TR: Mount Wilson (30 May 2010)

(Last Updated On: April 27, 2016)

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After tagging El Diente the previous day, we went back for more. It was another early wake-up at 3 am. Early wake-ups like this always start out a bit hazy. Once my mind began to clear away the dreams, I became acutely aware of just how cold it was outside- much colder than yesterday. Our suspicions were confirmed as we passed through the first few snow patches. We happily found the snow frozen solid where it had been slushy the day before.

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As we continued to hike above treeline, the sun still had not risen above the mountains. Both Frank and I commented on just how cold it was. We believe that temperatures were into the teens.

As we reached the top of Rock of Ages saddle once again we headed to the left instead of to the right towards El Diente. Our plan was to traverse as much as we could across the basin, without loosing much elevation. We were aiming for Gladstone Saddle.

Mount Wilson as seen from Rock of Ages Saddle, with Gladstone saddle to the left.
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View of our traverse, as seen from the summit of Mt. Wilson. Rock of Ages Saddle lies to the left. The arrow points upward to Gladstone Saddle.
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In our traverse, we only lost a couple hundred feet of elevation and we were able to hike up quickly to the top of Gladstone Saddle. The views were amazing.
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From there, we headed up the east face of Mount Wilson.
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Looking back toward the scenic Gladstone Saddle.
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We approached the saddle to the lookers left of the summit peak, and from there wrapped around to the right for an easy scramble to the summit.
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The register. As with El Diente, we are following in the tracks of our friend Jarrett.
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Frank and I enjoying the summit!
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One of the many reasons I like climbing fourteeners is for the spectacular views. This day, with its calm bluebird skies, was no different.
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Wilson Peak.
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Wilson Peak and Gladstone with more of the San Juans behind.
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The previous night’s hard freeze helped our summit approach. But, the temperatures were quickly warming so we switched into ski mode fairly quickly. Unfortunately, we were unable to make a true summit descent. The upper 15 feet had snow, but the 30 feet below that did not. Rather than bang and scrape my skis around to call this a “true summit descent”, I opted to downclimb this part. I’ll have to go back and get Mt. Wilson under better conditions for a true summit descent. But, for now, I’ll say its a 14er descent with an asterisk:)

Here’s Frank’s opinion on the matter:

Summit descents of Mount Wilson are hard to come by. It is one of the peaks which Dawson did not ski from the summit, instead starting at a notch roughly fifty vertical feet below the summit, which Ted Mahon did as part of his project as well (he’s since gone back, however). Davenport and his crew found the East face to be in condition, and made some great technical straightlines off the summit. A week later, Frank and Jeremy Wegner were able to do the same. Summit descents since that time have shifted over to a short SW facing gully, with Joe Brannen, Jordan White, Jarrett Luttrell, and Christy Mahon all skiing/snowboarding this line. Some were able to do this without downclimbing. Others skied until the snow petered out and they were forced to downclimb a short portion of the 40-50 vertical feet of the gully. Jarrett’s report is here, while Joe and Jordan’s report can be found here. (Christy and Ted skied it the same day as Jarrett, but they have stated that they were able to keep their skis on the entire time, whereas Jarrett could not keep his snowboard on.) The skiing in this gully seems pretty marginal, but sometimes that what is needed for a true summit descent. In any case, we skipped the 10 or 15′ of skiing in this gully and downclimbed the entire 40′. Under Dawson’s old standards, this would count for sure, but other descents have started off the summit, so this particular descent of Mt. Wilson gets an * for the time being. We’ll repeat it at some point, it’s a great mountain that’s well worth repeating. Ultimately, those who wish to ski all the 14ers (and claim it) have 2 main responsibilities: being honest with everyone about what they’ve done, and finishing the goal in a way they can be internally comfortable with.

Note: Brittany returned in April, 2011 to claim a true summit descent of Mount Wilson.

