seeming to have negotiated the snow slopes with snow boots but no crampons. Among them were two dogs, and their owners said that, yes, they were planning to have the dogs summit Wilson Peak.

Returned to the trailhead at 1:05 PM and drove back to Denver, taking a 15 minute nap near Johnson Village. Doubts of success always give extra sweetness to a summit!