Mt. Wilson & El Diente
The Classic 14’ers Traverse
The Mount Wilson/El Diente Traverse is well known as one of the most aesthetic ridge traverses in Colorado. This long ridges sits over 13,000 ft for its entirety and offers an amazing way to climb both these classic 14ers in one day. There are 2 variations depending on each climbers skill, exposure acceptance level, and daily conditions. The “Climber’s Traverse” stays on or very close to the crest the whole way. It offers airy views and lots of 4th class and low 5th class terrain to negotiate. The “Hiker’s Traverse” takes a lower line on the South side of the crest and reduces the amount of exposure. It weaves around the Organ Pipes and other steep features to create a more expedient and less technical way to join these to iconic summits.
SJMG is the premier guide service offering guided trips into the Wilson Range including Mount Wilson, El Diente, and Wilson Peak. These iconic peaks adorn the southern skyline of the Telluride area and are home to some of the best Rockies mountaineering in the state.
Kilpacker Approach vs. Navajo Approach
A common question in regards to this area is which approach is best suited for the Wilson/El Diente Traverse. For our guests who are only doing Mt. Wilson & El Diente, we recommend the Kilpacker Basin approach, as it offers a relatively short backpack to the camping areas, and provides great access to El Diente’s S. Face route and subsequently the traverse over to Mt. Wilson. Those climbers who would either like to see Navajo Lake, or are combining a climb of Wilson Peak with the other two 14’ers we recommend the Navajo Basin approach.
Gary is not only a very professional guide, focused on safety and skill building – he is also passionate about the sport and about the outdoors. It was really a pleasure to spend the 3 days with him and learn new skills. I look forward to doing this or another course again. – Glenn T. Private Program 2010
Mt. Wilson & El Diente Trip Itinerary
The Mt. Wilson/El Diente Traverse can be completed a few different ways. For most parties, we recommend the 2 day 1 night option, as this provides the most flexibility with the itinerary and less rushed 2nd day. This involves an overnight in either Kilpacker or Navajo Basin. The second option is to complete the traverse as a day trip. This involves beginning from the trailhead at dark – usually around 2 or 3 am, so that the approach and climbs can be completed prior to the onset of afternoon thunderstorms which are prevalent in the summer months.
For those who need to fly to the area you will want to arrive to the San Juan area – either Ouray, Telluride, or Durango. If you are driving you may skip this day and arrive the following day – usually no later than 11 am in order to plan for the hike into our camp. Stay in a hotel.
Guests for this program have the option of meeting us at our Durango office, Ouray office, or having your guide meet you at the Kilpacker or Navajo Basin TH. If meeting at the trailhead, it is important that you be very thorough in your gear preparations and communicate any rental gear you may need with our office to insure we don’t arrive at the trailhead missing any imporant pieces of gear. Camp out.
Rising early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, we’ll approach the S. Slopes of El Diente. Weaving our way up to the ridge crest, we’ll summit the first peak around 7 – 8 am, then begin the descent and traverse over to Mt. Wilson. The real fun and exposure begins just after a feature called the Organ Pipes. A good mixture of 4th and 5th class climb right on the ridge crest provides an aesthetic way to complete the traverse. We’ll descend back into Kilpacker Basin and hike back to the car, returning around 5 pm. Stay in a hotel or depart.
Wilson/El Diente Equipment List
- Backpack: Internal frame, 40 – 50 liters. Guides’ pick: Osprey Variant 52
- Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-30 degrees with compression stuff sack. Guides’ pick: Neutrino Endurance 400
- Sleeping pad: Guides’ pick: Thermarest NeoAir
- Bowl, spoon, cup: Plastic/lexan
- Pocket knife: 2-3 inch blade, simple, light
- Small thermos: Optional, but nice to have
- Water bottles: 2 liters combined capacity; bottles or bladder. Guides’ pick: Nalgene or Osprey
- Water purification system: We recommend simple iodine tablets, but pumps are acceptable. Guides’ pick: Potable Aqua
Clothing and Personal Equipment
- Hiking boots: Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable boots. Please contact us with questions or further recommendations.
- Socks: 2-3 pair of medium weight wool or synthetic blend socks.
