Mt. Wilson - 14,246 feet
"South Wilson" - 14,110 feet
Mt. Wilson - 14,246 feet
"South Wilson" - 14,110 feet
|The Struggle is Real: A South Wilson Winter Snowboard Attempt|
Good stories start in the middle... or so the Star Wars franchise would have us believe!
In the spring of 2013 trip reports started coming out showing favorable backcountry conditions in the San Juans.
Upon viewing benners trip report a decision was made: Travel to Telluride & climb Mount Wilson.
My friend Luke & I made the drive down on April 26, 2013.
An old friend of mine, Andrew, whom I hadn't seen in years was nice enough to put us up in his house.
In fact, he wasn't even going to be there as he & his wife had a wedding to attend in Moab. What a guy!
A predawn start on the 27th found us at the Cross Mountain trail, high on Lizard Head Pass.
With long spring daylight hours we didn't make it very far up the trail before the sun greeted us in the trees.
We had studied topo maps & knew we would need to drop off the trail to the left between a prominent corner & a large
open meadow with wonderful views of Lizard Head. Luke & I made quick work of this section: riding a traversing right
line for as much as we could. The few sections we had to hike were solid enough to leave the snowshoes on our backs.
Soon we were nearing treeline.
Here we made a mistake which scared us both real good. In an effort to avoid constant snow & ice climbing; we veered
right onto an ascending stack of broken dinner plates... then were forced to traverse across the same sketchy snow &
ice. We hadn't acquired crampons or axes before the trip - a fall wouldn't have been fatal, but very, very painful.
This plan wouldn't work! We continued to a rock outcropping above us & discussed our options there. We decided we
would strap in & traverse back to the safety of the basin; losing some elevation but traveling closer to our peak above.
In a surprisingly efficient way, we were back on course and climbing with the boards on our backs again.
As we rounded a corner of the Slate Creek Cirque near the base of Gladstone Peak we saw a skier! He cruised down to us
& we exchanged some brief stories of our experiences that day. Dan from Albuquerque, nice guy. We continued climbing
the snow & rock until we finally reached the steep pitch of snow below the north ridge of Mount Wilson. The handles of
our avy shovels were used as wimpy substitutes for axes. The technique to arrest (not self arrest) was clear to both of
us... but if that didn't stop us from sliding - we both knew we were hosed!
At the top of the col we were able to drop boards & packs; bringing only the essentials on the rocky trek to the top.
We approached the crux & I froze up... I knew it was a class 4 route... somehow I thought I'd crush it without even
thinking. After a quick moment of discussion Luke volunteered to head up first.
The class 3 move was covered in snow... so up the right we went! A class 4 move over 100 foot cliffs with snow on
some of the rock - sounds awesome! Past the crux easy scrambling topped us out - both our 1st San Juan peak!
We didn't stay long knowing we still had 6 miles to get back to the cars... and an unspeakable evil lurked in the forest.
The Boxcar Couloir had looked good from below... off we rode to go investigate. It was a little rocky at the mouth, but
contained solid snow wall-to-wall after a short downclimb. The riding was steep & thrilling!
The Forest of Suck Ass is an interesting place... seemingly brought to our existence from the depths of hell. Neither
photos nor words can convey the treachery of this place. Add to that the fact that Luke & I made a wrong move in a
meadow & descended down toward Lizard Head Creek. This didn't really add any extra hiking... it just wasn't as fast
or efficient as the Cross Mountain Trail would have been. We popped out at the car just before sunset happy to have
pulled off a miracle day with less-than-adequate gear. We stayed at Andrew's a second night... far too tired for the
four & a half hour drive home. The good guys won this one...
With the less than ideal snowfall this season - ideas get brewing.
Some work out better than others...
And so begins the next chapter in this Wilson saga!
James & Gus would be joining me for this adventure. The destination: South Wilson, from the Slate Creek Basin.
