Wilson Peak 14,017′

Wilson Peak 14,017'

09 July 2016

I was shooting for a 2a start, because I was under the impression that my little Camry wouldn’t be able to get very far up the dirt road. To my great surprise, I was able to carefully maneuver all the way to Little Bear Creek, turning what I’d thought would be a 26 mile day into a much shorter 12 mile day. Started hiking at 310a. Good thing, too, because I struggled on the route.

En route to Silver Pick Basin this morning, I encountered some rich animal medicine, including a coyote (the trickster), an owl (the grandfather), and a porcupine (the innocent).

There were a couple lingering snowfields along the route leading up to Silver Pick Basin. Traction was helpful, though certainly not required. Once in the basin, I started following a couple who were ahead of me. I didn’t realize that they were shortcutting up the slope until I saw them cutting steps and making a b-line for the saddle. By that point, I felt reluctant to turn around. Cutting steps is tedious, so I tried to bypass them by working my way up the adjacent talus slope but ultimately decided that it was too risky to be above them, as the slope was perpetually sliding. I sat for a while and mirrored their progress, though I hated just sitting there. It felt like the whole slope might slide at any moment. And I bet I looked like a goof. Instead, I swallowed my pride, abandoned my line and backtracked to follow their lead up a firm snow finger that took us virtually to the saddle. It was a little bit sketchy with microspikes rather than crampons, but still wicked-fun. It would be so rad to get into winter mountaineering next season.

I lingered back to give them space, not in too much of a hurry this morning. When I made the saddle, I got turned around and ended up on the class IV ridge heading out toward Gladstone Peak. I didn’t realize immediately that I’d made a wrong turn, but I knew that I wasn’t on the route. My line was just a little too technical, a little too exposed. There is something especially unnerving about being off route, totally reliant on my own judgment, which today had already failed me a couple times. This time, I zigged when I shoulda zagged. I checked my map, and it clicked. I was very clearly headed in the total opposite direction of Wilson Peak. After internalizing some self-deprecating remarks about foolishly wasting valuable time and energy, I took a deep breath and turned to retrace my steps.

I had a rough day up there. Definitely didn’t score any points for style. I felt shaky on the class III sections, partly due to fatigue and partly due to general discomfort. I don’t think I have anything left for fourteeners that is less technical than class III. I feel pretty anxious, but I know it’ll get better. I’ll get more comfortable.

The summit was awesome, incredible views of the surrounding mountains and down into Telluride. The couple who had been ahead of me all day topped out before I did, but I had the place to myself for a little bit between climbing parties. Downclimbing actually restored some of my confidence. It’s a pretty technical couple hundred feet just below the summit. And one advantage to my slow progress was that the snow was soft enough to glissade on the way back down- enjoyed three different pitches. For me, the second half of the climb was a great improvement over the first.

As I neared the saddle, I dropped my phone on some steep ledges and had to downclimb to it. Sheesh. Early season jitters!

All told, it took me 11 hours to do 12 miles (with a couple bonus). Not my best work, but Wilson was a challenging climb. And a reminder that my last dozen fourteeners are going to be tedious. No cruisers left. I really need to set myself up better for these climbs. I just climbed two fourteeners in as many days on a grand total of about fives hours of sleep. No bueno.