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Sunrise from Wilson Peak

Sunrise from Wilson Peak, Lizard Head Wilderness, Colorado

Sunrise from Wilson Peak, Lizard Head Wilderness, Colorado

Wilson Peak taught me, once again, that high-altitude hypoxia and sleep deprivation can lead to such utterly dumb mistakes that it's hard to believe they're even possible. It also taught me that public enemy number one for the wilderness traveler doesn't walk on two legs. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Wilson Peak is a typical San Juan slag heap ‒ awe-inspiring when viewed from a distance, but a rubble pile on close inspection. I decided to climb it in late June after an exceptionally heavy snow year to avoid as much slogging on steep, unstable scree and talus as possible. Wilson Peak is one of three Fourteeners in the Wilson group, which also includes Mt. Wilson and El Diente. I decided to try to do all three in one trip and backpacked to a camp just above Navaho Lake.

The next morning I was on the trail at 1 a.m., heading for Wilson Peak. As I had hoped, I was able to crampon up well-frozen snow for much of the route. The class 3 section was a bit tricky in the dark, but I arrived on the summit well before sunrise and started shooting as soon as the first glow appeared to the east. When the light show was over, I picked up my pack, looked around carefully to make sure I hadn't left anything behind, and headed down. Back in camp I napped, read, and ate until it was time for bed. I had already pulled off my boots when I discovered that I hadn't brought my gray headlamp bag into the tent. Annoyed, I pulled on my boots again, climbed out of the tent, and began digging gear out of my pack.

Unease gripped me when I reached the bottom. My headlamp bag wasn't in the pack. I searched my tent again. No headlamp bag. Could a marmot have dragged it away? I searched the woods near my tent. No headlamp bag. There was only one other possibility. I had left it somewhere on Wilson Peak, perhaps on the summit and perhaps part way down, where I had stopped to shed clothes. I debated abandoning it, but that would have meant giving up on any additional sunrise shoots as well as losing over $100 worth of equipment ‒ the headlamp itself, a tiny backup headlamp, two wristwatch alarms and more. I decided I had to go back and look, hoping against hope I could find it before someone else carried it off.

The next day I rose at first light and headed up once again. Once I got over the frustration of doing something so stupid, it was actually a rare treat to climb a Fourteener in daylight, after an adequate night's sleep, with no camera gear weighing me down. On the way up I searched carefully in the area where I'd stopped to change clothes. No headlamp bag. As I approached the summit, I spotted two gray lumps, each the size of a grapefruit, sitting side-by-side. I had to stare hard for several seconds before I realized that one gray lump was a rock; the other gray lump was my headlamp bag. It could not have been more perfectly camouflaged. The stuff sack had been shredded by some rodent, but the headlamp still worked fine. I headed down, elated. I had one more day of food, so I would still be able to attempt Mt. Wilson the next day. El Diente would have to wait for another trip.

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