Made famous by Coors, Wilson Peak rises toward the sky southwest of Telluride and Mountain Village while providing a challenging hike to the top
The alarm went off at 3:20 a.m.
I woke up in the darkness and tightly squeezed my eyes shut as I turned the light on. Thankful that I had packed my bag the night before, I threw on my hiking shoes and a warm layer then headed to the lobby of The Hotel Telluride.
A year ago, I was invited to join a few other members of the working media to participate in the “Crack a Coors” preview — a package offered by The Hotel Telluride that allows guests to summit the mountain depicted on the Coors can. This mountain is Wilson Peak — one of Colorado’s 14ers standing at 14,017 feet — and one of a few prominent peaks in the area surrounding Telluride and Mountain Village; others include Mount Wilson, El Diente and Gladstone. While the climb offered in this package is a guided hike led by San Juan Outdoor Adventures, it is possible to do this Class III mountain climb unguided. Here are my tips and suggestions for summiting Wilson Peak.
Get an Early Start
Our group departed the hotel around 4 a.m. and landed at the Rock of Ages trailhead around 4:45 a.m., well ahead of sunrise. A headlamp is extremely important for the beginning of the hike, as it’s still dark out and the first part of the trail is heavily wooded, which does not allow for much moonlight to seep through. Headlamps were used well past treeline, which was extremely important for traversing across sections of scree and preventing a rolled ankle.
Not only does an early start help reduce your chances of getting caught in an afternoon storm, the sunrise above treeline is pretty magical as well.
Be Mindful of Private Property
The Rock of Ages trail meanders through a section of private land that was closed to hikers until 2011. The United States Forest Service struck a deal with the landowner, opening access to Wilson Peak via the Rock of Ages trail. When traveling on this property, do not stray from the trail.
If you want to avoid any threat of trespassing, the Sunshine Mesa/Bilk Basin, Woods Lake and Kilpacker trails are options for summiting Wilson Peak and other nearby mountains.
Watch for Wildlife
Or maybe it’s watching you.
Consider Additional Safety Gear
The final stretch to the summit gets a little tricky — the trail narrows and steepens, with heightened exposure in places. Ropes and harnesses are not necessary to summit Wilson Peak, but provide heightened safety and peace of mind for this sketchy section.
I highly suggest wearing a helmet for the final push, regardless of whether you decide to bring climbing gear. Crumbling rocks are everywhere, and all it takes is one person above you to release a chunk onto your head. Trust me, I found out firsthand.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
While an early start can help prevent the chances of getting trapped in an afternoon thunderstorm, it is important to constantly watch the weather while hiking to assess whether you should keep pushing to the summit or when to back down upon reaching the summit.
Our group unfortunately spent too much time on top of Wilson Peak. By the time we were back to the saddle (not even halfway to the bottom), we heard the thunder rolling in. Hail followed and left welts across our backs, and the rain came in sheets even after we had reached treeline.
A tip from our guides: If caught in a lightning storm, maintain at least 20 feet between you and the person in front and behind you. That way if one person is struck, others in your group will not get struck. Needless to say, I was not thrilled to be in this predicament.
Celebrate With a Coors
I won’t lie, I’m a big fan of celebrating a bagged summit with a cold beer at the top. But when it came to Wilson Peak, I was much happier enjoying an ice cold Coors Light from the comfort of the hotel lobby for two reasons:
- That section right below the summit is somewhat technical, and it’s important to be fully aware of your surroundings, and
- Even if I had enjoyed one beer at the summit and taken time to let the effects wear off, I would then risk the chance of getting caught in a storm.
Whether you choose to summit Wilson Peak guided or not, the hike is well worth the early start and deserves to be celebrated with an ice cold Coors at the end. Cheers!
For more information on The Hotel Telluride’s “Crack a Coors” package, visit their website. Available through September 10, 2019.