Saturday, July 19, 2014

El Diente Peak

Route Name: South Slopes from Kilpacker Basin
Trailhead Elevation: 10,395 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,015 ft.
Distance: 11.9 mi.
Elevation Gain: 4,766 ft.
Start Time: 4:12am
Summit Time: 10:00am (25 minutes on top)
End Time: 3:42pm

Trip Report:

This was round #2 of our attempts on El Diente Peak.  Last July we were camping at the lovely Kilpacker Basin trail, we made the hike up into Kilpacker basin, we even made it up to 12,500 feet at the base of the South Slopes route, and the weather prohibited further passage.  We were even there before 7am and the clouds were thick and the sprinkles were starting.  Wisely, we chose to turn around as the south slopes of El Diente are not a place to be when everything is wet.  This necessitated our now 2014 attempt.  I've already once laid out several of my thoughts and photos on the basic Kilpacker Basin hike and so I won't revisit all of those in this trip report.  I would commend to you my 2013 Kilpacker Basin trip report as good reading for that portion of this hike.

Kilpacker Basin with a nice waterful and El Diente in view
The following image is dated 2011 by Google Earth's imagery, but the snow we encountered in 2014 was very similar.  The snow field labeled above 12,750 was nearly identical.  The snowfield labeled above 13,150 was slightly bigger in 2014.  The snowfield labeled at 13,450 was roughly the same.   In this 2014 hike the cairned trail through the talus went completely climber's right of the 1st snowfield.  It went directly into the 2nd snowfield.  We encountered it about 8:05am and the snow was still quite firm.  The track you see below was our track to climb around and avoid the snow on our ascent.   On our descent we hit it around noon and we ended up glissading the upper portion and traversing with microspikes and ice axe the lower portion.   The upper snowfield we used spikes and axe on both the ascent and descent and it was a moderate but passable slope.  These three fields were the only ones at all near trail during our 2014 hike.

When you reach about 12,500 in Kilpacker Basin the cairned trail within the talus makes its turn uphill.  If you study route photos and even just by observation in the basin there is an obvious crease between two cliff bands that the trail begins the south slope ascent through.  After passing through that area we encountered the lowest snowfield.  This area can be seen in my next photo.  The yellow areas I added into the photo show the general direction the trail goes.  Its worth noting there were a handful of trail segments in here and we ended up following one that ascended straight upwards.  This created a bit of extra work for us when that path turned to trail-less talus.  

While there are a handful of trail segments through here,
the yellow arrows point out the best and shortest route
When you reach the area where the yellow arrows in the previous photo end you'll be in the area of the next photo.  The main goal is to aim for the black area on the cliffs ahead and then make a hard left turn.  The snowfield seen in view blocks the actual path.  On our ascent we ended up finding the path of least resistance through the rocks and cliffs to the left and above my brother (red helmet) in the photo.  With some careful route-finding that worked.  On our descent we went through the snow as it had softened enough to be more safely passable.  Either way, above this terrain you end up in an area below the black cliffs that now ascends up and to the left towards the red rock rib and a small snowfield.

This shows the edge of the 13,150ft snowfield which was
actually quite larger than what you see in the photo
The next photo shows my brother at the top of the 13,450ft snowfield.  Behind him you can see my father (white helmet) towards the beginning of the field.  Its passage wasn't long and only slightly sloped.  Below this field you can see down to the area below the black cliff.  Above this field you almost immediately hit the bottom of the red rock rib where you would then turn right on the ascent.

Crossing the snowfield at 13,450ft on our ascent
The following image is meant to help illustrate the upper slope on El Diente's southern route.  In our ascent and descent we found the red rock rib to be fairly easy to identify.  We also found the terrain just above the red rock rib to be very confusing.  There were tiny trail segments and various ledges and slabs all over and no clear route was identifiable.  For our part, we thought the bottom of the gray gully to be evident enough and we made our way to it after little discussion.  As I note in the image, we met a pair of other hikers who had ascended up and too far to the climber's left and gained a different gully to hit the terrain below the organ pipes.  They reported it to be pretty steep and loose.  We stuck with the grey gully in both directions and found it to be solid enough with just some small loose rocks scattered about it.

The next photo shows my brother at the base of the red rock rib.  Heading up from there is a trail-less area.  You can try and hunt for what is the real trail and find dozens of them, or you can give up on that thought and just ascend your way through the path of least resistance to the base of the grey gully. 

The next photo now shows the base of the grey gully.  The first moves into the gully we found to be the steepest and most difficult, perhaps on the whole route, but above them it grows easier.  You could likely consider the whole gully to be class 3 but certainly nothing above that.  There was plenty of good rock mixed in with a few loose pieces through the gully.  Having just done Wetterhorn Peak the day prior, the grey gully was much easier and certainly less steep than Wetterhorn's summit pitch.  Near the top of the gully there was a cairn in the middle and a break in the gully wall on the left with a small flat area that would serve as the proper exit point.  On our ascent I ended up climbing through large boulder rock another 20 feet higher til I topped out at the organ pipes.  That worked, but I ended up having to descend down a bit to begin the traverse.  One could save time by carefully picking the best exit from the top of this gully.

Looking up at the gray gully with plenty of colorful rock in view
This video shows a look at the more difficult first moves
in the gray gulley as well as the climbing above
(video credit: David)

After exiting the gray gully the traverse below the organ pipes begins to the west.  Most of this traverse is fairly simple and straightforward.  We found just one section of difficulty.  If you look in my first photo below you'll see some vertical rocks with yellow lichen on them.  A cairned path takes you to their right in a narrow section with some other rocks.  Passage after that point presents the minor difficulty.  My second photo below shows this area from a shot I took during our descent.  You have a choice between a very steep (like 70 degree perhaps) and loose dirt descent or some awkward moves betweenst a large boulder and rocks below it to gain passage.  The two areas I circle in yellow are my best effort at illustrating this area from afar on the other side.

