San Luis Peak
Sunday June 29, 2008
From Stewart Creek TH
My friend Kevin and I had hiked to the summit of Culebra Peak the day before and then made the 4 hour plus drive from San Luis, Co via route 159 north, left (west) on route 160 to Alamosa where we stopped for fuel and a light snack. We then continued west on 160 to Monte Vista where we turned right (north) on route 285 and on to Saguache where we then turned left (west) on route 114 and then left (south) on dirt road NN14 to Dome Lakes SWA. At the end of the last lake we turned right (south) and took another dirt road 15GG (794 when you reach the Nat forest) for about 18 miles or so until we reached the well marked Stewart Creek TH; it was about 4:45PM.
There was a group of four already camped there and we then found the most level place we could to pitch our own tent and did so along with an additional tarp to provide a little shade. It was sunny, dry and hot and not a stick of shade to be found. There was a nice breeze out of the west that did provide some relief and a couple of ice cold beers helped as well. We saw two guys’ signing-in and heading-out about 6:00PM on their way to camp at tree line.
Kevin and I were both pretty tired and decided to prepare an early supper and hit the hay early. Burgers, brats and couple more beers did the trick and I supplied us each with a sleeping tablet to assure a good nights rest. The night before we hadn’t really slept very well at the Culebra Peak ranch gate and the Lunesta put us down as the sun was setting just after 8:00PM. The mosquitoes were rather thick and hungry so we also applied some bug juice before turning in.
My watch alarm woke us at 5:00AM and we made ready a quick and easy breakfast consisting of the usual fare of instant oatmeal, black coffee and Gatorade. The weather was very good and we had readied our packs the night before to assure an early departure. We signed the TH register and headed up the trail right at 6:05.
The first two miles or so went quickly and uneventfully along Stewart Creek featuring many active beaver lodges and countless pools and we crossed Stewart Creek twice then stopped at an old cabin site to peel down into short clothes and apply some sunscreen as the day was starting to get rather warm. The mosquitoes wasted no time in zeroing-in on us and we quickly continued up the good trail.
Lots of downed trees created an obstacle course venture in some sections and at about the 3 ½ mile mark we were up out of the forest and into a brushy/mushy area surrounded by tall peaks and lots of rushing water. We could now see well up onto the slope ahead and the saddle farther above with one person heading way up and two others heading down. Several snowfields had to be crossed as we climbed up right at tree line. Here we met a group of six guys taking a break on their way up.
Turns-out that I knew the one guy (Bruce) for lots of years as we both live in Louisville and I had previously met a few of the other guys through Bruce. We rested with them a while, shared some food, took some photos and then began back up the trail as Bruce and his buddy “mountaineers” did the same soon after…………Cool coincidence way up here.
The trail crossed some more snowfields and then started up a series of short/steep switchbacks gaining altitude much more rapidly now. The two guys coming down were the guys we had met the night before on their way in. They told us that gaining the saddle was the crux of the climb and that the summit was 1.4 miles ahead; most encouraging. Kevin, I, and Bruce’s “mountaineers” would more or less travel as a congenial yet somewhat separated group from here forward.
Reaching the saddle you could now see San Luis Peak for the first time ahead and to the right. The saddle also provided some westerly breezes and cooled things down a bit as we all progressed across and on to a long traversing trail to the left of one peak that was connected with another short saddle with San Luis Peak. This traverse consisted of broken rock and was well defined as you could pretty much make out the trail all the way up to the summit.
The altitude gain was gradual and steady and then crossed a short saddle with the connecting peak on the right. From here the trail climbs a bit more steeply via some short switchbacks and then one final ascent up a short incline to a small summit. At the summit two other guys had come up from Willow Creek and were just getting ready to head back down. Two from Bruce’s party were just ahead of me and I reached the summit at 9:28. Bruce followed about 10 mins later and then Kevin about 20 mins later. The remaining “mountaineers” followed two other guys who gained the summit with the mix shortly after.
Lots of people gathered on this small summit; perfect weather, a cool westerly breeze, and splendid views in all directions. Everybody was in good spirits and a somewhat party atmosphere prevailed with lots of handshakes, backslapping, photos, food, drink and a euphoric unity made for a fun time. My Verizon cell phone had the most bars and several including myself used it to called home to announce their summit quest as being achieved……………most excellent!!
Following a good long rest we all bid a dues and started back down from whence we came. With the trail being so well defined there was no way to get off on the wrong track and the trip back down was a bit of a “grind” after a while especially where the hot sun had softened all the snowfields; slipping, sliding and a little post-holing kept you on your guard. The forest offered welcome shade as I’d had about enough sun and the beaver pools shown signs of darting trout in a few spots. The last mile back to the TH was again exposed to the sun and heat and seemed to last forever.
We signed-out at 1:25PM, broke camp, made a quick hot lunch on the portable gas grill, and hit the road home by just after 2:00. We saw the two guys from the summit sign-out just as we were leaving the TH. On the way out the dirt road we again saw Bruce and the “mountaineers” all back down safe and sound; they had camped about 100 yards down the road from us.
Other than a heavy downpour complete with hail on Monarch Pass everything went well going home. My 36th 14’er and Kevin’s 3rd on this fun day way high in the Colorado Mountains