Date Climbed: July 25, 2018
Elevation: 14,252 Ft
An alpine start brought me to the trailhead of Kilpacker Basin. Having been here half a dozen times or so, I knew the area like the back of my hand, so my photos would be sparse. This hike was all about speed. My wife was sitting in the truck napping while I took the atv up for a speed climb of Mount Wilson, one of the more challenging 14ers on my list.
Only having recently been completed, the Kilpacker route of Mount Wilson offered a much shorter and safer climb of the mountain. For years, my dad spoke of the danger Mount Wilson posed, and I knew my parents (who were waiting in Telluride) were anxiously waiting news on my summit.
As I had arrived so early in the day, I reached treeline just as the sky began to change colors, heralding the arrival of the morning. The waterfalls, greenery, and jagged peaks distracted me from the hard pace I had set. Unfortunately, they also must have distracted me from my immediate surroundings, as suddenly from my left I heard a loud rustling of brush and rocks. Adrenaline immediately took over and I whirled to my left. Only 15-20 feet away was a medium sized black bear, the only one I had ever encountered on one of these hikes. I immediately started yelling at it and waved my poles above my head to scare it off.
Thankfully, it was already bolting as fast as it could up the steep scree slope toward Navajo Basin. After taking a moment to collect myself, I took a moment to send a quick prayer of thanks for the protection I had just witnessed. Based on where I saw it, I could have been no more than five feet away from the bear without even realizing it, as by the time I heard him, he had already begun his escape. Thankfully, his response to the sudden encounter was to run away, rather than attack. He could have easily taken me out before I would have even realized what was happening. Unfortunately, due to the lighting, I did not capture the bear on camera, but it was a grim reminder that anything can happen on the trail.
Not wanting to stick around should the bear become curious, I set an even harder pace up the trail. Before long, I intersected the cutoff for El Diente, where the trail petered out to almost nothing on the way toward Mount Wilson.
Once in the upper basin, the faint trail disappeared entirely, and gave way to a rock glacier which guarded then entrance to the gully below Wilson's summit. The views all around reminded me of a cathedral, with steep spires all around. Up ahead, I could just make out an older hiker who was slowly, ever so slowly making his way up. I soon caught up to him, and asked how he was doing.
He was obviously struggling a bit, and he admitted he had started about midnight last night as he knew his pace would be slow. Not wanting him to navigate the steeper terrain by himself, I offered to pick the way up. On ahead I went, stopping just around the corner from him every few hundred feet to make sure he was able to pick his way carefully up the steep gully. After a few stops, the climbing became easier and I left him in order to reach the summit.
Just as my partner topped out, I finished up my snack and began the climb down. I could see and hear others coming up the basin, so I knew someone else would run into him on their way up and offer assistance if needed. Not wanting to be below him in case any rocks came crashing down, I began my descent.
The day turned out to be gorgeous, with not so much as a breeze to be felt. I made a quick call to my family to let them know I was on my way down, and out I went.
The day turned out to be gorgeous, with not so much as a breeze to be felt. I made a quick call to my family to let them know I was on my way down, and out I went. I ran into a few hikers at the entrance to the rock glacier. I told them to stay high and climbers left in order to avoid the sketchy terrain. I also asked if they had run into my bear friend on the way, to which they responded they hadn't. They were apparently a little jealous I had seen one, but I really hoped it would never happen again. Bears are great to see from a distance or from your car, but not from 15 feet away with no form of protection.
The hike out was much quicker as I had gravity working with me rather than against me. Once in the meadows, I took up a jogging pace, reaching my atv in no time flat. A quick ride out, I met my wife who had just woken up from her nap. I was (and still am) extremely grateful to have a wife who is willing to put up with my hobby and wait for me at trailheads. My repayment to her was a week in Telluride and coffee whenever she wanted it. What a trip!