Climbing Wilson Peak | An Exposed Class 3 Climb

Climbing Wilson Peak, like its neighbors El Diente Peak and Mt. Wilson, is a dangerous endeavor. While more manageable than its class 4 sister peaks, it’s an exposed climb with significant risk of rockfall. The climb up the Southwest Ridge is a long day, better for more experienced peak baggers. However the view of the southern San Juans from this perch on the range’s edge is glorious to say the least. Before climbing Wilson Peak, plan your trip with my route guide below.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!

Climbing Wilson Peak: Fast Facts

Climbing Wilson Peak - Southwest Ridge Route

Most people take the Rock of Ages approach to climb Wilson Peak, but you can also use the Navajo Basin Approach to reach the Rock of Ages saddle and carry on with this route guide from there. You’ll start climbing Wilson Peak at the Rock of Ages trailhead. Leave your car and begin to hike south on the main trail. Stay left at the first junction you come to.

Turn left a bit over a mile into your hike and begin gaining serious elevation. You’ll eventually climb over the ridge to your right to enter the Silver Pick Basin. 

Follow the trail along the basin, avoiding turn-off’s that lead to private property along the way. Near 12,100 feet leave the main mining road you’ve followed to the right along a trail.  

Hike along to the center of the basin past an old, crumbling rock house. Continue to the end of the basin and and turn right, following the trail up a steep slope. Around 12,600 turn left to traverse more steep slopes before you reach the Rock of Ages Saddle. This is a good spot to stop for a rest and snack, and to check the weather conditions before continuing onward.

Head east from the saddle along a good trail, and then traverse along a steep slope to reach a small saddle between Wilson Peak and Gladstone Peak. From here the route features significant class 3 climbing and exposure.

From here you have two options for climbing Wilson Peak. You can either: 1) scramble up rock ledges north until you reach gentler terrain, or 2) descend 100 feet down a dirt slope and pass the ledges from below. The first option has tougher climbing, but the second includes more elevation loss.

Once past this ledge section, find a trail that heads northwest back to the ridge. While this is rugged, loose terrain, the trail leads nearly to the summit, disappearing around 13,930 feet. Gain a false summit around 13,900 feet – from here it’s class 3 climbing to the summit.

The biggest challenge now includes a 50 foot down-climb from the false summit, a traverse across exposed rock, and a crux climb back to the summit ridge. From there, it’s a short walk up to the summit to finish climbing Wilson Peak.

At the summit, enjoy your accomplishment and the view! Make sure you head back down with plenty of time to reach the tree line by the noon before thunderstorms move in. I hope you enjoyed my Wilson Peak Route Guide. Good luck climbing Wilson Peak, and safe travels on the trail!

Wilson Peak Route Guide

If you’re climbing Wilson Peak, you should have have a good map with you to navigate.You can download this map on your phone or print out a copy to bring with you on your climb. Always bring some hardcopy map in case your digital version fails or breaks.

If you plan on climbing Wilson Peak, use these two sources to check the weather conditions before your trip. Consider the temperature high and low, wind speed, precipitation, and whether there are any storm systems on the horizon to be aware of. No Wilson Peak Route Guide is complete without weather forecasts.

Mountain Forecast for Wilson Peak

NOAA Forecast for Wilson Peak

Climbing Wilson Peak is a serious undertaking, requiring special gear to help you succeed and stay safe along the way. Here are some of my top recommendations. 

First, you will need a good pair of hiking boots. I recommend one of these boots specifically. They have good traction to grip slick rock and snow, and their ankle support reduces your chances of spraining or twisting your ankle. Make sure you take time to break in your boots before climbing Wilson Peak.

You will also need a backpack to carry food, water, and the other ten essentials with you on your journey. These backpacks have the right capacity and quality to help you reach the summit without breaking your back. Don’t forget to fill your bag with the ten essentials.

Climbing Wilson Peak involves a serious risk of rockfall, making a climbing helmet essential for your safety. There are many good options on the market, but I recommend one of these four helmets for 14ers like this one.

Lastly, you need to bring a map with you to help navigate. While many people just print out a map online, I recommend investing in something better. These maps and route guides are sturdier and show more info than a printed map. Even better, you can buy a personal locator beacon, GPS unit, or satellite messenger, which are the best navigation and emergency device of them all.

Camping near Wilson Peak:

There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those climbing Wilson Peak. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging near Wilson Peak:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Telluride and Ridgway, perfect for those climbing Wilson Peak.

The area around Wilson Peak is pristine, one of the most spectacular regions in the entire state. By practicing Leave No Trace ethics you can help preserve this beauty for future generations. This includes:

  • Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
  • Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
  • Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
  • Urinate off trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
  • Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
  • Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.

Safe travels, and good luck climbing Wilson Peak!

Wilson Peak is named after A.D. Wilson, the chief topographer with the Hayden Survey. Mount Wilson is also named after him. Local indigenous people called the mountain Shandoka, which means “Storm Maker.”

The prominent, symmetrical peak is well-known in popular culture, being featured on the Coors beer logo, numerous commercials, and movies over the past three decades. It is among the most famous of the San Juan fourteeners, which are generally less well-known than the state’s northern peaks.

The exposure and rockfall on Wilson Peak has made it the site of many hiking, climbing, and mountaineering accidents over the past century. Rescue is far away in this remote and sparsely populated area. Take extra caution if you decide to try climbing it.

Hiking & climbing 14ers is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.

  1. Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
  2. Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
  3. Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
  4. Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
  5. Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
  6. Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!

Climbing Wilson Peak and other mountains, scrambling and climbing up Colorado’s high peaks are inherently high-risk, dangerous activities. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

Enjoy This Post? Join The Next Summit Newsletter to get advice, news & stories!