Friday, July 31, 2009

Mount Wilson - 14,264 (via El Diente connecting ridge)

Mount Wilson - the North Face virtually bare of snow as it looked in July 2002 from Wilson Peak

Scant weeks after my climb of Sneffels with Ken Trout (in early fall of 1979) I was heading up into Navajo Lake Basin with sister Kim for another climb of El Diente. Kim was looking to tweak her resume for working with Outward Bound and felt this connecting ridge between El Diente and Mount Wilson would make a strong addition. So we found ourselves waking on a Saturday morning to climb the North Face of El Diente, heading up the steep buttress just to the right of the main face.

Nothing remarkable occurred on the ascent. Nor did the ridge traverse pose any problems. The weather was a little sketchy, with the summits often socked in, but we handled the difficult step on the ridge without incident and we soon made the summit of Mount Wilson.

It was on the descent that things got out of hand. I had planned a straight glissade down the North Face of Wilson, but the slush snow over glare ice looked a little sketchy, so I made a quick foray to test it. Unbeknownst to me Kim thought I was lauching into my glissade and came right behind. I realized this only after arresting my pell-mell slide and looking up to see her shoot past, legs first on her belly. "Dig in!" I shouted, whereupon she swung and seated her axe point, which promptly ripped out dislocating her shoulder. I could only watch helplessly while she slid down until the gully swerved and she ran into some talus.

Upon reaching her I found Kim seated on a rock with her legs gashed and rashed and her shoulder drooping. She looked dazed but professed she was able to make the walk back down to our tent. This took longer than expected. Kim kept having to sit down, feeling nauseous as in compensated shock. If I could just get her in her sleeping back back down in the meadow, I felt we could assess the situation and see if I needed to run out for a rescue. When we got to the tent she fell asleep and I cooked us a meal while rain fell outside. The storm passed she insisted she felt well enough to make the 4-mile hike out to Burro Bridge.

We returned to the car in total darkness, and back in Durango headed straight for Mercy ER where she was treated for gashes and what was essentially 2nd degree burns on her legs caused by the friction of the snow. We managed to keep the mishap a secret from our mother for a while, but word eventually got out, leading to sobering lessons. I had supplied her with an axe and briefed her, though not drilled her on its use in self-arrest. Then of course I might have told her I was testing the slope first, not just assumed she would know. As ever, communication is key.

'The Wilsons' thus appear to have been jinxed as far as my climbing in them is concerned. Then again, the third 14er in that range - Wilson Peak - was summited without incident 20 years later in 2002.

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