Andrew was again nice enough to let us crash at his spot - this time based out of Sawpit. James & I made the drive
down to the San Juans Tuesday morning. We checked out Telluride that evening with Andrew & his family.
Gus had to work Tuesday evening & made his way to Sawpit by one in the morning. I led him to the guest room so
he could attempt at least a couple hours of sleep. A painful four o' clock wake up had us at the trailhead by 5:15.
The Cross Mountain Trail was very packed down & was very easy to hike without using snowshoes.
Soon we made the meadow marking our last turn off options.
Some lovely turns mixed with small hiking sections led us down to our creek crossing. Soon I remembered how much
I hated my snowshoes. They are a torturous design... very fitting to cross these flat woods! I'd vowed to replace
them after issues on Sopris... then summer came & I'd forgotten how bad they were. Once out of the trees James
& I could finally stand on the snow without snowshoes - we switched to crampons & axes as the terrain steepened.
Gus cruised along, setting a nice pace on his splitboard. At roughly 11,900 we were all in crampon/axe mode.
After a couple hours of steep snow climbing we found ourselves in the high basin southeast of the Mount Wilson
summit. The views were astounding & I finally got a look at the couloir I intended to climb. The other two had
already voiced opinions about heading down. I was much more hesitant to take that stance. I waited a couple
moments for them to catch up & I grabbed one of the radios. I knew I had to at least try the couloir... I could
see the summit of South directly above us. At just shy of 13,700 - I entered the couloir. The snow was much
deeper here due to windloading. I attempted to reach the rocks at the right wall. I was greeted with a waist
deep wallow fest. The radio "discussions" had already been getting a little heated by this point. I called down
to tell them if it didn't improve in twenty feet I was strapping in to snowboard down. It didn't improve. Tired,
frustrated, and so close; I had no choice but to turn around and head down.
Summit fever can be a hard thing to detect... at first it just feels like determination. Slowly it transitions into
irrational thoughts & actions. I took the time to thank my friends for helping me snap out of this trance. The
ride down was a smorgasbord of snow styles; sheets of ice, windloaded powder, crusty sections with plenty
of rocks to avoid.
Back at the trees we caught a lucky break - Furthermore's trail through the woods!! Thanks so much
Derek!! It was solid enough to hike without snowshoes... this was awesome... until we crossed a meadow.
The wind had blown all signs of the track away. In a semi-delirious state I thought I saw a sign, we all headed
to where I'd seen it - nothing was there. Ironically within a few hundred feet my "craziness" had us back in the
trench. Eventually we were back on the Cross Mountain Trail... happy to snowboard the last section to within
feet of my truck. James had to work the next morning & Gus was ready to head home too. In Sawpit we said
our goodbyes, all agreeing it had been a wonderful trip even without the summit. I stayed another night
catching up with Andrew & his wife.
Before I'd left for this trip a co-worker had asked me what my game plan was for this mountain. I'd replied,
"Safety, Fun, Summit - in that order." Two outta three ain't bad. Other takeaways from this adventure included
the necessity of owning snowshoes that fit well & actually downloading some GPS tracks (not just reviewing them).
Leaving earlier in the morning & planning the trip after the spring snow consolidation would have vastly improved
our summit chances as well. As for climbing South Wilson; I may give this route another go some spring (Episode
VI: Return of the Shredi), I might climb it via the Kilpacker side (no board), or I'll stop caring about 14ers when
a super-volcano rises out of the plains of Colorado - forming the state's first 15er. I think these are all likely
scenarios. Thanks Luke, James, & Gus for letting me add your photos to mine for this report! Oh... and for the
awesome days in the hills!!!
You might also ask, "What happens in episodes one, two, & three?!" Okay - so Wilson comes to the area and
starts cloning his name to everything in sight, Lizard Head roams the San Juans reeking havoc until becoming
frozen in carbonite, and honestly episode three is more or less a documentary about snowfall.
|Comments or Questions|
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