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Frank, making his way down the upper East face.
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Me, skiing the upper east face.
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Frank making his way toward the Boxcar couloir.
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Looking back up at the upper east face from the top of the Boxcar couloir.
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Frank was excited 🙂
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And then he was off!
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I kind of liked the Boxcar couloir too 🙂
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While we were in the Boxcar couloir, warming temperatures gave us a warning sign as briefcase-sized (and shaped) rock came whizzing by me, landing only two feet away from my skis, continuing down the slope. “Rock!!!!! ROCK!!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, as Frank was below me. After that, we booked it on out of there as quick as possible.

Taking the Boxcar put us lower down in the eastern basin and we had to skin up to Gladstone Saddle once again.
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A few more scenics from the top of Gladstone saddle.
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From there, we skied a little ways down into the northern basin, and then skinned up Rock of Ages saddle for the third time in two weeks. The ski down brought us to a beautiful mini-ice fall that had formed overnight from the cold temperatures.
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Though this route on Mount Wilson requires many transitions, it is still a fairly time-efficient and simple route. Skiing the Boxcar couloir is a ton of fun – and, in our opinion, should not be missed if you’re already taking the time to ski this peak!

Frank and I thoroughly enjoyed our Memorial Day weekend, tackling these two peaks, Mount Wilson and El Diente, knocking two more fourteeners off of my list. At this point, I still have two fourteeners remaining- Pyramid and Pikes peak. I missed the optimal snow and weather conditions on Pyramid, and will be saving this peak for next season, hoping to hit it during it’s prime. And Pikes… well, that’s been the one I’m saving for last. Hopefully there will be a party on Pikes next spring 🙂

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things,Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate 🙂 Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

Latest posts by Brittany Walker Konsella (see all)

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things, Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate :) Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

8 thoughts on “TR: Mount Wilson (30 May 2010)

  • June 8, 2010 at 3:44 pm
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    Way to keep after it guys. That is some ugly snow.

    That’s an interesting discussion about skiing from the summit and one that continues to puzzle me. I’ll admit there’s nothing better than banging turns right off the summit. At the same time, I’ve never understood the desire to walk over boulders while wearing skis or to build snow ramps in order to claim a summit descent particularly when virtually no one descends from the true summit of peaks such as Wetterhorn and Sunlight while wearing skis. Personally I couldn’t care less about skiing from the very highest point or about the arbitrary set of guidelines that facilitate such efforts. That said, the claim that anyone has skied from the summit of all Colorado’s 14ers is technically inaccurate (to the best of my knowledge).

  • June 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm
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    Great TR Britt, and some amazing photos in there.

    Question of the summit ski as that’s one of my favorite subjects.

    Why not just ski the 15′ of snow and then downclimbing through the missing snow, wasn’t that top 15′ feet from the summit. Seems similar to like what you need to do on Uncompahgre, although that dowclimb is more like 400 feet below the summit, but it’s probably more like 200 vertical feet of snow it still doesn’t usually get skied. And it sounds like others are claiming skis of Wilson with some downclimbing, are you just saying that you’re not OK with this, or do you think that current standards mean that you’re descent wouldn’t have been up to snuff.

    I always believed that a downclimb in the middle of the descent was OK so long as it was reasonable (and that downclimb seemed reasonable), so long as you linked turns off the summit. Seems like much ado about nothing if you just made some turns off the summit, although if you’re not OK with it that’s probably the 2nd point of Frank’s ramblings.

    Either way 52 completed is amazing and your reports have been nothing short of inspirational.

