Ahhhh....another spur of the moment mountain trip. Unlike you folks from Colorado, who can throw a rock from your back door to the local trailheads, us flatlanders usually have to plan our trips far in advance. But every once in a while, we get a wild hair and do a spur of the moment trip. Luckily, ATTM was available to accompany me and we soon began making plans to climb about 25 peaks in a two-day period. We ultimately narrowed it down to four.
San Luis Peak and the La Garitas seemed like a good choice. I needed a mild-manner peak to get the season started since I hadn’t trained whatsoever. My luck was that just as our early spring training was to start, I had gall bladder surgery, and spent two months with pain and recovery. Thus, my training which normally starts in March or so, had gone into the toilet. (The excuses are starting already). The point is that my buddy Kane informed me through email that San Luis was “a grassy stroll.” I figured a grassy stroll would be something I could handle with ease.
Off we went, bright and early on a Thursday morning heading toward Colorado. The quickest way to get to Colorado from Oklahoma is through the Texas panhandle, then on highway 64 through northern New Mexico. Highway 64 is a very interesting stretch of road which passes directly through the Raton-Clayton volcanic field. This area is littered with extinct volcanoes and more importantly.......Sierra Blanca which is THE LARGEST FREE-STANDING MOUNTAIN IN NORTH AMERICA. Look at the link and judge for yourself. However, if you don’t think this is true, post it on P&P and you will then have to deal with the wrath of ATTM who will vigorously defend the mountain’s status.
So, we checked out the Sierra Blanca trailhead and soon continued our journey to Colorado. The next six hours passed rather quickly because he compared every mountain in sight with “the largest free-standing mountain in North America.”
Driving down Colorado highway 114, we found the intersection which was the beginning of our dirt road trek to the trailhead. San Luis peak is remote.....so remote that some do Culebra Peak first because Culebra is easier to get to. The dirt road to the Stewart Creek trailhead is 28 miles, most of it on very good dirt road. Beware that some of the Forest Service signs are missing, so use Roach’s directions with care.
Camping was very cold (for me anyway). I’m just about tired of this North Face sleeping bag which claims to be rated at 20 degrees. It was 35 degrees in the tent, I had every stitch of clothing on which I owned, and was still cold. ATTM mumbled something about Berkeley liberals and was soon snoring like an old man.
Up and out at 5:00 am. I was already feeling the affects of altitude and it was pissing me off. I had started taking Diamox the day before and expected it to help, but I guess I had started taking it too late. Either way, I soon yakked up my breakfast, which pissed me off even more. Now, not only was I feeling like shit from altitude, but I had no energy base to keep me going. I trudged toward the mountain. Luckily, the first four miles of the trail are pretty flat. We saw a few elk and beaver as we hiked through the spruce toward treeline. We crossed several frozen snow fields as we made our way toward the north slope leading up to the saddle. By the time I hit the ridge slope, I was ready to die. ATTM waited patiently as I slowly made my way up the slope and onto the saddle at 13K. The wind picked up and was very cold. Damn North Face products. My gloves were supposed to be windstopper, but instead seemed like wind “suckers.”
We began our traverse of the ridge toward the summit. The wind dropped somewhat at we made our way on the east side of the summit ridge. There, ATTM spied yak #2 as I was doubled over and puking my guts out. Yakking on the side of the trail is pretty embarrassing and I was hoping that ATTM wasn’t taking pictures of “Alan The Mountaineer” as he choked and spewed like a 3:00 am drunk. However, I felt much better afterward.
Finally.....on the summit. “Without grace” is how I would best describe my performance. Sick, tired, cold, and pissed. This is supposed to be fun? We stayed on top for about 20 minutes while ATTM rattled off about a hundred peaks all around us. It reminded me of Aaron on Elbert the year before, and it always amazes me when people can do this. We noticed another pair of climbers on the saddle heading toward us. A few obligatory photos and we headed down. The other two (man and woman) sat on the ridge below us for about 10 minutes in the cold wind apparently waiting for us to leave. Strange.
On the way down, the wind kicked our butts, blowing about 30 mph at a temperature of about 30 degrees. We stopped for a while on the leeward side of the ridge to get warm. The original plan was for both of us to traverse over to Baldy Alto, then climb Stewart Peak. However, I only wanted to traverse back to the tent. So, we parted ways and I enjoyed watching ATTM do the ridge traverse while I made my way down the mountain.
The couple behind me finally caught up and passed me as I strolled through the forest. After a while, I noticed they kept waiting for me to catch up. I didn’t want to hike with them, so I would wait while they hiked ahead. Finally, after doing this a couple of times, the man said that I could hike with them if I wanted to. He said there were bears in the area and that the three of us could fend off a bear better than two. I sat down and waited about 15 minutes for them to go away so I could enjoy my solitary hike back to the tent.
I made it back and rested in the tent. Ol’ ATTM showed up about four hours later. I was looking for him in the wrong direction as he surprised me by hiking down the road instead. He apparently had used a different drainage to descend from Stewart Peak. We decided to head out that night, so we broke camp and began the 28 mile dirt road drive to find some real food.
We enjoyed a scenic drive through Colorado and eventually made a little side trip to Capulin Volcano, which is a must-see if you ever drive down highway 64 in New Mexico.
Things I learned:
Never underestimate “a grassy stroll.”
You can only use the “I just had gall bladder surgery!” excuse once.
Always hike with at least three people to fend off bears.
Never, and I mean NEVER, drive with ATTM on highway 64 in northern New Mexico.
And....sometimes...... it takes a couple of yaks to get up a mountain.