How to get there:
We used the trailhead serving Navajo Lake in Navajo Basin.
We drove from Denver via US 285 to Poncha Springs, then US 50
to Gunnison and Monterose. From here follow the road towards
Telluride, but turn right up to Lizard Head Pass a few miles before
the town (Colorado Hwy 145). Drive 8.6 km down from Lizard Head Pass, then
go right on a small dirt road, US Forest Service 535. This road is
called Dunton Road, there is a sign. Follow this road up the side of
the valley, then across an open flat area and finally descending down
into a valley to the trailhead. There is a short, dead end road to
the trailhead going sharply right near the bottom of the hill, this
is 11.5 km from the beginning of Dunton Road. The trailhead has
a good parking area. It took us 7.5 hours to drive from Denver
including a quick lunch, gas, a few delays due to highway
construction and a quick stop to buy some supplies in Monterose. Route description:
The ridge connecting Mount Wilson with El Diente is one of the
"classic fourteener ridge traverses", it is moreover most likely the
highest mile in the Continental United States. The ridge stays above
4200 meter all the way from Mount Wilson to the summit of El Diente.
This description starts at the final summit ridge of Mount Wilson,
in order to get there, see the description posted under Mount Wilson.
The first part of the route descends the obvious couloir on the
left side of the ridge. This couloir contained a little bit of snow,
some old and some new from the thunderstorm the previous night. No
technical problems and no route finding problems, one soon exits the
couloir to the right and returns to the highest ridge. The ridge climbs
a bit and becomes distinctivly more narrow. This section is called
the coxcomb, the rock is good, but narrow and the exposure to both
sides is impressive. A very nice climb, it is a bit fun to report back
(to the climber that follows) that here is a spot that is just a bit
more narrow than the previous section. At the end of the coxcomb one
must either downclimb on the left side or be prepared for a rappel.
This downclimb was described as the crux of the route, however we
found it completely straightforward with no difficult spots.
One should start the downclimb a bit before the ridge itself heads
down, the general line is a descent that continues diagonally forward.
However, the best route makes a few zig-zags, this is pretty obvious
and one arrives at the lower end only slightly below the (low point)
saddle on the main ridge.
From here (this is the lowest spot along the entire ridge), one
continues on very easy terrain up and across a local summit. The ridge
is quite delightful here, several meters wide with a very good
view. This continues for quite some distance until one approaches
a new section with pinnacles and obvious difficulties. The "standard"
route prescribes a very significant downclimb on the left side all
the way down below various ribs of rock until one again can climb
up to the ridge. However, I can strongly recommend an alternative
route that avoids a considerable part of this elevation loss. Just
before the ridge itself becomes more complicated, descend down a small
gully. Keep your attention on the rock formations on your right
hand side. The alternative route is marked with a few cairns (We made
a couple that should help spot the beginning). The route stays
more or less at this elevation, the climbing is no more
than easy class 3. However, the route is interesting, the rock
is good and the perhaps most interesting section consists of a
rock ledge that turns around a corner (to the right), there one
finds the top of a rock pillar about 4 feets below, but the holds are good
and one can easily lower oneself down. From this pillar, the ledge
continues in an arc going left and emerges onto easier terrain.
There is only a short traverse up and one has regained the main
The ridge is now again broader and a large cairn marks the ramp that
constitutes the beginning of the north slope descent route back into
upper Navajo Basin. There are alternative routes going both left and
right of the highest ridgeline from this point. I can only recommend
staying at the very highest ridge a little more. The top ridge is easy,
but gets at least as narrow as the sections on the coxcomb.
Further complications, called the Organ Pipes rises ahead. This problem
should be circumvented by going left.
the required descent is very minimal, the route is quite easy to follow.
There are minor variations (a bit higher/lower) along here as well, but
eventually one arrives at the lower end of a distinct gully that
heads up directly to the right. One should climb this gully to the top,
then continue, but now on the right side of the ridge.
This route eventually leads to another small gully that heads up
towards the ridgeline, this time quite sharply to the climbers left.
Climb this gully for a couple of meters, then cross it and continue
the few final meters to the summit of El Diente. The summit is rocky
and fairly small, just the highest point on what distinctly looks
like a mountain ridge.
The return hike should follow the same route back to the cairn that
marks the top of the North Slope route. This route starts as a
descent on a very large, but steep ramp that leads you into the huge
gully down to upper Navajo Basin. Anyone doing this route should be
warned about the dangerously loose rock that exists everywhere. The best
(safest) route is likely to stay as far right as possible while
descending. Any party must stay together and be very
careful not to trigger the loose rocks. There was only minimal
icy/rotten snow left in the gully, not at all suitable for the
Earlier in the summer, the snow in the gully can likely
be used for a glissade, thus avoiding some of the danger provided that
safety is ensured on the (steep) glissade. Comments:
"The Highest Mile in the Continental United States."
I did this with Jan-Frode Myklebust.
We started out from Mount Wilson at 1000, I was on the summit of
El Diente at 1220, then back at the top of the North Slope descent
at 1320 (after a long rest on El Diente), then back down at the tent
1520. We subsequently hiked out to the trailhead and reached the car
around 1920, altogether about 12 hours of hiking/climbing - we deserved
a nice dinner in Telluride that evening.
This traverse was
a very nice mountain experience, first the interesting
climb of Mount Wilson, then the traverse, and finally
the climb of El Diente. The final descent down the
north slope from the El Diente - Wilson ridge was, however,
quite unpleasant with very loose rock and a near mishap
as a rock hit my left leg just above the knee.
The rocks that came
were deadly and arrived when I was in a difficult spot with
little opportunity for a quick escape. Always use a climbers
helmet, seek rapid shelter behind
whatever rocks you can find, lay down, protect your head.
The lesson should
be obvious, stay together in this kind of terrain. I made
the stupid mistake of getting ahead downslope.
Looking back towards Mount Wilson.
We have just passed the difficulties that can
be seen in the picture. We found a good route on
the right hand side (as seen here) that avoided the
(standard) big loss of elevation.
Gladstone Peak can be seen to the left.