Towards the beginning of the traverse below the organ pipes
A look from our descent of the only difficulty area on the
passage below the organ pipes.  You're forced to choose between
The traverse ends at a loose dirt gulley that ascends up to the summit ridge. The entrance to this gully we found to be fairly ovious.  We could see it for most of the traverse as it happens just before several prominent rocks with yellow lichen on their front.  The gulley itself is not as steep as the grey gulley but is slightly steeper than most of the terrain below the gray gulley.  This last gulley was predominantly loose dirt with some rock mixed in.  We found ascending and descending to be easiest by hugging the solid rock on the sides of the gulley.

This gulley exits onto the summit ridge in a tiny saddle.  In that saddle you get excellent views of Navajo Basin, Wilson Peak, and the traverse to Mt. Wilson.  The best advice as you gain the summit ridge here is to look for an immediately left turn, a small ascent and then the route along the summit ridge will present itself.  Don't be tempted to go too low as you begin this next traverse.  If you find the right path your view should be what the next photo here shows:

On the summit ridge traverse towards El Diente
If it weren't for the heavy exposure off to your right moving through this section would be considered pretty easy.  As it was, we carefully watched our moves in here.  This traverse took us to another notch.  It would seem to be almost impossible to miss.  In the notch you will then get a view up and to your left and then you will see the summit.  It seems there is a large rib on the north side of the summit ridge and this notch grants you easy passage to the other side.  The next photo shows what the scrambling looks like to gain this notch.  It has some exposure below but is probably not more than easy class 3 scrambling at most.

Scrambling to gain the notch just before the summit area
The next photo shows what that final ascent to the summit looks like.  There was some crossing of steep loose dirt and then easy scrambling through the remaining rocks to finally gain the summit area.  The rocks on the top middle of the photo is the summit.  It is a very small summit area.  We had the summit to ourselves when we arrived and were 10 minutes later joined by 3 other guys.  Two of them we had camped with at the trailhead and a third was on his 14er finisher, so we had a small series of congratulations with him.

Looking up to the summit area of El Diente

Wilson Peak

The Wilson-El Diente traverse ridge leading to Mt. Wilson
We spent only 25 minutes on top and decided, due to the crowded nature, to descend down for further snacks.  We reversed our moves down to the notch and then along the summit ridge back to the initial saddle on the ridge above the loose gulley.  Here we spent another 12 minutes putting in some snacks and enjoying the views.

When we descended the loose gulley from the ridge we had the other 3 guys at our heels.  Due to the potential rock fall nature in this area they graciously waited for us to clear the gulley before they began.  As we then made our way cautiously on the traverse below the organ pipes they caught us again and this time we allowed them to go ahead on the descent down the grey gulley.  We took our time beginning into the grey gulley and gradually made our way down mostly letting the other 3 clear the gulley first.  The potential for rock fall is likely the most dangerous part of this route as anyone above you in almost any location could knock things loose.  Any helmet is a very good idea anywhere in Kilpacker Basin!  This next photo is looking ahead to the exit from the grey gulley.  This was taken on our descent and shows where I exited the gulley (a little too high) on the ascent, and the much easier and shorter upper exit from the gulley that we hit on the descent.

A look at the top of the gray gulley, the okay and the better upper exits from the gulley
Below the gray gulley we were back to route-finding the mixed up area around the red rock rib and were then to the upper-most snow field at 13,450.  We put spikes on again with the ice axe to stay the most protected through here though we are guessing a handful of folks this day didn't use either.  Below that upper snow patch we followed trail best as we could through the talus to the uppermost part of the 13,150 snowfield which we had bypassed earlier. At this time in the day it had softened and we glissaded its upper half to a bench area 3/4 of the way down the field.  My brother and I went first and we had good slides.  My father went last and he turned into a self arrest near the bottom as the snow field had spun him to his side and almost out of control.  Always have to be careful on snow!  The photo below looks at our exit from this snowfield.  The upper area we glissaded really isn't in view and is hidden by some of the rock.

Parts of the 13,150 snowfield we encountered
After exiting the 13,150 snowfield the main obstacles of the day were done.  We followed the faint trail back down through the talus on the south slope and before long we were back to the more prominent trail running through Kilpacker Basin.  From there it is still a pretty long haul through all of the talus in the basin before you start to get onto dirt and as like last year, after all the hiking on rock it is really a treat to hit dirt again on the way out of Kilpacker.

As we departed we got a few on and off again showers that would tempt us into putting on rain jackets but would just as soon stop raining.  We filled up a liter of water at the creek crossing and noticed the CFI camp in the area.  It seems they are re-routing some of the trail that leads into Kilpacker basin to avoid some of the harshly steep dirt trail up through the trees and willows.  Too late for us unfortunately.

Photo sphere of one of the meadows along the Kilpacker Basin trail

After the stream crossing on the way out the showers pretty much stopped and as we began to near the trailhead the sun popped out once more.  Our joys were summarized in knowing this: we would have a dry tent to pack in for the drive back to Frisco.  Oh, that and we just completed 14er #52.  

Almost back to the trailhead

Kilpacker Basin may be one of the most beautiful trailheads.  It alone is worth the visit


I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  The blue flags highlight certain
key points along the route that may be helpful to note ahead of time, both on a
topo map and on a Satellite map: 

My Tracks

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