- Base layers: Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic underwear
- Soft shell pants: warm enough for cool mornings and nights, yet light enough for warm days. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
- Soft shell jacket: light weight. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
- Insulated vest: down or synthetic. Guides’ pick: OR Transcendent
- Hard shell jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation. Guides’ Pick: OR Helium
- Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
- Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof
- Headlamp: with extra batteries. Guides’ pick: Black Diamond Spot
- Toiletries: Toilet paper, baggie for used TP, toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
- Personal first-aid kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
- Stuff sacks: for convenient packing
- Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…
- Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
- Locking carabiner: Pear shaped, wide mouth.
- Boots: Hiking boots, or alpine boots – many options. No tennis shoes.
- Crampons: General mountaineering crampons (for May/June trips only – conditions dependent)
- Mountaineering Axe: 60 – 70 cm mountain axe (for May/June trips only – conditions dependent)
Training & Follow Up Climbs
As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great climbing trip.
1Before Your Trip
The Mt. Wilson/El Diente is a strenuous trip conducted at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Therefore, previous experience hiking in the mountains and/or multi-day backpacking experience will be very helpful to you on this program. Though the actual climbing level required for this trip is not difficult, the best training regimen would include a mixture of cardiovascular fitness training (running, biking, hiking etc.), and muscular/core fitness exercises. The addition of some Yoga/stretching exercises will help to insure that you maintain good muscular flexibility as well.
For the Wilson/El Diente 14’ers you should be ready for:
- Hiking approximately 4-5 miles per day with up to a 40 lb pack at altitudes between 9,000′ – 12,000 ‘
- 12 – 15 hour summit days with a lighter “day pack”
- Wilderness living
2Follow Up Climbs
Very professional. Nate’s guidance/knowledge was exceptional and contributed to making this trip the experience of a lifetime. Loved having the food taken care of after those long and tiring days! The pre-trip equipment checklist and phone conversations helped lots with ensuring having proper equipment. – Andrew G. 2012 Wilson/El Diente
Telluride, Colorado: Getting Here
Telluride is located in the SW corner of Colorado, at the intersection of the sandstone towers of the desert, and the jagged, San Juan Mountains. A mecca for climbing, hiking, cycling, and foodies; make sure you plan to spend some time in town before and after your SJMG trip. Participants can either base out of Telluride for this climb, or you can also arrive to either Durango or Ouray where we have office locations. Please communicate with our office staff regarding your preference.
Flights: Particpants for the Wilson/El Diente trip can fly into either Montrose, Durango, or Telluride, Colorado. Multiple airline options exist, and most connections originate from Denver, Phoenix, or Dallas. The airport in Durango is a 20 minute drive from our office, and the airport in Montrose is about 45 minutes from our office in Ouray.
Driving: Below are some approximate driving times if you’d like to drive to Ouray. If you plan on renting a car, please consider the winter weather when selecting your vehicle and at a minimum choose something that offers either front wheel or all-wheel drive.
- Montrose, CO: 2 hours
- Ouray, CO: 1.5 hours
- Denver, CO: 6 hours
- Albuquerque, NM: 3.5 hours
- Salt Lake City, UT: 6 hours
Hotels: Durango has a number of great hotels, suites, and vacation rentals for you to stay in while you’re in the area. Give our office a call at 800-642-5389 if you have any questions about what would suite you best for this trip! Below are just a few options catering to different lodging styles and preferences.
- Cost Includes:
- Guiding and trip leadership
- Breakfasts and dinners on the mountain (additional fee)
- Group camping and cooking equipment (tents, stoves, etc.)
- Group climbing equipment (ropes, etc.)
- Harness, helmet
- Not Included:
- Transportation to Ouray, Telluride, or Durango, CO
- Personal Lunch Food
- 5% land use surcharge
- Trip cancellation insurance – recommended
- Personal backpacking climbing clothing
- Costs associated with early returns, weather delays, or other factors beyond our control
- Guide gratuity
- Registration and Cancellation:
- Advance Registration is required for this program. You have the option to either call our office and register via phone, fill out our pdf Registration Form and send it in via fax or email, or utilize our secure Online Reservation System. All participants must read and sign an Assumption of Risks/Liability Waiver and agree to our Reservations and Cancellations Policies.
The guides were professional, knowledgeable, and friendly. The office staff was also great and very helpful. Thanks for a great trip and I look forward to more trips with San Juan Mountain Guides. – Trevor Y. Chicago Basin 14’ers 2011