  • June 9, 2010 at 9:21 pm
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    Irlts you bring up some good points. I suppose summit descents are somewhat a matter of opinion, really. Lou Dawson set the initial standards for 14er skiing. But, I think Chris Davenport set today’s standards for 14er skiing with modern equipment. By modern equipment, I don’t just mean with today’s better backcountry gear. I am also referring to the advent of the Internet and all the resources that are readily available- trip reports, SNOTEL, weather, updated trailhead info… all things Dawson never had but Davenport did have. It is my personal goal to strive to adhere to the standards set by Davenport. I might not always do his route, but if he skied something directly from the summit, I feel that I need to do so also. Such is the case with Mt. Wilson. I felt like skiing 15 feet and then taking my skis off for the next bit would have been cheating that standard, so I will just have to go back some other time to really call it a true summit ski 🙂

  • June 10, 2010 at 9:25 am
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    Some excellent points for sure. It sounds like you have character and integrity Britt and that’s admirable, I applaud you for that.

    I suppose since I started skiing the 14ers in 98 that I grandfather myself to the Dawson standards, even after the bar has been raised by Dav and others. 🙂 I do think it’s important that the standards be adhered to otherwise you run the risk of the downward spiraling standards (climbed to summit in August, skied 400 foot patch of snow).

    It’s been great to see the 14er ski goal progress throughout the years, and see you and Frank, and Dav and the others raise the bar is inspirational, any way you shake it getting on those peaks and skiing down them is fun.

  • June 10, 2010 at 3:48 pm
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    Excellent work! Very much looking forward to Pikes next season, and of course other adventures…

    Here’s another summit descent scenario. To be honest, I’m being somewhat silly here to make a point, but it kinda figures in to seemingly hazy set of rules. Let’s say there is snow from top of the peak for 15’…like your day on Mt. Wilson. Then, it’s melted out, or cliffed out (what have you) for the next 40’…but below that the snow continues indefinitely. Here’s the silly part: you’re a total badass, and you aired it over the no-snow part, and continued skiing. I realize there might not be a peak like that in CO that wouldn’t spell H-O-S-P-I-T-A-L with the pitches involved off a typical summit…but it could happen. Because you are staying in you skis, does this now count?

    If staying in your skis off the true summit and walking across rock counts, then the “14’er huck” would be sound. But if that’s the case, you could also downclimb melted out portions…in your skis. Is being in your skis the important part, or actually weighting your skis on the ground (snow or rock) more important? What length of uninterrupted snow off the true summit counts before you are allowed to downclimb unskiable portions? I guess if you had 100′ off the summit, then an interrupted portion, then back to snow…is that more acceptable than 15′ off the summit?

    I’d give this descent to ya, but your adherence to high standards like others have said is laudable by all means.

    Cheers, and great work!

  • June 10, 2010 at 6:05 pm
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    You do bring up some good points Kieth. I suppose you could huck and it would count 😉 In general, I consider 1000 feet of skiing from the summit, uninterrupted, to be my standard on most 14ers. There are some obvious cases where this just doesn’t work. Some of the obvious ones are Sunlight (have to start a few feet below the spire), Capitol (no one has yet to ski this peak uninterrupted), Wetterhorn (have to downclimb from the summit), and Crestone Needle (some years the Needle requires a downclimb in the middle, but either way, if you traverse out to Broken Hand you generally can’t ski 1000 feet uninterrupted). Another example is Bross which has a very broad summit that basically no one has been able to ski from since the snow just blows right off of it. Everyone I know has had to walk a ways to reach snow, but still only losing about 20 feet of vert, if even that much. For all other 14ers a ski of 1000 uninterrupted feet is possible, and so that is generally my standard 🙂 There have been a few cases where I’ve “compromised” this a touch in order to ski a better line. Generally, what has happened here, is I’ve walked without losing vertical- meaning I either traversed over rocky sections, or climbed back up a bit to enter a different line.

    Generally, there aren’t really any set standards to skiing 14ers. I think it comes down to each individual and what they are comfortable with claiming as a true descent. I didn’t feel like my descent of Mt. Wilson was 100% legit because it’s been done in better style by several others. Getting it in better summit conditions is not a fluke, it’s entirely possible. And that’s what I need to do in order to be comfortable “claiming” the descent.

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  • August 19, 2010 at 2:15 am
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    Had no idea Ted & Christy skied this line the same day as us. Weiiiiiird.

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